The great historian and art critic Herbert Read had left us a tremendous legacy of important treatises on art and its history. Read’s idea that a major component of any substantial art will mirror its age is most interesting. One can trace this effect on art through the centuries. I have given this idea much thought through my artistic career and it has influenced my art.
If we venture back to the 17th century, this was a time when the only pictorial record available was the art of drawing and painting. We can observe how artists of that period recorded and mirrored the life of their times. It is evident from the art of that time that much of life in Europe focused on the church and Christianity.
Cowper Madonna,1508 by Raphael **
If we move forward to a time that can be loosely called the classical period of art, the social aspects of life during this era are evident in the art of this period. We begin to see an interest in expressing the beauty of nature, still life, portraiture, the nude figure as well as depictions of hunting scenes. We are able to see how people dressed, what they ate and how they lived. Also religious artwork continued to play a role during this period.
Photography was invented around the 1800's and became a popular medium for pictorial record keeping. This freed the artist to move into newer areas of expression and we witness the birth of the impressionist period. Fresh painting styles and the study of light became an integral part of the school of “plein air” (outdoor) paintings. Here we witness the result of the philosophical thinking and newer ideas infiltrating the social life and artwork of those times. The style of painting became more experimental in nature leading to fresh approaches that resulted in the discovery of the impressionist school.
Boating, Painting by Édouard Manet, 1874 **
Looking at what happened early in this century; one cannot help but notice the freedom of thinking. The existentialist philosophies of greats like Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and the influential works of Jack Kerouac were discovered. This eventually led to the discovery of abstract expressionism including remarkable artists such as Jackson Pollack, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler and Barnett Newman. These artists mirrored the age of freedom of thought and personal expression.
Bullseye by Helen Frankenthaler, 1989 **
We live in a complex age. It is an age of high speed communication and the accessibility to unlimited amounts of information. This is an age of electronic technology and digitization. Today we observe highly experimental, individual and sometimes less permanent forms of artistic expression.
Color Vibes 2 by Bassmi, Mixed Media on Canvas, 2016
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