PKI Teaching Guide
Page 14 of 36
3) Is Kane being dishonest? Explain.
4) What reasons could Kane have for making changes to his paintings?
5) Artistically, is there any argument for what Kane has done?
6) How is Kane a Romantic painter?
Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the myth of the “noble savage”
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was a French writer and philosopher. He was famous for works about education such as Emile, where he argued against corporal punishment, and Social Contract, which described a world in which humans could live in their natural state. Rousseau was influential in the development of Romanticism. One of his important ideas was that civilization had a corrupting influence on people, and those humans, in their natural state, were essentially good. He thought that society and its structures and hypocrisies were what caused people to behave poorly; and that humans were essentially good or noble. This is how he developed the idea of the “noble savage”.
These ideas were reinforced by European experiences in the New World. Bred in crowded and unsanitary cities or impoverished farms many newcomers could grasp the opportunities the new world might offer. And, whereas some felt that First peoples were better off converting to Christianity, others, like Rousseau, argued that they were in a state closer to the Biblical Garden of Eden, living without the taint of original sin and the moral compromises of “civilization.”
This way of thinking was an idealized view of humanity and indigenous North Americans, but one that greatly influenced many people at the time including perhaps Paul Kane.