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Neo-classical Art

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Cometmaker, in this thread, wrote that in his judgment there were two masculine trends in European art:

a few portraits, which were intended to reinforce the impression of the sitter's status, power and wealth, and neoclassism which was a school of thought which very principles led to self-strangulation. It would not be a portrayal of manliness if, across the centuries, males were portrayed in some sort of cookie cutter heroic stance that adhered to a particular formula.

By Neo-Classical art, we mean the period in 18th century Europe and America, which strongly emphasized again Classical values in art, and depicted favorite men in Classical colors.

Examples are paintings which, frequently on moral themes, paint their subjects in highly contrasted, strongly lit and darkly shadowed colors, to emphasize the moral judgment of things:

Socrates, by Jacques-Louis David

00071290_000.jpg

Oath of the Horatii, ibid

2290.JPG

the Washington in Toga:

washington2.jpg

Even the Statue of Liberty, which derives directly from the Colossus of Rhodes and the Colossus of the Sun:

COR1.jpgcolossus.jpg

I wanted to ask what in this led to self-strangulation.

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By Neo-Classical art, we mean the period in 18th century Europe and America, which strongly emphasized again Classical values in art, and depicted favorite men in Classical colors.

Examples are paintings which, frequently on moral themes, paint their subjects in highly contrasted, strongly lit and darkly shadowed colors, to emphasize the moral judgment of things...[images]

To excerpt The Met's summary of the neoclassical style:

The achievements of the Renaissance from the period of Raphael (1483–1520) to that of Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665) and Claude Lorrain (1604/5?–1682) served as a conduit for a renewed interest in harmony, simplicity, and proportion, an interest that gained momentum as the new science of archaeology brought forth spectacular remnants of a buried world of great beauty.

...

Travelers were also important students of Roman and Greek antiquity. In the early eighteenth century, painted visions of Greco-Roman monuments already could be found in continental palaces and English country homes. Soon, persons of culture and sensibility known to the Italians as cognoscenti were descending upon the peninsula to embark on the Grand Tour. In Rome, they were sometimes accompanied by a cicerone, a docent who guided them through the mazes of museums, churches, and marmoreal monuments.

...

They defined the style with their emphasis on formal composition, historic subject matter, contemporary settings and costumes, rigidity, solidity, and monumentality in the spirit of classical revival. French painter Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825) was a student of Vien, having won the Prix de Rome in 1774 to study at the French Academy. In sympathy with the French Revolution, his paintings such as The Death of Socrates (31.45) gave expression to a new cult of civic virtues: self-sacrifice, devotion to duty, honesty, and stoic austerity. In the early 1790s, painter and sculptor John Flaxman (1755–1826) published his spare illustrations for Homer's Iliad and Odyssey (1977.595.53). Using his knowledge of Greek vase painting, Flaxman dispensed with the illusion of space and reduced volumes to unshaded outlines, giving his figures an abstract sense of unreality and weightlessness that appealed to countless fellow artists.

The flaw was in the principle of finding things of the past necessarily more beautiful and discounting man's present day and one's own actual potential and abilities as more attractive. Its relevance to the age it was resurrected in was lost when the Classical is deemed important because it is Classical, right down to the last stylized palm frond. It is important to appreciate the past, but when the cognoscenti are necessarily lovers of things past and did not merge it with the present, the producing men left them behind. I am aware of the origin of the Statue of Liberty. That is a sign of how long the light from the mere embers of Greece sustained mankind who denied and is still denying his nature for most of man's history before a fire could again be lit, not a sign that it never dwindled. Frederick Hart successfully brought Classicism back by creating, not imitating; his was a new kind of spotlight on human value in acrylic.

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Frederick Hart successfully brought Classicism back by creating, not imitating; his was a new kind of spotlight on human value in acrylic.

