It looks like our discussions have really heated up! This is exciting and I'm learning a great deal from all of you. Before I press on, you should know that it's my intention to end my review of Williams' book with Mile 10 (Thursday or Friday), which means I'll be galloping ahead at a pretty good pace and will let you fill in the holes as you see them. After that, I'd like to open the floodgates for your ideas about the influences on your own work as an artist. Therefore, I'll happily relinquish the "floor" and post your ideas if you'd like to write something. The length should be about the same as one of my posts. I will act as moderator. If you're interested, email your write-up and attached images (if you have some) to: email@example.com. I'll post submissions in the order that I receive them, but I may have to interrupt the sequence from time to time in order to feature some of my work. This blog is dedicated to the critical analysis of art and your opinions are very important!
A couple of other comments before returning to the trail. Camper, Margaret Ryall said yesterday: I wonder if changes through art history are as neatly packaged as Williams describes. History gets written after the fact and is based on whatever evidence remains. I agree, and want to again clarify that Williams' book is only one man's interpretation of the evolution of art theory through the ages. He's trying to make a single point about the importance of theory in art. The reason I've chosen to focus on this book is because it speaks to and helps me understand the influences on my work. Our collective discussion brings breadth to the ideas expressed in this book.
Don also asked about the omission of Cezanne from my text. He makes the excellent point that Cezanne had one of the largest influences on modern art as we know it. I consider him the transitional element between the Impressionists and the ensuing development towards abstraction. His quote to the painter Emile Bernard could be construed as the essence of modern thought, "Drawing and color are not distinct... The secret of drawing and modeling lies in contrasts and relations of tones." Many of the artists of the early 20th century considered him the father of modern art. I agree Don, and was surprised that Williams didn't present Cezanne that way. Well stated!
Back on the trail: Mile 7. I'll start with Ruskin and the Aesthetes (sounds like a Motown group!) which requires a little backtracking. In discussing the art theories of the 19th Century, Williams devotes a lot of text to France, Germany, and America. But, England was a happening place, too! (This is for you, Mark!) John Ruskin (1819 -1900) was an English writer who wrote a tome entitled Modern Painters, published in 1843-44 and another 4 volumes in 1860. He had a LOT to say! Essentially, this publication was a revision of the history of art and a theoretical foundation for modern art. Ruskin is considered the greatest writer on art in the English-speaking world - ever. He saw art as the product of economic, political, and spiritual conditions. The essential argument in his book is that traditional landscape painting (academic type) is bankrupt because it's really about artifice rather than nature. It's formulaic. He felt that art is better when it's not overly concerned with technical perfection. Hurray for Ruskin! I like that :)
Ruskin's books provided a theoretical foundation for a new group of English artists called the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, established in 1848. They were fed up with academic rules and revived the use of illustrated religious themes or stories from Medieval history and poetry. A blast from the past!
And, there's more: Ruskin urged for the development of artistic talent in the underclass and that the prices of work by living artists should be regulated so that people of modest income can afford them. Now, that's radical!! The artist, J.M.W. Turner was influenced by Ruskin's theories.
But, what have we learned about people who publish books?? They get criticized. In this case, the artist J.A.M. Whistler represented the opposition to Ruskin. He felt that the task of an artist is to pursue beauty rather than truth. His supporters were known as the Aesthetes, and Oscar Wilde was among them. Between them, Whistler and Wilde advocated for "Art for art's sake." Wilde wrote: We spend our days searching for the meaning of life. Well, the meaning of life is - Art.
As we boldly march into the Early 20th Century, we see a dramatic acceleration of artistic innovation that led to greater variety than ever before. There's a proliferation of "isms" and I seriously doubt that I'll write about each one, so you'll have to write about the ones that most interest you. At the turn of this century, there was a widespread belief that science, technology, and industry were about to transform everyday life completely. Theories became more important.
Futurism burst onto the scene in 1909 through a manifesto published in Paris by the Italian poet, F.T. Marinetti. He called for a complete and violent rejection of the past and a whole new system of artistic values. As Williams puts it: Italian artists attempted to represent movement itself with abstract dynamic patterns, strong linear rhythms, and color contrasts. There was a glorification of war and violence, scorn for women, and eager anticipation of the Great War. Artists were activists.
And, this is where I'll sit back by the campfire to listen in awe to all the wonderful things that YOU have to say! Next time: Cubism, Dada, Surrealism, American Modernism, Expressionism...
Please pass the wine ...