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Romanticism vs. Classicism by John Martin

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From a book entitled "The Dance in Theory"


"...it is possible to sketch in a background against which these two antithetical approaches begin to assume their respective identifties. Romanticism in every case precedes classicism, for it deals with content and substance where classicism is concerned with form and surface. It is matter where classicism is manner. It is spontaneous and demands participation of its audience, where classicism is reflective and invites observation. It is in effect emotional where classicism is mental; it induces excitement instead of balanced admiration; it is energetic and exuberant where classicism is poised and orderly; it seeks to awaken sympathetic experience instead of that combination of aesthetic responses that is generally described as beauty. Romanticism delights in things discovered, classicism in things made. Classicism is inevitably the development of material that has been uncovered by romantic impulses, for these are the forces that delve into experience and unearth its truths. No art movement, accordingly, ever begins by being classical; classicism is a second stage, a selective and refining stage.

The true classicist necessarily has a keen sense of style; that is to say, he is alert to the limitations of his chosen method of procedure, and deliberately pits his skill against his self-selected obstacles. If is he able to do this and take pleasure in it, he may succeed in achieving a high degree of effectiveness, and his technical adeptness becomes rather like the brilliant playing of a game. If he chooses to employ well-established forms such as the sonnet or the sonata, or well-established vocabularies like that of the academic ballet, he invites an easier response because his audience is familiar with the rules of the game and better able to applaud him when he scores. This intellectual framework exactly suits the temperament of those artists who are innately reticent, however deep their passions, and who seek restraining forms in order that, as Theodore Watts-Dunton said with reference to the sonnet, "the too fervid spontaneity and reality of the poet's emotion may be in a certain degree veiled, and the poet can whisper, as from behind a mask, those deepest secrets of the heart which could otherwise only find expression in purely dramatic forms." It is not an exploratory or an adventurous approach, but in those rare instances in which the artist's formal skill is animated by his awareness of the style he is embarked upon and is illuminated by the glow of living feeling, it can result in exquisite moments of contemplative beauty. But the pitfalls of sterile academicism are many and deep along its way.

The approach of the romanticist is along the path of nature and subjective experience. He works not by rule but by revelation, trusting to his sensitiveness to himself and to his fellows to guide him to the adequate communciation of emotional adventure. His peril is "self-expression" caried to the borders of emotional debauchery and resulting in formlessness and incoherence.

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Thanks for posting that, Mme. Hermine. Aside from the fact that Romanticism follows classicism in the development of Western art and was a reaction to it, I'd agree with what Martin writes, although I'd choose different words so that one doesn't come away with the feeling that classicism is sterile and romanticism is the way to go :) One has to realize that he had a decided stake in this argument.

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