The desire and need to create art, in its many forms, is one of the defining characteristics of the human species.
However, ever since cavemen first painted animal forms on walls, in each century, what was considered art became increasingly restricted. Entrenched in societal expectations, each generation’s taste began to dictate all aspects of artistic expression. With everything from technique, style, size, colour palette and content being pre-prescribed, it was therefore the role of the artist merely to produce art in accordance with these strict values.
To keep these standards high and uniform, artistic training became a rigorous pursuit. Only undertaken, in the western world, by those who could afford to attend the art academies and schools. That had been established as the arbiters of taste, such as the the famous Academie des Beaux Arts, founded in Paris in 1816.
An inspiration from French Revolution
For decades, the Academie des Beaux Arts, which exists to this day, was considered the pinnacle of taste. Their aim, to contribute to the defence and illustration of the artistic heritage of France, as well as to its development, while respecting the pluralism of expressions. Nevertheless, in the 19th century, their jurisdiction was very prescriptive, enforcing only one standard and style of art, which remained unchallenged for decades. But then, a revolution started. No, not the one you’re thinking about – a revolution in art!
Inspired by the liberal ideas of that time and the boom in urbanisation thanks to the industrial revolution, city life in the mid 19th century became more exciting than ever.
Thus, a new generation of painters were born, taking modern life as their subject matter, rather than producing traditional landscape, portrait, biblical or history paintings, as was expected of them.
The rejection of conventional
One of the first of these disruptive painters was Gustave Courbet. Above all, in his dramatically contrasting and roughly brushed paintings, he asserted the importance of depicting contemporary subject matter. The painter rejected the conventional notion of beauty and chose instead not to shy away from the realities of life. Whether good, bad, or ugly, leading to the formation of the Realist art movement.
Courbet’s new approach to painting went on to inspire the Impressionist painters, whose experimental techniques, mixture of high and low brow subject matter and intoxicating joie de vivre attitude we can directly credit for leading to the formation of many modern art forms. Including Cubism, with its playful cut and paste technique, Fauvism, with its bright and dreamy colour-palettes. But also Pop Art and its reappropriation of everyday imagery and Street Art’s redistribution of art to the masses!