Art Nouveau was an artistic movement that united the architecture and decorative arts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These were the European enthusiasts who practiced the variety of styles. The objectives of Art Nouveau were to escape the traditional historical styles and modernize a design. Consequently, the representatives of the movement united natural and flowing forms with the angular figures and evolved elegant designs. One should mention that both geometric and organic forms inspired the artists to create. As a result, the traditional hierarchy of the arts was abolished as the representatives of Art Nouveau did not consider sculpture and painting superior to craft-based decorative arts. Besides, this essay explores the relationship between the history of Art Nouveau and the emergence of global modernity.
The Key Ideas of Art Nouveau
Art Nouveau was the result of leaving behind the historical styles and the way of transferring to modernism and creativity. Earlier periods were characterized by poorly made objects and the decorative arts were necessary to make the revolution in art. One should mention that the representatives of Art Nouveau raised the status of craft, produced modern and genuine design and revived good workmanship. Such forgotten crafts as silver-smoothing and furniture design had become the most sophisticated work and proved the necessity of craftsmanship.
The artists of Art Nouveau changed the vision and beliefs about crafts and inspired others to create the art of buildings and interiors. The attention was paid to the smallest objects and details that were decorated to be ornamental and unique. The representatives of Art Nouveau believed that this was the object that should dictate its form. The movement was short-lived as it was less collective. Not every artist supposed geometric forms of plants such as rectangles and squares attractive and exciting. Architects, visual artists, and designers were united to create the style of design for the modern art. Additionally, Art Nouveau was the reaction against Victorian-era decorative art that was too predictable and traditional.
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One should mention that the movement did not have boundaries presenting graphic art, printing of works on playbills, magazine advertisements, and exhibition catalogs. New forms of Art Nouveau were controversial, debatable and ambiguous. The natural world was the key muse of the artists. As a result, they were free in the choice of objects, forms, and meaning. The main features of Art Nouveau were curvy, elongated and sinuous lines, exotic woods, semi-precious stones and silver, female forms, stylized nature and vertical lines. Art Nouveau was influenced by botanical research, rococo style and crafts.
It is evident that objects were in the center of Art Nouveau. The artists designed flowers, ornaments, fireplaces, lighting, door handles, stained glass, furniture, tiles, wallpaper, walls color schemes and floors. The conceptual traits of Art Nouveau were imaginary, abstraction, conceptualization, minimalism, orientation on the natural world and simplicity. The ambiguity that provoked a lot of interpretations was another feature of Art Nouveau that proved transferring to the global modernity and leaving behind traditionalism of Victorian era. Art Nouveau was so rich that it was difficult to predict whether it evoked magic atmosphere and charm or shock and fear. The distinction of lines and colors was a proof of modernization of art and its movement to era of technologies. Calmness and non-aggressiveness of colors of the depicted objects made them different from the traditional art forms.
Conceptual meaning of objects was more important than their depiction. As a result, abstract expressionism did not always provoke astonishment and approval. It means that the representatives of Art Nouveau should not only present their vision of the modern art but fight against stereotypes and traditionalism of art forms that deprived craftsmanship of the place during the Victorian period. Imagery and physicality of objects were the driving forces of the representatives of Art Nouveau. Expressionism, minimalism, and cubism were the ways of the depiction of the natural world differently through colors, compositions, space and abstraction. The artists ruined the boundaries and limitations between the real and imaginary. The attention was paid to the perception and vision of the depicted objects.
The advantage of the artists of Art Nouveau was that they were not afraid to experiment with different materials making them look alive and realistic. They could make panels and floors depict the state of consciousness and perception. They fused with the objects involving creativity and creating mystery.
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Georgia O’Keefe and her Works
Georgia O’Keefe was one of the brightest and most talented artists of Art Nouveau whose works revealed the traits of that movement and presupposed modernization not only of art but even of its perception. Her vision of the modern art was not aimed at shifting art trends. On the contrary, it intended to look for abstract and essential forms in nature. It means that Georgia O’Keefe concentrated her attention on natural objects. One should mention that her great finesse and powers of observations made her paintings unusual and untraditional. She ruined the canons of Victorian art that was too pompous, sophisticated and complicated.
Bones, flowers, and landscapes fascinated her the most. Her life experience and place of living were the sources for her creative ideas. She contributed to Art Nouveau as she was one of the American representatives, and she was a woman that was a rare case among painters. One should mention that Georgia O’Keefe had developed as an artist and a painter under the influence of the modernist photographers and painters.
Her work “Cow’s Skull: Red, White, and Blue” was created in 1931. Her depiction of this painting on canvas made it a bit traditional. However, the subject of that work was really shocking and unexpected for the audience. The colors of the painting were meaningful and symbolic as red, white and blue were the colors of the American flag. It means that Georgia O’Keefe wanted to identify and promote the American artistic style as it lagged behind the European one. Her symbols of America are not stereotypical as she did not use landscapes and natural beauty as regionalist artists did. On the contrary, she managed to reveal urban problems and represent American enduring spirit.
“Cow’s Skull: Red, White, and Blue” was an iconic painting as it symbolized also the American West and was like a joke on the American art scene. One should mention that the work was based on perception and cultural background of the audience. Cow’s skull was an unusual object for depiction that provoked fear and disgust. However, peaceful colors and association with the American flag changed the opinion about the work. Vertical lines also made “Cow’s Skull: Red, White, and Blue” calmer and not so aggressive. Minimalism and abstractness reinforced the depth and symbolism of the depicted objects.
Another distinctive work of Georgia O’Keefe was “White Canadian Barn” that was painted with oil on canvas. That painting differed from the previous one with the commitment to the geometric forms. Summer trip to Gaspe Peninsula of Canada inspired her to create such work that belonged to the theme series. The barn was the key object that was stark in design and color. The narrow and horizontal proportion of “White Canadian Barn” and flat rectangular forms of the walls and roof proved its belonging to Art Nouveau. Three distinct areas such as ground, building and denoting sky divided the space into three areas.
One can say that “White Canadian Barn” is made in three-dimensional form that made it modernist and innovative. It is evident that commitment to geometry and form proved the orientation of Georgia O’Keefe toward Art Nouveau and violation of traditional and old-fashioned subjects and forms. Frontal presentation put forward the barn as an object of the painting. The massive size and somber coloring added it some mystery and unpredictability. Every detail from the geometric shape and architectural element to black doorways proved the breadth of the painting and depiction of every object as a small and important painting with its own meaning and form.
In conclusion, one should say that Art Nouveau is the movement and design, creativity and modernization that violates the canons of the traditional and stereotypical art vision and benefits the emergence of global modernity. The value of Art Nouveau is that it managed to turn the usual objects in the masterpieces and symbolic things. Flowers, ornaments, fireplaces, lighting, door handles, stained glass, furniture, tiles, wallpaper, walls color schemes and floors could be the inspiring subjects for the artists of Art Nouveau. The conceptual traits of Art Nouveau are imaginary things, abstraction, conceptualization, minimalism, orientation toward the natural world and simplicity.
Georgia O’Keefe is not only a revolutionary artist of Art Nouveau but also of the American painting that was not as famous as a European one. Her modernist vision of art is reflected in her works “White Canadian Barn” and “White Canadian Barn”. Both paintings are oriented toward the abstractionism and geometric simplicity. However, design of every object showed depth of meaning and symbolism.
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