Reflective Journal Week 17, 19 Jan – 25 Jan 2020

A briefed outline of a research direction has been shaped during this week. I understand a lot of work is required to narrow it down so I can focus on a specific case, yet I still decided to picture the core idea behind the project: to find a pattern of the development of a culture. 

While I am writing these texts, the political context is the Hong Kong issue just past its peak of attention; the coronavirus has taken its place. China has attracted a lot of western criticise, which revealed a severe emotional fluctuation among Chinese people known as called political anxiety. A massive proportion of international students and globalisation believers turned pessimistic regarding the current political situation. A concern of a new Cold War, which might ultimately result in decades of hostility between western and eastern societies, the decline of the living environment, even billions of deaths if a military conflict was triggered, has been developing. I have a particular interest in this trend, as I have always been interested in observing the history from an over-look perspective. Thus, I wrote a brief outline of the idea.

The Anxiety of Advancement

How painting reflects the anxiety of the society in the transition of era

The European history in eighteenth to twentieth-century demonstrates us a rapidly changing society in the enlightenment of industrial civilisation. The liberation of productivity has substantially impacted on the traditional structure of its society. Dilemmas have been revealing regarding the relationship between human, nature and the massive application of machinery. 

The tradition of the European society has dramatically widened the sight of artistic field. As one of the most potent format, the simultaneously evolved painting introduced a considerable amount of factors that extremely valuable to historians in a straight-forward manner. Among them a fascinating pattern could be found: a recall to wildness and idyll was usually popularised at great turning points of the era. 

Albert Boime contributed an interesting statement in his book Art in an age of revolution, 1750 – 1800. He believed Constable’s works, especially those pictured the productive activities of the countryside, were representative in similarly themed paintings, actually drafted the ruling classes’ desire of maintaining the stability of the society by establishing a clear division of labour. Revolutions later happened around the world may support this idea, and perhaps revealing the ruling class of Britain had noticed the possibility that their status would be treated by the liberalism; thus, subsidising a culture trend which seduced Bourgeois self-castrate to an idyllically desireless rustic life would benefit them in the long term. This could be a new perspective explaining the popularisation of retro style, especially landscape paintings of nineteenth century’s England: An anxiety to a turbulent society in conservatives.

While the financial dominance of commissioners’ social hierarchy determined their anxiety in 18th and early 19th century’s paintings, the Age of Discovery also demonstrated the anxiety of landscape painters. Despite the constant raged wars against each other, Europeans adopted their consciousness of being parts of continental civilisations. The spirit inherited from the Grand Tour encouraged artists travelling to other nations and passing their distinct culture to home audiences. While movements and styles were dominated by specific at the high of European academism, new generations of painters realised their appreciations are more likely to be earned by developing their influence. If we argue the massive European colonisation was anxiety about running out of space for living and surplus capital, painters travelled to frontiers of western civilisations could be explained with the same reason. When establishing the concept of Hudson River School, Cole stated the movement would be founded on the aesthetic, nature and value of the New World. Artists’ zealotic conquer of un-discovered nature beauties, the flourishing of paintings of exotic scenes and the mimic of Far Eastern style in the art market precisely proved the anxiety of painters at the end of an age: the anxiety that stimulated expansion.

The continuous advancement of machinery, gradual perfect of photography and growing demand for decorations decided the supplier of cheap art. Machines, to some extent, could replace artists to produce art at an affordable price. The symbiotic relationship between machine and human was realised; however, not entirely accepted. Artists motivated movements like Art & Craft, Art Nouveau to discuss the balance between industrialisation and conservative beauty. After “trying to reach the equal preciseness of machines”, painters tried to exceed machines. Painters desire to articulate their irreplaceable uniqueness in the debate of the modern era. The anxiety of being replaced and being judged, making unnecessary creations stands a chance to explain the ultimate transition to impressionist and abstract art. The anxiety also evolved as attempts at exceeding other painters: to make art that nobody else can. Western painters have acknowledged and been practising under the idea “painting is the carrier of concepts and ideas” through the rapid exchange of information and the universal utilisation of advanced tools in the modern era. Gradually paintings have been asserted with tremendous difficulty to be explained and show evidence of reaching the dilemmas of being objectively evaluated as it was described in Roger Scruton’s Conservatism. Will the anxiety eventually made Paul Delaroche’s fateful line? Can the experience of the past be referred to help us picture the future? Where the future of painting lies, under the great anxiety to the advancement of eras? 

An interesting feedback I received from Professor Athanasios Velios pointed out that the only why we picture the future is referring to the past. Thus the narrowed development of this brief needs to be established on this idea. 

Therefore, I made up my mind that the stage in which this proposal will be developing is designated to building up a solid context for the future research. It means a dependable foundation that capable to be developed to various direction. 

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About cechenpaints

An artist, painter, illustrator based in London.