Mailing 2: Romanticism/Postmodernism Concepts

wilson hurst
Research Premise
This essay is a comparative analysis of several significant art concepts related to two distinct art movements: Romanticism and Postmodernism. These art movements, separated by time and culture, both questioned and to some extent rejected the past. The art concepts here considered within these movements are genius, originality, and the sublime. The goal is to illuminate understanding of these particular issues, to better position artistic activity relative to philosophical thought. After a brief introduction to each movement, the specific concepts will be analyzed in successive sections. Following the comparative analysis, a conclusion will be proffered as a natural consequence of this investigative process.

emotional imagination/apparent reality

Romaticism
Romanticism is an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe. Partly formed in reaction to the Industrial Revolution, many of its tenants are considered as precursors of modern art, thus it is still with us. 1 The term Romanticism derived from medieval heroic prose and verse narrative, such as “Beowulf”2 and “The Song of Roland,”3 written in Romanic languages. Emotional experience and individual imagination are important defining characteristics. Romantic ideals include a return to nature and the inviolability of the self, considering the artist as a passionate seeker of experience.4 The word cloud of Figure 1 is comprised of characteristic traits associated with Romanticism, and offers and interesting way to visualize and reflect on the movement. This representational modality is useful for considering the most prominent terms.5

As Robert Atkins has stated in Artspeak. and art movement that started in the late 1970’s. So. changeable with every reference. anything perceived to . 7 his book that is a guide to contemporary art ideas. This is because everything is in the mind of the beholder.Figure 1. relative and forever shifting. but implies both a contradiction of some aspects of Modernism as well as knowoledge/understanding that has developed as a product of Modernism. philosophical movement. emotional range of Postmodernism.6 Fueled by the desire to accommodate a proliferation of information technology. Postmodernists also consider representation and reality as overlapping constructs.” Postmodernism brings together both high and low culture using industrial material and pop culture imagery. “Modernism’s unyielding optimism and idealism gave way to the broader. so therefore we experience them as real. rejecting the concept of an avant-garde. albeit darker.8 Many Postmodernists reject the notion that anything can be determined to be true. Its definition is rather vague. a distinguishing characteristic is a loss of faith in progress. Romanticism Word Cloud Postmodernism Postmodernism is a current worldview. recognizing that we learn and internalize conventions of representation.

this idea of a genius aptitude required for art production persists in popular notions of creativity. perhaps the most influential definition of genius is found in Kant’s Critique of Judgment.11 .be a “fact” is the result of cultural influence. especially the idea of man as innately good. which at a glance offers another view of its scope. as well as in a “traditionalist” academic outlook. This view dominated a specific branch of the Romantic sensibility. a capacity characterized by originality opposed to imitation. Arguably. exalted individuals. As culture is built on a foundation of the past. Postmodernism Word Cloud Genius The concern primarily is with the meaning the term acquired in the course of the eighteenth century as denoting the creative powers and outstanding originality of exceptionally endowed.9 The word cloud in Figure 2 is comprised of characteristic traits associated with Postmodernism. A popular Romantic theme defines the greatness of man contrasted with the sublimity and power of nature.10 This description posits genius as a “mental aptitude” required to produce fine art. Figure 2.

humanity discovers yet more infinite vistas. A tangible example is found in Caspar David Friedrich’s painting. almost supernatural landscape.Thus. Romanticism places an emphasis on individualism as the source of wisdom and authority.) The isolation further emphasizes individuality. wrote in his 1759 “Essay on Taste”15 that “The first and leading quality of genius is invention. and the extraordinary figure.12 Climbing high and conquering much. The human subject is significant because of individual experiences and actions (in this example.” He refined this idea later in . Friedrich’s work is not about a social subject. the hero. a philosopher active during the Romantic period.”(Figure 3) In fact. Alexander Gerard. Here the landscape’s impact on the mind of the individual. here shrouded in a fog concealing prospective risk. “Genius demonstrates its autonomy not by ignoring all rules. to experience subjective emotions generated by sublime grandeur. the attainment of a remote and dangerous revelation.” to assume this point-of-view. Historical scholar Jane Kneller articulates the ascendancy of the individual by explaining. a genius is a privileged individual.14 Obviously.”13 A Romantic definition of genius is a person driven by a force beyond his or her control with an ability that surpasses the natural. compared to depictions of human civilization in other eighteenth-century representations of people and landscape. by this account. but by deriving the rules from itself. “Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog. The viewer is encouraged Figure 3 Caspar David Friedrich “Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog. with his back to us. is more important than his social position. with an associated preoccupation with the genius. but rather a nondescript figure overlooking an expansive.

