What is Romanticism?
Ask anyone on the street what “Romanticism” is and you’re likely to get replies that include: beautiful flowers, surprise gifts, elegant date nights, heartfelt love letters, tender gestures, etc. – – essentially, anything that generates romance between two people in a relationship.
While that concept is nice (and important) it isn’t the same definition of “Romanticism” as my focus in this article.
Specifically, I speak of Romanticism as a state of mind; an attitude or philosophy toward life, the world and the universe that ignites and maintains a passion for living. It is key to living an enriched life and regularly experiencing wonder and joy.
First, let me differentiate between the specifics of this mindset and the historical period commonly referred to as “Romanticism” (with a capital R). There are similarities.
The Romanticism Movement
As a response to the age known as The Enlightenment, artists and intellectuals from all over Europe responded (rebelled) against the rigid reason, order, rationalism and conventions of the period. The rebellion took the form of poets, authors, composers, artists, architects and philosophers embracing an approach to their craft that exalted various characteristics including:
- Emotions, spontaneity, feelings & intuition
- Imagination, originality and creativity
- Nature and the Sublime
- Individualism and self-becoming
- Glorification & Idealization of the Past
- Heroism & hero-worship
- Mysticism and the mysterious
This Romanticism “movement” occurred roughly between 1770 – 1870. It crossed over individuals of all political leanings (liberals, conservatives, radicals), as well as being embraced by theists and atheists alike.
Many (most) of it’s attributes apply as well to my current definition of “Romanticism” below . . . .
Romanticism as a State of Mind
So . . . This Romanticism period ended about 1870. Does that mean it can’t be experienced or made a focus of life in the modern world? Did it cease to exist across the Earth? Is it now taboo? Is it a fluke that anyone in this modern day should still experience and relish some or all of these attributes?
Throughout this web site whenever I mention “Romanticism,” I’m referring to a certain mindset or attitude that can (and does) embrace many of the same characteristics of the Romantic period practitioners. However, this frame of mind doesn’t require us to be world renown artists, writers or philosophers. It’s simply a personality trait that allows one to embrace and live life with joy, passion and gratitude – an enriched life. It’s a philosophy of life that can be adopted by anyone if they so choose. It comes from within you.
This mindset of romanticism allows us to see the beauty and wonder of the world everywhere; to be grateful and appreciate nuances and details so easily overlooked by the typical urban dweller.
The foci I see most vividly contributing to this modern romanticism include:
Adventure – Experience something (anything) beyond the day-to-day mundane. Get out of your couch-potato comfort zone. Savor the uniqueness of a different experience. Appreciate out-of-the-norm surroundings.
Beauty & Aesthetics – Appreciate and be grateful for elegant beauty wherever you find it (music, art, architecture, landscape gardens, decor, nature, human physiology, human behavior, etc.). Surround yourself at home with aesthetic elements that resonate and inspire you.
Freedom/Liberty – Free yourself from the social, cultural, religious and intellectual restraints imposed on you throughout the formal education and social indoctrination you experienced since birth.
Heroism & Idealism – Find real heroes and attempt to emulate their best qualities. Envision in your mind and heart an idealized reality/existence. What qualities of those heroes inspire you? Can you adopt any of their attributes?
Individualism & Self-expression – Be the best and unique self you can (or wish) to be. Continue to improve and self-learn. What would an idealized self and its associated life look like to you? Let that vision inspire you.
Discovery – Expand your horizons to experience and learn beyond the programming you received in school and your upbringing. There’s a universe of exciting knowledge out there for you to discover; be a Knowledge Adventurer.
Nature – Appreciate the beauty and mysteries of nature, whether grand or simple. Visit and envelope yourself in the world’s gorgeous nature-scapes: forests, mountains, gorges, waterfalls, streams, rivers, storms, snowfalls, plains, bays, glaciers, volcanoes, caves, cliffs, arches, desserts, sea-shores. Yet appreciate the simple wonders of nature too, such as a bee gathering nectar from a flower, or a bird nesting and feeding its young.
Building and creating – Create something . . . anything. Make it an expression of yourself. If you do have an interest in some craft or skill but don’t know how, then learn. There’s much to be gained from how-to websites and videos across the internet. Years ago (a mere two decades) you were stuck with trying to locate a book at a store to learn something new. Now the world’s knowledge and skills are shared on the web. Take advantage of that amazing gift.
History – Experience the magic and mysteriousness of all that came before: relics, ruins, art, architecture; literature – all from decades, centuries and millennia past. Wonder about the people who produced it. What were they like? How did they accomplish it? Who were they? Could they have possessed knowledge and abilities beyond what we know? Ponder on the passage of time and what you may leave for the generations brought forth in the future.
Slow Down and Notice – Develop a heightened awareness of the world around you so you can experience all of the above. Wonder. Ask questions. Challenge mundaneness. Consider reality beyond existing paradigms. Appreciate what you may heretofore ignored.
Feel The Emotion – Get in touch with your emotions while experiencing all of the above. Allow yourself to feel and experience with your heart – a Romantic: wondering, questioning, discovering, appreciating. Allow the feelings to fill your soul and mind.
Romanticism vs Realism
What about realism, empiricism, science, objectivism, rationalism, and their importance to providing an accurate picture of life? Aren’t they important to living a life of reality and practicality?
Sure. But . . . are the two mutually exclusive?
feeling, emotion, intuition, imagination, wonder, amazement, gratitude, beauty, appreciation, heroism, idealization, history, creating, subjectivism
truth, knowledge, understanding, reason, logic, rationalism, empiricism, objectivism
We are led to believe that you must be one or the other. And usually it’s indicated that we are more tied to Romanticism in our youth, then more likely to move toward Realism as we age and mature. While this might be the general tendency in life, I have to disagree that they are mutually exclusive.
In fact, I believe that the most well-rounded and accomplished in the world possess qualities of both realms. I would call it “Romantic Intellectualism.”
Let Romanticism Enrich Your Life (Romantic Living)
Treasure, savor, appreciate, relish, admire the entire breadth of these gifts of life. Experience gratitude – even the simplest of things. Feel alive – the energy and emotions of gratitude, satisfaction, delight, wonder, awe, passion, bliss, joy, ecstasy, excitement, enchantment.
Desire to rise and live beyond the mundane standards of the herd. Pursue and embrace the elegant over the mundane, the beauty over the ugly. Think of it as a Romanticist way of living – being a “Romantic” at heart.
Have a passion for life. Don’t let yourself plod aimlessly and without inspiration or passion. Seize life. Follow your passions. Make your life wonderful, and share its magic and wonder with those around you – family and friends. Make sure you live such that on your deathbed you have a sense of having truly lived.
Romanticism is wonder. And, no matter how much of a realist you are, there’s always room for Romanticism in your life.
(Featured image photo by the Author: James L. Patterson)
Some decent sources:
- Romanticism, Wikipedia
- The Romantic Era, HistoryGuide.org
- Toward a Definition of Romanticism, HistoryGuide.org
- Introduction to Romanticism, Academic.Brooklyn.cuny.edu
- Romanticism, UnchainedRomantics.Weebly.com (via Internet Archives)
- Why Romance Is Just A State Of Mind, YourTango.com
- The Reason Romance Is Just A State Of Mind, Piop.net
- Romanticism, Amazement, Imagination – A trias religiosa, MDPI.com (PDF)
- Jane Seymour’s Guide to Romantic Living (Atheneum, New York, 1986) – while written exclusively for women and focused on love-romance, it also touches upon the very aspects of the Romantic mindset and philosophy of life.