Yes, his beautiful art stands as a new end in itself, not a rehash of the past. I'm reminded of Roark's monologue to the Dean near the beginning of The Fountainhead, where he notes the endless second-handed copying throughout history, including the Dean's much beloved Parthenon which was a concrete-bound imitation even back when it was done in ancient Greece over 2,000 years ago. That's the very theme of the novel - that the fountainhead of all progress is the creative, original thinking of individual men, not slavish devotion to the past.

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To excerpt The Met's summary of the neoclassical style:

The achievements of the Renaissance from the period of Raphael (1483–1520) to that of Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665) and Claude Lorrain (1604/5?–1682) served as a conduit for a renewed interest in harmony, simplicity, and proportion, an interest that gained momentum as the new science of archaeology brought forth spectacular remnants of a buried world of great beauty.

...

Travelers were also important students of Roman and Greek antiquity. In the early eighteenth century, painted visions of Greco-Roman monuments already could be found in continental palaces and English country homes. Soon, persons of culture and sensibility known to the Italians as cognoscenti were descending upon the peninsula to embark on the Grand Tour. In Rome, they were sometimes accompanied by a cicerone, a docent who guided them through the mazes of museums, churches, and marmoreal monuments.

...

They defined the style with their emphasis on formal composition, historic subject matter, contemporary settings and costumes, rigidity, solidity, and monumentality in the spirit of classical revival. French painter Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825) was a student of Vien, having won the Prix de Rome in 1774 to study at the French Academy. In sympathy with the French Revolution, his paintings such as The Death of Socrates (31.45) gave expression to a new cult of civic virtues: self-sacrifice, devotion to duty, honesty, and stoic austerity. In the early 1790s, painter and sculptor John Flaxman (1755–1826) published his spare illustrations for Homer's Iliad and Odyssey (1977.595.53). Using his knowledge of Greek vase painting, Flaxman dispensed with the illusion of space and reduced volumes to unshaded outlines, giving his figures an abstract sense of unreality and weightlessness that appealed to countless fellow artists.

I agree with the Met dscription (although I'd quibble with some details).

But nowhere in that description is the notion that the past is somehow more beautiful than anything in the future today. David, probably the greatest of all neo-Classical artists, painted on many non-Classical themes, with great success and beauty. So I don't think there is an exclusion of the future for some mythical past. All noble parts of history are taken and respected accordingly. Isn't that proper?

Secondly,

when the cognoscenti are necessarily lovers of things past and did not merge it with the present, the producing men left them behind

I definitely agree with that; there was a movement to isolate Classical principles, which West has heretofore grown up on, away from the events and the prosperity of the Industrial Revolution, by people in charge of the Classics who felt distaste for that revolution. So you're right, there was a movement away from practical application and merging of the ideas with the present. But there was also a parallel revolution of the producing men, away from any interest in those values which had nourished the West; do you think Andrew Carnegie cared or knew much about what republic meant? Or did Rockefeller have much interest in what David was painting about? Do you think he would think twice about walking indifferently by the Suicide of Socrates, or Sons of Brutus?

That's where the great great virtue of Italian Renaissance art lies (among other ways), which did merge the past with the present in a healthy and integrated way. Every nation afterwards picked either the past or the present, to great deleterious effect for itself. Neo-Classical art didn't equal the Italian art's healthy integration of history, but it still brought up noble concepts that had already been absent in all other art in Europe even by then (18th century). Besides, no Italians could paint with the skill of David. So while I agree with you that it's impossible to give a perfectly complete approval of neo-Classical art, the balance of the judgment still definitely remains in its favor.

As a sidenote, I don't think there's anything Classical in what I've seen of Frederick Hart's work (which however doesn't detract from its beauty). Unless you believe that any heroic depiction of musculature is therefore Classical, which I would disagree with. The only two Classical periods were the Italian Renaissance, which was heroic, healthy, and perfectly integrated, and neo-Classical art which brought those ideas again to the fore, in a tarnished but still heroic way.

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But nowhere in that description is the notion that the past is somehow more beautiful than anything in the future today.

