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The Relationship Between Art Nouveau Illustration And Entertainment Pop Culture

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Art Nouveau made quite a few cameos in the entertainment media. In 2007 Disney’s Enchanted feature their protagonist Giselle, who’s portrayed as a cliche hopeless romantic and traditionally feminine woman character, which is similar to how ideal women were portrayed in the Art Nouveau period. This could be an explanation of why Giselle’s dress is an almost the exact replica of the dress seen on Alphonse Mucha’s Moet Chandon poster in 1899. Additionally there are countless illustrations of artists and fictional characters in the style of Art Nouveau done for the entertainment industry, music poster, comic book posters, etc. Despite being an art period that only active briefly for 20s years, Art Nouveau proves its timelessness through its revival in entertainment pop culture.

  • Left: Side to side comparison of Disney’s Enchanted’s protagonist Giselle with Alphonse Mucha’s artwork for Moet Chandon,1899
  • Middle: Poster of Lana Del Rey, 2014, Jump Jirakaweekul
  • Right: Cover art for issue 21 of Boundless Comics’s Lady Death, 2014, Richard Ortitz’s

Earlier this year the collaboration from Bunkamura museum, Mucha Foundation, Nippon Television Network Corporation, BS Nippon Corporation, The Yomiuri Shimbun, came out with an exhibition called Timeless MUCHA: Mucha to Manga The Magic of Line. The exhibition featured the masterpieces and artwork from the Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha. The exhibition also shows the influences Mucha’s artwork had in contemporary art and design both in Japan and from all over the world. This proved that Art Nouveau is not only the movement that was relevant to western art but also the global contemporary. What captured my attention is the impact that Art Nouveau gave to the psychedelic scene in the 1960s throughout Europe and America and also responsible for the emergence of shoujo manga or graphic novel series/comics for girls in Japan even though these two concepts are completely different.

The lack of male presence in composition. Gismonda has no presence of men at all, makes the female figure the only center of attention in the poster. UFO Club poster 104 has 2 cameo of faces that could be male, however, it is rather subtle how the male figure was shown in this artwork. Hana to Yume on the other hand shows the male figure right next to the female figure. According from the manga Arabesque, this male figure, Yuri Mironov, is the love interest of the female figure next to him, Nonna Petrova. In the story Yuri is a ballet dancer, despite being Nonna’s love interest, Yuri appeared to be rather feminine than traditionally masculine like in many western graphic novel/comic characters. Yuri has longer slender body parts, softer facial features and expression, his pose was expressive and his garment was adorned with flowers, leaves, and flowing soft fabrics that drapes around his body. This shows that even male was included in the artwork that related to Art Nouveau, they were rather cameo or feminized to show the feminine beauty instead.

There were some different ways to represent the idea of beauty and elegance through the physical appearances of female figures from their features, bodies, and what they wear. In Gismonda, the figure of Sarah Bernhardt in the role of Gismonda appeared to be beautiful youthful woman while in the play she was actually a little more mature than she appeared to be in the poster. She was dressed in a beautiful garment with intricate patterns in gold, standing gracefully with soft pink flowers decorating her hair, she was portrayed as unachievable divine beauty which contrasts a lot with UFO Club poster 104. The figure is naked, she has a sultry look and her hair also has the flowers in them flows endlessly. Her appearance was not precisely elegant or graceful in the same way with Gismonda but her goddess-like elegance was rather represent in a way that rather erotic. She is confident in her naked form and her ability to embrace her sexual desire and liberate herself from the material such as clothes which is a concept that derived from the hippie subculture which was very popular in that era. Hana to Yume took a similar approach with Gismonda with classical beauty, gorgeous garments, flowing drapery. The female figure Nonna has her hair braided decorated with flowers and some part of it is blown by the wind. Elegance can be similar, but also different.

Posture of the figures. The posture of Gismonda is likely to be a reference to the story of the play. Gismonda is the duchess of Athens therefore her posture is standing straight with poise and dignity with her left hand expressively placed on her chest. In UFO Club poster 104 the woman has her hands daintily touching the wings of a butterfly, very close hidden image of male genital close to her genital, perhaps it is the reference to sex and masturbation. Considering the 1960s as an era where the idea of liberation was very dominant in art work, her posture and the presence of exposed genitals suggest the liberation from all the inhibitions especially sex. In Hana to Yume both postures of Nonna and Yuri are reference from their story Arabesque which their characters are ballet dancers during 1970s in USSR.

