Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin's discontent with the spiritual ills of Western Civilization was part of a sentiment widely shared at the end of the nineteenth century. Reflecting an intellectual and moral upheaval that rejected the modern world and its insane addiction to 'materialism' ; at any and all costs to the human soul, the land and Nature, to the weaker exploitable multitudes of the world; all of whom/which become fodder for those who exploit for comfort and wealth and control. For the SYMBOLIST-ARTIST :: they fell into this intellectual vaccum where those who saw no escape and began to analyze their predicament in fascinated horror. However this very awareness proved to be a source of strengthening unity and direction to the remarkable movement which became known as SYMBOLISM.
A literary movement arose from 1885-86 with Jean Moreas and Gustave Kahn ... reacting against the Naturalism of the novelist Emile Zola ... the SYMBOLIST writer reassurted the primacy of subjective ideas championed by the 'poetes maudits' (the doomed poets) Stephane Mallarme' and Paul Verlaine. Gauguin was called the leader of the new painters of Pont-Aven and the Post-Impressionists. Although where the Post-Impressionists pursued a stylistic tendency, the SYMBOLISTs had their general outlook, one which allowed for a wide variety of styles - whatever would embody it's peculiar frame of mind. A spirit of experimentation, personalized Vision, the heights of poetic application to life experience; at once idyllic, at times dark even sinister, and then there was the scholar-poet painter GUSTAVE MOREAU :: who created a world of personal fantasy paralleling the world of reveries of some of the English PRE-RAPHAELITES. A deep admiration for the painter Eugene Delacroix ( a disciple of Theodore Ge'ricault) and the embodiment of the living ROMANTIC, instructed much of MOREAU's earlier works. It's fascination of Oriental splendour with it's insistence on the supernatural, the creulty of spirit reconciling over Imagination of the developing ROMANTIC SOUL ...these were at the heart of the maturing ROMANTIC sensibility after the innicial love-affair with Nature ... to wrestle with the intracacies of the nature of man's inward being.
MOREAU's works hit their stride with the poetics of the SYMBOLISTs. Emboding the Greek mythos and exploring other avenues such as AESOP's FABLES : MOREAU paralleled the terrain of the subconscious which in the next few decades would become the scientific revelation of a professor in Vienna named Sigmund Freud. Early in the nineteenth century the subconscious was approached by F. W. J. von Schelling, Henry Fuseli, and the poet "NOVALIS". A scientific approach developed by FRANZ BRENTANO and the self analyzing obessions of Friedrich Nietzsche set the platform for Freud; then Jung, Rank and all the rest of the psychoanalysts. Whose works became a basis for the SURREALISTS of the 1920s and 30s.
Yet before the scientific pretensions and genius of Freud, the SYMBOLIST artists explored territory of MODERN human morality and Imagination shifting in the age of new medicine, machinery, and engineered convieniances and liberties; all of which were presented in a compleatly new context ... that of the MODERN TECHNOLOGICAL world. The haunted Imagination is a foundation block of the SYMBOLIST. Just because man can do all these new things, does that mean he should do all these things? A deep moral questioning of the self-indulgence of "liberated-peoples" :: the loss of IDEALS of character connected with actions or poetics to the actions of the "new" people of this MODERN world; the submission to fast money and backslidding which increasingly became the gold mine of vanities in the twentieth century were the themes of internalizing struggles for the SYMBOLIST who felt that martyrdom of Saintly rejection of worldly VICES was the new courage and virtue to fight for in the materialist world building its towers all around us. The wealth of VIRTUEs at the alter of ART had been the growing DREAM throughout the nineteenth century. In the emmerging twentieth century this MODERNISM was leaning ever more decidedly toward money. The wealth of VIRTUE was becoming replaced by the VICES of fast and substancial cash to be had through technology and selling out. The FINE ARTS sustained it's DREAM even during the back drops of World War One and then World War Two :: each followed by decades of unchecked orgies of revelry in the Roaring Twenties and the supressed 1950's of blue movies, bomb-shells, and rock-N-roll. The explosion of MEDIA ( something which doesn't really mean anything but WATCHING ALL the MAYHEM !) in the 1960's instilled the DRUG-PORN-and gangster fettishes of Hollywood into American culture.
The higher plane of sanitity within the FINE ARTS became lost in the aftermath of the drug & sexploitation of this 1960s period and its POST-60s continuing shameless sell-out to commercialism. Prostitution in the nineteenth century ( with particular alliance to the ARTS) was justified from a rejection of the bourgeiosie-Materialism that choked the humanity out of the human contract of old. By the latter half of the nineteenth century Prostitution was a flagrant rejection again of the hypocracy of the success of that Materialism. By the early twentieth century Prostitution thought itself sophisticated and liberated of societal inequity and hypocracy. But the underlying corruption of EXPLOITATION had been planted in the supposed "liberation" of the MODERN body, with the seed of photography and the brash profits waiting out there in a sea of cash, the selling of sex for profit became the driving force in the new ART world.
SYMBOLISM had began a discussion of accusing the Materialists of degrading our youth and citizenry through vice and the "Birdcages" of capitalist society. The correct evolution should have been developing modes of expressive conduct in a real sophistication of life-modes and not the silly and rediculus mimicing of sophistication thru Hollywood of the beginning decades of the twentieth century. All to solidify and milk the American Dream for the profits of the few panderers of Hollywood fortunes. What has been even more insulting is the IDIOT success of PROPAGANDA to ensure the continued bull shite of the media world to suggest it is giving the world sophistication and not EXPLOITING the hell out of a commodified culture, like pretty birds held in a "BIRDCAGE".