That is the meaning of the compound word "neo-classical". If you look at the content of David's work, he is expressing his values that "formal composition, historic subject matter, contemporary settings and costumes, rigidity, solidity, and monumentality in the spirit of classical revival" are worth spending the time that makes up the span of his life instead of creating something new. He found nothing was more worth portraying than what was already portrayed, and in the manner these subjects were already portrayed.

David, probably the greatest of all neo-Classical artists, painted on many non-Classical themes, with great success and beauty.

Do you mean his portraiture and religious work?

So I don't think there is an exclusion of the future for some mythical past. All noble parts of history are taken and respected accordingly. Isn't that proper?

No. If one respects the noble parts of history, one does not try to imitate it or go back to it, but to know what use it is within one's lifetime and build on it.

...

But there was also a parallel revolution of the producing men, away from any interest in those values which had nourished the West; do you think Andrew Carnegie cared or knew much about what republic meant? Or did Rockefeller have much interest in what David was painting about? Do you think he would think twice about walking indifferently by the Suicide of Socrates, or Sons of Brutus?

You write as if this was a deficiency in a Carnegie or a Rockefeller. Carnegie and Rockefeller were able to become patrons of the arts thanks to precisely what you would call a failure to glorify the past. I know they did not understand the relationship between art and man, but that is a separate issue.

That's where the great great virtue of Italian Renaissance art lies (among other ways), which did merge the past with the present in a healthy and integrated way.

That era produced great works of art, and to the best of the artists' scope of knowledge of existence. If one considers the combined hardships the artists experienced due to the living conditions of the Renaissance, that they were able to produce at all is to be respected if nothing else. But as I state in my response today in the related thread, the art was anything but healthy.

Neo-Classical art didn't equal the Italian art's healthy integration of history, but it still brought up noble concepts that had already been absent in all other art in Europe even by then (18th century).

This statement implies you see that men were not portrayed often and later, at all. I disagree with your view of heroism and human nobility.

So while I agree with you that it's impossible to give a perfectly complete approval of neo-Classical art...

We are not even in partial agreement.

As a sidenote, I don't think there's anything Classical in what I've seen of Frederick Hart's work (which however doesn't detract from its beauty). Unless you believe that any heroic depiction of musculature is therefore Classical, which I would disagree with.

I previously indicated in the related thread that I do not hold the above belief. Frederick Hart's religious and momunental work are nothing if not modern displays of "harmony, simplicity, and proportion" and he valued "formal composition, historic subject matter, contemporary settings and costumes, rigidity, solidity, and monumentality". Why is his work not Classical in the very best meaning I could accord to that term?

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He found nothing was more worth portraying than what was already portrayed, and in the manner these subjects were already portrayed.

Really? This is new to me, who's painted Socrates anywhere near like David has?

David, probably the greatest of all neo-Classical artists, painted on many non-Classical themes, with great success and beauty.

Do you mean his portraiture and religious work?

I mean something like Marat and Tennis-Court Oath,

Marat.jpgtennis.jpg

He's painted on a variety of different subjects. He didn't exclude everything that wasn't historical, and he clearly did not uphold some mythical past as inherently superior to all the present and the future. And when he did invoke history, I disagree with your implication that such invocation meant for him holding it intrinsically superior to everything in the present and the future. Rather the opposite.

So I don't think there is an exclusion of the future for some mythical past. All noble parts of history are taken and respected accordingly. Isn't that proper?

No. If one respects the noble parts of history, one does not try to imitate it or go back to it, but to know what use it is within one's lifetime and build on it.

Don't you think the French Revolutionaries (in their own tortured way) knew the use (or thought they did) for the classical republican concepts they 'invoked within their own lifetime, building on it'? Founding Fathers too, who regarded it so much? Mere invocation of the Classical principles in both cases is not an example of some kind of subservience to the past. I don't see why David was any different either.

Neo-Classical art didn't equal the Italian art's healthy integration of history, but it still brought up noble concepts that had already been absent in all other art in Europe even by then (18th century).

This statement implies you see that men were not portrayed often and later, at all.

