Post-Impressionist Artists Were Interested Term Paper

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[. . .] " (Noa, p. 28) Whether he saw himself as following a cultural destiny - the European raping the virgin land - or working off a purely personal frustration, we cannot know. Nietzsche had written about an apocalyptic event for which the ubermensch needed to prepare; perhaps, Gauguin, far away from societal pressures, was attempting to precipitate his own apocalypse. The notion of a crisis born of blood and self-mutilation relates to the masochism that had been experienced in European religious tradition as a symptom of repressed sexuality, for example, the practices of flagellation and stigmatization. It would seem less than healthy that Gauguin chose to brutalize and destroy Tahiti, rather than to celebrate its abundance.

His relations with the natives are also problematic. He seems to have given rather scanty attention to their customs and beliefs; for him, they existed in relation to himself, so that he could indulge himself in a form of social darwinism. In spite of the great beauty of his paintings of the Tahitian women, there is a patronizing element to his view of them. They are child-like even as they are sexual; their faces and bodies are iconic and hence interchangeable.

Gauguin had always been a sexual adventurer, having affairs with his models and other women during his life in Europe with his family. Now he had left his European wife behind and was free to indulge his sexual fantasies with the permissive natives. By taking a series of "savage mistresses," he could explore a here-to-fore forbidden, dark side of his nature. He experimented with girls as young as thirteen and with a variety of partners, and even explored a homo-erotic relationship, how fully we are not told. Describing his attraction to a young Tahitian man, he toyed with the idea of role reversal, of being the passive "female" side - "[I experienced] weariness of the male role, having always to be strong and protective." (Noa, p.25) Just how strong and protective he usually was is a matter for debate. He had impoverished and then abandoned his family, and gone on a sexual rampage with the Tahitians in spite of having syphilis.

He seems to have indulged his fantasy of himself as the aggressive male, as well as of the patient sufferer, when the young man failed to respond to his advances - "I alone carried the burden of an evil thought." (Noa, p. 28) He cast himself in the role of the more evolved ubermensch, or the more civilized European, (either way, the top of the human evolutionary ladder).

Sexual sadism played a role in his view of his relations with the native women - "I wanted them [the women] to be willing to be taken without a word, taken brutally. In a way, a longing to rape." (Noa, p. 23) By placing them in a subordinate class, he was able to justify his perception of brutal toward them as his natural right - the subjugation of the animalistic primitive to the domination of the superior ubermensch. There is a Hefnerian whiff of self-justification to his autobiography. Noa reads at times like a late nineteenth-century Playboy Philosophy, as Gauguin explores the psychology of sexual license.

The aspect of Tahitian culture that interested him most was their belief in the supernatural and in ghosts and spirits. These spirits might be both benign and dangerous; they might guard the sleeping natives or victimize them in an incubus-like manner. In the 1892 painting Manoa Tupapau (The Specter Watches Over Her), a sleeping woman, her nude body curled into a fetal position, is watched over by a tupapau, a spirit of the dead. His appearance is not promising, but it is impossible to tell if he is protecting her or preparing to assault her as she sleeps. Like the ubermensch, the supernatural tupapau is able to have it both ways; the innocent yet abandoned woman can be taken brutally or protected by the powerful male.

Gauguin's urge to appropriate and experience the world through himself is expressed in his many self-portraits. He generally painted himself slightly turned from the viewer, and looking sideways toward him. As time went by, he exaggerated his hooked nose, high cheekbones and lank black hair until he achieved a rather Satanic effect. Paradoxically though he also introduced Christ-like iconography, as if the duality of his sexual experiences extended to his religious ideas as well. If he saw himself as the ubermensch, he could express this heightened humanity as divinity, and as dual as good and evil, Christ and Satan in one.

1893 self-portrait shows Gauguin wearing the clothes and hair style of a Breton peasant. He gestures toward a sketch of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden - the Fall of mere man, which poses no threat to the ubermensch. The superman can put on any role from the primitive past as he has evolved from a natural man and now embodies in himself all that has gone before.

An 1896 self-portrait shows the artist dressed in a simple white blouse similar to that which Christ is normally portrayed as wearing. His beard and mustache are in keeping with the usual portrayal of Jesus, and his brown hair falls to his shoulders. In spite of this, there is nothing Christ-like about his expression; he glares out disapprovingly at the viewer.

In other portraits he becomes bulkier and more solid, although no less threatening in expression. An attenuated, rather jaundiced Christ, similar to The Yellow Christ, appears over his shoulder in one painting, a robust terra cotta idol over the other shoulder. Another painting of a similar Gauguin portrays a rather Hinduistic-looking idol beside him, its face bisected and only half expressed. In both of these paintings, the artist is the main and most powerful element, and the religious figures are reduced to putti-like accessories.

The most enigmatic of his self-portraits is one of his 1889 ones, his now familiar features reduced almost to a caricature. His powerful body, hawk-like nose, slanted eyes and high cheekbones give him the appearance of a Mongol conqueror, and the gorgeous reds and golds of the paints create an exotic atmosphere. Two apples dangle over his shoulder, and a sinuous serpent meanders across his chest. Over his head, a halo hovers. He is now a Magus, a powerful supernatural being with divine powers - the realization of the full potential of the ubermensch. Inasmuch as he will be dead in 1901, it may well be that his syphilis had progressed by 1889 to an extent that he was delusional. Certainly the ego and the violent personality that had been developing in Tahiti and later in Atuana reached their culmination in a belief in self that seems excessive, even for an artistic personality.

Another 1889 portrait shows Gauguin as Jean Valjean, a Les Miserables hero, his demonic yet tortured face leering out at the viewer from a background of stylized Japanese floral wallpaper. The dual roles with which he was fascinated, sufferer and brute, artist and destroyer, hero and villain, are embodied in this strange picture.

Theories abound that Gauguin suffered from a bipolar disorder of some kind. Whatever the cause of his strange life and personality, he produced a wealth of gorgeous paintings, capturing a dream-like world of lush beauty. His influence on writers such as Conrad was enormous, and even more so on artists such as Die Brucke and the modernists in the first three decades of the twentieth century.

Van Gogh, who represented the Arles Studio of the South (as Gauguin did the Brittany side of it) was equally influential on these later schools. Also thought to be bipolar, Van Gogh created a vibrantly colored world in which reality was fractured and remolded to express an intense and personal emotion. The natural world and inanimate objects, the furniture in his room, the night sky, the haystacks became powerful icons saturated with meaning. Van Gogh's ubermensch fought the inner forces of madness and sought to subjugate the inferior human by mortifying the flesh - cutting off his ear. His self-portrait show a gaunt and tragic man with rumpled hair and pitiful, mad eyes. Nietzsche charged the ubermensch with responsibilities above and beyond those of the common herd of mankind. The "last man" is the complacent hedonist as well as the conformist to puritanical bourgois ideals; the ubermensch transcends this mundane level and enters into a personal relationship with God. Van Gogh's approach to this raising of experiential goals is no less iconoclastic than Gauguin's, but relies less on interaction with other cultures or persons.

The Die Brucke artists acknowledged a debt to Van Gogh, with Max Pechstein expressing their view as "Van Gogh is the father of us all" (Norris) They believed that twentieth century art, to be valid, needed to arise from intense personal experience, and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Post-Impressionist Artists Were Interested.  (2002, November 18).  Retrieved February 20, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/post-impressionist-artists-interested/1190143

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