The New Romanticism

[Above photo: my most recent painting, depicting Harrison Brothers Hardware, a general store that has been on the Square in my town for over 100 years.]

Given my academic proclivities, it feels strange to admit that I no longer manage to stay informed about contemporary art trends in big cities.  This is in part due to the rigors of running my brick-and-mortar store, but the main reason is more likely that I do not believe that those art scenes hold as much global sway as the Internet does these days.  A sort of artistic populism dominates the Internet and has managed to create an art scene in its own right.  In a sense, this represents a fundamentally modern way of experiencing art-- in reproduction, and without the guiding hands of curators, critics, or gallery owners to decide what gets released to the general public and what constitutes high culture.  It is an art scene controlled by artists and their fans, and it can be a boon to artists who act as entrepreneurs such as myself, though I would be lying if I did not concede that it is a bit anarchistic and lacking in quality control at times.

That said, I enjoy the wealth of different works I have been exposed to through my internet explorations.  I particularly enjoy following artists' pages on Facebook, and along with favorites from my own town whose work I have the pleasure of admiring in person such as Logan Tanner, Chris Wade, and Yuri Ozaki, I come back week after week to see what Duane Keiser, David Boyd Jr., Kimberly Kelly Santini, Stanka Kordic, and Jennifer Gennari are working on.  I also have a blossoming Board on Pinterest devoted to art that has caught my eye for one reason or another. . . lately, I have been drawn to heavily stylized plein air street scenes, landscapes, and interior scenes of all sorts.  Since I find myself moving in that direction in my own work, I cannot help but collect images that reflect my artistic interests, but I also try to ascertain which styles and subjects are gaining traction in the process.

Some seven years ago, when I was living in Montreal and thinking deeply about the art I saw in galleries and journals versus the art I saw online, I noticed that photorealism was a dominant trend in print and online media.  I wrote a piece for Escape Into Life discussing the reasons I assumed to be fueling the trend, chief among them being the ease by which one could deem a photorealistic piece successful (based on how much it resembled a photo and depicted detail accurately) and how well photorealistic works come across in reproduction.  This is not the case anymore.  The predominant art I see online in 2016 is more Impressionistic and idealistic, full of thick brushwork, and generally less urban in style, even if the subject depicted happens to be a city street.  It is almost as if those of us (and I say us because I am for once rather a part of the Zeitgeist) who did not grow up in urban areas or are disillusioned by them are reclaiming a softer, more dreamy form of art. . . and it is almost as if that softness enhances the beauty of historic and natural scenes and blurs the ugliness of harsher post-modern lines.

To me, these loose, brushwork-laden pieces represent a new Romantic movement that encourages artists to step away from reference photographs in loft studios or converted garages, urging them to go outside and feel the sunlight on their faces again.  The realistic art of today is classical rather than photorealistic or hyperrealistic, cloaked in deep shadows and bathed in golden light, but much of it is abstract up close, almost startlingly so.  I see strong surrealist and minimalist tendencies alive and well in illustration, but "fine art" has taken a turn away from these trends to reflect a different time in painting, to reclaim a space away from digital screens and cities.  How ironic that I should be viewing most of these pieces on the internet, and yet the simple act of viewing them begs me to turn away from my screen and look outside again, to reclaim my landscape, fill my eyes with it, blur its ugliness into oblivion, then rediscover and accentuate its beauty.  Is this an escapist trend?  I do have to ask myself that at times. . . but artists are probably more aware than most that we get to choose our own realities to a great extent.  Why not choose a lush, expressive, elegant one after all?

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