What is Romanticism?
A quick gander at the usual popular online sources reveals some interesting definitions. We are told that it was an intellectual movement - even a state of mind - that embraced all manner of areas of creative activity, from painting and music to architecture and literature. It spanned roughly the late 18th and early 19th centuries, which should give you a clue as to the conditions that brought about its rise.
That period, you see, was that of the emerging Age of Reason - one in which rationalism and Classicism held sway, in which Royal Academy darling Sir Joshua Reynolds delivered a famous series of lectures - known as the Discourses - that with regard to painting, sought to "lay down certain general ideas, which seem to be proper for the formation of a sound taste".
The Romantic response
What may now appear to us a dry, academic approach to the determination of "taste" seemingly contrasted with a group of artists who to many contemporary observers, were about anything but sound taste: the emergent Romantics, although a few caveats should be inserted here.
First of all, Romanticism was not a cohesive art movement in the way that we have come to understand it in the 20th and 21st centuries, of being spearheaded by a formal manifesto, a la the Surrealists or even the Stuckists.
No, Romanticism was in many ways defined by its very inability to be defined, with even some of the artists who have come to be most strongly associated with the movement in today's popular imagination - such as the self-identified Classicist, Eugène Delacroix - denying any such link.
Nonetheless, he - and other artists widely acknowledged as 'Romantics' today, from Joseph Mallord William Turner and Caspar David Friedrich to Théodore Géricault and William Blake - played their part in establishing an artistic sensibility that we now see as inherently Romantic.
As for what that sensibility was...
Well, it was one that prized the idiosyncrasy of the creative act, the supremacy of the artist's imagination, the awe that one feels towards a nature that is infinitely more powerful than the human race that may aspire to suppress and control it.
At the risk of contradicting myself in beginning to more exactly define it, I consider the Romantic approach to art to be about spontaneity, expression, occasional ridiculousness and an embrace of the human being as they truly are.
The 'original' Romanticism certainly had no resort to the mechanisation or authority that was being railed against in the case of the emerging 19th century Industrial Revolution, or outright overthrown in the instance of the French Revolution that saw the beheading of a King.
But don't let such references to historical events mislead you into thinking that Romanticism is something for the dusty bookshops and museums - the mood remains very much alive and relevant, its thread continuing through present-day contemporary art.
Being a 'Romantic' artist today
Step into the Clore Gallery at London's Tate Britain and make a beeline for the Turners. Do you see those violent paint effects, those visible brushstrokes that seem to clash against each other, as if to create actual waves and storms? Those are a brilliant embodiment of the Romantic stance. The same goes for the overwhelmingly sublime 1852 John Martin painting The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, or engraver Blake's dazzling 'illuminations' that accompanied his poetry.
For more recent examples, you might look to the use of nature as an inspiration by artists like Richard Long and Andy Goldsworthy, or the foreboding feeling of George Shaw's otherwise humdrum-seeming depictions of the Tile Hill estate in Coventry, created in Humbrol enamel paint.
The Romantic artistic sensibility most certainly survives - which might lead you to consider how it can do so in your own artwork, too.