[Pt. IV Proj.1] – Moving into the Twentieth Century Project 1- Debussy and Impressionism ~ Research point 4.0: Investigate impressionism and symbolism in art and poetry.

[Pt. IV Proj.1] – Debussy and Impressionism ~ Research point 4.0: Investigate impressionism and symbolism in art and poetry. Spend some time investigating impressionism and symbolism in art and poetry. Research some of the chief exponents and their principle works and make notes to yourself in your learning log. 


Symbolism in both art, theatre and poetry happens to be one of my favourite styles and some of its ethos is what I aspire to myself. Equally, Debussy is one of my favourite composers of all time and a major musical role model for me. I wholeheartedly agree with him that the term impressionism does not accurately describe his music nor the mystery he tries to convey with it. I wish he would have been allowed to pick his own ‘box’ to fit into. The Symbolist movement pretty much kicked off with the release of Charles Baudelaire – ‘Les Fleur du Mal’, still my favourite book of poems to this day. It meant the world to me as a teenager, even though I scarcely understood a fraction of Baudelaire’s feverish laudanum infected dreams at the time.  On a rainy day in 2012 as I was paying a visit to his grave in Paris’ Montparnasse cemetery, I discovered that he still moves teenagers to this day. I came across a group of students and their professor reciting poetry by his grave, weeping and hugging each other. I joined them and spent a day with these strangers.

Another favourite symbolist of mine who’s museum I always visit when I am in Paris is the painter Gustav Moreau. His atelier, a few blocks from Pigalle, truly is the stuff of dreams. It would take a lifetime to unpick and discover all the hidden meanings in just one of his paintings. Another symbolist painter I really love is Odilon Redon. I’d count some of Klimt’s work, particularly the Beethoven Frieze in the Secessions building. Leon Bakst, Frida Kahlo and August Rodin (sculptor) I would also class as symbolists.

Returning briefly to poetry Mallarmé is perhaps the poet most associated with symbolism although Verlaine was also part of founding the movement, who’s manifesto the Greek poet Jean Moréas put into words. The gist being that things can only ever truly be seen and represented through indirect symbols. This idea of course had been around for a very long time in religious symbolism, both in terms of ‘story telling’ and in religious art. Symbolism took the idea of allegory a step further and used symbols in a similar way they occur in dreams; to merely evoke or give an impression of a state of mind. I think this is how Debussy, who very much follows these principles, mistakenly ended up labelled an impressionist.