Not exactly. Men, even good men, can exist without certain concepts that are nevertheless valuable. If we exclude Ayn Rand's impact on history, good men historically could often support a democracy, or a constitutional European monarchy, and not think twice about the virtues of republic. Classical art served to stimulate and inspire them with that concept.

Thus I don't agree that depiction of men merely as heroic faltered by the 18th century (we can address that in its thread). I merely say that a number of big Classical concepts were beginning to wane by the 18th century, when neo-Classical art brought them again into the fore, sometimes using historical figures who exemplified those concepts (e.g. Sons of Brutus).

I previously indicated in the related thread that I do not hold the above belief. Frederick Hart's religious and momunental work are nothing if not modern displays of "harmony, simplicity, and proportion" and he valued "formal composition, historic subject matter, contemporary settings and costumes, rigidity, solidity, and monumentality". Why is his work not Classical in the very best meaning I could accord to that term?

I may disagree even with David's definition of that term. What I term Classical art is something either a) coming from that time period, or B) dealing with Classical concepts (e.g. republic). Formal composition, for instance, cannot be truly part of that definition because David did not know how Romans painted, I strongly doubt he knew how the Pompeiian paintings looked like, and somehow modeled his art from them. So he could not have been following "rigidity, solidity, monumentality" from some Roman exemplar. The notions of 'formal composition', 'rigidity', 'solidity', come from the Renaissance as a way to identify Classical art apart from Medieval art (since only two existed). But there are many good forms of art that are not Classical, and once the Medieval art was discarded, those many forms could be pursued, all of which could be formally composed, rigid, monumental, and yet certainly not all Classical.

I would say, the only technique of painting that could possibly qualify to be included in the term of Classical painting is the extremely strong spot-light look and a strong contrast between lights and shadows; and that would qualify only if the painting is dealing with the conceptual themes just mentioned (i.e. it won't work by itself). This art technique I isolate as an exception because it is used to underline the moral judgments, and many invoked Classical examples had extremely strong moral judgments. The technique has become associated with the subject.

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He found nothing was more worth portraying than what was already portrayed, and in the manner these subjects were already portrayed.

Really? This is new to me, who's painted Socrates anywhere near like David has?

What I term Classical art is something either a) coming from that time period, or (b dealing with Classical concepts (e.g. republic).

David found nothing more worth portraying than either your a) or (b.

David, probably the greatest of all neo-Classical artists, painted on many non-Classical themes, with great success and beauty.

Do you mean his portraiture and religious work?

I mean something like Marat and Tennis-Court Oath...

I am not seeing how David's painting of his friend's martydom for the republic not dealing with the (b above. I am confused why David is attempted to be described as a more stylistically and epistemologically-diverse painter when he has thus far been portrayed as the leading painter of the neo-classical art period which, as you say, either deals with a) or (b. What is the relevance of, for example, his portraiture?

He's painted on a variety of different subjects. He didn't exclude everything that wasn't historical, and he clearly did not uphold some mythical past as inherently superior to all the present and the future. And when he did invoke history, I disagree with your implication that such invocation meant for him holding it intrinsically superior to everything in the present and the future. Rather the opposite.

But you said that:

By Neo-Classical art, we mean the period in 18th century Europe and America, which strongly emphasized again Classical values in art, and depicted favorite men in Classical colors...Formal composition, for instance, cannot be truly part of that definition because David did not know how Romans painted, I strongly doubt he knew how the Pompeiian paintings looked like, and somehow modeled his art from them. So he could not have been following "rigidity, solidity, monumentality" from some Roman exemplar.

I don't understand your route - is David a neo-classical artist by your definition or not? David's notebooks in the Louvre and the Beaux-Arts show he went to Italy, closely studied the ruins with awe, studied he frescoes and statues, made detailed sketches and studies of them and took specific ideas for his various canvases. He led the neo-classical school from the time of unveiling his work at the 1785 Salon after he immersed himself in archaeological finds. In conjunction with the political events that were going on, the a) and (b you note above were specifically and minutely glorified as concrete and stylistic representations of what France should be. David and the neo-classical school did hold intrinsically superior all that was past, not just the principles, but the very Roman pillars and dress. Your bringing up some other works (and I think you would have been better off bringing up the portraiture commissioned to David) in this thread is like saying 'but Mondrian also painted waterlilies in delicate watercolour privately, so he didn't really "mean" to paint only in the way he is famous for'. See my next question below which is relevant to this paragraph.

