The Beautiful World of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

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Moulin Rouge La Goulue 1891by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

On my desk now, I have a lovely little music box made out of a replica of Lautrec’s Moulin Rouge La Goulue 1891 that pleasingly plays “French Can Can” when I wind up a handle attached aside to the box. The sweet melody played from the vivacious four-color lithograph affords a delightful digression during my study, which sparks off the subsequent musings on the artist and the arts, self-proclaimed, would-be,and aspiring artists and the act of creation itself.

A creator of the arts is a solipsistic benefactor of humanity whose congenitally proud egotism is a grand collective reflection of his cultivated trauma, sadness, frustration, anguish, and anger. With this in mind, an artist is endowed with a certain kind of poetic license to be freely and respectfully egoistical because an act of creation – or sometimes referred to as “intellectual drudgery” – demands of an unusual degree of courage, imagination, imaginativeness, knowledge, confidence and patience, all in a frenzy of his imago already existing or incipiently forming, by pouring out everything that is in him unsparingly, furiously into his creation. In fact, creative originality of standing quality often reflects high resources of courage, especially when the artist will not yield to his formidable foe in the form of biological determinism. Such was a noble spirit of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), a French painter and illustrator who sublimated his existential cross into his glorious laurel through the medium of art, the creation of his own reality of the world as he saw and felt in his mind’s eye.

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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)

Anyone who is interested in the Post-Impressionist paintings by Cezanne, Gogh, and Gauguin, might have come across Lautrec’s bold but gorgeous posters of actresses and dancers of Paris cabarets and theaters during the Belle Epoch period (1870-1914). Lautrec’s inherited disabilities as a result of his aristocratic familial consanguinity blighted him with grotesque physical deformities and congenital weakness: a midget taking a feral resemblance to a cross between a bull frog and a monkey. If you think that this physical misfortune alone merits his artistry or self-inflicting sybaritic lifestyle, you are probably not seeing the forest for trees. True, that he was often too ill to paint any and frequently visited the brothel to dispel his existential loneliness due to his pronounced external features. However, it was his preservation of a sense of purpose in life and tenacious grasp on his artistic existence, his recognition of the values he possessed and talent to express them to mark his standing in the world. The wisely chosen attitude toward things that he could not change but accept speaks to our world of post truths, grand fustian narratives, fake news, and fleeting ambitions that demerits  courage and patience, which are the handmaids of genuine confidence as a reservoir of creativeness.

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Le Rire Les Grans Concerts De L Opera 1897  by Henri Toulouse Lautrec

Being an admirer of the works of this amazingly daring and talented artist, I believe anyone struggling to better the self can relate to a prodigy of courage and effort demonstrated by Lautrec at the darkest hours of his life, when in fact it was the most creative time of his artistic career as a highly sought-after illustrator of French entertainment industry that provided visionary artists and technicians the substantial grist for the mill of their subsistence. Into this dazzling new luminous conflation of art and technology staged Lautrec, lord of the blank space and the bold line, to claim his dominance as the bell epoch’s master of artistic poster designer not only of his time but also of our time. The capital difference between Lautrec and his contemporaries was his daring characterization of the models and ambience he portrayed; the individuality was in the expression of the colors, lines, and perspectives, making the subjects into work of new creation, elevating their planes and milieus into the artistic ether of exquisite beauty and peculiar charm, giving unforgettable impressions on the minds of the beholders.

Lautrec proves to be a human testament to triumph of will over biological/social inhibitions during difficult times. His decision to work through his sadness by painting comes closer to serving as a sovereign remedy to the existential ills than any other semblance to solution thereof. In light of the above, it occurs to me that to practice any form of art, however good or bad, is not a prerogative of a professional or publicly recognized artist with more than hundreds of followers. The actualization of ideation, i.e., an expression of yourself in writing or painting, is a noble act of claiming your sovereignty, your own intractably unique self that attests to your existence, a sense of purpose in life. A life is not fully realized unless you actually live through it by unlocking what’s inside you. Be it ever called a cathartic effect or solipsistic satisfaction through the medium of creative act, just as Aristotle defined the primary function of the Arts as an imitation of natural beauty. That is why I write, and so should you.

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