Another quality that I will cover is the influences from other cultures. It was well known that Art Nouveau took a lot of inspiration from Japanese prints or ukiyo-e and it shows in many ways

Flat perspective and stylized figures. A lot of details are cut down and stylized, therefore making the artwork look 2 dimensional which is the same technique used in ukiyo-e prints. During the Meiji period, Japan started to open its country and Japanese and Asian culture debut itself to the western in the 19th century and introduce the European to the Japanese woodblock prints and its unique style of illustration that cut down details and simplify the objects, making the outlines to be very clear. From Gismonda and UFO Club poster 104, artwork removes all the details on the hair of their figure, leaving them as silhouette instead. There are also thick outlines of the figures to define the separation of the figure and background to be stronger. Hana to Yume on the other hand seem to have more details and depth than both Gismonda and UFO Club poster 104 despite being an artwork from Japan. There are more details on hair, drapery, and flowers and plants as well which appeal to more classical style rather than the ukiyo-e style but human figure are very stylized and look rather unrealistic.

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Format and framing. Vertical and narrow format were commonly used for ukiyo-e prints, these are called tat-e(立て絵) and the most popular format is hanging scroll called kakemono-e (掛物絵) This format forced figures, objects, landscape to condensed together, making the composition direct and compatible with Japanese calligraphy as well. The format of Gismonda could be inspired by kakemono-e, considering from the dimension that is very narrow, background with a lot of blank space, allowing the viewer to focus only on the figure of Sarah Bernhardt. UFO club poster 104 alternatively use the hair of the figure as a blank space to separate the figure from the background and other things in the poster. The poster uses another technique similar to Japanese art as well which is asymmetrical diagonal composition along with repetition of smaller objects and gradation of space to help frame the figure. Hana to Yume has two figures in the illustration therefore making difficult to frame them in narrow format, in this case the artist use the border to separate two figures.

Visual elements that are from other cultures. Gismonda has a small gimmick of mosaic tiles illustration and fonts reference to setting of the play, Athens, Greece. There was a counter culture that rejected the western world in the 1960s, which sparked the interest in the eastern world. The woman in UFO Club poster 104 might be a person of color, perhaps from her facial features could be a mongoloid asian. The psychedelic scene was neglecting the western and the depiction of a woman from another culture other than white caucasian were more desirable and interesting during that time. However in Hana to Yume both of the figures are white caucasians. As a matter of fact, the story of Arabesque itself, despite being created by a Japanese artist in Japan, Arabesque does not feature anything about Japan at all. Arabesque was written in 1971-1975 where the story was set in the USSR with and all the characters were Soviet. The idea of girls agenda or “shoujo” started to develop around the same time with Art Nouveau so it carried the same ideal feminine beauty and traditional feminine aesthetics of the westerner within itself. By the 1970s – 1980s when shoujo manga emerged to the Japanese pop culture it appropriating the idea of beauty of the western into the manga. We can see that the figures have exaggerated features that the Japanese stereotype the westerner, big starry eyes, blonde curly hair and long, tall, slender limbs and bodies. The image of shoujo manga finally became associated with “western princess” aesthetics.

Finally, the social context we could learn from the artwork

The effectiveness of female representation in promoting entertainment. Mucha’s representation of Sarah Berhardt as a beautiful divine woman for the role of Gismonda was very effective promoting the play. When the life-size 216 x 74.2 cm. poster Gismonda was put up it gained a lot of attention from the people of Paris. The poster was so popular that some people who wanted to collect the poster bribed the bill stickers to save the poster for them, some of them went out at night and stole the poster. UFO Club poster 104 was promoting UFO Club’s famous event, impromptu performances including music, poetry, all kinds of performing art. The naked woman is the usage of woman’s sex and sensuality to appeal the audiences similar to what Mucha did. Hana to Yume and the story of Arabesque promotes the fantasy that appeal to girls. Yamagishi’s representation of Nonna along with her love interest Yuri by giving them both importance in the composition sparks the curiosity of the relationship between them.

What can we tell about target audiences from the colors. Gismonda has a soft pastel colors, the color black was not found and the outlines is dark blue instead, it also uses a lot of gold as a dominant color. It could be possible that Gismonda was targeting audiences that were interested in high art, considering that theater in 19th century usually reserved for higher class as well. UFO Club poster 104 used very limited colors which are bright yellow, bright purple, yellow ochre and reddish magenta as outlines, these are the contrasting color according to color theory. UFO club was a result of the underground psychedelic scene in London that was notorious for their usage of large dose of LSD, therefore it was very likely that the target audience would be from the psychedelic scene and the youth of the 1960s. Hana to Yume also uses a lot of soft pastel colors and warmer shades of white, pink and periwinkle similar to Gismonda. Given the context of being based of girls comics Hana to Yume and Arabesque target audiences would be teens or younger girls who are into the fairytale-like styles of it.

