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Symbolism Art in Context
Transcript of Symbolism Art in Context
September, 18, 1886 when Jean Moréas published
his Symolist Manifesto. The last 30 years were especially chaotic, with 2 periods of particularly bitter hostility. France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian war worsened internal tensions, as well as the unstable leadership of Adolphe Thiers. By: Matt Stanoev & Madhia Iqbal Greek poet and critic
Considered one of the most important
Leading role in the French
Symbolism Movement During the second half of the 19th century, Paris went through a drastic demographic and physical transformation unlike another European capital. Peasants were forced to leave rural areas because
of reform, mechanization and growing family sizes. France went through a change in government roughly every 15
years in the 19th century. Ferdinand Tönnies –Sociologist His investigations of the social change clarify the context in which Symbolism evolved.
He looked at the problematic transition from traditional village life to modern industrial society that reduced an individual’s worth to his cash value.
Industrial capitalism forced people to sacrifice self-esteem, health, happiness, pride in labour and personal morality to benefit mostly the rich members in society. Symbolism was this created by artists who were discontented with their culture.
Jean Moreas considered symbolism in radical opposition to the status-quo.
There was expressed dissatisfaction with contemporary conditions.
Drawing interpretations from the past seemed incompatible with the production of modern works.
Symbolist artists lost confidence in reality Jean Moréas (1856-1920) Odilon Redon (1840-1916) One of the most prominent
French Symbolist painters. The Smiling Spider, 1881, Redon Cactus Man, 1881, Redon France (Paris) during the 19th Century
Unlike the generation before, Symbolists saw art as being subjective, having several meanings and mysterious.
Instead of looking outward into the world for their subject matter, inspiration came from their emotions, dreams, and spirituality.
Life was mysterious, and the artist had to respect and preserve this mystery.
Symbols were preferred over description.
Art should represent absolute truths that could only be described indirectly. Symbolist Manifesto Population tripled due to massive human migration. Naturalism vs. Symbolism Emile Verhaeren (1855 -1916) defined Symbolism in opposition to Naturalism.
Disapproval of Naturalism was a reflection of the transformation in art and society.
Naturalism had rebelled against academic art.
Originated as a culturally and politically progressive alternative to the then dominant academic art.
Academic art focused on:
- standard portrayal of history
- subjects which were composed
in accordance with longstanding
anti-individualistic guidelines. These guidelines were opposed to originality and inventiveness. Naturalist artists on the other hand did quite the opposite.
Attempted to show a visible world objectively and accurately without any restrictions on subject matter or technique.
Focused on visible reality that Symbolists believed led to degeneration, materialism and superficiality.
Aim was to record the rapidly evolving everyday world of the second half of the 19th century. Naturalism
Symbolists believed that art should represent absolute truths that could only be described indirectly. Symbolism would do the opposite of Naturalism (physical description) and focused on imagination. It was supernatural that fascinated the Symbolists, who saw dreams as a gateway to universal truths. Artists and writers explored this gateway and it became a central motif in the work of Odilon Redon. His work was mostly inspired from his emotions and imagination, and it consisted of common Symbolist subjects, such as monsters, severed heads and representations of classical mythology.
He described his work as ambiguous and undefinable.
His work represented an exploration of his internal feelings and psyche.
Aim was to represent pictorially the ghosts of his own minds. Declared plain truth as the artist's mission
Interested in painting the female body and his work is marked by a frank eroticism.
He transformed Truth into modern symbol. Gustave Klimpt (1862-1918) Austrian Symbolist painter In the painting Nuda Veritas, the woman is symbolic figure whose nudity symbolizes plain truth. In showing her pubic hair, a violation of the rules of modesty, Klimt insisted that his painting represented honesty. "Truth is fire, and to speak the truth means to shine and to burn“ - Gustav Klimt, 1899 Her flowing hair signifying both naturalness and intimacy. Dreams The dream was perhaps the most frequently cited alternative to conscious perception for the 19th century.
Sigmund Freud explained that dreams worked like peacekeepers between the consciousness and unconsciousness.
