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Artistic revolution

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Artistic revolution

Throughout history, forms of art have gone through periodic abrupt changes called artistic revolutions. Movements have come to an end to be replaced by a new movement markedly different in striking ways. See also cultural movements.

Artistic revolution and political revolutions

The role of fine art has been to simultaneously express values of the current culture while also offering criticism, balance, or alternatives to any such values that are proving no longer useful. So as times change, art changes. If changes were abrupt they were deemed revolutions. The best artists have predated society's changes due not to any prescIence, but because sensitive perceptivity is part of their talent of seeing.

Artists who succeeded enough to portray visions that future generations could live to see, often had to navigate an often treacherous path between their own capacity to see adn execute what lesser artists could not, while still appealing to powerful patrons who could finance their visions. For example, paintings glorified aristocracy in the early 17th century when leadership was needed to nationalize small political groupings, but later as leadership became oppressive, satirization increased and subjects were less concerned with leaders and more with more common plights of mankind.[1]

No art owes quite as much to state power as French painting does. It was in the age of absolute monarchy launched by Louix XIV in the 17th century that the likes of Poussin and Le Brun put France in the forefront of European art. Versailles found its stately mirror in the powerful idea of classicism – a painting style, enduring in later artists like Ingres, whose austerity and grandeur express the authority of a world where Jove is very much in his throne.[2]

Examples of revolutionary art in conjunction with cultural and political movements:

Artistic revolution of style

Here is an example of an Artistic Revolution Pieces

Scientific and Technological

But not all artistic revolutions were political. Sometimes, science and technological innovations have brought about unforeseen transformations in the works of artists. The stylistic revolution known as Impressionism, by painters eager to more accurately capture the changing colors of light and shadow, is inseparable from discoveries and inventions in the mid-19th century in which the style was born.

Eugene Chevreul, a French chemist hired as director of dyes at a French tapestry works, began to investigate the optical nature of color in order to improve color in fabrics. Chevreul realized It was the eye, and not the dye, that had the greatest influence on color, and from this, he revolutionized color theory by grasping what came to be called the law of simultaneous contrast: that colors mutually influence one another when juxtaposed, each imposing its own complementary color on the other. The French painter Eugène Delacroix, who had been experimenting with what he called broken tones, embraced Chevreul's book, "The Law of Contrast of Color (1839) with its explanations of how juxtaposed colors can enhance or diminish each other, and his exploration of all the visible colors of the spectrum. Inspired by Chevreul’s 1839 treatise, Delacroix passed his enthusiasm on to the young artists who were inspired by him. It was Chevreul who led the Impressionists to grasp that they should apply separate brushstrokes of pure color to a canvas and allow the viewer’s eye to combine them optically.[3]

They were aided greatly in this by innovations in oil paint itself. Since the Renaissance, painters had to grind pigment, add oil and thus create their own paints; these time-consuming paints also quickly dried out, making studio painting a necessity for large works, and limiting painters to mix one or two colors at a time and fill in an entire area using just that one color before it dried out. in 1841, a little-known American painter named John G. Rand invented a simple improvement without which the Impressionist movement could not have occurred: the small, flexible tin tube with removable cap in which oil paints could be stored.[4] Oil paints kept in such tubes stayed moist and usable -- and quite portable. For the first time since the Renaissance, painters were not trapped by the time frame of how quickly oil paint dried.

Paints in tubes could be easily loaded up and carried out into the real world, to directly observe the play of color and natural light, in shadow and movement, to paint in the moment. Selling the oil paint in tubes also brought about the arrival of dazzling new pigments - chrome yellow, cadmium blue - invented by 19th century industrial chemists. The tubes freed the Impressionists to paint quickly, and across an entire canvas, rather than carefully delineated single-color sections at a time; in short, to sketch directly in oil - racing across the canvas in every color that came to hand and thus inspiring their name of "impressionists" - since such speedy, bold brushwork and dabs of separate colors made contemporary critics think their paintings were mere impressions, not finished paintings, which were to have no visible brush marks at all, seamless under layers of varnish.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir said, “Without colors in tubes, there would be no Cézanne, no Monet, no Pissarro, and no Impressionism.”[5]

