Impressionism Gallery

Self portrait of Marlett's interests.

Statue of Liberty during the 1986 renovation.

Marlett eating lunch with Van Gogh and Gauguin.

California palm trees dancing.

Del Norte Coast in northern California.

Surfing spot at Laguna Beach, California.

Looking north at Laguna Beach, California.

Residential area in Laguna Beach, California.

Looking north at Laguna Beach, California.

Looking north at Laguna Beach, California.

Looking south at Laguna Beach, California.

Del Norte Pine by Ron Marlett.

Ron Marlett's painting of Spanish Hills in Camarillo, California.
   Ron Marlett's impressionistic style took root in his mixed media illustrations that he created in the early 1980s while attending CSUN. He developed an interest in the use of colored pensels and acrylic paint to optain a strong diagonal force in the illustrations' imagery. In his illustration of the Statue of Liberty's 1986 renovation, much of the piece is a dance between the opaque paint and colored pencil lines. Occaissionally Marlett would experiment with a more painterly approach similar to the French artists Claude Monet and Paul Gauguin. During the last year of his contract with Martin Lawrence Galleries in 1989, Marlett produced many landscape and seascape paintings that  incorporated short diagonal lines, painterly brush work, and very bright colors. Marlett's juxtaposition of cool and warm colors created a poping effect and thereafter, his technique was refered to as pop impressionism. One of Marlett's humorous paintings done in the impressionistic style was a large piece called  Lunch at Vincent's (2003). The painting is a portrait of Marlett eating lunch with Gauguin and Van Gogh at Van Gogh's apartment in Aries, France. The painting makes a statement about the temperaments of Gauguin and Van Gogh and their financial destitude while persuing their art careers. Marlett points out in his painting that if fast food franchise games existed in  the 19th century, Gauguin and Van Gogh would probably play in the hopes that they would be relieved of financial stress with the winning game piece.  The majority of impressionism ideas explored by Marlett have been beach scenes. Marlett's renditions of seascapes became a nostalgic exercise of his earlier years spent as a surfer and his love for the boundry between land and sea. To see the paintings in the impressionism gallery, click on one of the images to the left.  


HomePhoto AlbumStore







American Romanticism, 1880 to 1911

Written by Ron Marlett  to preserve  his understanding of
how the Romantic Paradigm  influenced American art.



     When Jean Jacques Rousseau published his book Emile ou de l' education (1762), he presented new ideas on how to raise children free from cultural contamination.  Rousseau believed that a child was born good, innocent, and pure, and then degenerated when the child was placed in the hands of culture. In order for a child to maintain his or her divine qualities, the child must be raised away from civlization and in a manner that does not impede the child's natural development. Rousseau divided the child's growth into stages. Each stage had natural characteristics that the child experienced and learned from.
     After the publication of Rousseau's instruction manual on education, the book became the source of inspiration for revolutionaries, philosophers, educators, and artists who expanded on Rousseau's ideas that all children are born free and equal, and that modern culture and technology perverts their souls. The younger the child is, the closer that child is to God, and people who are close to nature, such as farmers and indigenous people, are closer to God than people living in the cities. The ideology that developed from the pages of Emile ou de l' education became known as the Romantic Paradigm.
     The Romantic Paradigm rejuvenated the entire Western world because it redefined the human experience in terms of individuality and personal theological intimacy with nature. The Romantic ideals spread among 19th century elitists with its biggest converts in the arts and education. American artists who were being trained in Europe returned to the United States eager to educate American society with Romantic music, literature, and art. American educators transformed an archaic education system into one that treated children as unique individuals who learned and grew at different stages in their development. Art education was born out of  the Romantic idea that children were naturally gifted with creativity and art lessons helped children make sense of the world they lived in.