”18 Postmodernism commonly takes a contrasting view of the notion of genius.”21 “That which has been is what will be. it is imagination that produces genius. durable cultural artifacts.” The Romantic concept of “genius” is situated as an individual functioning as a seer or visionary. about 971 BC wrote in “Ecclesiastes 1:9. a noted columnist for Artnet. describes the postmodern theory on genius: “Genius is the transformation of collective experience by one individual for the common good.19 Thus.his “Essay on Genius. Consequently. placed a high valuation on originality over convention. because the domination of culture by one individual denies the historical power of the collective. As the American Romantic poet James Russell Lowell would say “talent is that which is in a man’s power: genius is that in whose power a man is. Postmodernism precludes genius because it assumes that artistic creation is a constant recycling of previous work. Postmodern theorists generally consider the idea of individual genius as an outdated romantic mythology. rather than creating. and there is nothing new under the sun. A postmodern image of genius is now defined as being more selfreflective and consequently restricted to responding to.”20 Originality King Solomon. Andres Serrano "Piss Christ" photographer Andres Serrano. however.” (Figure 4) a 1987 photograph by artist and Figure 4 . that which is done is what will be done. the view that skill is inferior to imagination has lost currency. This . of Ecclesiastes. Charlie Finch. genius is indeed fundamentally reactionary. A convincing example of this is “Piss Christ.” Romanticism. in which an image is made from a small plastic crucifix submerged in a glass of the artist’s urine.com.17 The Romantics considered genius as superior to skill and positioned far above ability.” 16 proposing that while “Genius is properly the faculty of invention.

Steamboat off a Harbor’s Mouth. in the Postmodernist culture. derivative and impatiently self-aware. Turner pushed himself to achieve such originality of conception.Steamboat off a Harbor's Mouth" “Snowstorm” painting. and appropriation overwhelm. Originality has become a novelty item. W. To be sure. like “Snowstorm . adaptation. Turner’s originality often was poorly received by contemporary critics. His artworks. Turner "Snowstorm . W. a dated souvenir from another era.24 Digital media suppresses the concept of unique/copy and does not rest upon the idea of originality to establish value. self-reference. and that human experience is now a simulation of reality.23 This desire for originality was well matched with the intense Romantic focus on individual consciousness. On the other hand. M.22 J. Turner is an artist usually associated with Romantic sensibilities whose paintings are a good example. M. Jean Baudrillard in Simulacra and Simulation asserts that the postmodern society has replaced all reality and meaning with symbols and signs.orientation was influenced by the Enlightenment. parody. J.” (Figure 5) were far ahead of contemporary artistic conventions.25 Along these lines of reason. sequel. anticipating impressionism. Descartes and other Enlightenment philosophers began a slow transformation of Western culture from the model of authority to that of originality. Much art today is second hand. he had himself tied a ship’s mast while at sea to experience snow falling about him to inspire the Figure 5. According to his own description.26 .

