Art - A Timeless Transcendence
Painting by Kim English
Written by Mridul Macker
All our lives, we try to run from the commotion, the perpetual mayhem that surrounds us. We struggle to spare a moment's peace. Some days, we're left unsatisfied in our wishes. But we keep looking anyway.
For me, it is Art that gives me that moment's peace; the calming silence that we desperately gasp for. It's not just about looking at a painting or listening to a song. When I experience any form of art, I feel a similar passion and love that a painter holds for their painting, or a poet for their poetry.
We might not be able to put an end to the chaos on the outside but I think, with art, we can invoke understanding, compassion and empathy within ourselves. It is a very cathartic and human way of making life worth living.
Albert Einstein said, “All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom.” Art, one of the three branches of the tree Einstein talks about, exists in our lives in the most elementary forms. So let’s dive deeper into its history, specifically towards few of the most important art movements that have flowed through the 19th century.
An art movement is a defined style in art with a specific common philosophy, followed collectively by a group of artists during a specific period. These movements have been a part of revolutions and have had massive influence on the creative outlet of artists throughout the years. Admiration for the byproducts of these movements has transcended time and have impacted the depictions of art in the contemporary world.
Neoclassicism refers to movements in the arts that drew inspiration from the “classical” art and culture of ancient Greece and Rome. It was the revival and appreciation of the classical age through the medium of paintings and music.
Stylistically, it included the use of straight lines, minimal use of color, simplicity of form and, of course, an adherence to classical values and techniques.The works of Jacques-Louis David are widely considered to be the epitome of Neoclassical painting.
In music, the period saw the rise of classical music which is known for its development of sophisticated instrumental musical forms, like the concerto and symphony and the use of vocal forms, such as opera. Mozart and Beethoven are considered the hallmark of that period. Although significant in music, Neoclassicism was felt more strongly in architecture, sculpture, and the decorative arts.
Romanticism was a period in the early 19th century that valued nature, imagination and emotion over rationality. It was a clear rejection of the precepts of order, physical materialism, and rationality typified in Neoclassicism in the early 19th-century.
It emphasized on the individual, the imaginative, the personal and the emotional. It embraced the intellectual orientation that characterized many works of literature, painting, music, architecture, criticism, and historiography in Western civilization.
In paintings, Caspar David Friedrich was one of the greatest German Romantic artists. He painted eerily silent and stark landscapes that induces in the beholder a sense of mystery and awe. Other great English Romantic landscape paintings emerged in the works of J.M.W. Turner and John Constable.
Romanticism in literature began in the 1790s with the publication of the Lyrical Ballads of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
In the second phase of Romanticism, comprising the period from about 1805 to the 1830s, English Romantic poetry had reached its zenith in the works of John Keats, Lord Byron, and Percy Bysshe Shelley. The movement was at its peak in the approximate period of 1800-1890.
Realism was not consciously adopted as an aesthetic program until the mid-19th century in France. Realism referred to the authentic, detailed, precise depiction of nature or of contemporary life. It attempted to portray the lives, appearances, problems, customs of the middle and lower classes, of the ordinary, the humble, and the unadorned. It rejected the imaginative idealization of Romanticism in favour of a close observation of outward appearances.
Gustave Courbet was the first artist to self-consciously proclaim and practice the realist aesthetic. He viewed the frank portrayal of scenes from everyday life as a true beauty and urged other artists to make the commonplace the focus of their art.
Courbet was strongly opposed and criticised for the frank and unadorned factuality with which he depicted humble peasants and labourers in his art. This bold and stark presentation created a violent reaction in the art world.
A conscious program of literary realism did not appear until the 1850s, and then it was inspired by the painter Courbet’s aesthetic stance. His theories on Realism were transferred to literature in Le Réalisme (1857). Gustave Flaubert’s 'L'Éducation sentimentale' (1870), which presented a vast panorama of France under Louis-Philippe was another principal realist work. The art movement came to an end by the 1880s.
In 1874, a group of artists called the Anonymous Society organized an exhibition in Paris that launched the movement called Impressionism. Its founding members included Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, and Camille Pissarro, among other painters, sculptors, printmakers, etc.
Impressionist artists did not try to paint a replica of real-life imagery, but rather an 'impression' of what they perceived, and what the light, atmosphere, object or landscape looked like to them. It was a major movement that developed chiefly in France during the late 19th century.
Impressionism is characterized by relatively small, thin, yet visible brush strokes, light changing qualities, ordinary subject matter, and unusual visual angles. The Impressionists faced harsh opposition from the conventional art community in France. Yet, they continued to develop their own personal and individual styles.
Impressionism also describes works of literature in which a few select attributes suffice to impart the sensory impressions of a scene. Impressionistic literature describes the sensations and emotions that constitute a character's mental life. It lasted from the 1870s to the 1880s. In its short existence, impressionism accomplished a revolution in the history of art, providing a technical starting point for the Post-impressionist artists.
Post-Impressionism is a predominantly French art movement that developed roughly between 1886 and 1905. It emerged as a reaction against Impressionists' concern for the naturalistic depiction of light and colour.
Post-Impressionism represented both an extension of Impressionism and a rejection of that style’s inherent limitations. It was in favour of more ambitious expression, freedom from traditional subject matter, and technique of defining form with short brush strokes of broken colour.
The movement was led by Paul Cézanne (known as father of Post-impressionism), Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Georges Seurat and others. Most of these painters began as Impressionists; each of them abandoned the style, however, to form their own highly personal art.
One of the most famous post-impressionist was the Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh. He quickly adapted Impressionist techniques to express his acutely felt emotions. He transformed the contrasting short brushstrokes of Impressionism into curving, vibrant lines of colour, exaggerated even beyond Impressionist brilliance. Post-impressionism developed roughly between 1886 and 1905, from the last impressionist exhibition to the birth of fauvism.
With this, we reach the end of the art movements in the 19th century. These movements, for however long they lasted, were revolutionary in nature.
Personally, Impressionism and post-Impressionism will always hold a special place in my heart. Since the time I was a child, I had always been intrigued by paintings. Because unlike poetry or music, there are no words in a painting but rather the visual topography on a canvas which describes the emotions of the painter.
Impressionism was revolutionary in its time because it did away with the hard lines that the art world had made mandatory, and instead relied on rapid brushstrokes and colour. In the contemporary era, some modern artists still follow an Impressionist approach that hasn’t really changed in over 130 years.
It has always fascinated me how with just a tiny paintbrush, artists manage to make people feel at home or touch them to their cores. Even if we build walls inside ourselves, art always finds a way to slip through the gaps. It portrays how people have felt the unvarying emotions of love, despair, calm and joy centuries ago and through art, we can find comfort in those feelings even today, years later. I think this idea of the endurance of art’s legacy helps me accept everything that life offers a little easier.
When I look at paintings like 'The Starry Night' , it leaves me feeling dreamy and surreal, while Claude Monet's 'Water Lilies' bring about a sense of stillness and composure. It conveys to me their perception,understanding and response to the natural landscape.
For me, to be complete strangers with them and yet be able to understand them is something that only art can bequeath you with.