Tag Archives: Art History

The Symbolist Poets

A parallel revolt against the traditional modes of expression took place in poetry under the leadership of the Symbolists, who strove for direct poetic experience unspoiled by intellectual elements. They sought to suggest rather than describe, to present the symbol rather than the state of the thing.

Arthur Rimbaud (1854 – 1891)

My Bohemian Life by Arthur Rimbaud

I went off with my hands in my torn coat pockets;
My overcoat too was becoming ideal;
I travelled beneath the sky, Muse! and I was your vassal;
Oh dear me! what marvellous loves I dreamed of!

My only pair of breeches had a big whole in them.
– Stargazing Tom Thumb, I sowed rhymes along my way.
My tavern was at the Sign of the Great Bear.
– My stars in the sky rustled softly.

And I listened to them, sitting on the road-sides
On those pleasant September evenings while I felt drops
Of dew on my forehead like vigorous wine;

And while, rhyming among the fantastical shadows,
I plucked like the strings of a lyre the elastics
Of my tattered boots, one foot close to my heart!

Symbolism as a literary movement came to the forefront in the work of Charles Baudelaire (1821-67) Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-98), Paul Verlaine (1844-96), and Arthur Rimbaud (1854-91). These poets were strongly influenced by Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49), whose writings were introduced into France by his admirer, Baudelaire. They experimented in free verse forms that opened new territories to their art, achieving a language indefiniteness that had hitherto been the privilege of music alone.

From The Renaissance To The Baroque

The stylistic changes that mark the shift from the Renaissance to the Baroque are very dramatic. The Baroque era spanned a turbulent century and a half. Roughly, the Baroque era started in 1600 and continued until around 1750. The term “baroque” probably came from the Portuguese word barroco, which was an irregular shaped pearl that was used in the jewelry of the time. The Baroque period was a time of adventure and much change.

The Triumph of the Immaculate by Paolo de Matteis

he discovery of the New World cause imaginations to soar and filled
the coffers of the Old World. The middle classes gathered wealth and power in a struggle with the aristocracy. Empires clashed as each tried to become master of the New World. Appalling poverty and wasteful luxury, magnificent idealism and savage oppression – against contradictions such as these revealed the pomp and splendor of Baroque art. An art of bold gestures and conception, Baroque art is exceptionally vigorous, highly decorative and very monumental.

All Art Is Abstract To Some Degree

Abstract art is generally taken to mean painting and sculpture by artists for whom the manner and the means are the subject rather than the representation of any object. All art is abstract to some degree; that is, it is removed from the perceived elements of nature. The sculpture of archaic Greece, of Egypt, of primitive tribes, both ancient and modern, use simplified, often geometricized forms, and the frescoes of Giotto Di Bondone thus honor the two-dimensionality of his medium.

The term abstract art, however, is best used to signify a main line of development that only began in this century with the profound desire in modern art to express the continuum of inner life in purely pictorial terms. Abstract art’s beginnings can be traced to James McNeill Whistler’s “art for art’s sake” theories and to his Arrangements, Symphonies, and Nocturnes, closely related to the art of music, which, to many abstractionists, is the universal abstract language.

Wassily Kandinsky, in 1910, made his first consciously abstract watercolor, a composition of swirling, interacting spots of color deeply related to his love of music, the basis of his aesthetic principle. During the same year, Kandinsky began to write Concerning the Spiritual in Art, expounding his metaphysically based ideas concerning inner reality. In 1911-12, the Czech artist Frantisek Kupka painted what is often considered the first totally abstract canvas, Fugue in Red and Blue (National Gallery, Prague), whose rhythmic patterns of color were directly inspired by musical correspondences. Pure color as both form and subject was the central idea in the Orphism of Robert Delaunay and Francis Picabia, which developed beginning in 1912.

Pure abstraction was, however, carried to its most extreme limits by the Russians, beginning in 1913, who extended the philosophical and geometric elements of cubism and developed an architecturally based abstraction completely removed from exterior realms. The most far-reaching experimentation in abstract art as the expression of the reality of the fourth dimension (inner reality) took form in the Rayonism of Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov (begun by Larionov in Moscow in 1911-12);  the constructivism of Naum Gabo, Antoine Pevsner and Vladimir Tatlin;  the Nonobjectivism of Alexnader Rodchenko; and the Suprematism of Kazimir Malevich. The principles established by these artists have had wide significance in successive abstract art movements from the Bauhaus during the 1920s and ’30s to the structures of minimal art during the 1960s.