poems. photos. And don’t bother concealing your thievery‚ celebrate it if you feel like it. dreams. books.” (Figure 6) an iconic surrealist image used as the basis for one of the episodes of The Simpsons. bridges. Authenticity is invaluable. producer.”27 A great example of this is a remake of Salvador Dali’s the “Persistence of Memory. The concept of absolute originality is a contemporary one. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. paintings. light. mustachios on the Mona Lisa. born with Romanticism. music. and so on.” 28 . classical art was in vast measure serial. it’s where you take them to. actor. The Simpsons "Persistence of Memory" imagination. clouds. and the “modern” avant-garde (at the beginning of this century) challenged the Romantic idea of “creation from nothingness. random conversations. “Nothing is original. new films. an American independent film director. If you do this. your work (and theft) will be authentic. “Much of art has been and is repetitive. architecture. trees. art about art. street signs. with its techniques of collage.Umberto Eco writes on this in The Limits of Interpretation. bodies of water. In any case. screenwriter. Jim Jarmusch. and shadows. editor and composer. originality is non-existent. always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: It’s not where you take things from. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your Figure 6 . Devour old films. aptly defines the Postmodern position on originality with the following extended quote.

“having boundaries. .” 29 Perhaps written in the 1st century AD. especially as Figure 7 Henry Fuseli "The Nightmare" rendered in landscapes. An example of this is Henry Fuseli’s “The Nightmare. and luminous light demonstrating nature’s power. Here the sublime is an adjective describing great. John Martin’s painting “Assuaging of the Waters. In fact. crashing waves. unbalanced.” 31 Romanticism embraced a measure of irrationality. abandonment to emotion often included exploring mental states of cognitive conflict. The Romantic valuation of the sublime.” represented by “boundlessness.32 Romantic artists used the power of nature as an expression of the sublime. 30 Kant investigates the sublime by saying. with craggy peaks. rendering an untamed world larger-than-life. This notion of the supernatural also was evident in ideas about the sublime. “On the Sublime” is both a discourse on aesthetics and a work of literary criticism. or lofty thought and language that inspires awe and admiration.” He differentiates between the beautiful and the sublime. though its origin and definite authorship are uncertain. and asymmetrical.The Sublime The first known study of the sublime is credited to Longinus in his treatise “On the Sublime. elevated. is similarly an effort to appreciate a nature that is idealistic.” while the sublime “is to be found in a formless object.” (Figure 7) painted in 1781. claiming that beauty is connected with the form of the object. In his Critique of Judgment. It refers to an experience of rewarding anxiety when confronting wild and threatening events looming terrifyingly in our imagination.” (Figure 8) is an example of the Romantic sublime landscape. attributed to some force beyond scientific understanding or the laws of nature. “We call that sublime which is absolutely great. unordered.

37 Lyotard addresses the importance of avant-garde art relative to a sublime aesthetic. in particular. with many recent articles appearing in scholarly periodicals and journals. that the mind cannot always organize the world rationally. comparing modern to postmodern constructs. postmodern art promotes the unpresentable by negating the beautiful form itself. there has been a resurgence of interest in the sublime. Modern art is emblematic of a sublime emotional response.From a Postmodernism standpoint. In The Postmodern Condition. Jean-Francois Lyotard. Lyotard stresses the notion of imagination and reason in disharmony. Well-known for his articulation of Postmodernism. the postmodern sublime occurs as unpresentables without reference to reason as their unifying origin.34 James Kirwan. Furthermore. This is because Postmodernism is not Modernism at its end. but rather in its “nascent state.”38 However.33 Books and essays by current cultural critics such as Malcolm Budd. “and Figure 8 . John Martin "Assuaging of the Waters" .” So the modern becomes the postmodern at the moment it attempts to present the unpresentable. an artwork can become modern only if it is first postmodern. developed his themes by discussing the sublime. where modern art considers the unpresentable as something missing within a beautiful form. For Lyotard. as “a sensibility that there is something non-presentable demanding to be put into sensible form and yet overwhelms all attempts to do so.35 and Kirk Pillow36 all support perception of the sublime as being philosophically important to Postmodernism.

