Secrets of the Art World | Art is Rebellion: Fauvism

Avalon Ashley Bellos.
Courtesy of Avalon Ashley Bellos

What is the importance of color?

When looking at art, one of the best ways to begin dissecting a work is to first observe the color structure.

Wassily Kandinsky — famed abstract painter and art theorist — once said that “color is a spiritual vibration.” In other words, color is not simply an application to canvas, but an emotional approach that Is essential in understanding the narrative of the aesthetic.

Fauvism was a short but hugely impactful art movement that succinctly captures the significance of color — not just in art, but in one’s perception of the world as a whole. Pioneered in the early 20th century, the name was actually coined by the critics of the genre who thought that the artists were like “wild beasts” with their use of colors (fauve literally translates to “wild beast” in French). Naturally, (and as history proves time and time again) the world is never prepared for innovators. In fact, typically its first reaction to visionaries is to criticize, ostracize, and demonize — and fauvism disrupted the standards of art at the time.

Lead by the masters of modern art such as Henri Matisse, Andre Derain, and Émilie Charmy, these artists rebelled against the “real” or “representational understanding of coloring their work — distorting a once blue sky into green or a traditionally green pasture into a lovely lavender.

Sure, in modernity this movement may seem tame, however within the context of the early 1900s, this was a radical approach to art that left both observers and critics alike in complete disbelief — and thankfully so. These “wild beasts” of the art world had a major cultural impact by challenging the status quo and certainly still have an influence on artists of today.

Pro Tip: On your next gallery or museum visit, analyze the evocative spirit of the colors used in the work. You may be surprised at what y ou will find moves you.

Famous Fauvist works: The Open Window_ Henri Matisse (National Gallery of Art). The Dance, Henri Matisse (MoMA).