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Now that we’ve sprung so far forward into modern art, let’s take a little bit of a step back.
It’s time to examine 2 different movements that started off with realism, and then decided to do a little off-roading along the way.
Let’s start with impressionism, the art medium which makes you think it might be time for an appointment with your local optometrist.
Though impressionist paintings may seem very quaint today, impressionists were radicals in their time. They rejected the rules of academic painting, and favored landscapes and outdoor scenes of modern life to historical scenes using sitting models and still lifes in a studio.
Impressionism gained traction in the mid-1800s, and often is marked by a series of quick brush strokes meant to invoke an overall visual effect rather than any particular detail. Because impressionists liked to paint outdoors, their work is often focused on spontaneous movement of light and color in the natural world.
Famous Impressionists include Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Frédéric Bazille, Edgar Degas, and Édouard Manet.
From Impressionism we also get its more sullen child, Post-Impressionism. Post-Impressionism rejected Impressionism concern with the spontaneous and naturalistic rendering of light and color, in favor of symbolism, formal order and structure. However, like Impressionists, Post-Impressionists still emphasized color and brush strokes to invoke an emotional and aesthetic appreciation in the viewer, rather than stick to detailed realism. Some Post-Impressionists you may know are Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh and Georges Seurat.
Where Impressionism dealt with realistic everyday scenes painted in a stylized way, Surrealism depicted unnatural scenes painted in a realistic style.
The Surrealism movement was the descendant of Dada. Dada was an art movement of the early 20th Century that was heavily grounded in politics. Dadaism came as a reaction to WW1 and Dadaists considered their movement to be “anti-art”. The movement was a protest against the bourgeois nationalist and colonialist interests of the time, and attempted to throw off the reason and logic of capitalist society in favor of embracing chaos and absurdity.
Like the Dadaists before them, Surrealists found importance in “unreality.” However, Surrealists were less concerned with political revolution and “anti-art,” and more interested in unlocking the depths of the human psyche (though Surrealism certainly held onto elements of Dada’s politicism). The works of Freud had a big impact on Surrealists, who were interested in delving deep into the human subconscious in order to unlock secrets of the mind that could not be accessed in day-to-day trappings of human conscious. Likewise, Surrealist art is meant to challenge the viewer’s reality, and invoke deeper emotional truths using elements like surprise and symbolism.
Famous Surrealists include André Breton, René Magritte, Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, Leonora Carrington, Max Ernst, Yves Tanguy, Man Ray, and arguably Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, though Kahlo distanced herself from the movement stating “They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”
Now that you’ve learned a little bit about Impressionists and Surrealists, it’s time to make your choice! Pick a side and may the best art movement win!
Artwork by Daniela Gamba