French Romantic painter, Eugene Delacroix, is well-known from this period. Delacroix often took his subjects from literature but added much more by using color to create an effect of pure energy and emotion that he compared to music. He also showed that paintings can be done about present-day historical events, not just those in the past (Wood, 217). He was at home with styles such as pen, watercolor, pastel, and oil. He was also skillful in lithography, a new graphic process popular with the Romantics. His illustrations of a French edition of Goethe's "Faust" and Shakespeare's "Hamlet" still stand as the finest examples in that medium.
Delacroix' painting "Massacre at Chios" is precisely detailed, but the action is so violent and the composition so dynamic that the effect is very disturbing (Janson, 678). With great vividness of color and strong emotion he pictured an incident in which 20,000 Greeks were killed by Turks on the island of Chios. He showcased the underdogs, though painting detail on the fancy uniform of the Turk militiaman who is intermixed with overlapping figures of traumatized victims.
These artworks by Vermeer, Canaletto and Delacroix were described, because they clearly demonstrate the changing periods of outlook from the age of Enlightenment to that of Romanticism.
In the period of Realism during the late 1700s and into the 1800s, imagination was put aside for a view of the world as it actually existed. Physical detail was emphasized by writers and artists. People and scenes were described and painted in greater detail than ever before, and the depictions included very trivial and irrelevant information. The detail was not only visual but often appealed to all five senses. Ordinary characters were displayed. Unusual characters or heroic characters, or characters that stood out in some way, were not as common as in previous literature and art. Ordinary people doing ordinary things, such as businessmen, janitors, nurses and street vendors were most important (Art: A World History, 458).
Artists saw themselves as a product of the times. Changes in artistic style, subject, composition, technique, and movement are a result in the main of changes in the social and economic environment in which the artist lives. Gustave Courbet was born in Ornans in 1819, the son of a wealthy bourgeois farmer of peasant origin. He was thus much aware of the class divisions that existed in rural France at that time. In 1839 he went to Paris to study art and found that the whole of Europe was experiencing revolution. In 1850 he produced the first of his great masterpieces, "Burial at Ornans." This painting shocked critics and viewers because of its huge size and ugly themes (Perl, 225).
Burial at Ornans," which is 21 feet by 10 feet; strongly impacts those who see it for the first time. During Courbet's time, paintings of this size were reserved for religious or mythological subjects, not a peasant funeral in rural France (Hoving, 229). The composition contains about 40 people, with the male and female figures separated according to the custom of that time. It is a sad painting with the only bright color seen in the clergymen's vestments and women's scarves. The strength of the people forces the viewer to concentrate on the figures, with the open grave only partly in view. This was not the romanticized ideal of peasant life that people were used to. It confirmed the troubled times and clearly faced reality. The grim faces of the peasants show their hard lives and grief. This shows how Realism can turn a commonplace event into an historical one.
In the mid-1800s the cultural scene once again entered a new phase of experimentation and change. Modernist literature rejected19th-century traditions and wanted to disturb their readers with complex and difficult new forms and styles. In fiction, the accepted chronological story was upset by Joseph Conrad, Marcel Proust, and William Faulkner, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf attempted new ways of tracing the flow of characters' thoughts in their stream-of-consciousness styles. In poetry, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot completely altered the earlier forms of their art (Eysteinsson).
The modernist art movement is closely associated with the term modern art, both characterized by a departure from emphasis on literal representation. With invention of photography, the realistic approach to painting and sculpture became unnecessary, and artists began looking for new ways to visualize nature as well as new materials and function of art. Artists entered a new realm of freedom of expression and experimentation. They believed that art should stem from color and form and not from depiction of the natural world. Paul Cezanne is often considered the "Father of Modernism." From his search for underlying structure of the composition came Cubism and then Abstraction. Cezanne's use of color as tone and the formal elements of composition made it possible for later artists to transform their artwork in many different ways (Wood, 254).
Cezanne sought to recreate nature by simplifying forms to their basic shapes using color and distortion to express the essence of the items. Instead of adhering to the traditional focalized system of perspective, he portrayed objects from shifting viewpoints. Yet, in all his work he revealed an attachment to the simple forms by painting them with a classical look. His "Bathers" is an example of a number of Cezanne's visual systems. After years of investigating the problem of depicting nude figures in landscape settings, Cezanne wanted to create, like the earlier master painters, large compositions of nude bodies without using allegorical or mythological themes. "The Bathers" combines studies of nature in the central landscape with distorted figures (Art: A World History, 516). Gathered on a riverbank under tilting trees are 14 nude women engaged in different activities, with a swimmer behind them in midstream and two mysterious people on the opposite shore. Among the curious aspects of this painting is a seated, headless figure at the left.
Today the world is in a post-modern era of art and literature. The philosopher Lyotard notes that "knowledge is altered as societies enter what is known as the postindustrial age and cultures enter what is known as the 'postmodern age.' This transition has been under way since at least the end of the 1950s, which for Europe marks the completion of reconstruction." People throughout the world are being greatly impacted by technology and the spread of information. Electronic processing has significantly altered the way that information is circulated. "Knowledge has become the force of production..."
Postmodernism is also associated with the negatives of environmental destruction, over population and poverty. True "art" has been replaced by mass media. Much of postmodernist literature is used to highly question the basics of accepted modes of thought and experience, so it can reveal the meaninglessness of existence and the underlying lack of structure under any beliefs.
Installations offer a good example of postmodern art forms. An installation presents a visualization of three-dimensions in real time and space. It can include two-dimensional mediums such as painting, drawing and photography, but a three-dimensional element is also necessary for the interaction of the viewer into the installation space. Video and electronic media are used frequently. Installation art often emphasizes ideas rather than the artwork itself. For this reason, installation art frequently incorporates a mixture of already produced objects instead of focusing on the craftsmanship of the artist. For example, Sandy Skoglund is a photographer who uses rooms, one-colored painted furniture, actors, animals or objects and unusual media to create dreamlike scenes. She creates the animals by hand in ceramics and poses actors into her photographs to create scenes that open up the possibility of many interpretations, but that generally reflect on concerns and fantasies of a postmodern world. They usually stress the relationship between humans, suburban environments and nature.
The future of artistic expression is questionable. Some believe that it will be a continuation of use of new technologies and expressions on the non-emotional and mechanized world. Others feel that artists may once again recreate in their own fashion the artwork of the past in all its many different forms and methods. Perhaps, it will be a combination of the two into a new form of art and a completely different era of thought.
Art: A World History. New York: DK Publishing, 1997.
Eysteinsson, Astradur. The Concept of Modernism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1992
Gardner, Helen. Art through the Ages. New York: Harcourt, Brace: 1959.
Hoving, Thomas. Art. Foster City, CA: IDG, 1999.
Janson, H.W., and Anthony F. Janson. History of Art. Upper Saddle Ridge, NJ: Prentice