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European Fine Art

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Modris Ekstein’s approach to avant-garde culture contrasts the ideas of the French artist Adolph-William Bouguereau. Bourguereau’s view of art was certainly the more accepted standard of fine form whereas Ekstein understood the new changes in art, or the modernist art movement. Ekstein analysis of the avant-garde production of Rites of Spring and Bouguerau’s uplifting painting Return of Spring help to expose the deep contrast and divide between the “academic classical” and the revolutionary modernist art movements. Both of these pieces properly represent both the academic and modernist art movements in Europe in pre-World War I Europe. The Rites of Spring symbolized the importance of the viewer’s perspective. A truly great piece of art, by the guidelines of modern artists, brought the spectator and the work together into art. The work alone was not sufficient. Classical academic art was quite the contrary. The audience's role was only to view the exposition, not to become entangled in it. An exposition that caused any sort of reaction from the viewer was heavily looked down upon by art critics. This divide of two art forms marked a important moment in the history of art.

As young artist, Bouguereau carefully studied the form and technique of the classics and steeped himself in classical academic sculpture and painting. Bouguereau had a very polished, refined technique that represented the height of achievement in French classical academic traditions. His sophisticated style was most appreciated at the time, and he received numerous accolades for his work. Contemporary connoisseurs of art also liked his charming subjects. Angelic figures were a favorite among art critics and people who thought of as “respectable” fans of art. In general, Bouguereau produced works that appealed to the mood of mainstream Nineteenth century and early Twentieth century audiences and Return of Spring is no exception. The painting certainly exemplifies the academic art society’s standards. Bourguereau conformed to a very middle class view of art. Return of Spring heavily utilizes angelic figures and gives off a heavenly aura. The middle class certainly had a certain allusion of spirituality in their lives. That does not necessarily mean they were extremely religious, but they were very thankful for what they had. Nudity in this, and many other classical paintings, represented a sense of purity. The nudity is not being used to show nakedness, or the exposition of ones physical self. Nude figures were considered beautiful because of their purity. The painting itself is rather simple compared to some other quite ornate pieces of art at the time. The middle class believed highly in respectability and self control. Many in the middle class looked upon aristocrats as exactly opposite of this. They thought the aristocrats were ridiculously extravagant and thus lost their respectability. However respectable it might seem, Bouguereau’s work reflects an idealistic and unrealistic take on the meaning and symbolism of spring. In general, this idealistic approach that many academic paintings and plays used prohibited the audience from meshing their own personalities into the art itself.

Ekstein sees the Rites of Spring as an avant-garde spark, a modernist movement looking the challenge the emplaced academics in the fine arts. Rites of Spring is clearly far different in style than its academic counterpart Return of Spring. Literally Rites of Spring depicts the wild pagan nature of the spring season. In the play “wise elders” are seated in a circle observing the dance before death of a girl whom they are offering as a sacrifice to the god of Spring in order to gain his acceptance. The play exemplifies the creative power of the coming of spring; this power is chaotic, loud and ultimately involving. The score, written by composer Stravinsky, is incoherent and lacks a sense of flow, yet its beat emphasizes the chaos of the spring. Although the music is capable of standing alone, in conception it is tied to the action on stage by the choreographer Nijinsky. If one word were to describe the play, that word is unpredictable. This is the image that the play wanted to show its audience. They wanted to convey that art does not have to follow one set formula. The crowd’s audience reaction was similar to the play itself. Peoples’ personalities were exposed and their lives



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