Finally, the careful, hyper-realistic techniques of French neo-classicism were seen as stiff and lifeless when compared to the remarkable new vision of the world as seen through the new invention of photography by the mid-1850's. It was not merely that the increasing ability of this new invention, particularly by the French inventor Daguerre, made the realism of the painted image redundant as he deliberately competed in the Paris diorama with large-scale historical paintings.[6] The neo-classical subject matter, limited by Academic tradition to Greek and Roman legends, historical battles and Biblical stories, seemed oppressively cliched and limited to artists eager to explore the actual world in front of their own eyes revealed by the camera - daily life, candid groupings of everyday people doing simple things, Paris itself, rural landscapes and most particularly the play of captured light - not the imaginary lionizing of unseen past events.[7] Early photographs influenced Impressionist style by its use of asymmetry, cropping and most obviously the blurring of motion, as inadvertently captured in the very slow speeds of early photography.

Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir  - in their framing, use of color, light and shadow, subject matter  - put these innovations to work to create a new language of visual beauty and meaning.

Faking revolution: the C.I.A. and Abstract Expressionism

Their initial break with realism into an exploration of light, color and the nature of paint was brought to an ultimate conclusion by the Abstract Expressionists who broke away from recognizable content of any kind into works of pure shape, color and painterliness which emerged at the end of the second world war. At first thought of as primitive, inept works - as in "my four year old could do that"—these works were misunderstood and neglected until given critical and support by the rise of art journalists and critics who championed their work in the 1940s and 50's, expressing the power of such work in aesthetic terms the artists themselves seldom used, or even understood. Jackson Pollock who pioneered splatter painting, dispensing with a paint brush altogether, soon became lionized as the angry young man in a large spread in Life Magazine.

In fact, in a deliberate, secret and successful effort to separate artistic revolutions from political ones, abstract expressionists like Pollack, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko, while seemingly difficult, pathbreaking artists, were in fact secretly supported for twenty years by the C.I.A. in a Cold War policy begun in 1947 to prove that the United States could foster more artistic freedom than the Soviet bloc.[8] "It was recognized that Abstract Expressionism was the kind of art that made Socialist Realism look even more stylized and rigid and confined than it was, " said former C.I.A. case worker Donald Jameson, who finally broke the silence on this program in 1995. Ironically, the covert C.I.A. support for these radical works was required because an attempt to use government funds for a European tour of these works during the Truman administration led to a public uproar in conservative McCarthy-era America, with Truman famously remarking, "If that's art, I'm a Hottentot." Thus the program was hidden under the guise of fabricated foundations and the support of wealthy patrons who were actually using C.I.A. funds, not their own, to sponsor traveling exhibitions of American abstract expressionists all over the world, publish books and articles praising them and to purchase and exhibit Abstract Expressionist works in major American and British museums. Thomas Braden, in charge of these cultural programs for the C.I.A.. in the early years of the Cold War, had formerly been executive secretary of the Museum of Modern Art, America's leading institution for 20th Century art and the charges of collusion between the two echoed for many years after this program was revealed, though most of the artists involved had no idea they were being used in this way and were furious when they found out.[9]

Artistic Movements

Ancient & Classical Art

Key dates: 15000 BC / 400 BC-200AD / 350 AD-450AD
Ancient - There are few remaining examples with early art often favouring drawing over colour. Work has been found recently in tombs, Egyptian frescoes, pottery and metalwork.
Classical - Relating to or from ancient Roman or Greek architecture and art. Mainly concerned with geometry and symmetry rather than individual expression.
Byzantine - A religious art characterised by large domes, rounded arches and mosaics from the eastern Roman Empire in the 4th Century.[10]