Chief among the other innovators of abstract art are Piet Mondrian and artists of the De Stijl movement (such as Theo Van Doesburg and Bart van der Leck), developed in the Netherlands around 1917. In neoplasticism, Mondrian developed his ideas of pure plastic (formative) relationships as the basis for attaining the objective purity and universality of mathematics. In his philosophical reduction of form to the use of the three primary colors (red, yellow, and blue) and the right angle in horizontal-vertical position, Mondrian exerted great influence both on architecture and on painting, from the Bauhaus to the American Abstract Artists (founded in New York in 1936) to the American abstract expressionists of the 1940s and ’50s.

Abstract art, defined as the expression in pictorial terms of the universal structures and rhythms of inner reality, has continued as the central concern of numerous painters, sculptors, and architects to the present, all of whom have, to some degree, worked from the fundamental contributions of the pioneers in the field.

Chiaroscuro (Say What?)

Chiaroscuro, an Italian word for “clear–dark”, is a term in art for a contrast between light and dark. The term is usually applied to bold contrasts affecting a whole composition, but is also more technically used by artists and art historians for the use of effects representing contrasts of light, not necessarily strong, to achieve a sense of volume in modelling three-dimensional objects such as the human body. The term is now also used in describing similar effects in the lighting of cinema and photography.

Rembrandt “The Blinding of Samson”

Chiaroscuro is generally only remarked upon when it is a particularly prominent feature of the work, usually when the artist is using extreme contrasts of light and shade. The term is less often used of art after the late nineteenth century, although the Expressionist and other modern movements make great use of the effect. Classical voice instructors describe the optimal balance of clearness and darkness in the singing voice tone as chiaroscuro: a combination of brightness and “ping” (brilliance and resonance) with warmth and depth.

Vermeer “The Geographer”

Dada: The Thoughtful Irrationality Of Artists

Dada was an international, avant-garde art and literary movement that flourished between 1915 and 1922. The Dadaists’ declared purpose was to protest the senseless violence of World War I, which they believed had made all established moral and aesthetic values meaningless. The term itself means “hobbyhorse” in French and was supposedly chosen at random from the dictionary. Dada promulgated anti-art and non-sense, declaring that art did not depend in any way on established rules or on craftsmanship;  the only law was that of chance, and the only reality that of the imagination. Dada is often viewed as nihilistic, but it can also be seen as a kind of thoughtful irrationality, a way toward liberation achieved by penetrating into the unknown regions of the mind. Dada appeared nearly simultaneously in Zürich, New York City, and Paris, and soon took hold in Germany.  It finally concentrated in Paris.

In Zürich, where political exiles of all kinds took refuge during World War I, Dada was initiated by Hugo Ball, a German actor and playwright;  Jean Arp, an Alsatian painter and poet; Richard Huelsenbeck, a German poet; Marcel Janco, a Romanian artist; and Tristan Tzara, a Romanian poet.  Together they founded the Cabaret Voltaire – a theater, literary gathering place, and exhibition center. They offered scandalous and mysterious entertainments, lectured, and exhibited together a variety of artists such as Arp, Giorgio de Chirico, Max Ernst, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Pablo Picasso. Arp illustrated the works of Huelsenbeck and Tzara, and created a new type of collage by tearing pieces of colored paper and arranging them according to chance.  In 1918, Tzara wrote the manifesto for the movement.

Marcel Duchamp, who in 1915 had moved to New York City and in the same year coined the term “ready-made,” was the chief anticipator of Dada.  For his ready-mades, Duchamp took mundane objects such as snow shovels, urinals, and bottle racks, gave them titles, and signed them, thus turning their context from utility to aesthetics. Duchamp also invented word games, made an abstract film, and edited several reviews in the United States from 1913. His friend Francis Picabia worked with him and with Man Ray in New York on the Dada Review 291; Picabia founded the Dada Review 391 in Barcelona in 1917.

In 1919 Max Ernst launched Dadaism in Cologne with his friend Arp. Ernst’s type of collage technique was an important contribution to the Dada cause, as was the collage-painting of Kurt Schwitters, the chief figure of Dada in Hanover, Germany, who called Dada Merz, “something cast-off, junk.” Dada emerged as a group activity in Paris when a Dada salon opened at the Montaigne Gallery in 1922.  Dada has had a long and significant influence in art to the present time, and was the subject of a major exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1989. Dada found literary expression in France–principally in the form of nonsense poems and random combinations of words–with the writings of Louis Aragon, Andre Breton, and Paul Eluard. They founded the revue Littérature in 1919;  it was published until 1924. These writers soon abandoned the Dada movement, however, and turned to Surrealism.


