The Full Wiki

Symbolism (arts): Wikis

Advertisements
  
  
  

Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.

Encyclopedia

Advertisements

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

La mort du fossoyeur ("The death of the gravedigger") by Carlos Schwabe is a visual compendium of symbolist motifs. Death and angels, pristine snow, and the dramatic poses of the characters all express symbolist longings for transfiguration "anywhere, out of the world."

Symbolism was a late nineteenth-century art movement of French and Belgian origin in poetry and other arts. In literature, the movement had its roots in Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil, 1857) by Charles Baudelaire. The works of Edgar Allan Poe, which Baudelaire greatly admired and translated into French, were a significant influence and the source of many stock tropes and images. The aesthetic was developed by Stephane Mallarmé and Paul Verlaine during the 1860s and '70s. In the 1880s, the aesthetic was articulated through a series of manifestoes and attracted a generation of writers. The label "symbolist" itself comes from the critic Jean Moréas, who coined it in order to distinguish the symbolists from the related decadent movement in literature and art.

Distinct from, but related to, the movement in literature, symbolism in art represents an outgrowth of the darker, gothic side of Romanticism; but where Romanticism was impetuous and rebellious, symbolist art was static and hieratic.

Contents

Precursors and origins

Symbolism was largely a reaction against naturalism and realism, anti-idealistic movements which attempted to capture reality in its gritty particularity, and to elevate the humble and the ordinary over the ideal. These movements invited a reaction in favour of spirituality, the imagination, and dreams; the path to symbolism began with that reaction.[1] Some writers, such as Joris-Karl Huysmans, began as naturalists before moving in the direction of symbolism; for Huysmans, this change reflected his awakening interest in religion and spirituality. On the other hand, certain of the characteristic subjects of the decadents reflect naturalist interest in sexuality and taboo subjects, but in their case this was mixed with a stiff dose of Byronic romanticism and the world-weariness characteristic of the fin de siècle.

The symbolist poets have a more complex relationship with Parnassianism, a French literary movement that immediately preceded it. While moving in the direction of hermeticism, allowing freer versification, and rejecting Parnassian clarity and objectivity, it retained Parnassianism's love of word play and concern for the musical qualities of verse. The symbolists continued to admire Théophile Gautier's motto of "art for art's sake," and retained — and modified — Parnassianism's mood of ironic detachment.[2] Many symbolist poets, including Stephane Mallarmé and Paul Verlaine, published early works in Le Parnasse contemporain, the poetry anthologies that gave Parnassianism its name. But Arthur Rimbaud publicly mocked prominent Parnassians, and published scatological parodies of some of their leading lights, including François Coppée — misattributed to Coppée himself — in L'Album zutique.[3]

Movement

The Symbolist Manifesto

Symbolists believed that art should aim to capture more absolute truths which could only be accessed by indirect methods. Thus, they wrote in a highly metaphorical and suggestive manner, endowing particular images or objects with symbolic meaning. Jean Moréas published the Symbolist Manifesto ("Le Symbolisme") in Le Figaro on 18 Sept 1886 (see 1886 in poetry). Moréas announced that symbolism was hostile to "plain meanings, declamations, false sentimentality and matter-of-fact description", and that its goal instead was to "clothe the Ideal in a perceptible form" whose "goal was not in itself, but whose sole purpose was to express the Ideal":

Ainsi, dans cet art, les tableaux de la nature, les actions des humains, tous les phénomènes concrets ne sauraient se manifester eux-mêmes ; ce sont là des apparences sensibles destinées à représenter leurs affinités ésotériques avec des Idées primordiales.
(In this art, scenes from nature, human activities, and all other real world phenomena will not be described for their own sake; here, they are perceptible surfaces created to represent their esoteric affinities with the primordial Ideals.)[4]

Techniques

Fernand Khnopff's The Caress

The symbolist poets wished to liberate techniques of versification in order to allow greater room for "fluidity", and as such were aligned with the movement towards free verse, a direction evident in the poems of Gustave Kahn and Ezra Pound. Symbolist poems sought to evoke, rather than to describe; symbolic imagery was used to signify the state of the poet's soul. Synesthesia was a prized experience; poets sought to identify and confound the separate senses of scent, sound, and colour. In Baudelaire's poem Correspondences, which also speaks tellingly of forêts de symboles — forests of symbols —

Il est des parfums frais comme des chairs d'enfants,
Doux comme les hautbois, verts comme les prairies,
— Et d'autres, corrompus, riches et triomphants,

Ayant l'expansion des choses infinies,
Comme l'ambre, le musc, le benjoin et l'encens,
Qui chantent les transports de l'esprit et des sens.

