Jonah Engler Silberman: What Does “Romanticism” Really Mean?
When you hear the term “Romanticism,” your mind may travel back to your high school history or art class, where you first heard the term explained. The reality, though, is that it’s hard for art historians to clearly define this period of history, as it didn’t feature a single style like the Expressionism and Impressionism movements did. Instead, this movement (1800-1850) was all about intense expression. In other words, whatever “turned you on” is what ended up on paper for the world to see. Let’s take a close look at the enthralling romantic period and its connection to our world today, according to romanticism aficionado Jonah Engler Silberman.
Misconceptions about the Romantic Period
Upon hearing “Romanticism,” your first inclination may be to think of two lovers engaged in a kiss or dreamy-eyed stares. However, this period didn’t necessarily refer to romantic love. Instead, it was all about staunch individualism, which included believing in individuals’ rights and expressing uplifting, deep, and intense emotions. In many cases, it also involved developing a spiritual connection with nature.
Lessons of the Romantic Period
The Romantic period stands out for being the only historical period where the aim of art was to teach people about caring for one another. That’s why artists promoted individual liberty as well as the support of independence and democratic movements — for example, Italy’s nationalism movement and Greece’s war for freedom from Turkey. Artists in this period also supported the ending of slavery.
What’s Famous from the Romantic Period?
A particularly famous piece from the Romantic period is the Fifth Symphony by Beethoven. In fact, this well-known musical work of art marked the start of this historical period. Meanwhile, a couple of shorter written works connected to this period are William Wordsworth’s poem Tintern Abbey and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Song to the Men of England.”
However, the most iconic Romantic works aren’t symphonies, poems, or even paintings. They are three novels: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Any of these sound familiar? Thought so.
The common link among these three works is that they call attention to man’s inhumanity toward other beings. Specifically, their goal was to show that outsiders — in the cases of these works, a manmade monster, a hunchback, and an ex-convict — are easy for people to abuse. It’s a sad reality of the human condition even today.
The Connection between Romanticism and Modern Times
Although human beings can inherently be abusive, they can also be good — at least that’s what artists in the Romantic period tried to show. Romanticism placed emphasis on the basic goodness of man buried beneath layers of socialization — in other words, man was born honest and good but became bad because of society. This is a topic that resonates with society today, particularly when it comes to the debate of nature versus nurture.
All in all, the more you explore the wild, energetic, spiritual, and meaningful nature of Romanticism, the more you’ll likely learn about yourself and about the people who share this planet with you. And that’s never a bad thing.