The Pendulum Swings

Art, like many other aspects of human civilization, moves in cycles. Just like Impressionism replaced Realism, post-Impressionism would replace Impressionism. The movement is called “post” Impressionism because many of the features of Impressionism were still present in the new style. Impressionist artists, like Van Gogh, Cezanne and Gauguin, loved the broad, bright Impressionism palate but deplored the spontaneous chaos of felling used by Impressionism. By adding formal structure to the bright colors Georges Seurat was able to create “divisionism” and Van Gogh was able to develop his unique brush strokes, that gave his work such an illusory quality. The new techniques have art a new abstract look,in some cases even ghostly, but always slightly out of focus. These new techniques were amount the most influential when the Modernist movement began do develop during the first half of the 20th Century.

The first Post-Impressionistic are turned up in France in 1886 but had moved to Britain within a few years. The term was actually given to this group of artists by British are criticRoger Fry. Many art historians argue about whether post-Impressionism strengthened or weakened impressionism but the fact is that art styles change and grow. Post-Impressionism opened a doorway to the styles we now enjoy and without its move to more abstract visions , using unnatural colors and distorted images, the art world would be in a far different place today. When Fray named the movement he made his reasons very clear and had no intention of saying the Impressionism was being replaced. He rendered the name as a means of identifying a part of the Impressionist movement, a time marker if you will. Some art historians actually maintain that post-Impressionism is actually part of the Modernist style and others refer to the movement as Symbolism. Symbolism really applied to the French version and came into wide spread use in the literature of the period long before the art world grasped the concept.

One of the interesting historical notes about post-Impressionism s that it officially starts just after the death of Manet, which was shortly after the very beginning of Impressionism. This leads us to the inevitable conclusion that post-Impressionism really was only the growth of Impressionism. Artists like Vincent Van Gogh merely changed some essential lines and used different colors to bring out a different side to an image, blending Expression and Impressionism to create the grand child of both.

Impressionism Makes an Impression

The invention of the photograph during the last half of the 19th Century put painters in a challenging position, essentially destroyed the Realism movement in the art world simply because in a realistic sense a painter could not compete with a camera. But at the same time, and because of early photography´s inability to add color and deal with lighting issues, a new paradigm in the art world began to grow:Impressionism. The impressionist appellation actually came from a derogatory nickname given to the movement by a Conservative art critic after Claude Monet produced his classic, “Impression: Sunrise” and, much to the critics chagrin the movement embraced the name and developed the motto that the human eye, working with the human spirit, could render a much more accurate picture. Impressionists recognized that while improved cameras would be able to capture much more physical detail, no matter how advanced the technology became it could not match the human eye in capturing the spirit of the moment. The blending of light, movement and feeling were at the core of Impressionistic art and artists attempted to capture their personal visual sensations of an object, while sometimes ignoring the actual image of the object in front of them.

Impressionists artists believe that details would be best rendered by doing a very fast oil painting and that this style would best remove any intellectual preconceptions that the artist had, giving the art a nearly childlike innocence and naivete that was absent in all other styles, but especially in the naturalistic and realistic styles of painting. Some of the most well-known artists in history came from this period. In France Eduard Manet, Edgar Degas, and Pierre Auguste Renoir, led the movement and in the United States it wasJohn Singer Sargent, Francis Coates Jones, and Mary Cassatt. The style became so popular that even now, nearly a century and a half after its conception, organizations are offering scholarships, such as the CGC Scholarships offered by the New York Botanical Gardens and which is based on the work of Monet.

The original Impressionist movement had only just begun however when Georges-Pierre Seurat and Henry Edmund Cross began to reconsider some of its fundamentals. Their objections were mostly based on the lack of permanence in their art. But while this led to what became known as Neo-Impressionism and made a fundamental shift in the direction of the art, it only differed in two basic aspects. Figures in these paintings were much better defined the the entire composition was much more conservative. Rapid rejection and reform, became known as pointillism or confetti-ism and was founded on the idea that touches of color side by side was the best way to present an image. The artists understood, well before the twin aspects of our brain were understood by science, that the human brain would automatically blend the colors in order to make sense of the image. Other artists, such as Paul Signac, Theodoor van Rysselberghe, Georges-Pierre Seurat and Henry Edmond Cross quickly joined the new movement.

