Impressionism was a time of individuality, with artists having the courage to be different.
Art developed along two lines – formal or cerebral, and expressive or emotive. Both were very modern and have been continued to this day.
Formal or Objective Art (Classical): takes an intellectual approach to art, into theories, and technical approaches. It dissects, looks for new developments. It formed new attitudes by discoveries. Colour was emancipated – they worked with properties of colour on the physical side, scientific side, and investigated what colour really did, and why. They took a look at the design structure of a work of art, at the structure of the subject, analysed it and put that into the work – the scientific point of view.
Woods with Millstone 1894 – Cezanne – En Provence.
Both show Cezanne playing with warm/cool colour and shallow space.
They painted realities then stopped at the superficiality – they didn’t want to lose the subject behind the image, and the design elements, e.g. balance, tonal rhythms, repetition, etc. So they went into theories, demonstrating theories visually. They didn’t reflect the feelings of the artist – the subject is just that, no emotions were involved – a bowl of fruit as an image was the same as the artist’s wife was an image. Technique, skill, and theory were presented.
There was a reference to Giotto by Cezanne – representing solid volume in space – both artists did this (nothing new in art) – creating a new flatness by reversing Giotto’s approach.
Seurat was interesting because of his colour, structure and composition – his work related back to Della Francesca – structure, compositional volume, design elements.
Lake Annecy – 1896 – Cezanne
Paul Cezanne was considered the father of Modern Art. He wanted to see the world objectively, so felt he had to penetrate the superficial interpretation that the Impressionists gave. He presented 3-Dimensional reality on a 2-Dimensional plane – done in three ways.
1. He reduced all nature to 3D geometric shapes – the cone, cylinder and cube.
2. He reduced those to slabs of colour suggesting a slice of volume – using warm and cool slabs of colour minus tonal variation.
3. He used multiple points of view on the same picture plane – to lead the the viewer’s eyes around the composition – the eyes perceive the volume.
Maison Maria View of Chateau Noir – Cezanne
He was noted for his theory of warm colour advancing and cool colour receding – he didn’t need to use atmospheric perspective. He used cool colours for the mountain at the same intensity as the warm colours of the foreground – we see the mountain as in the distance by the receding nature of the colour. He created compressed space, suggestive of a stage scene, with a sense of solidity and with underlying structure on the subjects. Cubic volume was produced by their planes, which would soon be explored as Cubism.
Georges Seurat died at 32 – he had tremendous creative avenues to explore, that were dropped with his death (during the WWI) – optical art may have been arrived at earlier if he’d lived. He was a modern man of his time, concerned not only with the very precise elements of art, but also the aesthetics. His idea of beauty and what constituted beauty, rather than involving the emotions, was an aesthetic beauty that conformed to rules. He looked for harmony and precision in art.
La Bec du Hoc, Grandcamp – Seurat
Seurat explored various aesthetic theories: colour optics, white light into its spectrum components, and thus the term Divisionalism was used for Seurat. It’s been given to a style of painting, but it means the breaking up of colour into dots of pure colour that the eye then mixes for itself, with light next to dark vibrating against each other. The painting is Pointillistic – the theories are called Divisionalism.
Seurat different versions of Divisionalism
Seurat also used the psychological effect of lines – horizontal as calming, downward turning as sad, upward turning were happy. His subjects were only an excuse to play with his theories. His paintings were constructed in a Pointillistic style, using dots viewed from a distance to mix themselves. The structural qualities of his work created a sense of deep space, harmony of line and colour, and peaceful moods – the latter caused by his relating every part to the whole, and the scale related within the composition. His formal approach was very precise, classical dignity, good design, and sense of visual stimulation.
Le Chahut – Seurat – shows upward turning happy lines.
Neither Seurat or Cezanne were affected by Japanese prints, though they were aware of their affect on their contemporaries. There was, however, an abandonment of conventional perspective and a patterning affect to Seurat’s work. Both artists had a certain physical quality of movement to art and to colour, with receding cool and advancing warm hues, and optical mixing on the canvas, giving an underlying volume to their work. They definitely prevented superficiality.
Expressive Art: The opposite of these two Formal artists were the Expressive painters. They made colour more than descriptive and structural – giving it an expressive, emotive, symbolic meaning, for purely decorative purpose – seen subjectively. Expressive art is subjective art – abandoned rules. Manipulation of colour at their own discretion, reflecting their own feelings towards their subject. Sometimes this artform evokes an emotional response from the viewer, sometimes it is the emotional response of the artist to his subject. It arouses sensitivity in the artist or viewer. The expressive use of colour can have different meanings, e.g. blue can be happy and carefree, or foreboding and frightening. They used colour arbitrarily – pink lagoons and purple dogs by Gauguin – “we don’t question the use of colour, but its symbolic content”.
Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum – Van Gogh;
The White Horse – 1898 – Gauguin
Van Gogh and Gauguin were expressive Post-Impressionists. They seemed totally uninhibited. (Expressionism is 20th Century art)
Vincent Van Gogh was considered the father of modern expressionistic art. He intermingled art and emotions with indecipherable border between his thoughts and his feelings, using vivid colours, and very bold brushwork, that brought textural interest to his works. The personal interpretation of his own personal feelings, beyond external influences or subject matter, or design principles, created the painting of emotional reality.
Starry Night Over the Rhone – Van Gogh
His very early works showed noble peasant genre, sombre in colour. His middle works were lively, vivid impressionistic style with clean colour used with high tonality and bright hues – happy simple subjects. His later works were obsessive, and frenetic, with arbitrary garish colours, and dominant textural effects. He signed as ‘Vincent’ only to express himself. With his distorted shapes, strong textural effects, linear contours, strong vivid colours, he showed a sanity of design elements by using correct and ideal principles. He worked in strong contrasts of colours, used line expertly, and painted precisely with no chaos, no happy accidents, just very controlled technique, because of his innate design sense.
Paul Gauguin was an expressive artist, influenced by the Impressionists, by their use of colour, by Cezanne’s multiple points of view, by Van Gogh’s brushwork, by Medieval Art (religious and mystic), liking cloisonne metalwork and lead light Gothic windows in particular. He used strong dark contour lines, and coloured in, uniquely negating tonal modulation, creating flat patterns with arbitrary colours. Strong intentional outlines; colour to create mood; were symbolic, and expressively applied for decoration and for harmony and balance within the painting. He distorted shapes for pattern. He combined pagan and Christian symbols for impact.
Tahitian Landscape – Gauguin
VanGogh had texture to his line, with expressive quality in art and visible emotions. The line and colour live for their expressive content alone. Gauguin selects colour to give it a mystical dimension, taking the element and giving it a symbolic and emotional quality, making lovely patterns with strong outlines.
Both wished to emulate in oil an expressive force as well as decoration – revolting against academic approach. The Japanese prints did influence them, but they extended them into their own areas. They used line, colour and pattern as elements of art and worked with them in new expressive ways. The content of their works jumps out at the viewer, evoking reactions and feelings. These artists communicate on a perceptive human level, aside from the theories.
The Ford – Gauguin
All expressive 20th Century artists can trace back to Van Gogh and Gauguin. They influenced each other and learnt from their contemporaries. They worked in tandem, Formal and Expressive artistic streams developed parallel, overlapped, affected each other, with dual development.
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(C) Jud House 9/09/2016
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