Ideal and Disintegration: Dynamics of the Self and Art at the Fin-de-Siècle

Tutkimustuotos: OpinnäyteVäitöskirjaMonografia


This study examines the dynamics of the self and art in the context of the Symbolist art and aesthetics of the fin-de-siècle. The purpose is to open new perspectives into how the self and its relationship with the world were understood and experienced, and to explore how these conceptions of selfhood suggest parallels with questions of art and creativity in ways that continue to affect our perceptions of these issues even today.
The decades around the turn of the twentieth century were a period of intensifying preoccupation with questions of subjectivity as the coherence and autonomy of the self were constantly being threatened in the rapidly modernizing world. This issue is examined through an analysis and discussions of artworks by the Finnish artists Pekka Halonen and Ellen Thesleff, the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, the Swedish author and artist August Strindberg, and the Danish artist Jens Ferdinand Willumsen. The artworks are considered as active participants in the discourses of the period and as sites of intellectual and artistic reflection.
Self-portraits are the most obvious products of artistic self-examination, but the highly subjective attitude towards art indicates that in a way every work of art can be perceived as a self-portrait. Symbolism, therefore, constitutes a point in art history where old definitions of self-portraiture were no longer sufficient. Art came to be understood as a form of knowledge and a source of truth. Hence, the creative process turned into a method of self-exploration motivated by an attempt to transcend beyond everyday consciousness in order to achieve a heightened perception of the self and the world. At the same time, the focus of the artwork shifted towards an immaterial space of imagination. Hence, the work of art was no longer understood as a finite material object but rather as a revelation of an idea. The constant need for self-exploration was also related to an ever increasing questioning of traditional religiosity and a subsequent interest in religious syncretism, as well as in various mystical, spiritual, and occultist ideologies, which affected both the form and content of art.
Subjectivity is often perceived as one of the defining features of Symbolist art. However, due to the content-oriented approach, which until recent years has dominated art historical research on Symbolism, the meaning of this subjective tendency has not been properly analysed. Although the emphasis on subjectivity obviously had a great impact on the content of the new art, which became increasingly concerned with mythological and fantastic material, it also worked on a more abstract level affecting the ways that the meaning and status of art were understood. The approach taken in this study is based on an idea of the interconnectedness of form and content. Through this critical perspective, this study takes part in an international current of research which seeks to redefine Symbolism and its relation to modernism.
Painoksen ISBN978-952-10-9728-7
Sähköinen ISBN978-952-10-9729-4
TilaJulkaistu - 2014
OKM-julkaisutyyppiG4 Tohtorinväitöskirja (monografia)


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