James Payne narrates a series of films where he looks at great and important works of art. The latest episode is about the pointillist masterpiece by Georges Seurat, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.
The lack of narrative means we really should look to the artist’s obsession with form, technique and theory — which is practically all he wrote about — and not to meaning or subject matter - which he didn’t write about at all. The painting is really his manifesto. His protagonists don’t have faces or body language, neither a history nor individuality. They are reduced to a hat, a corset, or a pet. They are just characters in his frieze. They exist only to give perfect balance to the composition.
Some paintings are designed for the viewer to “empathise with” but Seurat keeps us at arm’s length. We are not invited to “participate” in the promenade, and their psychological distance is clear. Both with their neighbors, and with us. It was ancient art that Seurat looked to — of Egypt and Greece. He once said that he “wanted to make modern people move about as they do on the Parthenon Frieze”, and placed them on canvases organized by harmonies of colour. It is what makes the painting so intriguing.
Highly recomend watching his excellent YouTube channel.