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During the twentieth century, schools of art had shifted their focus from precedent movements within the community that followed a pattern of similar styles and themes within their portrayals, such as that found in the early Renaissance and post-impressionist period, to a more open-ended, multi-layered and multi-interpretational view of art that took the world by storm post-World War II and is seen in the more recent movements all of which serve to break down barriers of what is and isn’t considered art by the largely formal critics and artistic organizations that overstate the significance of previous, ‘old-fashioned’ movements and their centrality to setting unreasonably high standards as to what qualifies as art and what is simply conjectural garbage, so to speak. Oftentimes finding itself at a crossroads in regard to more avant-garde artistic efforts which challenge representation, the art world diverges between those still fixed on the overarching framework of well-established ideas featured in pre-modern art, and the progressive schools that are at the helm of ‘new art’. Groundbreaking artists such as Théodore Géricault, Vincent Van Gogh, and Pablo Picasso, though not traditionally considered avant-garde, did indeed shake the art world to its core after being recognized for their contributions, and set the stage for future artists to come that would reform and revolutionize art through their talents.
Théodore Géricault challenged representation through his own uber-realism in tragedy-oriented scenes, such as that in The Raft of the Medusa portraying the few surviving castaways shipwrecked and on the verge of death itself; but not until a few of the stranded men discover a ship not too far in the distance, they’re last hope sailing towards them. Géricault’s usage of darker hues conveys a more serious and inherently negative vibe, which only adds further to the depiction and emphasizes the atmosphere of grimness that has taken hold of the scene. Coupled with the fine detailing of the sailors and their emaciated bodies, as if they’ve been starving for weeks on end and are dancing a very thin line between life and death as they appear to be going in and out of consciousness. As the devil’s in the details, so to speak, Géricault positions the corpses on the ends of whatever remains of the ship, as they slip into the oblivion of a grave at sea to give off an otherworldly effect, as if death is quite literally surrounding and subsuming them one-by-one, until none are left to cry for help and they all wind up in Davy Jones’ locker. With a blackening sky and the waves crashing against the wreckage, Géricault simulates real-world doom through his change in background, which inadvertently set the stage for modern visual artists to do the same in their own fields, such as filmmaking, whereby a slow shift from a tranquil background to something more menacing is necessary to get a feel of what’s transpiring. Géricault
Van Gogh is perhaps one of the most notorious artists of the modern period, despite his renown from catching on until after his untimely death. Celebrated for his ‘weird’ twists on run-of-the-mill, everyday scenes, Van Gogh sought to reimagine these same scenes through his own perspective and personal understanding of the world around him. Specifically, his famed swirls as seen in Thatched Cottages at Cordeville, and in other paintings such as Starry Night, indicate that the world is just a series of twists and turns for him, a ceaseless spiral that is both mesmerizing and eerie by the viewer and Van Gogh himself whose own experiences are reflected in his work. Geometrically, the shapes of each object in the image are either concretely defined or tail off at the ends. So, while the cottages themselves appear put-together, as the thatched roofs stretch farther into the background, the swirls begin to form, and they start to blend with the trees. Same principle applies to the farmland and the night sky, as they’re seemingly solid but then also coalesce with everything else around it, thus expressing the intertwining of the scene as a whole and on a small-scale. Thatched Cottages at Cordeville demonstrates a surrealism founded in the cartoonish element of the pigmentation and the spatial ordering of the objects with 3D extensions from the foreground into the deep background of the canvas, far beyond the ordinariness of simple landscapes or portraitures as was the norm.
Pablo Picasso is a household name, having built a reputation for himself as a contrapositive to the fundamental realism and naturalist imagery of his predecessors, instead making sure that his own works were characteristically unreal, and the style more cut-and-paste per his roots in the art movement of Cubism. Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is the epitome of Picasso’s style put into practice, depicting five nude prostitutes from a local Spanish brothel, there is a strong sense of asexual indifference to the usually identifiable sexual organs of females, a specialty of the impressionist and realist schools of art. Picasso’s rationale behind the ‘censoring’ was to shift the focus from the obvious nudity per se of the women in the image, to a larger idea of liberation and sexual freedom that the women are given in their line of work, in spite of the various judgements and gossip they may experience in their daily lives. Picasso blends together a mix of reds, blues, and yellows for a stark contract between the female figures in the foreground and the prismed background divvied up into a series of diagonal and curved lines. Seemingly melded with the background and yet distinctly their own selves, Picasso conveys a sense of dual identity; as part of the world that surrounds them but also living in their own bubble. Picasso revolted against the status quo set for the artistic world and set up a new standard of what art meant to himself, and his viewers.
With respect to the philosophy of this school of ‘new art’, it is largely centered on mass appeal and building hype around oncoming waves of artistic design from the lower-end of society expressing themselves in variable ways that break the pattern of what is traditionally considered art by the upper-end of society, who typically function as the decision-making financiers and patrons of the arts. These aforementioned artists set the stage for such an inversion of power whereby the artists have wrestled back their artistic license from the grubby hands of the elite and redistributed that power among their peers. Nowadays, art is what everyone wants it to be, not simply what a minority of the population designates it as.
Conclusively, these men were at the forefront of the ‘new art’ movement and had contributed to the upheaval of ‘old art’ in the face of this new school seeking to reevaluate and redefine the standards of what art is and should be according to their own self-expression and effort in creating art. By challenging traditional representation, they stood out of the crowd and their names etched into the pages of history and their names will live on time immemorial in the memories of the art world.
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