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How are Current Debates of Contemporary Society Portrayed in the Visual Arts?


Throughout history there have been various if not numerous artistic movements to have originated as a reaction or as a consequence of the social situation of each epoch.


For instance, Renaissance, one of the most prominent cultural movements in art history, originated as a popular reaction against the church and the state, consequently rescinding the early hierarchies that had presided over the Middle Ages.


The Enlightenment, another significant movement, aroused as a consequence of the need of people to escape from the old political and social order of the ancien régime, placing reason, science and rationality as the essential prerogatives for human beings.


Although all artistic movements have gratefully and in their own unique way reflected the thoughts and beliefs representative to the social situation of each epoch, there has been none more persistent and continual as the Romantic movement. Originating as a reaction to the set of vales supported by the Enlightenment and pushed forward by the French Revolution, Romanticism generated profound changes in the attitudes towards art and life in general influencing the Western thoughts and beliefs to the present day.

In fact, the Romantic project seems to be unfinished even today as a new generation of artists skilfully revive in their work the Romantic spirit and consequently “reanimate the classical image of the artist” as a creative individual. Similarly to Romantic artists, these young artists develop in their work positive and creative counter-worlds that stand against the harsh and disillusioned reality of contemporary society and offer individuals a utopian haven as a privileged path along which they can connect and rediscover themselves.

I am referring to a particular artistic project, namely, Ideal Worlds: New Romanticism in Contemporary Art, which in my perspective reflects the social situation of contemporary life and develops as such, new provocative and poetic counter-worlds in which individuals can retrieve and “leave the quotidian life behind them”.


This artistic project not only redefines the relationship between individuals and nature so characteristic of the Romantic period, but also takes up the “[…] yearning for a paradisiacal, beautiful, and fairytale-like state; without, however, forgetting the abysmal, the uncanny, and the mysterious that is always lurking behind such idylls” (Hollein & Weinhart, 2005, p.17).

The Ideal Worlds: New Romanticism in Contemporary Art project was carried out independently by various artists from Scotland and abroad, to be specific thirteen artists, from which David Altmejd, Herman Bas, Peter Doig, Kaye Donachie, Uwe Henneken, Karen Kilimnik, Justine Kurland, Chaterine Opie, Christopher Orr, Laura Owens, Simon Periton, David Thorpe and Christina Wald.


This artistic project consists of a great variety of paintings, photography and installations, created with the intention of “[…] transcending the quotidian, the openness of fragmentary visual narrative, which lies among dream, hallucination, manifestation, and theatricality […]” (Hollein & Weinhart, 2005, p.35). What is intriguing about this project is the manner in which these artists make use of Romantic topoi and motives as a means of not only redefining the lost relationship between individuals and nature but also as means of re-establishing the long lost position of the Romantic artist.

In this research I explore this project, however, with the intention of discussing and analysing various relevant issues of art and culture, and apply or mirror these issues to this artistic project. As such, I have selected three main and equally important topics, namely, Globalization, Post-Fordism and the Death of the Author, topics that have given place to various debates in past years, and are effectively represented in this project. The final objective of this discussion being that of portraying how today’s visual arts represent and respond to the social situation of our contemporary society.



New Romanticism in Contemporary Art
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