Skip to content

Hashing It Out…

Over the last few weeks I’ve been throwing ideas around with friends about Romanticism, American painting vs European Painting, and the changes that have taken place in our studios and/or our perceptions of what a studio is or does. Dennis Bellone, the marvelous painter and theorist, sent on a few observations and I’ve posted them here. Henri will also have much more to say about these things in the coming days so check back…

Thoughts on Romanticism-

First I want to thank Henri blog for their gracious consideration of my work and allowing for my input.

Notes takes over drinks- hence increasingly fragmented.

Courbet to me, is not a Romantic. Romanticism is for me a description given to a certain historical period of painters and paintings ranging from Caspar David Friedrich to Delacroix. Courbet bridges the gap from Romanticism to Realism. His early self portraits that date from the 1840’s fall more inline with the Romantic tradition but by the mid 50’s he is one of the beacons leading to a new development in painting hence forth called Realism.

What is Romanticism? Aren’t all artists despite their self definitions ‘romantic’? This desire or pursuit to create objects like paintings to express anything seems so fatalistically childish and rife with impotence that it seems it could be nothing more than ‘romantic’ and yet we persist.

The danger in the term Romanticism for me is as follows:

The necessity or imperative in itself of creation requires a certain sobriety and clarity of thought that is in contrast to “Romanticism” in its layman or undergrad art school awareness, an awarness which is guilty of a self-indulgence and self-mythologizing that for me, personally, is distasteful. This kind of Romanticism is ego driven and the territory of the artiste, the art made to congratulate the self and reinforce the notion of self in the world. What comes to my mind is the work of the BerlinArt show that MoMA had back in 88 with neo expressionism and artists like Salomé, Rainer Fetting and Luciano Castelli or others like Sandro Chia or Francesco Clemente.

I am more interested in the destruction of the self, the loss of self, the annihilation of the self or the realization that the contemporary idealization of self is a fiction.

Using Michael Fried’s concept of absorption and theatricality via Diderot as my starting point, and not necessarily true to his function but from my own reading or interpretation (or miss) but is as follows; theatricality happens when you are aware of yourself as viewer, ‘absorption’ into the moment of looking is loss of self, loss of self identification.

In my own words, art that only reaffirms your already known values and concepts is pornography, art that destroys your preconceptions is where it is at.

This might be artistic hyperbole on my part but Courbet’s paintings are about Courbet, Corot does not paint about himself, Millet’s heroic aggrandizement of the pauper is about Millet’s ideas and too theatrical. Monet does not paint about himself, Degas the same. Picasso does and doesn’t but always seems to transcend. Manet constantly hits me like a hammer to the anvil. Great work, real art, ART in its purest form does this, it defies you. But then this is my taste or predilection, my DNA as it were.

Historically, the viewing non art public likes ‘porn’ because it is comfortable and reaffirms their values, reaffirms their bourgeois world. Contemporary art of the current art industrial complex reaffirms the status quo of consumerism and artist as celebrity. Nothing new here, move along. Yesterday it was Cabanel at the Salon, today it is the stuff you see in galleries and the museums of the most recent…..

My point is that I have a semantic disagreement with the word Romanticism as it is too heavily freighted with historical baggage and misunderstandings. But that said, what I feel Henriblog is striving towards is a theory of engagement. Engagement that is simultaneously intelligent, highly critical and yet bound intricately with an experiential aspect that questions or at least one hopes artists do, question the current personal and historical state we live in, who we are, where are we going and what is this imperative or necessity to raise a voice, sometimes or too often as if we are in the wilderness and hence seems superficially to be a romantic view, given that we live in a world increasingly dehumanized, disengaged and far too often entertained to distraction about the real theft of our lives not only in the future but in our own present.

Whereas I might not personally get excited looking at Courbet or Delacroix I do understand and appreciate that they are the real thing in comparison to Delaroche or Cabanel, the things that get me are Ingres or Degas, Manet, etc., and they feed me in a way that the others don’t. To each their own.

With that said though I’ll close with a Percy Bysshe Shelly poem, which doesn’t get much more ‘romantic,’ but does hold true to my feelings. Damn, I just might be a romantic in classical garb.

“Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number-
Shake your chains to earth like
Which in sleep had fallen on you
Ye are many-they are few.”

from the Masque of Anarchy, written on the occasion of the massacre at Manchester.