Don't you think the French Revolutionaries (in their own tortured way) knew the use (or thought they did) for the classical republican concepts they 'invoked within their own lifetime, building on it'? Founding Fathers too, who regarded it so much? Mere invocation of the Classical principles in both cases is not an example of some kind of subservience to the past. I don't see why David was any different either.

...

Neo-Classical art didn't equal the Italian art's healthy integration of history, but it still brought up noble concepts that had already been absent in all other art in Europe even by then (18th century).

...

Classical art served to stimulate and inspire them with that concept.

Can you respond by posting your view of what are the differences between Classical political concepts and Classical aesthetic concepts and how they were used or not used in neo-classical art? Your response to this question will help further clarify my unchanged response to your rhetorical (to you) question as to whether using the noble past is proper. Here's my example of how to use the noble past. I admire David's use of the golden section and composition in Oath of Horatii. That is a great use of knowledge and concepts acquired in the past. But I do not admire the Roman architecture in a painting created during David's lifetime.

The notions of 'formal composition', 'rigidity', 'solidity', come from the Renaissance as a way to identify Classical art apart from Medieval art (since only two existed).

As I wrote above, neo-classicism took the specific subjects details and style from centuries past and copied them in the present, not just from the Renaissance. To copy the content, such as certain types dress, entirely from the past the neo-classical view of existence that everything in the past was better. This is the ultimate meaning of the works as a whole.

I would say, the only technique of painting that could possibly qualify to be included in the term of Classical painting is the extremely strong spot-light look and a strong contrast between lights and shadows; and that would qualify only if the painting is dealing with the conceptual themes just mentioned (i.e. it won't work by itself). This art technique I isolate as an exception because it is used to underline the moral judgments...

I disagree. This does not differentiate it from much Baroque art.

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Cometmaker, let me excerpt from your post what I think is most relevant, because I really think we're coming to an understanding:

I don't understand your route - is David a neo-classical artist by your definition or not? David's notebooks in the Louvre and the Beaux-Arts show he went to Italy, closely studied the ruins with awe, studied he frescoes and statues, made detailed sketches and studies of them and took specific ideas for his various canvases. He led the neo-classical school from the time of unveiling his work at the 1785 Salon after he immersed himself in archaeological finds. In conjunction with the political events that were going on, the a) and (b you note above were specifically and minutely glorified as concrete and stylistic representations of what France should be. David and the neo-classical school did hold intrinsically superior all that was past, not just the principles, but the very Roman pillars and dress. Your bringing up some other works (and I think you would have been better off bringing up the portraiture commissioned to David) in this thread is like saying 'but Mondrian also painted waterlilies in delicate watercolour privately, so he didn't really "mean" to paint only in the way he is famous for'.

Yes, David was clearly a neo-Classical painter. Buy that I mean somebody who invoked Classical concepts in his art, not exclusively someone who used those concepts in an unhealthy way, or concerned himself only with history; that's why I tried to point out that David had interests outside the Classics (whether successfully or not...).

Can you respond by posting your view of what are the differences between Classical political concepts and Classical aesthetic concepts and how they were used or not used in neo-classical art? Your response to this question will help further clarify my unchanged response to your rhetorical (to you) question as to whether using the noble past is proper. Here's my example of how to use the noble past. I admire David's use of the golden section and composition in Oath of Horatii. That is a great use of knowledge and concepts acquired in the past. But I do not admire the Roman architecture in a painting created during David's lifetime.

Nor do I.

