Art Quiz: The Answer is Georges Seurat

When I first took this “Art Quiz” online, I didn’t score exceptionally well. I knew a few answers with absolute certainty, I was fairly sure on a few others, and some I was able to guess correctly. I missed a lot of questions, though. As a “late-comer” to the world of art and art history, my education about art movements and influential artists is definitely lacking.

I decided to share the “Art Quiz” here in the blog simply because I thought it would be fun. I really didn’t think about how much I would learn from it. Now, as we move through the quiz question by question, I’m enjoying it immensely. Each question gives me a chance to either learn something more about an artist or art movement I’m familiar with, or, more likely, to learn something completely new!

Georges Seurat, the correct answer to today’s question, is an artist I was familiar with. He had a unique style, so his work is often singled out and talked about in art classes and “how-to” art books. He is mentioned time after time in books on color theory. Again and again, we see his well-known “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grand Jatte” shown as a perfect illustration of pointillism. 

I remember well my husband’s utter astonishment when I shared this painting with him and pointed out (no pun intended) that it was entirely made up of little “points of color”.  He was truly amazed.

Yet while I was familiar with pointillism and Georges Seurat, I really knew little about Neo-Impressionism, the art movement he founded. Eager to learn more, I turned first to Wikipedia.

Neo-Impressionism is a term coined by French art critic Felix Feneon in 1886 to describe an art movement founded by Georges Seurat. Seurat’s most renowned masterpiece, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, marked the beginning of this movement when it first made its appearance at an exhibition of the Société des Artistes Indépendants (Salon des Indépendants) in Paris.

Around this time, the peak of France’s modern era emerged and many painters were in search of new methods. Followers of Neo-Impressionism, in particular, were drawn to modern urban scenes as well as landscapes and seashores. Science-based interpretation of lines and colors influenced Neo-Impressionists’ characterization of their own contemporary art.

Some argue that Neo-Impressionism became the first true avant-garde movement in painting.

Much of Neo-Impressionism deals with color theory, with the way light acts to create color. These are the main tenets of what came to be known as “divisionist color theory” explaining how light operates:

  • LOCAL COLOR As the dominant element of the painting, local color refers to the true color of subjects, such as green grass or a blue sky.
  • DIRECT SUNLIGHT As appropriate, yellow-orange colors representing the sun’s action would be interspersed with the natural colors to emulate the effect of direct sunlight.
  • SHADOW If lighting is only indirect, various other colors, such as blues, reds, and purples, can be used to simulate the darkness and shadows.
  • REFLECTED LIGHT An object which is adjacent to another in a painting could cast reflected colors onto it.
  • CONTRAST To create contrast in a painting, complementary colors might be placed in close proximity.

While I am fascinated by pointillism and the idea of “visual color mixing”, it’s definitely not my favorite style of painting, and it’s nothing I want to attempt. I’ve studied the principles and have done a few “color swatches” based on the ideas, but as far as trying it out on an actual painting… well, nope, no thanks, I’m not interested.

At the same time, though, I am very interested in working with these color principles as I learn more about creating light and shadow in my landscape paintings. I think it will be interesting to widen my personal color spectrum, to add different hues to show the effects of direct sunlight or reflected light.

Even while Georges Seurat is not a “favorite artist” of mine, I’ve definitely enjoyed getting to know him a bit more through this “art quiz” question and answer. Now, I’m eager to take what I can learn from him and apply it to my own painting.

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