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Why artists want to be different

Thursday, November 24, 2011

After visiting the Rietveld Schröder House(>) in Utrecht and listening to the guide’s explanations about Gerrit Rietveld himself and his approach to art and architecture, I started to think and wonder about our school, The Rietveld Academy. Everything the guide said sounded familiar; Rietveld started his projects by making 3D sketches out of paper or cardboard, rejected decoration without some kind of function, loved simplicity, searched for refreshing visual effects, but the most important; every time he took a chance by just doing something.

Why are we learning this way of expressing ourselves? What was wrong with the traditional academic approach? And why is the Rietveld Academy still known as being different then other Art schools? I started my research on this subject after reading about the Vienna Secession in the ‘Wendingen’ (>).

First I want to inform you with a little background information about the Vienna secession.The Vienna secession was a group of young artists founded in 1897 by artists like Gustav Klimt and Josef Hoffman. They rejected the old Academic approach of the Vienna Künstlerhaus. The old academic approach contains the traditional approach to historicism, conservatism and craft. The Vienna secession’s building(>) was designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich, it feautures the ‘Beethoven Frieze’ by Gustav Klimt and their motto is written above the entrance; ‘To every age its art, to art its freedom’.  The secession wanted to create a style without having any historical influence whatsoever. They wanted to involve life in their art and by experiencing beauty on a high level, they wanted to reach an ethical elevation.

‘Secession’ descends of the Latin ‘secession’ what means ‘ split’. It refers to the parting of certain groups of artists who are resisting the official and academic approach when it comes to art. By this explanation we can refer the Gerrit Rietveld Academy as a secession, but why did our Viennese artists started to object and why do we still object to this traditional approach?

Let’s blame it all on our lovely Austrian neurologist; Sigmund Freud. His theory was that the body and mind were connected by flows of energy; “drives”.

These drives contained self-preservation  (propagation, love for yourself and love for others) which was primary, distinguishing the pursuit of an energized state and the sexual instincts (Eros, Thanatos and Libido). These three different drives need to be in balance, physical disorders occur when there is a distortion between them. It’s on to yourself if you want to believe that’s where physical disorders come from, but I see the relation within Freud’s theory and the urge for being different. Originality has a big influence on the Eros. Now, if we’re talking about originality I don’t mean to create a piece of art that has never been made before, but creating a piece of art that includes your way of visualizing or making it. Including (your) ‘life’ as the Vienna Secession wanted to. By being original in your own way, you will create more affection for yourself. By having others around you who have their originality you create affection for others. It’s important to exchange thoughts of the mind just as much as you exchange them in your social life. The Vienna secession wanted to end the cultural isolation  of Vienna, invite artists from all over the world and reach some publicity abroad. It’s not only about the esthetical battle, but also the right to create something artistic, to the art itself and not to have drawn a line between great art and minor art.


Balancing the energized state is also very important, as we all know; a high amount of stress causes physic illnesses. But we also need avoid moving to  the other way around too, we need something that’s keeping us awake, interested and moving. The Vienna secession protested against the standardization of form and industrialized manufacturing; they stand against the mass production. This happened again in the future by pop-artists(>), Dadaists(>) and many others. Even the idea of secession starts with the urge to be able to do something new, to try different styles and to develop your own artistic approach and not doing something people tell you to do so the unexpected loses his meaning.  At the time of the Vienna secession, they developed a style against the official academic  and civil conservatism; the Jugendstil(>). They spread this style both through painting and  applied art. This form of rejection was so well executed that great success was inevitable.


At the Vienna secession, Gustav Klimt’s paintings shocked the civilization(>), he answered his own desires by drawing and painting women, nude or beautifully dressed in a position that appeals to his libido. He wanted to let the spectator feel like a voyeur, the sense of being indiscrete and entering an intimate area. The drawings are an homage to “the naïve and horny race of the hyper sensitive”. Schiele expressed his desires with aggression and despair(>), Picasso with a cynical approach(>), Toulouse-Lautrec with wildness(>) and Ingres(>) and Matisse(>) did it like Klimt; in a more elegant way. Art is a great way to express the unspoken desires and to Freud’s theory it is a great way to keep that drive balanced. Many great artists dealt with the approach of erotic’s, the nude, women and others to keep stimulating their libido. Some artists even wanted to have nudes walking around their ateliers without even painting them, they were there to keep them inspired and awake. Provoking, dared and shocking images(>) are usually produced to evoke reactions by others. Every person has his own reaction, the art work is there to keep inspiring people to talk and think about it. To Freud the libido ruled the subconscious part of the mind, ‘the desire for sexual gratification which is present even in infant children and which, if it repressed, leads to incalculable problems and physic damage.’


This investigation answered all of my questions, it’s not so much about the Academy as being different but about the way you develop in your own artistic way. Art schools are there to help you and deal with things that are based on conceiving things on your own and expressing them in the right way. The Rietveld Academy has his own way to teach their students, like any other art school. It’s up to you if you can explore the world of art based on these guidelines.


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