Woman in Art/Chapter 2 - Wikisource, the free online library

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Some "Isms" of Art

Certain terms in art usage we should understand and keep in mind. The best we can do with language is to try to express our meaning with words, yet we all realize at times they are inadequate for wordless thoughts.

Man has an innate liking for expressing what appeals to him in nature, experience, and imagination, and whether it be art, music, literature, or mechanics, he does it in his own way.

We need to remember that from his earliest art beginnings man has pictured to his mind or moulded into forms human or animal his conceptions of the powers of nature, his aspirations and attributes of soul before he knew that he had a soul, thus shaping for his mental eye deities for his reverence. Such art is called paganism.

The grotesque Hindoo idol pictures such to the mind, and serves to show the spirit-hunger of so-called heathen womanhood. Next to self-preservation the religious instinct is the strongest in mankind.

There is genuine pathos in those prostrate women before such horrors in stone, yet theirs is a sincere plea for help, for something to satisfy their longing or need.

Paganism and nature-worship in development gave the world mythology and symbolism, common to all races, proving to us that from the first, primitive art had a religious significance.

Out of symbolism of the first and second centuries of our era was developed so-called Christian art, which in later years evolved from symbolism the ideal.

The Ideal, from those early times to our present, has pictured for the eye the Faith, Hope, and Charity that make life sweet and worth living. The ideal gives us in forms of female loveliness, graces of mind and spirit, till memory, truth, and love become symbols of God-given attributes.

Using ancient dress, architecture, and accessories (as weapons or musical instruments) wherewith to clothe modern people and frame modern incident gave the art world classicism.

To the first American-born artist, Benjamin West, belongs the honor of truth in painting. He had studied and painted the classic in Italy, but being lionized in England, and stimulated to paint American scenes (for the new world was rapidly making history), he refused to paint his "Death of Wolfe" in classic costume, insisting that arrows, feathers, and tomahawks were the natural accoutrement of the American Indians, and he could not paint them in helmets with spears, nor would he accoutre the Colonial army in Roman togas and bareheaded, but in the remnants of colonial buff and blue and the tattered, war-worn garb of the earlier settler.

In revolution from such artificial and untrue methods, influenced greatly by West, artists began painting things as they saw them, painting slavishly from nature, every leaf and stone, and such work merited the term realism. This was naturally characteristic of the early Flemish masters. "A Market Window" by Gerard Dow displays cabbage with dew drops on the leaves, and a snail drawing his slimy line along the polished counter. The teal duck lies limp, but his exquisite feathers are painted to the life. Thanks be, man is a creature of change and progress. Slavish copying, keeping to distinctness of line and minuteness of detail, was hard on the eyes, requiring a magnifying glass, and in large subjects produced a hardness of outline and flatness of color.

Thus painting lacked light, air, and tones of atmosphere; so purple shadows began to appear, loosening the object from the canvas; light and air surrounded the figure; wind was in the trees; it lashed the waters into foam, it blew the gowns of the peasant women walking the dunes with anxious gaze to seaward; it toyed with the hair of little children, sun-crowned with a halo, and with the happy girl dancing over the grass in pure joy of life—all became symbols of joy in the caprice of wind and sun.

So came action to canvas. The painter from life had to work rapidly with broad brush or knife, a stroke here, a spot there, blue for a shadow, yellow for a streak of sunlight, a dab for a high-light—presto! Impressionism was born.

There comes a time in life—as we all have known—when building blocks stimulate activity and imagination in a child, they fill a need in his development. In this twentieth century art reached that period for a few, who colored their blocks and built up a tardy cubism.