-By William O’Connor
“Art is the tree of life. Science is the tree of death.”
The Romantics have always been one of the most powerful influences on my life and career as an artist. In the late 18th century the scientific and analytical symmetry of the Age of Reason began to transform. The pendulum was moving from strict, classical techniques and into a more experimental age of emotional and spiritual expression. Academic discoveries such as the Rosetta Stone (1799) the publication of Grimms Fairy Tales (1812) and Beowulf (1815), began a renaissance in folklore, legend and mythology from a non-classical past. Poets Byron, Wordsworth and Shelly were truly at the vanguard of this movement embracing the newly discovered medieval romances of King Arthur which gave their movement its name. Chief among the avant-garde artists of this period was William Blake (1757-1827)
Blake stands out as one of the first true author/illustrators in history. In the past most artists would be in the service of a powerful patron such as the church or the aristocracy, but Blake created his own poetry which he illustrated himself. During the Romantic movement artists became their own “brand” as we would call them today, developing a unique style and perspective all their own. Deeply dissatisfied with his academy training under the mentorship of Joshua Reynolds, Blake drew inspiration from medieval illuminated manuscripts, as well as renaissance masters, writing, illustrating and self publishing his own works deeply grounded in his spirituality, and passionate belief in human freedom. Later becoming the inspiration for some of nineteenth century’s most important artists, including the Pre-Raphaelites, the Arts and Crafts movement and Golden Age illustrators. Blake’s influence extends into the 20th C. as well with reflections in Chagall, Picasso, the Surrealists and 1960’s poets.
As we stand on the threshold of our new century with its new technology and the freedom it provides we see many parallels to Blake’s work 200 years ago. Artists and authors unencumbered by the patronage of publishing companies or recording studios striking out onto their own to create their own works in their own style. Blake stands as a wonderful inspiration to every artist and author who dreams of bringing their imagination to life to share with the world.