(There are perfumes that are fresh like children's flesh,
sweet like oboes, green like meadows
— And others, corrupt, rich, and triumphant,

having the expansiveness of infinite things,
like amber, musc, benzoin, and incense,
which sing of the raptures of the soul and senses.)

and Rimbaud's poem Voyelles:

A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu : voyelles. . .
(A black, E white, I red, U green, O blue: vowels. . .)

— both poets seek to identify one sense experience with another. The earlier Romantic movement of poetry used symbols, but these symbols were unique and privileged objects. The symbolists took this further, investing all things, even vowels and perfumes, with potential symbolic value. "The physical universe, then, is a kind of language that invites a privileged spectator to decipher it, although this does not yield a single message so much as a superior network of associations."[5] Symbolist symbols are not allegories, intended to represent; they are instead intended to evoke particular states of mind. The nominal subject of Mallarmé's "Le cygne" ("The Swan") is of a swan trapped in a frozen lake. Significantly, in French, cygne is a homophone of signe, a sign. The overall effect is of overwhelming whiteness; and the presentation of the narrative elements of the description is quite oblique:

Le vierge, le vivace, et le bel aujourd’hui
Va-t-il nous déchirer avec un coup d’aile ivre
Ce lac dur oublié que hante sous le givre
Le transparent glacier des vols qui n’ont pas fui!
Un cygne d’autrefois se souvient que c’est lui
Magnifique mais qui sans espoir se délivre...
("The virgin, lively, and beautiful today - will it tear for us this hard forgotten lake that lurks beneath the frost, the transparent glacier of flights not taken with a blow from a drunken wing? A swan of long ago remembers that it is he, magnificent but without hope, who breaks free..."[6])

Paul Verlaine and the poètes maudits

Of the several attempts at defining the essence of symbolism, perhaps none was more influential than Paul Verlaine's 1884 publication of a series of essays on Tristan Corbière, Arthur Rimbaud, Stéphane Mallarmé, Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, Gérard de Nerval, and "Pauvre Lelian" ("Poor Lelian", an anagram of Paul Verlaine's own name), each of whom Verlaine numbered among the poètes maudits, "accursed poets."

Verlaine argued that in their individual and very different ways, each of these hitherto neglected poets found genius a curse; it isolated them from their contemporaries, and as a result these poets were not at all concerned to avoid hermeticism and idiosyncratic writing styles.[7] They were also portrayed as at odds with society, leading tragic lives, and often given to self-destructive tendencies. These traits were not hindrances but consequences of their literary gifts. Verlaine's concept of the poète maudit in turn borrows from Baudelaire, who opened his collection Les fleurs du mal with the poem Bénédiction, which describes a poet whose internal serenity remains undisturbed by the contempt of the people surrounding him.[8]

In this conception of genius and the role of the poet, Verlaine referred obliquely to the aesthetics of Arthur Schopenhauer, the philosopher of pessimism, who held that the purpose of art was to provide a temporary refuge from the world of blind strife of the will.[9]

Philosophy

Schopenhauer's aesthetics reflected shared concerns with the symbolist programme; they both tended to look to Art as a contemplative refuge from the world of strife and Will. From this desire for an artistic refuge from the world, the symbolists took characteristic themes of mysticism and otherworldliness, a keen sense of mortality, and a sense of the malign power of sexuality, which Albert Samain called a "fruit of death upon the tree of life."[10] Mallarmé's poem Les fenêtres [11] expresses all of these themes clearly. A dying man in a hospital bed, seeking escape from the pain and dreariness of his physical surroundings, turns toward his window but then turns away in disgust from

. . . l'homme à l'âme dure
Vautré dans le bonheur, où ses seuls appétits
Mangent, et qui s'entête à chercher cette ordure
Pour l'offrir à la femme allaitant ses petits,
". . . the hard-souled man,
Wallowing in happiness, where only his appetites
Feed, and who insists on seeking out this filth
To offer to the wife suckling his children,"

and in contrast, he "turns his back on life" (tourne l’épaule à la vie) and he exclaims:

Je me mire et me vois ange! Et je meurs, et j'aime
— Que la vitre soit l'art, soit la mysticité —
A renaître, portant mon rêve en diadème,
Au ciel antérieur où fleurit la Beauté!
"I marvel at myself, I seem an angel! and I die, and I love
--- Whether the glass might be art, or mysticism ---
To be reborn, bearing my dream as a diadem,
Under that former sky where Beauty once flourished!"[6]

Symbolists and decadents

The symbolist movement has frequently been confused with decadence. Several young writers were derisively referred to in the press as "decadent" in the mid 1880s. A few of these writers embraced the term while most avoided it.

