Scharfstein spends a good amount of time speaking of classicism and archaism. It seems as though the evolution of art has been a combination of a respect for antiquity and a desire to replicate those styles. However it must also be mentioned that artists also desire to insert their own originality in their work. Beginning with the Renaissance and ending with Impressionism there seems to be an almost uniform attempt by artists throughout this era to try and imitate the Romans and Greeks portrayal of the ideal human form and values conceptualized in their art as well.
With such a "realistic" approach to art, how does Scharfstein explain the extreme decline in art that appreciates the archaic or classical forms in the beginning of the impressionist painters? What inspired these artists to go down a path less traveled? Why did they deviate so far from the set standards of artists? After all after the impressionists, Expressionism became an establised movement, and after these modernism, dadaism, abstract, regionalism, surrealism, popular art, etc... all became established art movements which all deviated from the classical norm. Although classicism didn't disappear and is by no means dead, its present practice has diminished.
What seems to be a primary factor in this change is the political, economical, and social change upheaval that characterized Europe at the turn of the century in 1800. The aftermath of the French Revolution and then the devastating Napoleonic wars led many to challenge existing norms. Literature even saw a change with the revolutionary works of the Romantic poets who were inspired by the people and who sought to revert from classical forms of poetry to those that reflected the common speech of man. Art too also seemed to be focusing more on the common man. Francisco Goya may have played a pivotal role in this change from the classical ways. Too many he is considered the last great master, and also the first modern artist. He did his fair share of portraiture for the aristocracy in Spain, but his most famous works are his series of prints that criticize the treatment of common people and the evils in contemporary society. The masks and faces of many of his characters are distorted and demonized. Many of his scenes could actually be identified as surreal as they do have a surreal feel about them. Perhaps the emotions of the Romantic poets as they focused on the beauty of nature inspired the impressionists as they sought to paint such scenes by trying to translate emotion rather than picture perfect scenes. So perhaps the with such change occurring the shaping of society seemed to begin to influence art more than the archaic forms of art which were associated with tyranny of the old aristocracy.