Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Major Project - Art Nouveau Background Research

It's reached a point now where I need to step up a gear and take my project forward out of the ideas stage, and onto conceptualising my piece, but since not having a clear starting point to begin with, I need to first wrap up my research in order to really define my idea and get a better grasp of the subject. This will act as a research dump for reference, picking out elements for formulating ideas and proposals.



Art Nouveau was a movement committed to abolishing the traditional hierarchy of the arts, which viewed so-called liberal arts, such as painting and sculpture, as superior to craft-based decorative arts, and swept through this and architecture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Generating enthusiasts throughout Europe and beyond, the movement issued in a wide variety of styles. Practitioners were among the first to create "art for art's sake".

Industrial production was at that point was widespread, yet the decorative arts were increasingly dominated by poorly made imitations. Art Nouveau sought to revive good workmanship, raise the status of craft, and produce genuinely modern design. The style went out of fashion in the 1920s, after it being disused to favour more streamlined, rectilinear shapes which was cheaper and thought to be more faithful to the plainer industrial aesthetic that became Art Deco, now seen as an important predecessor of modernism.


Influences & Artists

Jan Toorop

Art Nouveau has affinities with the Pre-Raphaelites and the Symbolist styles, and artists like Aubrey Beardsley, Alphonse Mucha, Edward Burne-Jones, Harry Clarke, Gustav Klimt, James Abbott McNeill Whistler and Jan Toorop could be classed in more than one of these styles, however unlike Symbolist painting, Art Nouveau has a distinctive  appearance, and is linked to the artisan-oriented Arts and Crafts Movement (a reaction against the cluttered designs and compositions of Victorian-era decorative art), as well as it's then current vogue for Japanese art, particularly wood-block prints, that swept up many European artists in the 1880s and 90s.

Some argue that the patterned, flowing lines and floral backgrounds found in the paintings of Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin represent Art Nouveau's birth, or perhaps even the decorative lithographs of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, such as La Goule at the Moulin Rouge (1891). But most point to the origins in the decorative arts, and in particular to a book jacket by English architect and designer Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo for the 1883 volume Wren's City Churches. The design depicts serpentine stalks of flowers coalescing into one large, whiplashed stalk at the bottom of the page, clearly reminiscent of Japanese-style wood-block prints.

To a person living at the end of the nineteenth century, nature was not neutral, the way we might consider plant or animal motifs to be today. More than simply suggesting shapes and patterns for artists to copy, nature was a model for transformation and metamorphosis. Its changeable states could also mirror psychological realities.


Style & Traits

The practitioners drew inspiration from arabesque, organic and geometric forms, evolving elegant designs that united flowing, natural forms resembling the stems and blossoms of plants - as well as geometric forms such as squares and rectangles, with more angular contours. Often described as "sudden violent curves generated by the crack of a whip", which became well-known during the early spread of Art Nouveau. Asymmetrical shapes, ethereal figures, tall plant like growth and such decorative "whiplash" motifs formed dynamic, undulating flowing lines in a syncopated rhythm,are found throughout architecture, painting, sculpture, and other forms of Art Nouveau design.

The appearance of motion, movement and abstraction of the natural world allowed for remarkable freedom. Natural forms could be twisted, elongated, and curved to the spatial requirements of any composition. Flowers, birds, dragonflies, spider webs, and especially the female form were favorite motifs. The motifs became more and more abstracted to the point where artists were no longer trying to copy nature exactly, but rather create their own artful interpretation of it. This distinction marks the difference between Art Nouveau and that which came before it

Two-dimensional Art Nouveau pieces were painted, drawn, and printed in popular forms such as advertisements, posters, abels, magazines, and the like. Japanese wood-block prints, with their curved floral lines and bulbous forms, patterned surfaces, contrasting voids, and flatness of visual plane, also inspired Art Nouveau. Some line and curve patterns became graphic clichés that were later found in works of artists from many parts of the world. Art Nouveau artists readily used new materials, machined surfaces, and abstraction in the service of pure design, and did not negate machines, making use of many technological innovations of the late 19th century. It was a time of both technology and spirituality, of  "machines and ghosts."

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