In contrast to the usually very social art of the Enlightenment, Romantics were distrustful of the human world, and tended to believe a close connection with nature was mentally and morally healthy.
Romantic art addressed its audiences with what was intended to be felt as the personal voice of the artist.
Romanticism assigned a high value to the achievements of "heroic" individualists and artists, whose examples, it maintained, would raise the quality of society.
It also promoted the individual imagination as a critical authority allowed of freedom from classical notions of form in art.
In contrast to the Rationalism and Classicism of the Enlightenment, Romanticism revived medievalism and elements of art and narrative perceived as authentically medieval in an attempt to escape population growth, early urban sprawl, and industrialism.
Although the movement was rooted in the German Sturm und Drang movement, which preferred intuition and emotion to the rationalism of the Enlightenment, the events and ideologies of the French Revolution were also proximate factors.
The nature of Romanticism may be approached from the primary importance of the free expression of the feelings of the artist.
The importance the Romantics placed on emotion is summed up in the remark of the German painter Caspar David Friedrich, "the artist's feeling is his law".
Friedrich Schlegel wrote in his Dialogue on Poetry (1800), "I seek and find the romantic among the older moderns, in Shakespeare, in Cervantes, in Italian poetry, in that age of chivalry, love and fable, from which the phenomenon and the word itself are derived." In both French and German the closeness of the adjective to roman, meaning the fairly new literary form of the novel, had some effect on the sense of the word in those languages.
The use of the word, invented by Friedrich Schlegel, did not become general very quickly, and was probably spread more widely in France by its persistent use by Germaine de Staël in her De l'Allemagne (1813), recounting her travels in Germany.