Jean Moréas' manifesto was largely a response to this polemic. By the late 1880s, the labels "symbolism" and "decadence" were understood almost synonymously. Though the aesthetics of the movements can be seen as overlapping in some areas, the two remain distinct. The symbolists were those participants in the cultural current who laid emphasis on dreams and ideals; the Decadents cultivated précieux, ornamented, or hermetic styles, and dark or morbid subject matters.[12] The subject of the decadence of the Roman Empire was a frequent source of literary images and appears in the works of many poets of the period, regardless of which label they chose for themselves, as in Verlaine's "Langueur":[13]

Je suis l'Empire à la fin de la Décadence,
Qui regarde passer les grands Barbares blancs
En composant des acrostiches indolents
D'un style d'or où la langueur du soleil danse.
("I am the Empire at the end of the decadence, who watches the large, white barbarians passing, while composing lazy acrostic poems in a gilded style in which the languor of the sun dances."[6])

Literary world

A number of important literary publications were founded by symbolists or became associated with the movement. The first was La Vogue founded in April 1886. In October of that same year, Jean Moréas, Gustave Kahn, and Paul Adam began Le Symboliste. One of the most important symbolist journals was Le Mercure de France, edited by Alfred Vallette, which succeeded La Pléiade; founded in 1890, this periodical lasted until 1965. Pierre Louÿs founded La conque, a periodical whose symbolist leanings were alluded to by Jorge Luis Borges in his story Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote. Other symbolist literary magazines included La Revue blanche, La Revue wagnérienne, La Plume and La Wallonie.

Rémy de Gourmont and Félix Fénéon were literary critics associated with the symbolist movement. Drama by symbolist authors formed an important part of the repertoire of the Théâtre de l'Œuvre and the Théâtre des Arts.

The symbolist and decadent literary movements were satirized in a book of poetry called Les Déliquescences d'Adoré Floupette, published in 1885 by Henri Beauclair and Gabriel Vicaire.[14]

In other media

Visual arts

Symbolism in literature is distinct from symbolism in art although the two overlapped on a number of points. In painting, symbolism was a continuation of some mystical tendencies in the Romantic tradition, which included such artists as Caspar David Friedrich, Fernand Khnopff and John Henry Fuseli and it was even more closely aligned with the self-consciously dark and private decadent movement.

Sonata of the Sea. Finale (1908) by Lithuanian painter Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis

There were several rather dissimilar groups of symbolist painters and visual artists, which included Gustave Moreau, Gustav Klimt, Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, Odilon Redon, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Henri Fantin-Latour, Edvard Munch, Félicien Rops, and Jan Toorop. Symbolism in painting had an even larger geographical reach than symbolism in poetry, reaching Mikhail Vrubel, Nicholas Roerich, Victor Borisov-Musatov, Martiros Saryan, Mikhail Nesterov, Leon Bakst in Russia, as well as Frida Kahlo in Mexico, Elihu Vedder, Remedios Varo, Morris Graves and David Chetlahe Paladin in the United States. Auguste Rodin is sometimes considered a symbolist in sculpture.

The symbolist painters mined mythology and dream imagery for a visual language of the soul, seeking evocative paintings that brought to mind a static world of silence. The symbols used in symbolism are not the familiar emblems of mainstream iconography but intensely personal, private, obscure and ambiguous references. More a philosophy than an actual style of art, symbolism in painting influenced the contemporary Art Nouveau movement and Les Nabis. In their exploration of dreamlike subjects, symbolist painters are found across centuries and cultures, as they are still today; Bernard Delvaille has described René Magritte's surrealism as "Symbolism plus Freud".[15]

Music

Symbolism had some influence in music as well. Many symbolist writers and critics were early enthusiasts of the music of Richard Wagner, a fellow student of Schopenhauer.