Art Education

     For decades, American educators treated children as miniature adults. When Rousseau published his book Emile ou de l' education in 1762, he introduced the basic idea that children grew in different stages. Rousseau's concept was further elaborated on by Granville Stanley Hall, an American psychologist who specialized in child and educational psychology. Hall's lectures fueled the growing concern that schools needed to serve new functions that would adapt to the needs of the developing child. By the 1880s, educators and psychologists began to reorganize the curriculum used in the American education system. One of the changes made was the inclusion of art education. In 1883, The National Education Association established its first art department. The art department gave educators guidelines on how to give art lessons to their students. The art training focused on the idea that children needed to be prepared for factory work. Pupils could learn trades through the skillful use of their hands. Drawing was considered the main activity that helped promote the students' manual dexterities. If a student wanted to become an artist, he or she could attend a specialized art school for further training.
     The art student would receive courses that underscored the copying of masters' artworks and plaster models. The 19th century art student was thought of as a chronicler of classical design. With rigorous classical training, the art student would grow into an artist who could capture the morality and divine truth that was expected in the Romantic era. The academic mind did not recognize any value in the individual use of line and color, The design elements were only incidental to a work of art. Opposed to the classical view was Ernest Fenollosa, a promoter of Asian art who believed that beauty, not realism, was the true purpose of art. Another influential driving force that opposed the entrenched classical teaching techniques was Arthur Wesley Dow. Dow's philosophy claimed that composition was the essence of beauty and that it should be applied to all arts including the crafts.
     While studying art in Europe, Dow was exposed to the works of Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai. Dow was amazed on how Hokusai controlled the pictorial space of his prints. The Japanese called the design strategy "notan." Notan was the relationship of light, dark, and the equality of positive and negative spaces. Dow began to rethink how art should be taught and published his ideas in 1899 with a book called Composition. Dow's book based its instruction on the mastery of the elements of line, notan, and color. In the late 1890s, Dow taught his theories at Columbia University and the Pratt Institute. Dow also wrote papers on his composition ideas that were distributed throughout the United States education system. Dow championed  fine craftsmanship in all media, and promoted the creation of handmade crafts rather than objects made by machines. Much of Dow's students went on to become teachers, but some of them became great artists who helped redefine the meaning of art.  Georgia O'Keefe took Dow's classes at the University of Columbia and went on to become a great painter who pushed Dow's design elements into abstraction. In O'Keefe's last interview, she insisted that her work was about seeing her subject matter as form, shape, and color. Art education made radical changes in how art was taught. The realistic clarity of Romantic paintings gradually became obsolete as new ways of creating art became vogue. Even though one variation to the Romantic Paradigm withered away, the paradigm's roots and branches sprouted new ways to perpetuate its ideology. In the future of America's art education, the Bauhaus would soon come.

Art

     On the surface of 19th century easel art lays a thin veneer of deception. The majority of Americans were unaware that artists became the proponents of Romanticism. Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran, and Fredrick Church were thought of as landscape painters. Art museums around the United States would catalog the Hudson River School artists as Luminaries. A recent  Luminary exhibition at the Brandywine  River Museum in 2003 promoted their show as Art of the American West from a Private Collection. Their brochure never mentioned anything about the Romantic Paradigm's influence on the Luminary painters. The show was presented for its superficial qualities of rugged mountain men, and "noble savages" who all lived close to nature. The museum's brohure proclaimed;

Artists played an integral part in the discovery and documentation of the West in the 1800s. Before television, radio, and the Internet, their works served as the main source for public understanding of the land beyond the Mississippi River, known as the "expeditionary painters," the earliest western artists traveled thousands of miles into uncharted territory, and, like trappers and traders of the period, they experienced danger and adventure firsthand. Many lived among Native Americans.

