Cabaret has a lot in common with the artistic vanguards of the 1900s. It shares roughly the time of birth and the same traits. It was more influential in the same time period (that’s between the wars).
The decades that straddled the 1800s and 1900s saw a great, unexpected shift in the way arts were understood. Up to the end of the 1800s, fine art was considered a province of the upper classes. Strongly connected to the past and history, the more appreciated art was that with best imitated the unsurpassed canons of antiquity. Especially after the birth of Romanticism, art was understood as the recreation of a beautiful past in a vastly inadequate present. Far from being democratic, arts were appreciated by the very few who had not just the right education, but also the right natural predisposition.
But at the end of the 1800s something started to change. Art Nouveau – though not yet a true avant-garde – was the first artistic movement that moved away from the idea of the artist as a chosen one and treated art as a natural human ability. The artist became a craftsman, who rather than creating works of art, produced beautiful utensils that could actually be used. The arts came out of the museum and entered the house of people, infusing everyday life of beauty.
The caesura was not only in the concept of art as a whole, but also in the intentional act to stop looking at the past – at the classics – to create a new aesthetic that was ahistorical and universal, based on organic, crystalline and geometrical forms. A form of art that was accessible to all because it called into the essence of the human being.
Cabaret inserted itself into this movement. Although over the decades, cabaret took up many shapes, what always distinguished it from other forms of entertainment was its bringing down the barriers between the entertainer (the creator of art) and the audience (the receiver of art). Those two opposites always met in the cabaret by having performers and audience in physical contact (cabaretists sometimes entertained right in among the cabaret tables) and especially by using the same language to address everyday worries. In place of ascetic attitude of the artist who tried to see into the deepest human depths, cabaret advocated a self-conscious hedonism, a way to enjoy themselves without shame or remorse, by making fun (and commenting at the same time) the more secular and pragmatic aspects of everyday life.
Often branded as a lesser form of entertainment (which sometimes truly was), at its best cabaret tried to make people think by telling jokes. Through the appeal of the senses that ‘higher’ forms of entertainment had refused as vulgar – sensuality, laughter, jokes, satire but also outright ‘circus’ stunts – cabaret sought to reach out to its public and change that world that neither the artist nor the public completely liked.
Wide Walls – Take a Ride Back in Time to the 1920s Art
Peter Jelavich, Berlin Cabaret. Harvard University Press, Harvard, 1993
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Art Nouveau-many years ago, I used to travel to work in very old trains known as the Red Rattlers because the carriages shook all the way. They were very uncomfortable, but the ceilings were carved with beautiful designs in Art Nouveau patterns. That’s how old they were, even then!
When I was in Dublin, I worked in the Bewelys Cafe in Westmoreland Street, the oldest in the city. There was a room from the early 1900s and a ‘more modern one’ from the 1920s, with part of the furniture still there.
Bewelys closed down a couple of years after I left, there a Starbucks now and the 1920s room has gone. I think the early 1900s is still there, though not part of the cafe anymore.
I’d never made this connection, even loving both Art Nouveau and cabaret. Makes sense so thanks.
Me neither. But it makes sense. They both were born from the time’s sense of life.
Good to know so much about the evolution of cabaret and Art Nouveau. Great start of A to Z. All the best.
Thanks Deepa. And thanks for stopping by 🙂
Hi Sarah – another really informative and excellent post … I’m going to love reading them … I’m not doing the A-Z … but will be around. Interesting about Sue’s Red Rattlers and your time in Dublin … I loved Brussels with their Art Nouveau tours … Berlin I’m sure will have the same – cheers Hilary
I’d love to visit Berlin. Maybe, one day, with my sister, who’s been there many times and loves the city.
Ronel Janse van Vuuren
I learn something new on your blog every A-Z 🙂 Love the theme!
Thanks for stopping by. You have a great theme too. I enjoyed your first post 🙂
I can’t say I’ve had a lot of exposure to art nouveau other than what I’ve seen in passing on the Internet. It would be very cool to actually see something like this in person, though. Awwesome start for April’s blogfest!
