Saturday, April 28, 2018

Romanticism in Fantasy Art

Though the Romantic movement in art has had a lasting, permanent effect on art and how we see it, the specific visual style developed during that period is, for the most part, no longer in use. This is especially true in "high art," which is currently in the post-modern era, where most highly respected art has long moved on from any kind of naturalized depictions, imaginary or no. However, the romantic art style has been carried on in one unexpected area: fantasy art.

By "fantasy art," I mean high fantasy art. The illustrations found everywhere from Dungeons and Dragons guide books to concept art for popular video games and movies. This, by some, could be considered the "lowest" level of art; it exists purely to be visually appealing and entertaining and carries no significance or meaning. It is ironic, then, that it uses nearly the exact same style as Romantic art: expressive, action-packed compositions; dynamic, colorful, but chiaroscuro-filled lighting; and dreamlike or even violent images of triumph and defeat. However, philosophically speaking, these art movements seem to have nothing in common. The Romantic movement was a revolution of ideology where thinkers for the first time began to find meaning in not only religion and tradition, but in themselves and the world around them. So why has this revolutionary style been transferred to such an unimportant, un-intellectual genre?

Perhaps this similarity is a hint that fantasy art, along with every other "low" art genre, should not be so easily overlooked. An image of a knight hurling fireballs at a mountain-sized monster may not contain many new or mind-blowing ideas, but the fact that this art is so popular and intriguing shows what is important or universal to humanity: triumph, power, and the perseverance of good against evil. The truth is, Romantic art was the first time that artists began to discuss what they themselves found important, and fantasy art is simply doing the same thing. And sometimes, what's important is beating up some giants with a magic sword.

(Here's the piece by Tyler Jacobson that was used on the Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook)

(And here's "The Colossus" by Francisco Goya, a famous Romantic painter)

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