The Reality of Realism

Like most periods of art, the Romantic period ended with a whimper rather than a bang. By the beginning of the 20th century however, the Age of Realism in art had begun in earnest and Romanticism had been soundly rejected for this new and exciting style. While the Greeks had dabbled with realism nearly three-thousand years before, they had worked exclusively with perfecting the human form. Modern Realism on the other hand seeks to bring the observable world into clear and uncluttered focus. The world was in the beginnings of one of the largest and fastest development periods in human history and art became sweep up into the scientific wave as had much of the rest of the Western world.

Realism never tried to idealize. Instead of copying past methods it sought to simply capture the image, render a completely accurate picture of the models, whether human or still. The hard of a Realist thought that both Classicism and Romanticism were far too artificial, too staged to appeal to the essential human spirit and that Baroque and Neoclassicism were obscene.

Realism in art can almost exclusively seen in paintings. Very little sculpting and no architecture came from the period, all the work then being done in older styles of art. The form started just after the French Revolution in mid century but grew in both France and England with equal fervor. The French were experiencing their first years of Democracy and the English had had enough of Victorian Imperialism. In France Realism was led by artists such as John Singleton Copley, Thomas Eakins and Hilaire Germain Edgar Degas. This group was highly focused on the different aspects of life and regularly threw centuries old rules of artistic design out the window in the search for realistic portrayals of real life. The Barbizon School, which taught French landscape painters from 1840-1850 was based on the art of these masters and was attended by such art luminaries as Jean-Francois Millet and Camille Corot. The School was actually a retreat used by French artists and because of the natural surroundings, quickly became sought after by Realists.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, opened in 1848 and not ended until the 1890´s was the first real “avant-garde” movement in art history. This group wanted to move back in time, instead of forward, and apply modern principles when depicting the natural world. They wanted pureness in representation and contested that post Raphael art allowed to much of the artists own ideals of what the image looked like instead of its reality. The group had two interesting traits. The first is that they required intense accuracy in their art. They used real, instead of remembered or imagined, landscapes for models and concentrated in being very precise in attention to color and every minute detail. At the same time the English movement adhered faithfully to a tradition established by Hogarth years before of taking a high moral approach to their work.

Romanticism Defines an Age

The first American school of landscape painting was the Hudson River School and although the school was only active for 35 years, (1835-1870), it was attended by some of the most prominent artists of the period, like George Innes, George Caleb Bingham, Thomas Moran and Martin Johnson Heade. But besides being the Alma Mater of such luminaries, the Hudson River School also acted as one of the focal points of a new period in Art: The Romantic period. Romanticism was the perfect choice for an age in which new freedoms were just being discovered. Not only freedoms in politics but also freedom to make many more personal decisions. There are many in the United States that claim that the country is a Christian nation, founded on Christian principles, by Christian leaders. But the fact is that those leaders were almost exclusively secularists who had no problem with religion but distrusted the Church and who made their feelings clear in all of their writings. America was not the first nation to experiment with democracy, the Greeks had practiced it more than 3,000 years ago. They were the first nation in nearly 1,500 years to begin to separate government and religion.

Romanticism gave artists the freedom to speak of matters of the heart in their paintings and sculptures. The art for promoted such unusual ideas as individualism, irrationalism, subjectivism, raw emotion and vivid imagination, emotions that take control and sweet the artist away. The style refused definition for a long time because it favored the blending of many different styles in order to create a completely new style. In much the same way that Renaissance artists were fascinated by nature but in a much more revolutionary. Much like the social movement toward individual freedom, Romanticism was immediately against the established order, both social and religious. Much more interested in human nature than human form, Romantic artists presented images depicting ethnic cultures, remote and mysterious places, even occult subjects were for the first time appearing in Western Art. The life styles of artists changed somewhat however. Previously being a good artist was on of the best jobs to have. But the new age, disappearance of “nobility” and lessening influence of the Church, the first “starving artists” were born. But now, in some of the finer shops, tattoo artists are using styles from both the Romantic and Gothic periods to create some truly beautiful artwork.

The term “Romanticism” was first coined by the poets and critics August Wilhelm and Friedrich Schlegel, from Germany, They originally used the term to describe the entire social movement sweeping the Western world but it soon became applied exclusively to the new style of art. These two mistakenly believed that his movement was essentially a Christian one, despite its clearly secular nature and the fact that the Church fought each of these social changes. They might have been correct however if they thought that the movement was inspired, not because of a return to Christian principles, but from a flight away from Christian intolerance.