Idealistic art and the abstract

sistine chapel

“The Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo (c. 1512)

Last week, I went on a trip to Rome, where I stayed from Monday night to Thursday afternoon, hence why I haven’t been able to write any new posts for over a week. It was quite a trip to say the least. I got to see a vast range of artworks both old and new, and I got to see some of the famous attractions (including the Vatican City), as well as the grungy, graffiti-covered side of Rome, which for some reason proved very interesting because it’s the side that’s always hidden.

I went to a number of venues, including the MAXXI Gallery, the Villa Borghese, the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art, and the Vatican Museum. Of course, I had the opportunity to see some of history’s finest artworks, though one thing I took in was the prevalence of art from before the 20th century. In other words, much of the art I saw fell under the category of what I would call “idealistic art” (referring to portraits, landscape paintings, sculptures, religious paintings, mythological paintings, etc.). Even though I thought there was a bit too much idealistic art for my tastes (it did get a little repetitive after a while), I found I could appreciate a great deal of it. After all, how many times would I get to visit the Vatican City and see the giant fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? For all I know, only once in my lifetime.

In spite of that, I found myself more interested in the abstract, avant-garde and symbolic artworks (these were found in the MAXXI Gallery and the National Gallery of Modern Art). I felt those works were more striking because they compelled me to use my imagination, as opposed to the conventions of idealistic art, where every subject is painted as realistically as possible, often leaving little to the imagination. The National Gallery of Modern Art had several works of abstract art, including some from the era of Cubism and Futurism, though the MAXXI Gallery is filled with much more examples of symbolic and abstract contemporary art that make it stand out in a very classical city. A lot of it had a surreal quality, although I also noticed that there was a significantly large exhibition themed around political issues in Istanbul (these included civil rights, urban transformations, and the social conflicts that came with a mass migration to Turkey). However, my favourite from that gallery was the “Geometry and Abstraction” exhibition, where I grew fond of a multi-colour pyramid in front of a series of illustrations featuring it.


Reminds me a lot of Gary Numan’s “The Pleasure Principle”.

I preferred the more abstract art because through abstraction, the artist creates his or her own reality as opposed to the now dated practice of trying to capture the real world with paint on canvas. With the idealistic art of the pre-modern era, it’s all about presenting an expected ideal of reality, whereas with the more symbolic forms of art (abstract, surrealism, etc.), we see the world from the point of view of the artist. The artist is capable of presenting new worlds on canvas, and as gallery visitors, we are the play the role of the interloper, voyeuristically observing realms of possibilities that many could only dream of.

Of course, that’s essentially the perspective I got while in Rome, with its dizzying variety of fine artworks. I felt it to be a very enriching experience that sharpened my contextual perspective on both the idealistic and symbolic forms of art. In other words, after visiting all those galleries, I’m very confident about what I’m talking about in terms of art, as well as what I might want to do in art. I had the opportunity to compare the idealism of classical art with the raw abstraction found in more modern artworks, after close study, I found abstract art to be my preferred field of art, mainly because it represents a realm of greater creative freedom than idealistic art, which, I felt, required an unhealthy fixation on perfectionism in order to create.


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