“The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless.” - Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Are you a romantic or a realist? Do you prefer to feel or think? What is more important - imagination or reason?
Realism followed Romanticism which followed Neoclassicism which followed Rococo. Between 1700 and 1900, western art’s values bounced between feeling and reason over and over. Neoclassicism, defined by rationalism and classical antiquity, developed in reaction against the ornate and delicate Rococo style.
The leap from Rococo to Neoclassicism is apparent in the following paintings. The Swing (1766) is delicate, intimate and fanciful. It exemplifies the Rococo style. Portrait of Louise-Antoinette-Scholastique Guéhéneuc (1814), on the other hand, is orderly, formal and noble. Its reflects the moral values of Neoclassicism. Between 1766 and 1814, western art jumped from sentimental to rational.
This jump in values occurred yet again with the development of Romanticism. Reason and science were the guiding forces of the late 1700s. However, by 1800, the benefits of technological advances and reason were questioned. Romantics argued that freedom was only real if men had freedom of thought, feeling and imagination. And so, western art became infatuated with feeling yet again.
There are many great Romantic artists, writers and philosophers. Eugène Delacroix is one of them. His painting Liberty Leading the People (1830) is an exciting example of Romantic art. It is dramatic, expressive and heroic. Liberty defiantly leads Parisians against Charles X . The triumph of freedom is tragic, emotional and glorious. Traces of Neoclassicism are hard to find.
Romanticism also gave rise to the genre of landscape painting. While artists were certainly celebrating nature’s beauty, they were also using landscapes to comment on spiritual, moral, historical, and philosophical issues. Artists felt and expressed their feelings by way of landscape. Caspar David Friedrich, John Constable, and J.M.W. Turner are the most well known Romantic landscape artists. Friedrich explored nature’s transience and divinity. Constable instilled nostalgia for the past before the Industrial Revolution. Turner underscored turbulence and emotion.
Realism, developing just after and somewhat alongside Romanticism, focused on “real” experiences and the everyday. While I respond well to Romanticism’s emphasis on nature and emotion, I also find Realism’s insistence on empiricism noble and important.
Realists turned their attention to the everyday. For the first time, ordinary people and trivial activities were brought to the forefront and (eventually) became relevant to the general public.
In Gustave Courbet’s The Stone Breakers two working-class men break stones. The scene documents a real event without drama and accurately depicts details. Using what was in front of him, Courbet makes a conclusion and shares his theory: poverty is inescapable. The young man on the left will remain in poverty and will likely continue breaking stones through old age like the older man to the right.
Of course, Realism and its strong emphasis on rationality were left by the wayside with Impressionism. Again, the arts swung back to feeling over thought.
These swings between thought and feeling ring true to my everyday. My own values seem to swing between the two on a daily basis. Do I listen to my instincts or my thoughts? Do I create artwork that reflects my immediate response or that is carefully planned? It is easy to get stumped between the choices. However, the best course of action, is to make a choice and take a step forward.
All of my sources on the time periods discussed derive from the emphasis textbook Gardner’s Art Through the Ages.
The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, Dominic Smith
Walk Through Walls: A Memoir , Marina Abramovic
Should Every American Citizen Be a Yoga Teacher?, Alice Hines, The New York Times
Re-Imagining Yoga Teacher Training, J. Brown
Currently listening to:
Social and Emotional Artistic Learning (SEAL), Art Ed Radio
Empire State of Mind, On the Media
The End of Empathy, Invisibilia
The Roman Mazda Virus, Reply All