Modern Thought and the Development of Art

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Due to the broadened influence of science on the art world, there has been an increasing trend away from the truth that has been tied to what critic Martha Bayles calls “intense self-consciousness about the meaning and purpose of art” felt by artists. (Pearcey, 2010) This trend began during the Enlightenment when many new scientific discoveries and ideas were published. Thanks to the work of the age’s luminaries, including Voltaire, John Locke, and Isaac Newton, a divide amongst artists began, with some choosing to focus on facts and others emphasizing the importance of values.

This split between Enlightenment and Romantic artists led to a difference in styles as well. Painters who aligned themselves with the Enlightenment thinkers tended to produce art that promoted the importance of material objects, while Romantic painters chose to have a broader view, holding ideas higher than physical objects. This distinction has led to conflicting portrayals of similar topics in the art reflective of each side’s worldview. For instance, during the Enlightenment, painters found ways to incorporate the theories developed during the age into their work, which tended to focus on updated versions of themes seen during the Neoclassical period. Enlightenment painters saw the world as it physically was, causing them to create art that had its foundation in concrete aspects of the human experience of the time period, portraying things like scenes of war or of scientifically-based endeavors. On the other hand, Romantic painters tended to be much more ethereal and philosophical in their work, since they were more idealistic. Romantics often painted scenes of nature, or scenes from religious works such as the Bible. The essence of this difference in workmanship came from the fundamental ideal of truth held by each sect, since “[artists] communicate what they believe on the deepest level to be true.” (Pearcey, 2010) Without this difference in focus, it is hard to tell how different artistic movements would have developed.

Reference

Pearcey, N. (2010). Saving Leonardo: A call to resist the secular assault on mind, morals, & meaning. Nashville: B&H Publishing.