I think you've hit the nail on the head if you can admire the Oath of the Horatii but dislike replacement of modern buildings with something from the past; that is indeed an unhealthy way to treat something. The only exception I can think of might be something symbolic like wrapping Washington in a toga, intended to evoke a symbolic meaning and not literal replacement of his garments. For instance it has direct parallels to when an orator at the Boston Tea Party put on a toga before he went out to address the Bostonian crowd, using it in a symbolic meaning and evoking a conceptual response attached to that symbol. There's no symbol attached to Roman buildings, so while one may admire them one shouldn't replace something that's not Roman with them.

So I think we've may have been in agreement a lot more than we thought, if we both dislike replacement of modern history with earlier, and if we can both admire the Oath of the Horatii, for instance, or Sons of Brutus. Those latter two are distinctly neo-Classical paintings, with no second-handedness or any reprehensible motive whatsoever.

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Free Capitalist:

My impressions of Classical and NeoClassical works of art are that these pieces created in history are arguable only on their individual merits. Some works are of great interest, however, the idealistic and romantic concept of man potrayed plausibly by Ayn Rand changed everything by giving us new ways that art can be created and enjoyed.

Objectivists haven't even started to seriously create art, and, like a magnetic philosophy in a rich technological environment, the Objectivist outlook could change the world.

Regarding Classical and modern buildings I have added some remarks.

From your post:

"

Cometmaker, let me excerpt from your post what I think is most relevant, because I really think we're coming to an understanding: [text omitted]

I think you've hit the nail on the head if you can admire the Oath of the Horatii but dislike replacement of modern buildings with something from the past; ......... [text omitted]"

The competition to create replacement buildings for the WTC after 911 attracted a hoard of Post Modernists who submitted mostly terrible designs. One submission stood out from all the rest. That was the gigantic building complex that was to be shaped like a Classical statue of a human figure. The design was shaped and stylized quite nicely. I would have preferred that design to all the rest.

I've been a designer of manufactured products, houses, and buildings for more than 40 years, and I am an ultra-modernist with strong conservative leanings towards practical, beautiful, and inventive qualities in designing. I also make pastel drawings of the human form, especially of women, and these works are devoted to beauty and repose. To me practical modernism and romantic realism are of the same philosophy.

Classical works and their derivatives are often well based in highly sophisticated philosophy, and Post Modernist design and art are not, being mostly devoted to political and anti-value presentations.

What was selected was a scheme that used geometric ornamentation to express and decorate a horrible metaphysical theme. The four buildings that surround the central tower will be prismatic representations of what appears to me to be expressions of teeth that have been cut off by a saw. The idea of the architectural design is to express pain. The New Yorker will have to endure the esthetic representation of that pain forever and four times over.

I prefer the serene Classical solution to the Post Modernist.

I haven't evaluated all the meanings expressed by the Classical design. What we got instead was the horrible psychological state of the Post Modernist architect. We should and could have had a representation of an instance of ideas that were first created in Ancient Greece; the most magnificent world view and refined philosophical ideas of man ever created.

Ralph Hertle

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Classical works and their derivatives are often well based in highly sophisticated philosophy, and Post Modernist design and art are not, being mostly devoted to political and anti-value presentations.[...]

I prefer the serene Classical solution to the Post Modernist.

I haven't evaluated all the meanings expressed by the Classical design. What we got instead was the horrible psychological state of the Post Modernist architect. We should and could have had a representation of an instance of ideas that were first created in Ancient Greece; the most magnificent world view and refined philosophical ideas of man ever created.

I prefer the practical beauty of applying materials and design technology to comfortable, safe, cost-saving and durable designs that make it as easy as possible for people within those structures to carry out their activities, and as easy and cheap as possible for window cleaners to clean windows and for building maintenance to reconfigure vents around workspaces. Classical versus Post Modernist is a false alternative. It is a philosophy that results in site- and function-suited buildings constructed with tidy, durable and reliable blow-in-blanket insulation, grass you can park on with the use of Grasspave^2 and self-cleaning restrooms without Kandinsky-ish colour smears or light fixtures shaped like oil-burning lamps on Dorian wall mounts. There are no true claims of timelessness in architectural solutions.

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