The Problem with Romanticism?

Anthony Tomassini discusses the great Romantic composers at the NYT. He’s putting together a list of the top 10 composers, and like us, he’s having a bit of hard time coming to terms with these artists. “For better or worse, their works still dominate the standard repertory. Yet their music is so personal and idiosyncratic that it is hard to assess it in terms of greatness…The Romantic movement emerged from the Classical heritage, in which composers expressed themselves through large, formal structures: symphony, sonata, string quartet, concerto. But the Romantic aesthetic emboldened composers to be more passionate, rhapsodic and personal. Formal structures were loosened, as music became a channel for strongly individual, often quirky, even eccentric expression. Literature, nature and history were favorite sources of inspiration.”

Why is this so difficult for us, confronting Romanticism? I’ve been doing a lot of reading around the subject and have come across a fantastic book that discusses in depth the changes to our studio lives and our artistic lives entitled “Machine in the Studio” by the brilliant Caroline A. Jones. Michael Zahn recommended the book to me a few weeks ago as I began this endeavor and it has been extremely helpful in mooring some aspects of my thinking about the POMO problems that we are facing. The discussion about Frank Stella is absolutely on point and her thinking about the consequences of Frank Stella’s aesthetic and studio life is breathtaking. I highly recommend the book to all who are interested in learning more about our Postmodern lives in the studio.

I have to say that my own studio has been a work in progress. I began to set things up very differently years ago when I realized that the art life I was leading was not of my own design, that I had somehow inherited many outdated and outworn preconceptions from the 1960s about how a studio should work, how it should feel, what I should be doing there, and how I should go about making my work. I can honestly say that today it’s a very different experience for me. But again that brings us back to the Romantics and the comments by Tomassini – “quirky,” “individual,” “eccentric” and even the most dreaded term to the Professional Artist – “expression.”

SO what do these terms mean to us today? What does it mean to be quirky or individual? Where is the locus of personality or thought in our work and how do we differentiate it from the past? How do we “express” these things in new ways? I’m still working through it trying to clarify as much as possible my answer to the conundrum. De Kooning Part III will be the next step so check back. IN the meantime I’d like to read your thoughts about our problems with Romanticism, Modernism and Postmodernism…

PS: Our good friend Hans Heiner Buhr has returned from a trip into Central Asia. Check out his magnificent pictures!

4 thoughts on “The Problem with Romanticism?

  1. Hey Hans! I’ve really been enjoying your photos. It’s another world, another time. They remind me of Delacroix’s horses –

  2. I started my foray into this topic a couple of years ago. I stumbled across the entire set of Ruskin’s Modern Painters on ebay and decided to reinterpret it for my own needs in how I was addressing “expression” and gesture after a painting is dead and death of the author education. It’s a great topic for discussion. Looking forward to responses.

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