  1. Paul Corio wrote:

    There’s lots here, Dennis, bravo. Theatricality is a key issue, both in terms of romanticism and opposition to it. Your breakdown of who’s hot and who’s not is excellent, although I probably wouldn’t cut Picasso quite as much slack as you’re willing to give. I couldn’t agree more about Manet, and I would also put Gericault on the Real McCoy list.

    I’ve been sort of vexed by this issue ever since the night Mark brought it up when we were all together – no matter how much I think about it I can’t come up with a workable definition of Romanticism apart from the specific moment in art history or of an idea so general as to be almost meaningless – there’s always something left over or left out, unsatisfying.

    Mark, I think you were closest to it when you were talking about a distinctly European vs. American ethos. I think you can see this in the Ab Ex show at MoMA specifically in the difference between Pollock and DeKooning – the latter can’t or won’t shake off those vestigial body parts; voluptuousness. I think that it’s also palpable in the writers who supported those two. Rosenberg (who backed Dekooning) went for more of a poetic, psychological prose, and Greenberg (Pollock’s corner man) went for a tough-minded literalism.

    I also think that you might be able to zero in on the essence of Romanticism by doing a close reading of all the art that reacted so strongly and directly against Ab Ex: Pop, Minimalism, Conceptual. Ab Ex was undoubtedly the most Romantic (or at least romanticized) art movement of the 20th century – by seeing what specific aspects of it were under attack, a clearer picture of what it is might be arrived at.

    Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 9:04 PM | Permalink
  2. June wrote:

    Two apparently unconnected thoughts occur to me:

    In the late sixties I was in graduate school and consequently in the middle of that chaotic, violent, revolutionary exciting anti-war student strike strife.

    I was also female, mother of a 4 year old (Freudian alert here), and a bit older than my fellow students. Thus, at one point after the art department was bombed, I found myself elected by the striking grad students to be the liaison between them and the frightened and pompous faculty, literally going in and out of a door where the students gathered on one side, shouting at me, and the faculty on the other, lecturing me.

    Sometimes I think (egotistically, perhaps) the most important artists are those who go between the “viewing non-art public” and the real revolutionaries in art, teaching the one to see the other. The best second-rate artists who translate what the first rate ones are doing are those that can finally get through to the public. The revolutionaries often don’t manage that. And I’ve always thought of revolutionaries as Romantic in the best — and worst — senses of the word.

    Thought #2: one problem, with the definition of Romanticism as well as with the activity aligned with it, is chronological: much of ab ex work is now seen as highly decorative (at least by that viewing lay-public); the minimalists, who wanted to pull out all the world’s wonders for us to see, boxed themselves in: the only way to know that their work is art and not just a piece of rope with a nail through it is if it’s displayed on the wall of a museum.

    The Romantics seem to bring us all to unintended consequences, many of which reduce them to the opposite of that which they hoped for. That may be what happened to Courbet.

    Sunday, December 5, 2010 at 2:38 AM | Permalink
  3. Hans wrote:

    Yes, thank you, great article. Isn’t Romanticism the first step of the Postmodern ? When they start to use tools and Kitsch and conception to make the viewer interested ?
    Courbet was heavily interested in these tools of the viewers manipulation (Stags etc) but also in the abstract qualities of paint, structure, brush, pentimenti, format, emptiness .. That makes him still interesting for us. How many waves he painted ? 3-4-5 ? No, I think more than 40 big waves, he was really after something.

    Regarding the Neue Wilde, you do unjust Rainer Fetting, a great painters painter with often very bold conceptions in his works, very seldom boring and over 20 years an inspiring example, not only for me, but for many others. He tries to make fresh discoveries in every new painting. Just love his works, best are the landscapes and cities

    Thursday, December 9, 2010 at 6:13 PM | Permalink
  4. Dennis Bellone wrote:

    I haven’t seen Rainer’s paintings in NY now for over 20 years so I can’t say with any authority how inspiring he might be. Sad. What about Walter Dahn, man I saw a show of his in Amsterdam at the Stedelijk nearly 10+ years ago, fantastic. I was never into the Neue Wilde but some painters like Oehlen who were loosely lumped into it were pretty damn good. Still love my Kippenberger though.

    Friday, December 10, 2010 at 9:37 AM | Permalink

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *