Blake and Revolution: How Blake Utilized Politics to Form His Art

Humn 221-09 Group 1


It is well documented that William Blake ran against the grain of British society during his lifetime. He actively involved himself in the radical politics developing in London between 1776 and 1850. These radical politics began with the actions of Charles James Fox, who called for every man in England to have the right to vote. From this position, the movement gained steam and proposed a series of extreme political reforms, many of which stemmed from the French Revolution. The English radicals saw the French Revolution as an opportunity to discuss the problems of absolute government in their own country. The resulting political discourse, which involved Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and Mary Wollstonecraft, among others, became known as the Revolution Controversy. The Revolution Controversy helped to advance the radical philosophies and politics by involving some of the most distinguished and famous members of public life.

Blake, however, represents an artistic turn for the radical movement. Where most of the radical movement produced political actions, Blake produced artistic actions that incorporated elements of the radical movement. His artwork took on a sort of prophetic quality and incorporated idyllic scenes and notions. In this way, Blake established an early link between London’s radicals and the subsequent Romantic artistic movement, which emphasized a pursuit of the beautiful and ideal aspects of nature. As such, Blake stands at an important juncture in the history of art and society; his work stands as an act of defiance against the norms as much as it stands as an invigoration of the form itself.

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