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French Symbolism in Art and Literature

, French Symbolism in Art and Literature

French symbolism, symbolist art, art critics, art movement, gallery, critic

 

 

French Symbolism in Art and Literature

 

French symbolism, symbolist art, art critics, art movement, gallery, critic

French symbolism, symbolist art, art critics, art movement, gallery, critic

 

Symbolist art emerged in the late 19th century as a reaction against the literal visual interpretive style that had prevailed for decades. Symbolism as an art movement was concerned with evoking feeling and emotion in the gallery viewer, but also in many cases sought to communicate a meaningful message that could be derived by piecing together the “evidence” in the painting. Sometimes the commentary was political, sometimes it was intensely personal on the part of the artist—what tied these vastly disparate messages together was the fact that Symbolist art strove for coherent evocation: the ability to communicate the same feeling and / or emotion across many different viewers.

 

French symbolism, symbolist art, art critics, art movement, gallery, critic

French symbolism, symbolist art, art critics, art movement, gallery, critic

 

Symbolism also found a great deal of traction in literature, particularly as a result of Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal in 1857. Artists and writers were intrigued with the idea that realism could be subverted in favor of introspection, and that readers as well as gallery viewers could be free to assemble the “case” for a painting or a novel in their own minds. As the Symbolist poets believed a portion of words’ meaning could be communicated via their sound and rhythm (as opposed to their literal meaning in a sentence) so too did Symbolist artists believe that the meaning within paintings was not inherently tied to their literal visual representation. Artists could vary their brushstrokes, their lines, their degree of realism to suggest all manner of emotions and arguments. Symbolism as an art movement freed artists to explore these impulses.

 

French symbolism, symbolist art, art critics, art movement, gallery, critic

French symbolism, symbolist art, art critics, art movement, gallery, critic

 

From a critical point of view, Symbolist art also asked more of art critics as well as gallery viewers. In France, where Baudelaire as well as many Symbolist artist were based, French symbolism took on an almost mythical degree of complexity. As each major new piece was published or hung for a viewing, art critics were acutely aware that a purely visual interpretation would not be enough to sate gallery viewers looking for a deeper explanation of the artists’ intent. Art critics gradually came more concerned with potential biographical influences, reading into individual artists’ personal lives, histories, and previous works in order to gain insight into their more current projects. As with any creative work that relies on a degree of interpretation, controversy thrived, especially during an era without instantaneous communication. Artists’ reputations rose, were formed, and were broken down sometimes independently of their work, manipulated and tossed about by the tides of public perception. 

 

Keywords: French symbolism, symbolist art, art critics, art movement, gallery, critic