Rap and Realism

The Importance of Class-Based Authenticity as Exemplified by Gustave Courbet and Contemporary Rappers

Keywords: Gustave Courbet, nineteenth-century Realism, authenticity, hip hop, rap music


Over a century and a half since his passing, scholars remember Gustave Courbet (1819–1877) as a French painter who expanded the boundaries of art through his rejection of traditionally imposed artistic conventions and cultivation of a larger-than-life persona. As a master of self-promotion and image creation, Courbet’s unique self-positioning and performance of identity are frequently explored within contemporary scholarship. However, extant literature has yet to consider the similarities between Courbet’s performance of identity and that of influential contemporary rap artists. Looking to artistic themes employed by the painter and his self-presentation, I argue that Courbet tailored his identity performance so that audiences conflated his artistic output with his public image, both of which drew upon his rural background to suggest a disadvantaged socioeconomic status—a background lauded by his supporters as providing Courbet with the authenticity required for artistic legitimacy. Furthermore, I argue that contemporary rap artists perform their identity in much of the same manner. Like Courbet, contemporary rap artists  continuously enact qualities associated with a low socioeconomic status and reference this social standing in their music to fuse their personal reputation and musical output, which affords these artists the authenticity required for success.


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Author Biography

Nadia Ekkel, University of Victoria

BA (Honours) (in progress)
Department of Art History and Department of Visual Studies
Areas of interest: nineteenth-century western-European art; popular culture; art economics; artist identity creation


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