Atrt is quite possibly one of the most subjective topics there is. It affects, inspired, and disgusts equally and differently for everyone involved. B...moreAtrt is quite possibly one of the most subjective topics there is. It affects, inspired, and disgusts equally and differently for everyone involved. But until the mid-1800's there were some generally accepted rules that artists followed - but since then that idea has been shot down utterly and completely by modern and contemporary art but not before completely offending and confusing the entire world.
The trouble started for the Impressionists when they fell foul of Paris's all-powerful and stuffily bureaucratic Academie des Beaux Arts (the Academy). The Academy expected artists to make work based on mythology, religious iconography, history or classical antiquity in a style that idealized he subject. Such fakery didn't interest this group of young, ambitious painters. They wanted to leave their studios and go outside to document the modern world around them. It was a bold move. Artists didn't simply wander off and paint 'low' subjects such as ordinary people picnicing, or drinking or walking; it wasn't the done thing. It would be like Steven Spielberg hiring himself out for wedding videos. Artists were expected to stay in their studios and produce picturesque landscapes or heroic images of human forms that harked back in time. That was the great and the good demanded for the walls of their fine houses and the city's museums, and this is what they got. Until the impressionists came along, that is.
This book is an attempt to explain modern art to anyone and everyone. It's not meant to be academic but approachable. And it has some fabulous passages that do just that. It educates and yet surprises. It turns modern assumptions about modern art on their heads while explaining why we made these assumptions in the first place. One of my favorite passages from the book that does just that is the following which discusses Impressionism...
Within the context of modern art, the more traditionally minded consider. The Impressionists the last group to produce 'proper art.' They didn't go in for all that 'conceptual nonsense' and those 'abstract squiggles' that came later, but produced paintings that were clear, beautiful and refreshingly inoffensive.
Actually, that's not quite right. As least, that's not what people thought at the time. The Impressionists were the most radical, rebellious, barricade-breaking, epoch-making group of artists in the entire history of art. They underwent personal hardship and professional ridicule in dogged pursuit of their artistic vision. They ripped up the rule book, metaphorically pulled their trousers down, and waved their collective derrières at the establishment before setting about instigating the global revolution we now call modern art. Many twentieth-century art movements, such as 1990's Brit Art, have been billed as subversive and anarchic, but in truth were far from it. The respectable looking twentieth-century Impressionist painters, on the other hand, were the original outlaws; they really were subversive and anarchical.
Another fantastic part of this book is the connections reveals between different art styles as a result of modern and contemporary artists being influenced and inspired by those who have come before them. This book is also helping me to understand why I have liked these works all along anyways! For instance I have always enjoyed Edgar Degas's ballerina paintings and bronze sculptures as I danced for a large portion of my life. Whenever I would see one of these works or even a poster of a painting I would always be drawn to its edges, and basically try to peak under the frame or edges for the rest of the scene. I was desperate to know what was being hidden from me. What I was missing out on. You see Degas would severely crop his work taking the action all the way to the edge of the canvas and beyond even cutting dancers in half and hiding more outside the realm of the canvas. Turns out he was inspired to do this by Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock prints who exercised the same method. I had no idea this connection existed between Impressionism and Japanese woodblocks and love that art can be so universal. (less)