Medieval & Gothic

Key dates: 400AD
Medieval - A highly religious art beginning in the 5th Century in Western Europe. It was characterised by iconographic paintings illustrating scenes from the bible.
Gothic - This style prevailed between the 12th century and the 16th century in Europe. Mainly an architectural movement, Gothic was characterised by its detailed ornamentation most noticeably the pointed archways and elaborate rib vaulting.
First developed in France, Gothic was intended as a solution to the inadequacies of Romanesque architecture. It allowed for cathedrals to be built with thinner walls and it became possible to introduce stained glass windows instead of traditional mosaic decorations. Some of the finest examples of the style include the cathedrals of Chartres, Reims and Amiens. The term was also used to describe sculpture and painting that demonstrated a greater degree of naturalism.[10]


Key dates: 1300s
This movement began in Italy in the 14th century and the term, literally meaning rebirth, describes the revival of interest in the artistic achievements of the Classical world. Initially in a literary revival Renaissance was determined to move away from the religion-dominated Middle Ages and to turn its attention to the plight of the individual man in society. It was a time when individual expression and worldly experience became two of the main themes of Renaissance art. The movement owed a lot to the increasing sophistication of society, characterised by political stability, economic growth and cosmopolitanism. Education blossomed at this time, with libraries and academies allowing more thorough research to be conducted into the culture of the antique world. In addition, the arts benefited from the patronage of such influential groups as the Medici family of Florence, the Sforza family of Milan and Popes Julius II and Leo X. The works of Petrarch first displayed the new interest in the intellectual values of the Classical world in the early 14th century and the romance of this era as rediscovered in the Renaissance period can be seen expressed by Boccaccio. Leonardo da Vinci was the archetypal Renaissance man representing the humanistic values of the period in his art, science and writing. Michelangelo and Raphael were also vital figures in this movement, producing works regarded for centuries as embodying the classical notion of perfection. Renaissance architects included Alberti, Brunelleschi and Bramante. Many of these artists came from Florence and it remained an important centre for the Renaissance into the 16th century eventually to be overtaken by Rome and Venice. Some of the ideas of the Italian Renaissance did spread to other parts of Europe, for example to the German artist Albrecht Dürer of the 'Northern Renaissance'. But by the 1500s Mannerism had overtaken the Renaissance and it was this style that caught on in Europe.
Representative artists:
Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, Filippo Brunelleschi, Raphael da Urbino, Titian, Michelangelo Buonarroti, and Donatello Bardi.[10]


Key dates: 1520-1600
Artists of the Early Renaissance and the High Renaissance developed their characteristic styles from the observation of nature and the formulation of a pictorial science. When Mannerism matured after 1520(The year Raphael died), all the representational problems had been solved. A body of knowledge was there to be learned. Instead of nature as their teacher, Mannerist artists took art. While Renaissance artists sought nature to find their style, the Mannerists looked first for a style and found a manner. In Mannerist paintings, compositions can have no focal point, space can be ambiguous, figures can be characterized by an athletic bending and twisting with distortions, exaggerations, an elastic elongation of the limbs, bizarre posturing on one hand, graceful posturing on the other hand, and a rendering of the heads as uniformly small and oval. The composition is jammed by clashing colors, which is unlike what we've seen in the balanced, natural, and dramatic colors of the High Renaissance. Mannerist artwork seeks instability and restlessness. There is also a fondness for allegories that have lascivious undertones.
Representative artists:
Andrea del Sarto, Jacopo da Pontormo, Correggio[10]


Key dates: 1600s
Baroque Art emerged in Europe around 1600, as a reaction against the intricate and formulaic Mannerist style which dominated the Late Renaissance. Baroque Art is less complex, more realistic and more emotionally affecting than Mannerism.
This movement was encouraged by the Catholic Church, the most important patron of the arts at that time, as a return to tradition and spirituality.
One of the great periods of art history, Baroque Art was developed by Caravaggio, Annibale Carracci, and Gianlorenzo Bernini, among others. This was also the age of Rubens, Rembrandt, Velázquez, and Vermeer.
In the 18th century, Baroque Art was replaced by the more elegant and elaborate Rococo style.
Representative artists:
Caravaggio, Annibale Carracci, Gianlorenzo Bernini, Rubens, Rembrandt, Nicolas Poussin[10]