Afterimages are experienced when a prolonged or intense visual stimulus ceases. Because afterimages result from fatigue in portions of the retina, the visual afterimage seems to move with the eye, unlike external objects that normally appear stationary despite eye movements.

When one looks at a gray or white surface, the resulting negative afterimage that is seen is close to the complementary color of the original stimulus. After blue, a gray patch looks yellow; after green, it looks red. Positive afterimages (of the same color as the original stimulus) are briefly seen, especially after short exposures or in a dark postexposure field.

Afterimages mix to affect appearances of colored postexposure fields, enhancing the color saturation of the fields when the afterimage and the postexposure field are of the same color.

  • The afterimage always has colors that are complementary to those of the original image.
  • Look steadily at the cross in the center of the picture to see an afterimage.
  • If this is your first afterimage, relax and have fun!
  • Art is fun isn’t it? Professionals get to do this all the time….

One of the most common afterimages is the bright glow that seems to float before one’s eyes after staring at a light bulb or a headlight for a few seconds. The phenomenon of afterimages may be closely related to persistence of vision, which allows a rapid series of pictures to portray motion, which of course is the basis of animation and cinema.

Bauhaus: The Persistence Of Design

The Bauhaus (the full name Bauhaus means “state building house”) was the most famous school of architecture and design of the 20th century. Founded by Walter Gropius at Weimar, Germany, in 1919, the Bauhaus was originally a combined school of fine art and school of arts and crafts. In his opening manifesto, Gropius issued a call for the unification of all the creative arts under the leadership of architecture. He declared that a mastery of materials and techniques was essential for all creative design. Students were to have two teachers in every course, one an expert craftsman, the other a master artist.

The preliminary course, organized by Johannes Itten, introduced students to rudiments of design, freed from historic associations:  size, shape, line, color, pattern, texture, rhythm, and density. This course has become the foundation for design education in many countries. It was followed in the curriculum by advanced work with form and materials, including workshops in stone, wood, metal, pottery, glass, painting, and textiles. Industrial design became a major focus at the Bauhaus, which hoped to improve radically the quality of all manufactured goods.

Teachers appointed in the early years included Lyonel Feininger, Gerhard Marcks, Johannes Itten, and Adolf Meyer (1919);  Georg Muche (1920); Paul Klee and Oskar Schlemmer (1921);  Wassily Kandinsky (1922);  and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1923).  From the beginning, the striking newness of the concepts developed at the Bauhaus and the liberal beliefs of many of the people associated with it aroused strong opposition.

In 1925 political pressures forced the removal of the school from Weimar to Dessau, where Gropius designed a new complex of buildings for it, including classrooms, shops, offices, and dwellings for faculty and students. This group of buildings in Dessau came to symbolize the Bauhaus to the rest of the world. Although Gropius repeatedly insisted that it was never his intention to codify a Bauhaus style or dogma, the need for a new architectural image appropriate to a technological age caused the Bauhaus to be adopted as a model for what came to be known as the international style, or, more generally, modern architecture.

Gropius left the Bauhaus for private practice in 1928 and was succeeded as director by Hannes Meyer. Strong political pressures continued. In 1930 Ludwig Mies van der Rohe took over as director, moved the school to Berlin in 1932, and finally closed and disbanded it under pressure from the Nazis in 1933.

Among the former students who became important teachers at the Bauhaus were Josef Albers, Marcel Breuer, and Herbert Bayer. The Bauhaus became influential around the world as a result of the continued active teaching and designing by former faculty and students, including many Americans. In the United States, Gropius became dean of the School of Architecture at Harvard University, Mies van der Rohe became dean of architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology, and Moholy-Nagy founded the New Bauhaus in Chicago.

The work and principles of the Bauhaus have been further disseminated by many publications and exhibitions that have circulated internationally. A major Bauhaus Archive, founded at Darmstadt in 1961, was moved in the 1970s to Berlin. Another Bauhaus Archive is kept at Harvard University.

The design philosophy of the Bauhaus continues pervasive to the present day.