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Art Nouveau
By Neal McLaughlin


Art Nouveau, (Noo-Voh) translated from it's French origin means "New Art." Although called New Art it was actually a compilation of many of the older movements (i.e. Romanticism, Symbolism) refined and adapted into a more modern form.

The New Art movement was a joint effort of many highly-energized and brightly motivated artists who felt strongly about severing ties with the Classic Art movements and equally strong in banishing the wall which had separated the Fine Arts (paintings/sculptures) from the Applied Arts (ceramics, furniture etc.)

The Nouveau Artists, in their effort to redefine the meaning and nature of art felt that it was their responsibility to show art not only in the traditional subject masses but also equally in objects which are found in everyday living regardless of how practical they may be.

It is a fair statement to suggest that all artists hold true the belief that people's lives are enriched, enhanced and to some degree made better through art. This concept was evident in the thinking behind the New Art movement. Those artists of the Art Nouveau truly believed that art should work on everything from architecture and furniture to glassware and jewelry.

Even more revolutionary was their willingness to accept advertising posters into the movement with exhibitions actually taking place on fences! This was definitely in sharp contrast to the ideology which proceeded this movement that all art needed to be separated into distinctive categories: Major/Minor, Fine and Applied Arts.

Unlike the traditional style of painting, New Artists limited their subject matters to flowers, vines, insects and birds, although they did favor the theme of a nymph with flowers in her gracefully flowing hair. She appeared many times in the posters of Alfons Mucha (1860-1939) as well as the jewelry of Rene Lalique.

Characteristic of Art Nouveau was the use of elegant, free-flowing lines that would intertwine with abstract patterns with a graceful rhythm. The abstract shapes were often used to fill in recognizable subject matter and reduced shading was used to eliminate the 3-D affect.

An interesting fact regarding Art Nouveau is that the styles varied depending upon where it appeared and by the materials that were used. However, whether it was addressed as Stile Liberty (Italy), Judendstel (Germany) or Style Gurnarel in France, one similarity remained: Art Nouveau was a movement which opposed the predating academic schools, strongly opposed the Industrial Revolution and its ability to mass produce and on occasion the artists themselves opposed one another!

Art Nouveau was a movement with its own ideas, some of the artists openly accepted the idea of using machines to produce their artistic pieces while those of the "old" school favored the high standards of craftsmanship and design which they felt were lost through the manufacturing process.

Art Nouveau flourished in both the United States and in Europe. It was the offspring of the Arts and Crafts movement, which had been conceived and nurtured by William Morris (1834-1896).

Morris was opposed to the Industrial Revolution and mass production and it was his motivation to emphasize the importance of craftsmanship and fine design; which had slowly ebbed from the arts following the French Revolution.

William Morris was not alone in his quest to reintroduce fine craftsmanship and design back into the art community. His influence had motivated many of his peers such as Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898), Antonio Gaudi (1852-1926) as well as American glassmaker Louis Comfort Tiffany and Architect Charles Renni Mackintosh (1868-1928).

Art Nouveau was a rich, voluptuous style that had appealed to the taste of the elite who were unconstrained by the traditional arts and had encouraged designers to create far beyond the stylistic norm. Sadly, these same people eventually grew tired with this stylistic excess and within ten-years it would fade from the fashion market.

Despite its elegance and grace, Art Nouveau was criticized as being a nonfunctional dilapidated and an ugly art style which did not last long after the start of World War I.

However, it was resurrected in reaction to what some had considered the boring, unimaginative "glass-and-steel" rectangle architecture of the 1950s.

The same community of critics who were responsible for blackballing the New Art movement had re-evaluates their opinions and had decided that it was not so bad after all. Following this revelation scholars began to review Art Nouveau in a positive light and it wasn't long before the cost of New art objects soared.

However, these changes of views did little in the way of resuscitating the movement to full life and by 1914 it had lost its fight and gave way to the Art Deco Movement.

Art Nouveau did resurface once again in the 1960's where it was incorporated into the rebellious psychedelic style and finally, after a long on again, off again romance would achieve its place as a significant style in the history of modern art.

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