Saturday, November 17, 2012

Romantic Painting, part I

Moon Over Meigs Point, 12x36, acrylic on linen

Tonalism which I have long felt a kinship to, is part of a larger aesthetic movement known as Romanticism. The Romantic movement encompasses painting as well as literature, poetry and music. Romanticism was at its peak between 1800 and 1840.  It was a reaction to the industrial revolution, the philosophies of the Age of Enlightenment and the scientific rationalization of nature. Romanticism sees strong emotion as an authentic source of aesthetic experience. Romanticism was in part an escape from modern realities like urban sprawl and industrialization. It  legitimized the individual imagination as a critical authority, which permitted freedom from classical notions of form in art.

From the Wiki article....

Basic characteristics of Romanticism

Defining the nature of Romanticism may be approached from the starting point of the primary importance of the free expression of the feelings of the artist. The importance the Romantics placed on untrammeled feeling is summed up in the remark of the German painter Caspar David Friedrich that "the artist's feeling is his law".

Not essential to Romanticism, but so widespread as to be normative, was a strong belief and interest in the importance of nature. However this is particularly in the effect of nature upon the artist when he is surrounded by it, preferably alone. In contrast to the usually very social art of the Enlightenment, Romantics were distrustful of the world of men, and tended to believe that a close connection with nature was mentally and morally healthy. Romantic art addressed its audiences directly and personally with what was intended to be felt as the personal voice of the artist.

That last paragraph I find very interesting. In many ways it sums up my thoughts about the importance of nature to an artist.

I often am conflicted by the admiration of, and subsequently the urge to capture nature with absolute veracity, certainly a skill worth having if one is a landscape painter, and the seemingly opposite urge to paint like a Romantic.

I believe that newly re-imagined Romantic painting has been making a strong comeback in the 21st century for many of the same reasons the original Romantic Movement began. Reaction to rapidly increasing technology, urban sprawl, man's ever widening disconnection from nature and the cycles of the seasons, and the ever increasing hostility to emotion, intuition, and mystery in life in favor of the cold light of science, which seems to think it can explain everything, yet really explains so little of what truly matters. So much from the Enlightenment influences us today that I think there has always been an ongoing reaction to it that wells up with great strength every now and then.

Ultimately I think that the spirit of our age demands that I embrace what I instinctively feel to be necessary for an artist, to work from a place of deep, strong emotion and imagination and a personal encounter of nature and the Divine. Looked at that way it makes realism seem rather old fashioned, and more rightly belonging to the world of 50 or 60 years ago.

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