"Art is religion:" Adolf Hoelzel's modernism
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This study considers the work of Austrian-born Adolf Hoelzel (1853-1934), an innovative artist and educator whose contributions to German modernism deserve to be reassessed. His intense lifelong search to understand the essence of art led him from the nineteenth-century European academic tradition to the vanguard of twentieth-century abstraction. The universality of his theories was rooted in his understanding of European painting tradition, particularly Gothic and Northern Renaissance painting, as well as the artwork of children and the mentally ill, thus tying his investigations to larger themes of primitivism in European art. Even as his work moved farther away from objective depiction, his recurring evocation of Christian imagery, especially those with small groups of people in reverential poses, reached back to an earlier period of sacred European art, as he pursued the ideal of harmony central to his artistic concerns. Hoelzel has been remembered as an important teacher to a generation of German modernists, such as Oskar Schlemmer and Johannes Itten. However, as the history of modernism is reevaluated, Hoelzel's work, as well as his ideas, reveal themselves to have been in step with and often to have prefigured international developments in twentieth-century art. Through a reworking of the tradition of religious imagery in painting and drawing, and later as a designer of stained-glass works, Hoelzel found a path from nineteenth-century academic narrative to innovative twentieth-century abstraction and created a body of work with a spiritual content in which the abstract expressive qualities of brilliant color were combined in harmonious compositions.
Table of Contents
Introduction -- The artistic means - Universality in art -- "Art is religion" -- Conclusion