Key dates: 1700s
Throughout the 18th century in France, a new wealthy and influential middle-class was beginning to rise, even though the royalty and nobility continued to be patrons of the arts. Upon the death of Louis XIV and the abandonment of Versailles, the Paris high society became the purveyors of style. This style, primarily used in interior decoration, came to be called Rococo. The term Rococo was derived from the French word "rocaille", which means pebbles and refers to the stones and shells used to decorate the interiors of caves. Therefore, shell forms became the principal motif in Rococo. The society women competed for the best and most elaborate decorations for their houses. Hence the Rococo style was highly dominated by the feminine taste and influence.
François Boucher was the 18th century painter and engraver whose works are regarded as the perfect expression of French taste in the Rococo period. Trained by his father who was a lace designer, Boucher won fame with his sensuous and light-hearted mythological paintings and landscapes. He executed important works for both the Queen of France and Mme. de Pompadour, Louis XV's mistress, who was considered the most powerful woman in France at the time. Boucher was Mme. de Pompadour's favorite artist and was commissioned by her for numerous paintings and decorations. Boucher also became the principal designer for the royal porcelain factory and the director of the Gobelins tapestry factory. The Vulcan Presenting Venus with Arms for Aeneas is a template for a tapestry made by this factory.
Characterized by elegant and refined yet playful subject matters, Boucher's style became the epitome of the court of Louis XV. His style consisted of delicate colors and gentle forms painted within a frivolous subject matter. His works typically utilized delightful and decorative designs to illustrate graceful stories with Arcadian shepherds, goddesses and cupids playing against a pink and blue sky. These works mirrored the frolicsome, artificial and ornamented decadence of the French aristocracy of the time.
The Rococo is sometimes considered a final phase of the Baroque period.
Representative artists:
François Boucher, William Hogarth, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Angelica Kauffman, Giovanni Antonio Canaletto, Velázquez Vermeer[10]


Key dates: 1750-1880
A nineteenth-century French art style and movement that originated as a reaction to the Baroque. It sought to revive the ideals of ancient Greek and Roman art. Neoclassic artists used classical forms to express their ideas about courage, sacrifice, and love of country. David and Canova are examples of neo-classicists.
Representative artists:
Jacques-Louis David, Sir Henry Raeburn, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Thomas Gainsborough, Antonio Canova, Arnold Bocklin[10]


Key dates: 1800-1880
Romanticism was basically a reaction against Neoclassicism, it is a deeply felt style which is individualistic, beautiful, exotic, and emotionally wrought.
Although Romanticism and Neoclassicism were philosophically opposed, they were the dominant European styles for generations, and many artists were affected to a greater or lesser degree by both. Artists might work in both styles at different times or even mix the styles, creating an intellectually Romantic work using a Neoclassical visual style, for example.
Great artists closely associated with Romanticism include J.M.W. Turner, Caspar David Friedrich, John Constable, and William Blake.
In the United States, the leading Romantic movement was the Hudson River School of dramatic landscape painting.
Obvious successors of Romanticism include the Pre-Raphaelite movement and the Symbolists. But Impressionism, and through it almost all of 20th-century art, is also firmly rooted in the Romantic tradition.
Representative artists:
George Stubbs, William Blake, John Martin, Francisco Goya, Sir Thomas Lawrence, John Constable, Eugène Delacroix, Sir Edwin landseer, Caspar David Friedrich, JMW Turner[10]


  1. ^ citation needed
  2. ^ jonathanjonesblog
  3. ^
  4. ^ May 2013, by Perry Hurt
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Speculating Daguerre: Art and Enterprise in the Work of L. J. M. Daguerre" by Stephen C. Pinson, Chicago, (2012) p. 1-12
  7. ^ Review of "The Lens of Impressionism," at University of Michigan Museum of Art, October- Dec. 2009 by Simon Kelly, Volume 9, Issue 1 Spring 2010,
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h
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