Have you ever been to an art museum and had a particular piece of artwork stand out to you? If so, have you ever stopped to think of why this piece might be so especially attractive?
Artists such as Georges Seurat, a Neo-Impressionist artist from the late 1800’s, worked in particular forms of media and explored stylistic elements in an attempt to make his artwork more appealing to all potential viewers.
Seurat is considered to be an artist who participated in the movement of 'Neo-Impressionism." According to Jane Block of ‘Grove Art Online,” (2003) the era of ‘Neo-Impressionism” began in the year 1884 and was considered to be a movement of the “avant-garde” nature. Avant-garde refers to ideas of the unusual, innovative kind, sometimes even controversial. The artists of the neo-impressionist movement, served this very purpose - catching people off guard, using unfamiliar and unorthodox methods of creating art in order to shake up modern society and expectations in a way never executed before. As found in Block’s article, the Neo-Impressionists were clearly separated from all other preceding movements in art due to their “codified, scientific principles” of color.
Though Neo-Impressionist artists all implemented a far more scientific approach to the use of formal elements such as color, they were encouraged to maintain their individual styles and simply use the scientific developments as reference for “perfect(ing) (their) individual vision”. This encouragement for maintaining individuality was a relatively new idea, as Europe was still emerging from an era of mass artist training in schools such as The French Academy, which was formed in order to institute government monitorization of artist activity and control what content was being produced by raising up a generation of cloned manufacturers of approved subject matter. For this reason, individualistic impressionist artists such as Monet, post-impressionist creators like Van Gogh, and finally, Neo-impressionist artists such as Seurat were vital in the transition of art from its confined state to what we know it to be in our modern world.
Seurat, born in the year 1859, began painting and drawing at the age of twenty-one. (1880) He remained an active artist until he died, sadly not much later in 1891. Though his career was relatively short, Seurat utilized every stroke, whether it be pen or brush, to entice his audience with captivating works of art. He first learned the theories of “the expressive value of lines and colors and...the notions of complementary color and ‘optical mixture’” at a young age, sparking an early interest in the scientific qualities of formal elements of art.
From some of the first drawings he ever created, it was obvious that he certainly possessed a unique style. His images had a blurred quality of resolution, due to the use of a technique called pointillism. Though he created images such as this in a completely monotone palette, he was able to express shadows, highlights, sharp lights and darks in an extremely far ranging and convincing way. Through all of his experimentation with the scientific aspects of color, shading, and line, Seurat practiced and developed a truly individualistic style, unlike any other artist to precede him.
Later in his career, Seurat became well known for his use of 'Optical Mixture' Optical Mixture, is a phenomenon that takes place every time a viewer perceives a single color from an image, as a result of two or more colors that are positioned side by side. For example, when you look at this image, what color do you see?
Though our eyes initially perceive this as a single color, it is actually made up of several dots and strokes of other varying colors, used to create a single shade. This is the sensation of optical mixture. Optical mixture uses contrasting as well as complementary colors to create cohesive and blended results. Rather than spending hours upon hours mixing and remixing different colored paints to create the perfect shade, Seurat in his revolutionary style simply placed colors near each other on the canvas and allowed his audience’s eyes to do the mixing work for him.
Divisionism is defined by Aurora Scotti Tosini of Grove Art Online as “the Neo-Impressionist separation of color into dots or patches applied directly to the canvas” Though this technique is very similar to that of Pointillism, the use of dots to compose an image, it differs in that Divisionism has to do with the principle of separating color. This concept coincides directly with the phenomenon of optical mixture, as it provides a technical way for an artist to convey this experience through their work. Seurat, by combining divisionism with the hope of achieving optical mixture, created a portfolio unlike that of any artist before him.
Georges Seurat had great influence upon the world of modern art through his revolutionary shift of focus from static, clonelike production to individual expression through artwork - as well as through the change from emphasis of subject matter and content to the importance of formal elements and experimentation. “Some say they see poetry in my paintings; I see only science.”