Art for Art's Sake: A Revolution

To ensure visual arts had a place of importance in culture, academies throughout Europe were established as early as the 16th century. Academies were responsible for exhibiting art, showing works by members and other artists approved by a member-appointed jury. These academies were prestige settings that determined what subject matter of art was appropriate, what medium was deemed respectful, and who could be accepted as an artist. Due to the strict rules, artists were limited in their subject of interest and creative freedom, this restriction lead artists of the 19th centuryto rebel against the academies rules and began to explore new styles and subject matters. This rebellion lead to a growing number of art galleries and exhibitions, increasing an artist opportunity to show their work without restriction. As art became available to the masses, it no longer was limited by a particular view. In this exhibition, the works before you will demonstrate the transition of the academy style of art to the experimental work that changed the meaning of art all together. Art for Art’s Sake: A Revolution pays tribute to the artists who appealed to their senses and who still inspires us today.

Oath of the Horatti, is an example of Neo-Classicism style and an example of art that follows the rules of the Academy. This painting is an example of a conventional Academy approved work through the use of historical subject matter, moral context and the realistic representations of the figures.
Turner’s paintings follow many of the academic conventions of painting through the use of historical or biblical subject matter and moralizing context of his work, but Turner makes a small but significant shift in the rigid view of what the academy deems as important subject matter for painting. Turner wanted to make landscape painting at par with history painting and did so by combining history painting with landscape and made the landscape the foreground rather than the background. Turner’s work still fulfills the standards of the academy while slowly beginning to shift the context to his preference.
Girtin’s paintings are the example of the foundation of the acceptance of new mediums in the art world. Thomas Girtin is credited for being one of the first artists to take water colour seriously in a time when watercolour was considered by the academy as the “lesser art” and was used for sketching purposes. Due to the academy’s rejection of watercolour a group was formed in 1804 called the Society of Painters of Watercolours. This group made a significant change in the art world, for the Academy was now not the only group that formed the standards of art making.
Monet's paintings symbolically represent the Impressionism Movement that transformed art in the late 19th century. The Impressionists challenged the traditional premises of representationalism and their paintings are characterized as sketchy and light filled, with a lack of finish, and the brushstrokes are easily noticeable. This style was highly criticised but the exhibitions were extremely successful. Monet's paintings represent the freedom of artists and their style away from the constraints of the academy.
Degas’ Little Dancer, aged fourteen, is a representation of experimentation of materials and as well as the shift from the idealized female form to the natural realistic form. This sculpture is a mixed media piece using materials of wax, cloth, human hair and bronze casting.In this work Degas is pushing the envelope of what sculpture could be and challenged the notions of beauty. The academy standard of beauty at this time was to display the figure in an ideal state, where the individual would have their best features emphasised and their flaws removed. Due to this standard, Degas’ sculpture was considered controversial for it was described as ugly.
The female nudes in context to the Academy were represented as anonymous women or goddess such as the Venus. Manet’s painting of Olympia however, displays a nude female who not only isn’t anonymous but is also depicted in contemporary context. Manet’s work in highly controversial due to these factors. This work displays a recognizable model and puts the model in the role of a prostitute, for the name “Olympia” was a symbol for prostitution. The female has no sculptural realism to her form which goes against the Academy’s standard of realism. The model also wears a black choker necklace that represents the contemporary female of the time. Manet’s work demonstrates the irremediable facts of ordinary existence and goes against the theme of academic art by steering away from historical and biblical subject matters.
Seurat’s, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte,represents the mixing together of social classes and the optical mixing technique of pointillism.This painting goes against the academic standards of art through its subject matter displaying leisure activities however it doesn’t just focus on the leisure of the bourgeois but of the middle and lower class society as well. This painting measures 6 by 9 feet which also goes against the academic standard where large scale painting were generally reserved for history paintings. Seurat’s work demonstrates revolutionary technique and style that inspired future artists, such as Vincent van Gogh. This style was coined Neo-Impressionism for the way he broke up the paint surface and for monumentalizing urban life.
Whistler’s painting represents the foundations of abstraction and the tension between realism and non-representationalism. Whistler made art for art's sake and was concerned with formal qualities rather than the subject matter. Whistler was also interested in the link of all arts, such as painting and music and intended his work to evoke a feeling rather than demonstrate a realistic representation of a subject.Due to Whistlers views on art, critic John Ruskin analyzed Whistler’s piece to be “flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.” Whistler sued Ruskin for defamation and the question of “What is an art work expected to be?” was disputed in court. The task of defining art was debated and as a result, Whistler won. Art was now open to a potential of vast levels of interpretation. Whistler pushed the boundaries of representation as well as the boundaries of what it means to be open minded to all forms of art.
Cézanne’s works represents the foundation for the Cubist style of art and challenged the notions of perspective. Cézanne, like Whistler, wanted not to mimic reality and was less concerned with linear perspective and instead was interested in how the eye worked. Cézanne pushed the techniques of perspective by playing with angles and sight through different viewpoints. Cézanne’s work is significant because he revolutionizes the interpretation of sight through his studies of approaching the realistic in a non representational way. This approach will later lay the foundation to further experimentation of future artist allowing for the style of cubism and further rebellion against the academic approach to art.
Odilon Redon’s Tear (Les Pleurs) represents the foundation for the Surrealistic style of art and fully rejects realism. Redon’s work is the last shift displayed in the 19th century and is the farthest away from academic standards of art through resistance of the subject matter of history or of biblical text as well as not demonstrating realism. Redon’s work explores none rational realms of human emotions and is called symbolism art. Redon’s work is filled with hidden meanings that are never fully revealed and is left to the viewer to interpret
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