     Other 19th century American artists who glorified the great outdoors included Fredrick Remington, Charles Russell, and Henry Farny. The American genre painters would later be lumped together with the Luminaries in what is now referred to as Western Art. The veneer of deception that exists on Western Art is the artworks' realistic subject matter. The majority of people  who  admired  the works of Western artists saw only beautiful landscapes and portraits of farmers, pioneers, and Native Americans living in the Wild West. On the contrary, American elitists who were educated in the finest universities were able to gaze upon the same paintings and see morality and divine truth. In an attempt to make morality and divine truth  a little more obvious, Thomas Cole set out on an ambitious quest to educate the masses.
     In 1836, Cole completed a five-part series called A course of an Empire. The series graphically illustrated the Romantic ideal that human culture destroys civilization and nature reclaims the land that civilization was built on. In 1848, Cole created another series called The Voyage of Life. In this four-part series, Childhood, Youth, Manhood, and Old Age, Cole illustrated how man can find divine revelation through the intimate relationship with nature. In Cole's first piece, he paints an angel presenting a little baby to the wilderness. The second piece shows the youth envisioning the divine truth as he sets out on the river of life. The third piece shows the man being guided by the divine as he struggles through the river's rapids (the rapids were meant to be a metaphor for modern civilization). The final painting depicts the old man's deliverance back to the divine world in reward for his faith. The French artist Jean-Francois Millet was another artist who illustrated Romanticism in his work.
     Millet became popular in America with his paintings of peasants who, like indigenous people, were close to the divine because of their relationship with nature. In Millet's piece The Angelus (1859), he painted a peasant man and woman engaged in prayer while standing in their freashly plowed field. In the distant background beyond the furrowed land is a faint image of a church. The painting proclaimed that in order to find true spirituality, men and women must remove themselves from culture and immerse themselves in nature. Millet and Cole's paintings played an important role in perpetuating Rousseau's ideas that culture, civilization, and technology were bad and nature was good, and the only way humanity can redeem itself from the perils of civilization is to embrace nature. The idea of embracing nature manifested itself in another art movement called Art Nouveau.
      The first Art Nouveau artworks began to surface in France during the 1880s. The movement spread to other countries and by 1890, Art Nouveau became a welcomed addition to American Arts and Crafts. Its flowery organic forms characterized the Art Nouveau style. In illustrations, artists designed intertwining vines that accentuated the curvaceous forms of Celtic water nymphs. In graphic design studios, calligraphers created fonts that looked as though each letter was cultivated in a garden. Glass artists were also busy at the furnace creating iridescent bowls that appeared to blossom out of organic pedestals. The artists used nature as inspiration for their artworks because of the deep seeded belief that they were the practitioners of divine inspiration. American artists in the 19th century felt they had a responsibility to uphold morality, and demonstrate to society that their artistic visions were a direct link to the divine. For some American artists, the best way to project the image of the sacred artist was to leave the studio and paint outside.
     Inspired by the French impressionists, Theodore Robinson, John Singer Sargent, and John Henry Twachtman put on their hiking boots, loaded their back packs with paints, brushes, and canvases, and headed for the hills to work in the blazing sun. What the American impressionists had in common was the strong desire to use nature as their subject matter. It was the perfect situation for the impressionists to not only paint nature, but to actually get sunburned, mosquito bitten, and dehydrated while in the process of painting nature. Enduring pain and living an austere life in the name of art helped to shape the modern idea of what a dedicated artist was. The definition of an artist eventually became one who makes supreme sacrifices in order to enrich society with beautiful things.
     By 1910, new artists who were educated by Arther Wesley Dow began to radically change the way paintings looked. One of Dow's students, Georgia O'Keefe, became the vanguard of American modernism. In classical compositions, a flower was presented as a whole flower with all its realistic texture defined. O'Keefe's flower was painted so that the flower's detial divided the pictorial space into large harmonious positive and negative shapes. O'Keefe's representational paintings explored the "notan" qualities in nature which allowed many Americans to develope an appreciation for the language of abstraction.

Kitsch

     There was one approach to Romanticism that had a broad appeal to the American audience. Starting in the 1880s, artists began to create art that was drenched in sentimentality. Serious paintings that used beautiful children engaged in scenarios that when looked upon by mothers and fathers, would drain gallons of teardrops from their eyes. The typical subject matter used in this style of Romantic art were children in danger, children discovering nature, children playing, children praying, and children doing cute things. English, French, and German artists capitalized on the new bourgeoisie's need for art by furnishing them with plenty of sentimental pictures along with a healthy dose of cheaply made master artwork copies. Artwork that exploited nostalgia and the Romantic ideal about children became known as kitsch. The German word was applied to everything that was made for the purpose of evoking sentimental emotions, which also included things that were aesthetically inferior in production standards. The novalists Milan Kundera provided a perspective on how kitsch seduces our senses in his book, The Unbearable Likeness of Being;

     The feeling induced by kitsch must be a kind the multitudes can share. Kitsch may not depend on an unusual situation; it must derive from the basic images people have engraved in their memories: the ungrateful daughter, the neglected father, children love. Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! It is the second tear that makes the kitsch kitsch. The brotherhood of men on earth will be possible only on a base of kitsch.

     Serious attempts by well trained artists such as Winslow Homer's piece Snap the Whip (1872), and Mary Cassatt's painting Sleepy Baby (1910), added to the growing mountain of kitsch. Confusion about what kitsch was stemmed from the contradicting definitions of its media. In one hand, kitsch was said to represent images that harvested nostalgia about innocence and love. In the opposite hand, kitsch was definned as any object that was made of inferior quality. Mary Cassatt's paintings of children were done well. Her compositions, brush work, and palette display mastery of the impressionistic technique. Maxfield Parish's scenes of tranquil bliss were also painted with mastery in the realistic style. It is difficult to think of Cassatt and Parish as being the equivalent to a poorly made medal toy of President Theodore Roosevelt's head attached to the wheelhouse of a battleship. The controversy over what should be regarded as kitsch will always be a part of intellectual amusement. The type of kitsch that represents inferior production standards and corny mass-produced souvenirs will eventually find a place in the garbage cans. Kitsch that was made well and embraces sentimentality will always be accepted by everyone. We need the cute little bunnies and the pictures of babies playing with puppies and kittens to remind us that with all the serious judgements and expectations we place upon ourselves, we can be reassured that the ultimate goal in life is comfort.