For Mario Costa. the landscape signifies a kind of sublime place. “Before it can ever be a response for the senses.41 Edward Burtynsky. Its scenery is built up as much from strata of memory as from layers of rock.” he writes. the concept of the sublime is important in relation to the momentous novelty of digital technology. Schama differentiates between land as a natural phenomenon in contrast to landscape as a human perceptual construct. an Italian philosopher known for exploring the consequences of new technology in art and aesthetics.this state is constant. . with the proposition of a fundamental difference between land and landscape. meant as a framework for a cultural image. has garnered international recognition for his epic photographs of industrial landscapes that explore the idea of a technological sublime. Edward Burtynsky Photographs conditions for a new kind of sublime: the technological sublime. in his book Landscape and Memory.42 a Postmodern Canadian photographer.”40 In this regard. these innovative technologies are creating Figure 9 . “landscape is the work of the mind.” The postmodern is a repetition of the modern as something “new.39 Simon Schama evokes repeatedly. the myth of Arcadia as an idyllic imaginary place. In this regard.” and this implies constant demand for another new repetitions. For him.

and Buzzwords.8-171 7 Atkins. Art is often made in reference or response to philosophical positions. 1993. Conclusion Word Cloud Endnotes 1 Atkins. Straus. Robert. Movements. Krauss. Figure 10 . and Buzzwords. The Song of Roland. Comparative analysis develops an understanding of contrasting ideas while providing a method of combining opposed ideas into a new unity. 1945 to the Present. 2007 6 The Originality of the Avant Garde and Other Modernist Myths Rosalind E. Robert. dialectical tension between two interacting forces or elements can inform. Goldin. 1978. To a practicing artist. New York. New York: Farrar. Artspeak: A Guide to Contemporary Ideas.Conclusion Philosophical viewpoints evolve as human culture develops over time. Print. Beowulf: A New Verse Translation. Print. Nikos. 1997. New York: Abbeville Press. Concepts of Modern Art: From Fauvism to Postmodernism. Often the same conceptual entity is best seen by looking in two opposite directions. 2 Heaney. Print. New York: Norton. poster presentation at WWW 2007. 1993. Print. 1848-1944. and Buzzwords. Artspoke: A Guide to Modern Ideas. N. Robert. 1848-1944. An Assessment of Tag Presentation Techniques. creative production. 2000. 1986).Y: Thames and Hudson. Frederick. Print. Seamus. Movements. pp. Modernist Myths. 8 Stangos. Print. New York: Abbeville Press Publishers. 5 Martin Halvey and Mark T. Keane. New York: Abbeville Press. 1994. Movements. . Part I. 3 4 Atkins. Publisher: The MIT Press. Reprint edition (July 9. and Giroux. Artspoke: A Guide to Modern Ideas. in a constructive way.

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Beauty. Oct . 38 Ibid 39 Aylesworth.). <http://www. 2000.08. Mario. James.edu/archives/win2010/entries/postmodernism/>.purdue. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Print. 37 Lyotard. 1984.stanford. Jean-Fran ois. <http://www.jstor. Knopf. Malcolm. 31. Internet resource." Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. Mass: MIT Press. Sublime Understanding: Aesthetic Reflection in Kant and Hegel. Manchester: Manchester University Press. New York: A. 35 36 Pillow. 33 JSTOR. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Landscape and Memory. Purdue U. URL = <http://plato. "Postmodernism". 2011. The Aesthetic Appreciation of Nature. 1999. Dimenticare L'arte: Nuovi Orientamenti Nella Teoria E Nella Sperimentazione Estetica. Zalta (ed.html>. "General Introduction to Postmodernism.edwardburtynsky. Simon.com/> .08. Milano: FrancoAngeli. 2003. Print. 2011. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Cambridge. Jan. Print. Kirwan.08. Oct . Edward . Print. Oct . Gary. Search on “postmodern sublime ” .A. 40 Schama. Dino.edu/guidetotheory/postmodernism/modules/introduction. 2011 < http://www. 42 Burtynsky. 2011. Edward N. 1995.org/action/doBasicSearch?Query=postmodern+sublime&gw=jtx&acc=on&prq=the+sublime&Sea rch=Search&hp=25&wc=on&> 34 Budd. 2005. Kirk.32 Felluga. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2010 Edition). 41 Costa. “Artists Web Site”.

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