How Romanticism and Photography Shaped Western Modernitymodern

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“Western modernity was shaped by cross-currents between Europe and North America in the 19th century and in the beginning of the 20th century.”

Neoclassicism was a movement which focused on the rediscovery of Ancient Greek and Roman values and style (and called Greek revival in the United States[1]). It was a defining trait of the Enlightenment age and of its reasoning-based political and artistic thinking and saw its apogee during the Napoleonic era. Starting in the 19th century, this movement was opposed by the Romantics, who ended the strict rules of neoclassicism and made the expression of their emotions and feelings the basis for their art, may it be poetry, literature, painting or music. The English romantic poet William Wordsworth called romantic poetry "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings recollected in tranquility"[2]. Compared to the neoclassicists, romantics such as Edgar Allan Poe or Victor Hugo were “modern”. They anticipated mentality changes in the Western world. Parts of western modernity were shaped by interactions and cross currents between Europe and the United States during the 19th and 20th century. These centuries were characterised by a break from the established rules and the artistic past and were times of new technologies as well as increasing interaction between the two sides of the Northern Atlantic. Such Euro-American relations, may they be artistic, cultural and even political have never died out. To understand our Western modernity, this paper shall examine two different aspects of these artistic cross-currents. Firstly, the romantic current played an important role in all the arts, ranging from poetry to architecture. Finally, the appearance of the documentary art of photography has in many aspects shaped modernity and even later led to the invention of motion picture and cinema[3]. Firstly, the Romantic Movement that swarmed across Europe and North America starting in the 19th century helped to shape western modernity. The Romantics broke away from the neoclassicism and the Enlightenment era and, as Samuel Taylor Coleridge puts it, Romanticism is the expression of "intellectual intuition", and combines reason and emotion to find Truth and Beauty. The movement focused on individualism and even egocentrism, the importance of the "self"; the concept of "author-as-hero" was particularly popular. Romantics also elevated human and divine imagination and inspiration, revered nature and its mysteries and authors often opposed an ideal view of reality to the sense of loss and melancholy, as Baudelaire does in the section "Spleen and Ideal" of "Les Fleurs du Mal", his poetry volume. In short, they believed in beauty for beauty's sake and art for art's sake. This was modernity. Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Baudelaire are the epitome of the relations and cross-currents between North America and Europe shaped modernity, as Charles Baudelaire often translated Poe' work from English and made it accessible to French readers. Edgar Allan Poe was a famous American romanticism writer who lived in the first half of the 19th century. He surely deserved William Butler Yeats’s praise for being “always and for all lands a great lyric poet” as he was one of the earliest short story writers and often considered as the inventor of modern crime fiction and the modern character of the detective, a self-referential character. Poe clearly revolutionized and therefore modernized literature and western modernity greatly inherits from his work. He had a well-know taste for writing ghoulish and mysterious stories. In "The Man of the Crowd", a short story he wrote in 1840 for example, an unknown narrator follows a mysterious old man throughout the crowds and bazaars of London. This story emphasizes how the “wanderer” or “stroller” can walk through the crowded city while still maintaining an outside view: he does not buy anything and does not even notice the narrator. The story opposes the...
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