Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Are we blinded by art movements?

This article was first published in my newsletter "Notes From My French Easel" – April 2011.

I often wondered if art movements labelling is helpful or a hindrance to art appreciation. We love to classify and put label on things and people, but as James Adams pointed out in his book Conceptual Blockbusting: A Guide to Better Ideas, “Stereotyping and labelling are extremely prevalent and effective perceptual blocks. The simple truth of the matter is, you cannot see clearly if you are controlled by preconceptions.”

“Impression de soleil levant” - Oil on canvas (48 × 63 cm) by Claude Monet [source: Wikimedia]

Let’s look at two movements: Impressionism and Fauvism. The word “Impressionist” was coined by Louis Leroy, an art critic who published in Le Charivari an unflattering review of an exhibition where Monet showed his painting “Impression de soleil levant”. Later, the term lost its negative connotation as Impressionist art became less controversial.

Turning now to Fauvism, we can see a similar pattern. The term “Fauve” was used by the art critic Louis Vauxcelle (in Gil Blas, 17 October 1905) as a pejorative term to describe the wild colours in paintings by Henri Matisse, André Derain and Maurice Vlaminck. Dora Pérez-Tibi, in the entry she wrote on Fauvism for the Oxford Art Online Encyclopaedia, noted: “Nevertheless, the painters to whom it was applied, not a consciously defined group but a loose association linked in certain cases by friendship, defiantly accepted the term as one appropriate to the violence with which they overturned academic conventions.”

In both instances, the “labelling” was imposed from the outside and none of these groups had any theoretical program. If you look beyond the “Impressionist” label, you see how different Renoir was from Monet and Monet from Manet. They knew each other, they worked sometimes together, but they had individual styles.

Forget about which school an artist belongs to, what his affiliations are and in what art movements critics tried to boxed him. Look at the art for what it is: do not pre-judge it.

Related resources

If you are in the US (Amazon affiliate link): Conceptual Blockbusting: A Guide to Better Ideas

If you are in the United Kingdom (Amazon affiliate link): Conceptual Blockbusting: A Guide to Better Ideas

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