Thank you for visiting my first A2Z Little Mermaid Art Sketch this month with ARIEL featured on Curious as a Cathy. 😉
I’m getting fascinated with the artistic movements of the early 1900s. Who knows? I might write more about it in the future.
JOHN T. SHEA
Interesting as always, Sarah! Bewley’s Grafton Street Cafe’ has just reopened after a 12,000,000 Euros refurbishment. It’s famous for its Harry Clarke stained glass windows. Believe it or not, I’ve never been in a Bewley’s, yet! Bewley’s owns cafes with different names in several countries, though not in Cork, where I live.
I’m so happy to hear it, John! Last time I was in Dublin (but admittedly, it was more than three years ago), the Grafton Streep premises was closed down and it looked forelone and abandoned. I’m not familiar with that as I am with the Westmoreland Street one, btu I’m so happy to hear it’s back in business.
Now this was truly insightful. I could especially relate to the part about the artist turning into a craftsman. A great beginning….
it was a pivotal time in the social history of Europe. So many things changed int he life of people because of this new understanding of arts as well as other aspects of life.
I loved reading this. Even though they were more-or-less contemporaneous, it had never occurred to me to link cabaret with art nouveau and how it was attempting to change what was included in the definition of art. Thanks you, and I look forward to returning over the course of the Challenge.
It was a discovery for me too, but as soon as I read it, I thought it made total sense.
Melanie Atherton Allen
Hey Sarah! I love Art Nouveau–gorgeous stuff. And your mention of the artist as a craftsman makes me think, of course, of the Arts and Crafts movement, which seems to have been a predecessor of Art Nouveau.
Thanks for the excellent post!
I’m not very familiar with that movement. I’ll go look it up. But yes, I suppose it was probably connected in some way, considering the Art Nouveau artists’ inclination for craftmanship 😉
I can tell I’m going to enjoy and also learn a lot from your A to Z again this year.
I really hope you’ll enjoy it, Kristin. Thanks so much for stopping by.
Art Nouveau is still influencing us today. I’m very interested in your theme! What a great kick off.
Thanks, Samantha, and thanks for stopping by. Art Nouveau is one of the most fascinating art movements, in my opinion. The only other I love more is Art Deco 😉
I wonder if there are any works from Alphonse Muscha in Berlin. I love his works and saw some great art when I was in Prague. Funny how this art came around the same time as Cabaret
Well, I don’t find it all that funny. It was the organic feeling of the time that made similar things happen at the same time. Everythign is alwasy connected in history 😉
Loved this post, Sarah. AN’s curves… so sinuous. Especially when contrasted with the angular Art Deco.
I’m fascinated with both movement, but my personal preference goes to Art Deco 🙂
You always have such informative posts. I never considered the connection between cabaret and the concerns and worries of people of that era, but now it makes a lot of sense.
True, eh? That’s what fascinates me the most abtu history. Everything is connected. And ultimately, everything alwasy makes sense.
Lovely first post! Can’t wait to read the other 25 and learn a lot 🙂
Happy A to Z!
Thanks! Most of them are still to be written… may I panick now?
I hadn’t made the connection but it makes sense. I love both jazz and art nouveau. If I think about a font for writing the word Jazz then it would probably be something with an affinity to Art Deco – a bit later of course.
Visiting from A to Z
I adore Art Deco, even more than I love Art Nouveau 🙂
You always have the most fascinating subjects! I can never help but think of a lone woman sitting on a chair singing when it comes to cabaret thanks to the musical.
Tasha’s Thinkings – Ghost Stories
I’ve planned to watch the musical for sometimes now. Really need to find the time to do it.
Thanks for stopping by. Your theme of this year is just right up my alley!
Well done! You know how much I love Art Nouveau. I can always count on you to teach me something new!
Lillian, I thought of you while writing this. Seriously!