Romanticism was essentially a literary movement but also an aesthetic, a way that people practised art in the first half of the 18th century. It was basically this way of romanticising life. Melancholy, sadness and depression played a huge role in romanticism. You can romanticise sadness and loneliness because, that time when you’re alone allows you to have this really important human need to self-reflect, think about yourself and think about how you affect the people around you. Melancholy kind of have an aesthetic. Sitting in your bed and looking out of the window when it’s raining has a visual aesthetic weirdly pleasing for a lot of people. As well as listening to sad, depressing music and loving it because in our brain, it creates this aesthetic. History is cyclical and so are cultural movements. Today, we’ve come to a point where a decisive part of the pop-culture tends to exaggerate this romantic motion. Why exactly is this? Is it merely a product of teenage angst, of a rebellious phase that all young adults are bound to go through? Or could it be a result of the increasing tendency for mainstream entertainment to glorify and romanticise depression, suicide and anxiety?
The magic of the ineffable
The movement validated strong emotion as an authentic source of aesthetic experience, placing new emphasis on such emotions as mourning, desperation or pain – especially that which is experienced in confronting the sublimity of nature and its picturesque qualities. It elevated ancient custom to something noble, made of spontaneity a desirable personality and argued for human activities conditioned by emotions.
The romantic era fights against fixed forms and established rules. The modern sense of a romantic character may be expressed in the ideals of a gifted, perhaps misunderstood loner, creatively following the dictates of his inspiration rather than the mores of contemporary society.
Me, myself & I
Nowadays, romanticism influence the environment by promoting the expression of the Me, enthusiast, confident or suffering, in mysterious sympathy with humans and the universe. A typical romantic person leans towards paths like a self-centred vision, the exaltation of feelings or a love-suffering obsession. In the age of social media, the “let’s pretend” movement is genuinely present.
Emma Chamberlain in a weirdly interesting way romanticise her life even if she’s showing her depression and sadness. This famous American influencer share her lifestyle almost on a day-to-day basis. The contrast between being this super-famous influencer and coming on the internet being like “I don’t have that many friends and I’m frequently sad” is something that viewers really want to engage in because they want to understand how this dynamic is occurring.
What can be noticed in the mainstream musical industry for example is the curious disgust for the present and the aspiration to return to a distant past. Looking at the alternative singer Billie Eilish wearing her status as misfits proudly, dealing with serious, deeply emotional and sometimes violent topics. She would always go for aesthetic centres around unsettling, disturbing and melancholy imagery.
The raw sickness
On the one hand, speaking out loud about mental health is a first step to open the dialogue on this topic issues. But on the other hand, there is a grave danger in this romanticisation. It can overshadow people actually struggling with mental illness and create a false impression of how serious these problems can be. “You’re not sad, you’re having a melancholic moment.” This glorification of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts can prompt young people to emulate the artists that they admire. The portrayal of depression as hauntingly beautiful or suicide as poetically tragic is dangerous because it encourages impressionable teens to desire these grave illnesses.
Get the lifestyle
Role models on social media work on their aesthetic 24/7. It’s all about setting a vibe a sticking to it.
For instance with TikTok & Pinterest boards, this aesthetic trend to romanticise everything allows the viewers to reframe things to be more interesting and unique. A simple cup of coffee, a moment with a book or a nice walk outside can be seen as ridiculous, but if you add a little “sparkle” to daily simple moment like this, life can be more enjoyable.
The antithesis would be that idealizing everything droves to setting unrealistic standards. It can lead to a constant comparison in every aspect of life because romanticism makes everything looks perfect. A dominant motif of our age is the quest for personal productivity. The task-oriented life is heavily romanticised by using our time well. The risk of transforming every moment into nothing but a means to embellish the future end is a terrible approach. With videos on YouTube, people tend to turn to dreadfully source of inspiration which even in their banality, offer insight into the process of others. Streamlined efficiency can offer a semblance of happiness in a chaotic world.
“Wanderer above the Sea of Fog” from the German Romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich is a picture-perfect representation of the miserable position of men, powerless against nature.
A bright feeling of loneliness comes out of this picture. The man is standing alone, facing the nature but also facing himself. There’s a sense of emptiness and dizziness which seems to reflect the personality of the traveller. He’s passionate by what he’s witnessing and tormented by the immensity of the nature taking over human being.
Friedrich said : “The painter should not only paint what he sees in front of him but also what he sees within himself.”