Overall aesthetics that reflects different platforms of entertainment and what people appreciates throughout the time. Gismonda shows that people were appreciating the classical beauty of female and feminine aesthetics referring to the main concept of the poster is to focus on the beauty of Sarah Bernhardt and the play itself also had a classical setting of ancient Greece as well. UFO Club Poster 104 shows how much the influence the music has and its contribution to the counterculture and outrageous things that happened in the 1960s reference of liberations of sex and drugs and necglectant of the western aesthetics, UFO Club Poster 104 is a very strong representation its time. Arabesque was one of the early shoujo manga that shows how much influence it took from Art Nouveau. From the illustration in Hana to Yume that shows the favor of westerners and western princess aesthetics, flowing dress, ribbons, flowers, to its own storyline that Nonna was comparable to the classical fairytale “western princess” which became a desirable fantasy to young girls in Japan. Arabesque was a story of a beautiful ballet dancer Nonna Petrova who was born in a wealthy family, however she was insecure about her talent from comparing herself to her older sister who was a ballet prodigy. After the famous ballet dancer Yuri Mironov had seen her dance, he took her under his personal training. The story focuses on her journey to learn how to believe in herself and her developing relationship with Yuri.

In the present time it has come to my attention that Art Nouveau has been gaining a lot of popularity in the entertainment pop culture especially in movies, comics, cosplays that often showing the revival Art Nouveau. For example, British artist, costume designer and illustrator Hannah Alexander was known for Art Nouveau inspired illustrations and costume design for pop culture characters. Her designs gains popularity among the professional cosplayers with their elaborate and intricate details coming from various inspirations from Alphonse Mucha, Elie Saab, Marchessa, Studio Ghibli, Final Fantasy, William Waterhouse and Disney. She wrote a series of books published in 2018 called Cosplay Concepts which contains the illustrations her costume designs and other details.Moreover Hannah Alexander is currently having a Kickstarter project in collaboration with a professional cosplayer Ginny Di for another book, Centaur of Attention which will be a cosplay guide and tutorials for Art Nouveau inspired Disney’s Fantasia cosplays.

  • Left: Part of Your World Illustration by Hannah Alexander of Disney’s The Little Mermaid protagonist Ariel, 2014
  • Right: Side to side comparison of Pastel Jellies Cosplay, cosplaying Hannah Alexander’s costume design of
  • DC comics’s Teen Titans character Raven, 2017
  • Top: Hannah Alexander’s Cosplay Concepts volume 1 and 2
  • Bottom: Kickstarter project by Hannah Alexander and Ginny Di Centaur of Attention

This shows that to survive as a style Art Nouveau will have to be expanded to reach out to more audiences. 1960s gave the revival to Art Nouveau through music and 1970s-80s gave its revival through shoujo manga and nowadays the revival of Art Nouveau depends on the illustrators. Perhaps the future of Art Nouveau might have to rely on youth market and pop culture more than it ever does.

Sources

  1. Mucha, Sarah., and Mucha Museum. 2005. Alphonse Mucha. London: Frances Lincoln.
  2. Raluca, Petre. 2008. Art Nouveau, Alphonse Mucha and the Mass Visibility of Culture. Analele Universităţii Ovidius Din Constanţa. Seria Filologie, no. 19 (2008): 85-94.
  3. Ogi, Fusami, Lucy Fraser, Isabelle Bettridge, and Liisa Kuru. Beyond Borders: Shōjo Manga and Gender. 2018. U.S.-Japan Women’s Journal 54, no. 1 (2018): 75-97.
  4. Owen, Ted., and Dickson, Denise. 1999. High Art : A History of the Psychedelic Poster. London: Sanctuary.
  5. Wichmann, Siegfried. 1981. Japonisme : The Japanese Influence on Western Art since 1858. London: Thames and Hudson.
  6. Fraser, Lucy, and Masafumi Monden. 2017. The Maiden Switch: New Possibilities for Understanding Japanese Shōjo Manga (Girls’ Comics). Asian Studies Review 41, no. 4 (2017): 544-61.
  7. Toku, Masami, and EBSCOhost. 2015. International Perspectives on Shojo and Shojo Manga : The Influence of Girl Culture. Routledge Research in Cultural and Media Studies ; 72. 2015.
  8. Berlage, Hans., Christoph. Grunenberg, Harris, Jonathan, Tate Gallery Liverpool, and University of Liverpool. Press. 2005. Summer of Love : Psychedelic Art, Social Crisis and Counterculture in the 1960s. Tate Gallery Liverpool Critical Forum ; v. 8. Liverpool [England]: Liverpool University Press.
  9. Bunkamura Museum – https://www.ntv.co.jp/mucha2019/
  10. Mucha Foundation – http://www.muchafoundation.org/exhibitions/current-future-exhibitions/exhibition/timeless-mucha-mucha-to-mangathe-magic-of-line

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