The symbolist aesthetic had a deep impact on the works of Claude Debussy. His choices of libretti, texts, and themes come almost exclusively from the symbolist canon. Compositions such as his settings of Cinq poèmes de Baudelaire, various art songs on poems by Verlaine, the opera Pelléas et Mélisande with a libretto by Maurice Maeterlinck, and his unfinished sketches that illustrate two Poe stories, The Devil in the Belfry and The Fall of the House of Usher, all indicate that Debussy was profoundly influenced by symbolist themes and tastes. His best known work, the Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, was inspired by Mallarmé's poem, L'après-midi d'un faune.

The symbolist aesthetic also influenced Aleksandr Scriabin's compositions. Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire takes its text from German translations of the symbolist poems by Albert Giraud, showing a link between German expressionism and symbolism. Richard Strauss's 1905 opera Salomé, based on the play by Oscar Wilde, uses a subject frequently depicted by symbolist artists.

The colour of my soul is iron-grey and sad
bats wheel about the steeple of my dreams.

- Claude Debussy, letter to Ernest Chausson

Prose fiction

Symbolism's cult of the static and hieratic adapted less well to narrative fiction than it did to poetry. Joris-Karl Huysmans' 1884 novel À rebours (English title: Against Nature) explored many themes that became associated with the symbolist aesthetic. This novel, in which very little happens, catalogues the tastes and inner life of Des Esseintes, an eccentric, reclusive antihero. Oscar Wilde imitated the novel in several passages of The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Paul Adam was the most prolific and most representative author of symbolist novels. Les Demoiselles Goubert (1886), co-written with Jean Moréas, is an important transitional work between naturalism and symbolism. Few symbolists used this form. One exception was Gustave Kahn, who published Le Roi fou in 1896. In 1892, Georges Rodenbach wrote the short novel Bruges-la-morte, set in the Flemish town of Bruges, which Rodenbach portrayed as a dying, mediæval city of mourning and quiet contemplation: in a typically symbolist juxtaposition, the dead city contrasts with the diabolical re-awakening of sexual desire.[16] The cynical, misanthropic, misogynistic fiction of Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly is sometimes considered symbolist, as well. Gabriele d'Annunzio wrote his first novels in the symbolist vein.

Je veux boire des poisons, me perdre
dans les vapeurs, dans les rêves!

"I want to drink poisons, to lose myself
in mists, in dreams!"

Diana, in The Temptation of Saint Anthony
by Gustave Flaubert.

Theatre

The characteristic emphasis on an internal life of dreams and fantasies have made symbolist theatre difficult to reconcile with more recent tastes and trends. Auguste Villiers de l'Isle-Adam's drama Axël (rev. ed. 1890) is a definitive symbolist play. In it, two Rosicrucian aristocrats fall in love while trying to kill each other, only to agree to mutually commit suicide because nothing in life could equal their fantasies. From this play, Edmund Wilson took the title Axel's Castle for his influential study of the symbolist aftermath in literature.

Maurice Maeterlinck, also a symbolist playwright, wrote The Blind (1890), The Intruder (1890), Interior (1891), Pelléas and Mélisande (1892), and The Blue Bird (1908).

The later works of the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov have been identified as being deeply influenced by symbolist pessimism. Both Constantin Stanislavski and Vsevolod Meyerhold experimented with symbolist modes of staging in their theatrical endeavors.

Impact

In the English-speaking world, the closest counterpart to symbolism was aestheticism. The pre-Raphaelites were contemporaries of the earlier symbolists, and have much in common with them. Symbolism had a significant influence on modernism, and its traces can be seen in the work of many modernist artists, including T. S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Conrad Aiken, Hart Crane, and William Butler Yeats in the anglophone tradition and Rubén Darío in Hispanic letters. The early poems of Guillaume Apollinaire have strong affinities with symbolism.

Edmund Wilson's 1931 study Axel's Castle focuses on the continuity with symbolism and a number of important writers of the early twentieth century, with a particular focus on Yeats, Eliot, Paul Valéry, Marcel Proust, James Joyce, and Gertrude Stein. Wilson concluded that the symbolists represented a dreaming retreat into

things that are dying—the whole belle-lettristic tradition of Renaissance culture perhaps, compelled to specialize more and more, more and more driven in on itself, as industrialism and democratic education have come to press it closer and closer.
The cover to Aleksandr Blok's 1909 book, Theatre. Konstantin Somov's illustrations for the Russian symbolist poet display the continuity between symbolism and Art Nouveau artists such as Aubrey Beardsley.

