Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Avant-Garde in the 19th Century

Artists were artists who desired to affect change through their art!

Gericault and Courbet were considered Avant-Garde artists because they both painted Realistic portrayals of the present. Prior to their works painters usually painted historical recreations in a romantic way. Artists would paint a single moment in a greater narrative for the audience to consider. They were considered Avant-Garde artists because they tried to use their art to make a statement or a change in the world. Paintings like A Burial at Ornans by Courbet or Gericault's The Raft of the Medusa showed the people who were suffering because of the upper class.  The artists hoped that by painting what they saw in the present and not romanticizing it they would be able to change the way the powers that be reacted to the lower or middle classes.  This very desire to use art to affect change is what makes them Avant-Garde Artists.

A Burial at Ornans by Courbet

The Raft of the Medusa by Gericault

Thomas Couture was a history painter and teacher. His most famous art work is the Romans During the Decadence in 1847. His art was romantic in nature, his paintings were historically based, and the paint itself was smooth and controlled. His paintings depict a moment in a much larger narrative story, and in my opinion his art was a perfect example of everything that was acceptable in the art world at that time. It was an academic painting with impeccable attention to detail. And its overall effect was totally false. His historical images were romanticized in such a manner to be pleasing to the eye.  And I consider him a painter with limited imagination and style, nothing more than a one hit wonder.  While he did have other successful paintings he never achieved the same status with any of them that he did with Romans.  His students however went on to achieve quite a lot. One of his most famous students and who I personally feel expressed himself well in his art was Edouard Manet.

Romans During the Decadence by Couture

Thomas Coutures' student Edouard Manet in contrast to his teacher, was at the forefront of Impressionism.  His unbending will to paint things as he saw them was expressed in his paintings. Le dejeuner sur l'herbe and Olympia were perfect examples of his flaunting society’s standards.  
Le dejeuner sur l'herbe by Manet

Olympia by Manet

While like his teacher Couture, he did use some historical references, they were more of a strike against the past rather than a snapshot narrative of it.  With the social climate being what it was in Paris, he flaunted the bounds of propriety by showing not only a fully nude female form, but also with her facing the audience.  She showed her pride and her sexuality which was unacceptable for the time period.  Because of course women were thought to be demure and non-sexual. Manet’s painting style was not as clean and organized as his teacher Couture and his brush strokes not only showed in the painting but there were often harsh lines or even what those at the time would consider unfinished areas. Those blurs of paint which others considered unfinished, I perceive as the beginning of Impressionism.  Since he leaves it to the viewers impression what belongs there. Manet actually showed his work in the Salon des Refuses because the salons of the time were refusing artists like him.  Manet unlike Couture painted real life.  His paintings reflected the everyday Parisian.  And the Bourgeoisie did not appreciate that style of art at all, hence the Salon’s refusal to show his artwork. This did not stop him and others like him, they kept painting just as they felt, expressing their own opinions of the world in their artwork; hidden except for those who looked deep enough to see the truth hidden behind the art.

In my opinion each of these artists was a stepping stone to today’s art world.  The styles live on in the art of today.  The use of Palette knives to smear paint, blocky, chunky or even mixed media arts all take their roots from these originators of the works we do today. And like those artists who painted what they saw to try to affect change, artists of today likewise use their art to make statements to try to change the status quo.

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