Saturday, September 24, 2011

THOUGHTS ON ALFONS MUCHA AND ART NOUVEAU

It has been a while since I posted something on art...

...so here are some of my favorite artworks by Alfons Mucha
from the Art Nouveau period.



Mucha is generally credited with the creation of the Art Nouveau movement, though other experts disagree.  However, people called his art "Mucha style" first and then changed it to "Art Nouveau".  Jugendstil (young style) is also a name for the same art form and popularized Mucha's art in their Austro-Hungarian magazine "Jugend".  (It was another rebellious reaction in history of youth that created something new.)  

The time was about 1880, with the height of popularity of Art Nouveau between 1890 and 1910.  Jugendstil was still promoted by some into the 1940's; such was the strength of its popularity in some places.

Art Nouveau is characterized by flowing lines, inclusions of natural forms, plants, flowers, and is very decorative (without being overdone, in my opinion).  Its impact on me is light, soft, whimsical and embracing--even fantastical.

During it's popularity, people were beginning to thrive during a period of peace and prosperity between wars.  They had the time and inclination to enjoy following their imaginations and spending money to support such happy art.  The philosophy of Art Nouveau supported the belief that we all should be surrounded with beautiful art reflecting nature, including everyday items.  Awesome concept.

Art Nouveau is such a relief from our modern world with its modern sharp lines and industrial feel; from the cubicles most of us live and work in.  Look around.  If you live in the city what you see mostly in terms of shapes are rectilinear forms.  Colors are minimal.  So many objects--utilitarian, period.  It can be dreary.

It's usually only by going out into nature that we experience what Art Nouveau tried to express.  It went hand in hand with the philosophy of the day:  naturalism.  Darwinism was becoming popular.  Nature was God.  

However, Art Nouveau strikes me as very romantic, although the times had rebelled against the ideals of the romantic period.  There seems to be some left-over connection with Transcendentalism--the importance of nature in reaching spirituality.  And yet, the oncoming philosophy of pragmatism turned artistic ideals into objects for everyday use.  Art Nouveau does not seem to fit nicely into any one philosophical slot.

Ever wonder why you feel better in nature? Perhaps it is because nature is conducive and communicative with our natural selves; our psyche, our bodies, our minds.  Both humans and nature are variant, alive and flowing; round and vibrant.  Whether we are aware or not, we do "commune with nature", even if we don't "worship" it as some naturalists did.

Art Nouveau really took off in France and Austria.  During my time in those countries I was exposed to much of this art form and adored it.  I had never seen such fantastical elegance in plain sight.

Later, when I was in Spain, I experienced Gaudi, another Art Nouveau artist/architect.  I was thrilled seeing Guell Park and house facades he designed that looked like they were moving and melting.  It left my mouth hanging open.
 
Lately, I experienced a resurgence of interest in Art Nouveau  and wondered why I find it so attractive.  Reading the history of Art Nouveau, I discovered that it had a revival of popularity in the 1970's--the time of my youth.  

It's interesting how influences of our personal culture can stay with us throughout our lives.  I ask myself:  am I conditioned, having been exposed to an art style that was popularized?  Or do I really enjoy this style purely because of my artistic sense?

Nothing is really that pure.  Everything we are exposed to is planted into our subconscious.  Now and then, we experience triggers that tickle those influences and they become a known part of who we are and are becoming.

Art Nouveau is seen by many as the transition from Neo-Classicism to Modern Art.  However, the same can be said of the Impressionists and Neo-impressionists.  Others claim that it grew out of the Arts and Crafts movement.  As usual, the actuality of these assertions depends on who we talk to or what form of art we espouse.  Everyone wants to be first and most important!  At any rate, there can be more than one bridge to the other side, no?  (Why are we so competitive?)

Art Nouveau was not only found in paintings, but in many forms of architecture, furniture, and utilitarian pieces.  Although Mucha supported the arts and crafts, he was not part of the Arts and Crafts movement that eschewed machined work.  Machinery was used in creating Art Nouveau and made it more accessible.  Indeed, the Art Nouveau style spread throughout Europe, America, Russia, and some say the world.  

The middle classes were becoming stronger and more influential.  And they had the money to buy the latest Jugendstil.  It was a time when art was made more accessible to the general public.

Back to Alfons...he was Czech and very proud of his heritage.  After creating works of art for advertisement and other everyday items, Mucha made his mark by doing a poster of Sarah Bernhardt which was received with acclaim.  He then attracted a rich sponsor and was on his way to fame.

Mucha went to Paris and the Austro-Hungarian empire to study and work.  When he became established he moved back to his homeland.  There he worked hard for the state, designing stamps and national advertisement.

What led him home?  He didn't have an easy time and his art was not as well received there.  Was it his nationalistic spirit that motivated him?  

Perhaps he just didn't gel with the cultures of western Europe; perhaps he didn't receive adulation from the people he most cared about.  I suppose it's natural that the praise and acceptance we want most is from our parents, our family, our country.  They are such intrinsic parts of our identity.

It's interesting that Mucha tried to distance himself from the Art Nouveau movement.  Mucha tried hard to prove to the world (and perhaps to himself?) that he was an "Artist"--not just a commercial artist, a cog in peddling goods.  There is a strong sense of class struggle in his actions.  

These facts also indicate that he had great pride and a big, fragile ego.  His feelings of self-worth relied on outside influences and others' opinions.

This kind of mentality is frequent in artists, musicians, and entertainers.  They work so hard for approval, acceptance, fame, adoration, love (of a sort) and attention.  Talent is often used as a vehicle by "wounded" people to find an important place in the world--so they can feel important.  However, this kind of self-esteem blows with the wind.

Are these drives bad or just a natural part of being human?  The drive to "be somebody" at high costs indicates a great lack of self-acceptance and probably early abuse in people's lives.  That sounds sad.  However, if this were not so, would we still be enjoying the products of greatness, beauty, usefulness and interest that artists contribute to society?  Food for the psyche can't be overlooked.

Should we then be glad that we have talented, dysfunctional, suffering artists who sacrifice so much for acclaim?  Or should artists be glad they have an outlet for turning anguish and pain into something productive and beautiful, enhancing their lives and ours?

After the popularity of Art Nouveau faded, a rectilinear form of art and architecture took the lead, reflecting the modern industrial age, and making objects and housing even more affordable for the masses.  But with that advantage, Art Nouveau's precious artistic influence in our lives became overshadowed.  Quantity over quality.

Late in life, Mucha was "detained" for creating decadent art.  Hitler hated Art Nouveau (among many other art forms, especially Modern Art).  Because of this regime and his foul treatment by the Nazis, Mucha became ill and died soon after his release in 1939.  What a blow that must have been for such a talented and sensitive artist--to be reviled, rejected and punished for your creations--your life's work!

It's ironic that Mucha did not like having his work called "Art Nouveau" and tried to disassociate himself from it.  And yet, he is widely known as the original creator of this beloved art style, even in his own country.  What would he think about this now? 

At the end of his life, Mucha finally completed his greatest work (a dream he had since his youth) in the form of 7 great murals based on Slavic history and brotherhood.

Even though, later, his government did not appreciate his art and locked it up for about 25 years (another irony!), ultimately Mucha was vindicated by history in being more than "just" a pop artist!  I think he would be very happy knowing that.

2 comments:

DOitTUTit said...

Very interesting! I agree that it is very refreshing. Thanks for introducing me to this art form!

PSACHNO said...

I am very pleased to have introduced you to Art Nouveau! Cool.

Thanks for your comment!!