After the turn of the 20th century, symbolism became a major force in Russian poetry even as it lost forward momentum in France. The Russian symbolist movement, steeped in the Eastern Orthodoxy and the religious doctrines of Vladimir Solovyov, had little in common with the French movement of the same name. It was the starting point of the careers of several major poets such as Alexander Blok, Andrei Bely, and Marina Tsvetaeva. Bely's novel Petersburg (1912) is considered the greatest monument of Russian symbolist prose.

In Romania, symbolists directly influenced by French poetry first gained influence in the 1880s, when Alexandru Macedonski reunited a group of young poets around his magazine Literatorul. Polemicizing with the established Junimea and overshadowed by the influence of Mihai Eminescu, symbolism was recovered as an inspiration during and after the 1910s, when it was voiced in the works of Tudor Arghezi, Ion Minulescu, George Bacovia, Ion Barbu, Mateiu Caragiale and Tudor Vianu, and held in esteem by the modernist magazine Sburătorul.

The symbolist painters were an important influence on expressionism and surrealism in painting, two movements which descend directly from symbolism proper. The harlequins, paupers, and clowns of Pablo Picasso's "Blue Period" show the influence of symbolism, and especially of Puvis de Chavannes. In Belgium, symbolism penetrated so deeply that it came to be thought of as a national style: the static strangeness of painters like René Magritte can be seen as a direct continuation of symbolism. The work of some symbolist visual artists, such as Jan Toorop, directly impacted the curvilinear forms of art nouveau.

Many early motion pictures also employ symbolist visual imagery and themes in their staging, set designs, and imagery. The films of German expressionism owe a great deal to symbolist imagery. The virginal "good girls" seen in the films of D. W. Griffith, and the silent movie "bad girls" portrayed by Theda Bara, both show the continuing influence of symbolism, as do the Babylonian scenes from Griffith's Intolerance. Symbolist imagery lived on longest in horror film: as late as 1932, Carl Theodor Dreyer's Vampyr showed the obvious influence of symbolist imagery; parts of the film resemble tableau vivant re-creations of the early paintings of Edvard Munch.[17]

Symbolists

Precursors

Authors

(listed by year of birth)

Influence in English literature

English language authors who influenced or were influenced by symbolism include:

Symbolist visual artists

Symbolist Composers

See also

References

Notes

  1. ^ Balakian, Anna, The Symbolist Movement: a critical appraisal. Random House, 1967, ch. 2
  2. ^ Balakian, supra; see also Houston, introduction
  3. ^ L'Album zutique
  4. ^ Jean Moreas, Le Manifeste du Symbolisme, Le Figaro, 1886
  5. ^ Olds, Marshal C. "Literary Symbolism", originally published (as Chapter 14) in A Companion to Modernist Literature and Culture, edited by David Bradshaw and Kevin J. H. Dettmar. Malden, MA : Blackwell Publishing, 2006. Pages 155–162.
  6. ^ a b c Translation for Wikipedia
  7. ^ Paul Verlaine, Les Poètes maudits
  8. ^ Charles Baudelaire, Bénédiction
  9. ^ Delvaille, Bernard, La poésie symboliste: anthologie, introduction. ISBN 2-221-50161-6
  10. ^ Luxure, fruit de mort à l'arbre de la vie... , Albert Samain, "Luxure", in Au jardin de l'infante (1889)
  11. ^ Stephane Mallarmé, Les fenêtres
  12. ^ Olds, above, p. 160
  13. ^ Langueur, from Jadis et Naguère, 1884
  14. ^ Henri Beauclair and Gabirel Vicaire, Les Déliquescences d'Adoré Floupette (1885)
  15. ^ Delvaille, Bernard, La poésie symboliste: anthologie, introduction. ISBN 2-221-50161-6
  16. ^ Alan Hollinghurst, "Bruges of sighs" (The Guardian, Jan. 29, 2005, accessed Apr. 26, 2009
  17. ^ Jullian, Philippe, The Symbolists. (Dutton, 1977) ISBN 0-7148-1739-2

Further reading

External links


Advertisements






Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address
Message