Art History: A Quick Brief of Symbolism and Art Nouveau
Symbolism and Art Nouveau were simultaneous art movements that existed each on its own but that often came together on one piece.
Symbolism focused on the abstract use of symbols to express the spiritual reality behind the physical world. Art Nouveau sought to bring modernity and elegance to composition and design. Symbolists wanted to form images from dreams and it Art Nouveau’s swirling lines and often ethereal nature often provided a perfect backdrop.
Symbolism and Art Nouveau Origins and Historical Importance:
In 1886, Jean Moreas published the Symbolist Manifesto that promoted the idea of expressing ideals in “perceptible form” rather than “matter of fact description”.
He said, “in this art, scenes from nature, human activities, and all other real-world phenomena will not be described for their own sake; here, they are perceptible surfaces created to represent their esoteric affinities with the primordial ideals.”
What is possibly meant is that truth does not have to be obviously and directly depicted; the human mind can understand it through metaphor, and, through symbolism.
“If the weather is good I go into the nearby wood – there I am painting a small beech forest (in the sun) with a few conifers mixed in. This takes until 8 ‘o clock”. – Gustav Klimt
Symbolism started as a literary movement. Its transition to the visual arts lies in the ideology of the painter, rather than finding meaning in the outside world and depicting it on canvas, found an inner source and brought it out onto the canvas, whether the idea or thought was his own or the thought of a literary contemporary.
They turned to the legends and myths of both history and the bible as well as the literary art of the time to craft a story on canvas, imbuing their subjects with heroic qualities and esoteric meaning.
The Symbolists rejected the grittiness and over the accuracy of Realism, but also shied away from the fantasy and disingenuousness of Romanticism. They united in an effort to express emotions, feelings, and ideas through the human mind’s ability to understand the apparent truth through association, metaphors, and symbols.
Being on the edge of literary Romanticism, Gothic Horror and Romance, and Transcendentalism, the visual arts in the Symbolism movement geared toward subject matter that was almost taboo, such as erotic, perverse, maudlin, melancholy, macabre, or that dealt with religious mysticism, the occult, or secret knowledge.
“No language is rude that can boast polite writers”. – Aubrey Beardsley
The Art Nouveau movement came into being as designers bored of Neoclassic and Historicism and wanted to move the modern era in the direction of modern design.
They looked at design as more than a mere application of aesthetics and strove to meld functionality, aesthetics, and design into a harmonious whole. This idea was dubbed New Art, or Art Nouveau.
This new title was given to art across all mediums that applied the principle from painting to architecture to what was previously known only as crafts. Art Nouveau discouraged the idea that crafts were not art and embraced them as part of the movement.
Aesthetic design during the movement was heavily influenced by Asian art, particularly Japonism, Ukiyo-e prints (elegant and colorful woodblock prints), but was also inspired by La Tene Celtic design.
These two far-flung cultures that were influential shared a common theme, that of natural elements and lines and forms that flowed in the way of the natural world.
Art Nouveau took on the swirls and spirals of Celtic and Asian art and combined them with geometric forms and distinctly modern colors to create a new style.
“I find it difficult to imagine an afterlife, such as Christians, or at any rate many religious people, conceive it, believing that the conversations with relatives and friends interrupted here on earth will be continued in the hereafter”. – Edvard Munchy
Another concern of the proponents of Art Nouveau was the fast disappearance of quality craftsmanship.
The Industrial Revolution and mass production had led to poorly made reproductions of earlier antiques. The Art Nouveau movement attempted to revive pride in craftsmanship. They wanted to revive this under a new era of design that rejected frivolity and based the aesthetics of an object on how they contributed to the function of the object or at least harmonized with it.
Symbolism and Art Nouveau Key Highlights:
- Art Nouveau disliked the art community’s rejection of craft as non-art and sought to remedy it. This ultimately led to art nouveau becoming more of a craft-based form, being ousted by Art Deco not long after.
- Art Nouveau was heavily influenced Japanese woodblock prints and as such, mimicked their flat planes, contrasting voids, and simple color schemes.
- Mass-produced graphics coincided with Art Nouveau in a convenient way. Art Nouveau’s simple colors and two-dimensional depth worked well with modern printing equipment.
- The symbols of symbolism are secretive and ambiguous rather than being obvious familiar icons.
- Many symbolist artists used drugs to put them into the states they thought necessary to create their art. The famous literary artists, Edgar A. Poe, was a fan of the hallucinogenic drink, absinthe.
Symbolism and Art Nouveau Top Works:
- Death and Masks – James Ensor
- Jupiter and Semele – Gustave Moreau
- The Eye Like a Strange Balloon Mounts Toward Infinity – Odilon Redon
- The Three Brides – Jan Toorop
- The Dance of Life – Edvard Munsch
- Death and Life – Gustav Klimt
- The Peacock Skirt – Aubrey Beardsley
- Hope II – Gustav Klimt
Art Movements (Order by period of origin)
Dawn of Man – BC 10
- Paleolithic Art (Dawn of Man – 10,000 BC)
- Neolithic Art (8000 BC – 500 AD)
- Egyptian Art (3000 BC - 100 AD)
- Ancient Near Eastern Art (Neolithic era – 651 BC)
- Bronze and Iron Age Art (3000 BC – Debated)
- Aegean Art (2800-100 BC)
- Archaic Greek Art (660-480 BC)
- Classical Greek Art (480-323 BC )
- Hellenistic Art (323 BC – 27 BC)
- Etruscan Art (700 - 90 BC)
1st Century to 10th Century
- Roman Art (500 BC – 500 AD)
- Celtic Art
- Parthian and Sassanian Art (247 BC – 600 AD)
- Steppe Art (9000BC – 100 AD)
- Indian Art (3000 BC - current)
- Southeast Asian Art (2200 BC - Present)
- Chinese and Korean Art
- Japanese Art (11000 BC – Present)
- Early Christian Art (260-525 AD)
- Byzantine Art (330 – 1453 AD)
- Irish Art (3300 BC - Present)
- Anglo Saxon Art (450 – 1066 AD)
- Viking Art (780 AD-1100AD)
- Islamic Art (600 AD - Present)
10thCentury to 15th Century
- Pre Columbian Art (13,000 BC – 1500 AD)
- North American Indian and Inuit Art (4000 BC - Present)
- African Art ()
- Oceanic Art (1500 – 1615 AD)
- Carolingian Art (780-900 AD)
- Ottonian Art (900 -1050 AD)
- Romanesque Art (1000 AD – 1150 AD)
- Gothic Art (1100 – 1600 AD)
- The survival of Antiquity ()
15th century onwards
- Renaissance Style (1300-1700)
- The Northern Renaissance (1500 - 1615)
- Mannerism (1520 – 17th Century)
- The Baroque (1600-1700)
- The Rococo (1600-1700)
- Neo Classicism (1720 - 1830)
- Romanticism (1790 -1890)
- Realism (1848 - Present)
- Impressionism (1860 - 1895)
- Post-Impressionism (1886 - 1904)
- Symbolism and Art Nouveau (1880 -1910)
- Fauvism and Expressionism (1898 - 1920)
- Cubism and Futurism (1907-1928 )
- Abstract Art (1907 – Present Day)
- Dadasim and Surrealism (1916 - 1970)
- Latin American Art (1492 - Present)
- Modern American Art (1520 – 17th Century)
- Postwar European Art (1945 - 1970)
- Australian Art (28,000 BC - Present)
- South African Art (98,000 BC - Present)
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