Before hitting the trail, I should remark on yesterday's discussion: WOW. If you haven't read all the comments, please go back and look at them again. There's a lot of substance there. We might want to continue discussing many of the points you raised, but I'll focus on only one at this point. Mark, you almost kept me up all night thinking about your idea that "each movement seems to be a rebellion against the others." Don addressed this and I'd like to push it a little further down the trail by using the overarching idea presented in Williams book. From what I've been reading, it appears that historical changes in art theory emerged from what was first a change in philosophy (often coupled with politics) which led to a change in the literary arts and then the visual arts. So the train of theory looks like this: the engine is the philosopher, the passenger car is the poet, and the caboose is the artist. This would mean that the artist reacts to and reflects the present condition of the world rather than leading it to the next condition. Although forms of rebellion took place in art theory, they may have been more circumstantial. For instance, Courbet's initiative to build his own exhibition to Realism happened only after he had already painted the work and tried to exhibit it in the traditional venue. On the other hand, as Don points out, Courbet was politically a radical figure and his motivation in art was also political. Quite honestly, I don't know the true answer, Mark, and am excited that you raised the question - more to think about.
The second point that Mark makes is "the constant ... that good art should connect." I guess I could think about this forever, and I can see where you'd come to that conclusion. What do the rest of you think?
Well, I'll lace up my hiking boots and head back to the trail. We still have a few more miles to go, and hope you'll forgive my tendency to take shortcuts through William's excellent book on the history of art theory. There's just too much in that book for me to explore here, and this journey could be one of a thousand miles if I attempt to do so. Back to the 19th Century ...
I marched through a number of "isms" that all fall under the general category of Modernism: Realism, Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism, and Symbolism. I'd like to pick the trail at Symbolism again and march into the early 20th Century.
Henri Matisse was prominent among the Symbolists but also among the Expressionists who first appeared in Germany in the beginning of the 20th Century. Matisse and his associates created paintings that were considered so outrageous that they were dubbed the "fauves" at a 1905 exhibition. The translation of fauves is "wild beasts." Actually, Matisse and Wassily Kadinsky (1866-1944) are considered second generation symbolists at a transitional stage in art theory. In order to understand these two artists and their contribution to art, I'll give you a little background on each.
Henri Matisse received academic training, but departed from it to experiment with color. He liked being identified with the Expressionists by emphasizing the importance of expression in his paintings, but he also stressed the calm and rational - the scientific. He once wrote: What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter .. calming influence on the mind.... I am unable to distinguish between the feeling I have about life and my way of translating it. A big influence on Matisse was a Parisian philosopher named Henri Bergron, who published the book Creative Evolution in 1907. Bergron brought us "vitalism," which places emphasis on the dynamic coupled with the sense of infinite possibility. His work helped Matisse realize the possibility of objective, scientific expression. I know this seems a little mind-bending, but if you look at Matisse's work, you can figure it out:
Wassily Kandinsky is an interesting character as well. He studied law before painting, and moved to Moscow from Munich where he became involved with progressive artists and writers. Then, he moved to France from 1906-07 where he was influenced by Matisse and the Fauves. After that, he returned to Germany and pushed his own work toward greater color intensity and freedom. In 1911, Kandinsky painted the first completely non-representational painting. So, he was the pioneer of this style. Here's an example:
In 1911, Kandinsky published the first comprehensive statement of Symbolist principles in his essay On the Spiritual in Art. Here are a few major points from that essay:
- the task of the artist is to provide a new language for the spirit
- Realist painting is associate with materialism and freer abstract paintings with the new spirituality
- complete freedom of expression must be the work of art in order to achieve subtler, more articulate expressivity
- establishes a close link between painting and music
- provides a careful analysis of colors and how they interact
Next time: Ruskin and the Aesthetes ... the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and a little more.