Architecture

     There were many architectual styles that overlapped each other in America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The majority of popular architectual styles were revivals and variations of past designs. Italianate, Richardsonian Romanesque, Beaux Arts, Neo-Classical Revival, and Colonial Revival were designs that barrowed features from classical Greek, Roman, Gothic, and Renaissance architecture. Toward the end of the 19th century, a shift in design strategy began to flourish as a result of art education's emphasis on design elements and the Romantic ideal. Starting in 1890, there began to emerge a completely new way some American architects perceived line, form, and space. The new architects viewed the industrial mass-produced building products as a degradation against man's artistic nature. They regarded classical designs as being the cultural influence that spawned the industrial revolution. The new style was called Arts and Crafts and it embraced design and construction as an expression of art. Construction workers were thought of as artists who expressed their genius in wood and stone. Arts and Crafts architecture sought a spiritual connection with the surrounding environment and the natural and manmade materials used in the building's construction. One of the most famous American architects that came from the Arts and Crafts era was Frank Lloyd Wright.
     Wright never attended architecture school. At the age of 15, Wright entered the University of Wisconsin as a genius student. After studying engineering for a few semesters, he dropped out and moved to Chicago where he eventually became an apprentice for Louis Sullivan. After his apprenticeship ended, Wright opened his own practice in 1893. Wright was influenced by the Romantic idea that artistic genius came to those who were closest to nature. Wright would later describe himself as; "I am an American primative - an innocent but clever country boy whose education on the farm made me more perceptive and more down to earth."
     In 1908, Frank Lloyd Wright began to think of his work as being Organic Architecture. Wright thought of Organic Architecture as a harmonious relationship between natural materials and the building's form and function. The Isabel Roberts Residence (1908) in River Forest, Illinois, is an example of Wright's Organic architectural vision. Unlike the classical styles that rise above its conquered ground, the Isabel Roberts Residence gives the impression that its linear presence has always been a part of the landscape. The split-level Prairie style house is made entirely out of geometric plains. Wright also incorporated geometric shapes in the windowpanes. Large windows throughout the home reduced the degree of enclosure and allowed the occupants to see the beautiful landscape their home was a part of. The interior space was equally revolutionary in its floor plan. Wright designed the two-story high living room to be the main gathering place for the family. It was a wide-open living space with a very large fireplace that represented the home's heart. The bedrooms were half-level above the living room. The work areas were a half-level below the living room. Wright embraced the Romantic idea that being close to nature allowed the person to feel divine tranquility with his or her soul. Wright incorporated the Romantic ideals into his designs that created an innovative way homes and buildings looked and how people lived within its opened spaces.

Epilogue

     To historians, Romanticism is confined to a short time period between the years of 1780 to 1900. Art historians cataloged Romantic art in a shorter time slot so that other art movements could be understood for their visual differences. Despite the variations in artistic expression, the Romantic Paradigm had far reaching influences that forever changed Western civilization. The romantic ideological roots became entangled in every art movement that followed the more obvious Romantic artworks. The Romantic Paradigm's unrealistic concepts about nature, children, farmers, and indigenous people became an invisible world of thought that engulfed American society. Its ideology transcended the bounderies of time and embraced future generations who knew not where Romanticism came from, or how it was affecting their attitudes about life. To modern society, it seemed right to think that farmers and people living away from the cities had profound wisdom from their intimacy with nature.
     The most recent bloom from the Romantic Paradigm came in Terrence Malick's war film The Thin Red Line (1998). The film's reference to Romanticism is found in the young man who walks amoung the Melanesians prior to his baptism of fire. The Melanesians accept the young man as innocent and pure. After the battle, the young man returns to the village and the Melanesians reject him. He is no longer a part of the divine world that the "noble savages" live in. In order for the young man to regain entry into the divine world, he allows himself to be killed as a way to cleanse his battlefield sins. The film ends with a coconut that has taken root in shallow water. Its infant leaves sprout up toward the sun. Melanesian children who invite the young man's soul back into the divine world sing a Vanuatu hymn:


God Yu Tekem Laef Blong Mi