"Art is not supposed to change the world, to change practical things, but to change perceptions. Art can change the way we see the world. Art can create an analogy." - JR
As someone who graduated from architecture school in Chicago, home to the first modern skyscrapers and the adopted home of Mies van der Rohe, the architect behind the "Less is More," aphorism, I found myself almost guiltily appreciating Art Nouveau when I learned about this style of art many years ago in a university art history course. My admiration for these curvilinear, vegetal forms seemed to run counter to what was forcibly pressed into my mind year after year at our Bauhaus-inspired architecture curriculum.
Although, I appreciate minimalism and clean lines, I also really love the free-form florid designs, nature-as-inspiration, and repeated patterns of Art Nouveau. The absence of rigidity, and the elegant balance between decadence and simplicity, rouse feelings of free-spiritedness and an air of possibility. Perhaps, "possibility" is exactly what the pioneering artists of this style may have been thinking when Art Nouveau hit the European stage, as our world was on the cusp of a brand new century, the twentieth century, the century when the West was experiencing an expanded sense of modernity in so many areas. Science was embraced over religiousness. Advanced building materials, new inventions and new technology were transpiring regularly. Trade with the East and interest in non-Western art was especially growing.
As I believe art is essentially the human response to socio-political events on the world stage, ten years after graduating from architecture school, my interest in Art Nouveau was rekindled after I planned a trip to Prague, a city lush with buildings in the Art Nouveau style, and I decided to broadly explore the context surrounding this movement to understand better how it came to be and hopefully boost my appreciation for the moment that I would be standing face-to-face with work from that era.
Art Nouveau began in the 1880s and lasted until around 1910. Here are some key historical events that I found occurring around the world while Art Nouveau took hold and continued to develop (Art Nouveau events in red).
WHAT ELSE WAS GOING ON IN THE WORLD