Realism Symbolism Art History

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Although realist artists attempt to convey a candid image of modern life, their tendencies to render a more relatable and aesthetically pleasing result exceeds their objective realities. In both Huysmans’ Against Nature and James’ The Real Thing, the protagonists seek a more evocative reality; one that transcends the boundaries of the objective and replaces the idea of what is natural with the more arousing powers of imagination. In James’ short story, using the real thing, defined by the true nature of Major and Mrs. Monarch, becomes irrelevant to his depiction as the figures rendered by the artist appear as uninhabited forms and in no way suggest the reality of their social stature. Instead, what in person appears artificial and inauthentic, two separate beings insignificant to the social realities of superiority in the eighteenth-century, embrace the dignified postures and mannerisms of high society to a higher degree than the Monarchs who in fact are the real thing. In Against Nature, Huysmans’ Des Esseintes escapes 19th century bourgeoisie society in a manufactured sanctuary, void of anything real or absolute. What is real outside of his retreat has no value, but his own reverie, contrived and artificial, creates a deeper and more emotional beauty. The characters of Charles Dickens, the women of Gustave Moreau, the artificial flowers, “fashioned by the hands of true artists,” encapsulate the essence of his imaginary reality. Transcending into Realist art itself, both works suggest that for art to appear “real”, it must come from a counterfeit representation. In this proposed exhibit, I will examine the question of if art can ever truly present the objective and if it is possible for realism to preserve this.
To Henry James, reality itself is too fixed and retrained to illustrate the true significance of what an artist desires to portray. From…...

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