With bandaids on my blistered feet and Bengay on my legs, I'll continue this existential journey to find the roots of my art thought. As we leave the 18th Century, France's Academie Royale was dissolved by the revolutionary government in 1793, and then revived as the Academie des Beaux-Arts in 1795. Politics, Society and art theory had dramatically changed in France and the Western world. Modernism was born as we enter the 19th Century. And, Modernism gave rise to a whole host of "isms." I'll keep this as short as I can, so feel free to fill in all the holes with your comments!
Evidently, there's not much agreement among art scholars about what caused Modernism at the beginning of the 19th Century, so I'll just report what Williams wrote. Modernism in art is a response to the transformation of society that resulted from the upheavel of the (French) revolution and the advent of mass politics, and the shift in economy toward technology and exploitation of inexpensive labor. He thinks that the best way to understand what Modernism is, would be to think of it as a critical enterprise: overt social criticism and critical thought. Well, once you open the door to overt criticism it seems like you get a whole lot of other isms!
Realism: This term was first applied to Gustave Courbet's painting "Burial at Ornans" below.
Courbet was harshly criticized for this painting because it depicted ordinary life and homely people. It was a "genre" painting. Remember the importance of "ideal beauty"?? But, the guy had guts and determination. This painting was rejected from the pavilion of French art at the Universal Exhibition in Paris (1855) so he built his own "Pavilion of Realism" nearby!
How did Courbet explain himself? He wrote: By reaching the conclusion that the ideal and all that it entails should be denied, I can completely bring about the emancipation of the individual and finally achieve democracy. Realism is essentially democratic art. Now ... that's really radical! Realism was the renunciation of Romanticism and academic art. Things really had changed ... and, that change is a big part of my root system as an artist. I've identified another foundational stone.
Around this time, novelist Emile Zola rose to prominence and had a theory about the role of art that became a major influence. He wrote: If temperaments did not exist, all paintings would simply be photographs. (Egmont ... I think you can make a good case for photography as fine art!) Zola goes on to say that to be an artist you must abandon yourself bravely to your nature and try not to lie to yourself. Amen to that!! Zola's ideas gave legs to Impressionism.
On the one hand, Impressionism seems to derive from Realism by deflecting away from overt political and social messages, and also to extend the exploration of what is "real." On the other hand, Impressionism went in an entirely different direction - one that placed strong emphasis on individual perception and temperament. The confusion comes from the fact that Impressionism was created by a handful of strongly individualized artists with completely different personalities. To complicate things, few if any of these artists were interested in verbal theorizing, so there's no clear definition for this "ism."
Anyway, Impressionism coalesced as a movement in 1874 when a group of artists who were rejected from the Salon banded together to exhibit on their own. It seems to me that Courbet served as a good example of what to do in reaction to the "snooty" Salon! But, these artists didn't create their name. Rather, a critic who saw their exhibition dubbed them "Impressionists." This group exhibited together eight times, the last in 1886.
The importance of this "ism" can't be understated in my personal development as an artist. According to Williams, Impressionism treated nature as both an object of study and a point of departure; the line between seeing and feeling, between the outer and the inner world, has been obscured. I can definitely identify with this theory, and this might be the "tap root" of how I think as an artist.
I won't spend time elaborating on the Impressionist artists because most people know of them.
Of course, with any theoretical experiment in art there's a "next step." That would be Neo-Impressionism. Georges Seurat, the pointillist, is the poster child for this "ism." His interest in scientific color theory provided an extention to Impressionism that was new. Philosophically, he thought that it was the obligation of art to pursue a "harmony" which is independent of nature. To me, that means that an artist should create harmony within the picture plane itself through the abstract means of applying the elements of composition and color theory. Tragically, Seurat died in his early thirties, in 1891, so he never had much of a chance to further develop his ideas. BTW - Seurat didn't use the term "pointillism." He called it "divisionism."
By 1886, Symbolism was the latest thing. It began in Paris as a literary movement that extended to the other arts. This was in reaction to Realism and also Zola's Naturalism. Symbolism wasn't an actual single style. It was a bunch of principles that embraced a variety of styles - kind of a theoretical umbrella. For the most part, Symbolism was a movement away from representation and social reality toward an exploration of the subjective experience - the irrational. Nietzsche was a big influence. He wrote: It is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified.... Art is the highest task and properly metaphysical activity of this life .... Our creative activity has value only because our need for illusion is the truth of our nature. This is deep stuff!
The Symbolists including artists like: Gustave Moreau, Odilon Rerdon, Paul Gaugin (who was both a Symbolist and Impressionist), and so on. Critic Albert Aurier thought that Gaugin was the leading figure in Symbolism because his art is concerned with the expression of the Idea ... which is diametrically opposed to Impression.
Just to break this up: here's a picture of me (fresh off the boat) at the Gaugin museum in Tahiti. I was appalled to find that his canvases were hung in outdoor pavilions - absolutely no climate control or screening from insects. Oh, dear!
Other Symbolists include Vincent Van Gogh and Edvard Munch, among others.
This journey through the 19th century is about to take a radical turn, so I think I'll rest by the fire for awhile and pick up the trail tomorrow. Is the popcorn ready yet??