Sources of comfort to the living and a way of communication between this world and the world beyond.
Dreams cover themselves in a symbolic language (often sexual) that could be decoded. Paul Gauguin, Spirit of the Dead Watching- 1882 Night, Hodler, 1890 Dreams expose hidden fears. Some components that seem logical, but are not. It communicates meanings that are understandable only when present within the limits of the unconscious. Symbolist writers and painters agreed that natural objects are signs signifying ideas: what we see is the expression of the invisible.
The sudden interest in representing intangible things reflected a current of anti-materialism.
Brought an urge to explore new subjects in art.
The free market economy resulted in fixation with money making, which led to psychological imbalance - younger artists wanted to represent non-physical things.
Allowed the artists to rely on feelings, intuition, cherished qualities which all had been vanished from modern life. Artists were more interested and attracted to the state of mind, unlike Naturalist artists who focused on actions. Symbolic art suggests rather than narrates. Symbolists focused on feelings, thoughts and the psychological states such as despair, hope, jealousy and sorrow. Fernand Khnopff – The Caress 1896 The Notion of Genius To the Symbolist artist, art was linked to genius. Like musical or athletic talents, the ability to have an insight into the human condition was a gift. French theorist, Albert Aurier claimed that the genius could read everyday objects as polysemic. Thus, geniuses could escape the boundaries that contemporary society. Being a “genius” came at a price. Artists risked being ostracized, ridiculed and mocked. They were often dubbed “insane”, “psychotic” or “neurotic”. The Knitting Woman, Bouguereau, 1869 Rest in Harvest, Bouguerau, 1865 Three Sheep in a Barn, 1855, Charpin Fallen Monarchs, 1886,Baker Artist as Creator The reward for the Symbolist artist was public acknowledgment and often times veneration. Symbolist literature often refers to an artist as a God-like creator. In a time where there was tension between secular and religious groups, Symbolist art was seen as a way to pursue individual spirituality. For Symbolists, these “divine” gifts were seen as a both a blessing and a curse. Parameters of Symbolist Art This belief defined a social role for the Symbolist and often gave them the title of spiritual leader. In an 1891 article, Aurier outlined the parameters of Symbolist art. - Ideist (ideological philosophy): the unique ideal is the expression the idea.
- Symbolist: expresses the idea by means of forms.
- Synthetic: write out these forms according to general understanding.
- Subjective: the object depicted is NOT really the object; it is a sign of an idea perceived by the subject.
- Decorative: an aesthetic combination of all these attributes. Early Symbolism Inspirations
He was noted for his perception of the human psyche, his defiance of traditional rules and his views on perversity. American author, Edgar Allan Poe, was a source of inspiration to the Symbolists. Poe was also known for his opinion regarding urbanization and mass expansion; which were seen as threats to individualism. Charles Baudelaire used language to suggest colourful and
eccentric images rather than descriptions.
His themes included: dreams, imaginary landscapes, nostalgia
Baudelaire's writings contained several concepts which
are central to Symbolism: sensuality, suggestion, and polysemic symbols.
According to Baudelaire, a true artist and poet “must avoid like the plague borrowing the eyes and feelings of another man...for then his productions would be lies in relation to himself, and not in realities” (Facos, 47). Baudelaire and the Decadence Movement Pessimistic Symbolists believed that the Western civilization was heading in a downward spiral. This branch of Symbolism was labelled “Decadence”.
There was a belief that Western civilization had reached its climax and was on a path to self-destruction.
Charles Baudelaire was seen as the forerunner to the Decadent movement. They were drawn to his bizarre tastes, sensuality and emphasis on melancholy.
The mission of the Decadence movement was to tear down the old ways of thinking and preparing for the yet unseen contexts of the 20th century. What do you think is being represented? In the Era of Harmony, Signac, 1893-95 Discussion Questions When it comes to creating Symbolist art, are our dreams free from our lived experiences, or will we always be influenced by them? Symbolist artists refused to reveal the intention of their works. Why do you think this is the case? Do you feel as though the Symbolist movement posed as a serious threat to European society? Why or why not? THE END