• efephido

An overview of how art and/or design has changed between 1900 - 1980

I thought I should share an essay i wrote on Contemporary and Modern Art. This was written some time in April/May 2019. Enjoy.

“The aim of all art is, of course, to communicate, to express ideas or sentiments that evoke responses in the viewer” (A History of Modern Art)

According to Tate, “Modernism refers to a global movement in society and culture that from the early decades of the twentieth century sought a new alignment with the experience and values of modern industrial life” (Tate, n.d.) It started in 1890 and ended in 1940. Modernism refers to the interest of using new types of paint, expressing feelings and ideas and creating abstractions and fantasies, rather than representing what is real. (ArtMovements, n.d.)

Fauvism was the first avant-garde 20th-century art movement that started in 1899 and ended around 1908/1910. Artists of this movement were inspired by artists such as Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gaugin, George Seurat and Paul Cezanne. The book A History of Modern Art states that “The starting point of Fauvism was later identified by Henri Matisse” He was seen as a soberer and more professional leader of the fauves. Other artists of this era include Wassily Kandinsky and Georges Braque. The term ‘wild beast’ was used to describe the work of Henri Matisse and Andre Derain at an exhibition by an art critic Louis Vauxielles. The Fauvists were interested in the scientific colour theories developed in the 19th century – particularly those relating to complementary colours.

This is an image by Henri Matisse called Luxe, Calme et Volupte , 1904-05. This was created with oil on canvas. The title of this image was originally taken from a couplet in Baudelaire's Poem – L’invitation au Voyage. The lines of the poems were “La, tout n’est qu’ordre et Beaute, Luxe, Calme et Volupte” which translates to “There, all is only order and beauty / Richness, calm, sensuality” the painting consisted of short brush strokes that resembled mosaic.

“Expressionism refers to art in which the image of reality is distorted in order to make it expressive to the artists' inner feelings or ideas” (Tate.org, n.d.) In paintings, expressionism has an emphasis on colour which can be exceedingly intensive and non-naturalistic. The brush works used is quite free and the application of paint tends to be generous and textured. The expressionism era can be seen as an extension of Romanticism. When it comes to Visual Arts, Expressionism was just as powerful in music and literature as it was in the paintings. Expressionism began in German in 1905 and lasted at the end of the first world war. When the first world war started, many expressionist artists were in favour of the war. They believed it would lead to the fall of middle-class society and its pervasive materialism and cultural restrictions. They welcomed the first world war as a new beginning and let go of an old, dying order. It also gave Expressionism a new purpose. The artist’s work was then filled with bold colours and jagged edges. The above image of George Grosz, Explosion, 1917, really fits the description of bold colours and jagged edges. It relates to the expressionism movement I feel a lot of emotion in this image.

Cubism was a new approach which represented a reality that was invented in Paris around 1907-1914 by Pablo Picasso and George Braque. They offered a new aspect of looking at the world. They would bring different views of subjects which were usually either objects or figures together in the same picture. This then followed into paintings that appeared fragmented and abstracted. Cubism was the most influential art movement in the 20th century and was called a “revolution in the visual arts” (Britt, 2007) According to tate.org, “Cubism opened up almost infinite new possibilities for the treatment of visual reality in art and was the starting point for many later abstract styles including constructivism and neo-plasticism” (Tate.org, n.d.)

Cubism was partly influenced by the work of Paul Cezanne. He was seen to be painting things from a slightly different viewpoint and Picasso was inspired by African tribal masks which were either highly stylised or non-naturalistic. There were two different phases. The first phase was the Analytical Cubism which ran from 1908- 1912. This type of cubism was “made up of an interweaving of planes and lines in muted tones of blacks, greys and ochres” (Tate.org) The image on the left is By Picasso – Girl with A Mandolin, 1910. He uses soft gradations of grey and golden brown which matches the colour scheme for analytical Cubism.

Synthetic Cubism came straight after and ran from 1912-14 and was to be described as using “simpler shapes and brighter colours” (Tate, n.d.) This type of cubism started when artists would experiment with different textures and patterns in their paintings. They often included real elements such as newspapers and patterned paper to create collages. The image to the right is also by Picasso titled Bowl of a fruit, Violin and Bottle, 1914. This Is a prime example of synthetic cubism as he used different types of textures to create this piece. He uses a combination of painting and mixed media. He uses painted dots and grains of sand in this image.

Futurism was an Italian art movement that began in 1909. The founder of Futurism was Italian Poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. Paintings of this era used elements of neo-impressionism and cubism to create works of art that expressed the energy and movement of everyday life. The main artists of this era included Giacomo Balla, Umberto Boccioni and Gino Severini. The futurist celebrated the modern world of industry and technology. A quote by Marinetti says “We declare that splendour of the world has been enriched by a new beauty. The beauty of speed, A racing automobile, with its bonnet adorned with great tubes like serpents with explosive breath… A roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace” (GoodReads, n.d.)

The history of the futurists is made up of conferences, debates, events and performances. They also expanded their knowledge in literature, painting, sculpture, architecture, music, films, theatre, fashion and cooking. Futurist artists were influenced by Gabriele D’Annunzio but turned down his narcissistic aesthetics in the agreement of a more dynamic vision of life and art.

The artwork above is called Simultaneous Visions produced by Umberto Boccioni in 1912. He used oil on canvas to create this. According to the Book, Modern Art 1900-1945 – it states that ‘The Simultaneous Visions’ referred to in the title of this Futurist work have much in common with those presented by the Cubists during the same years. They refer to the contemporary presence of different points of views” (Crepaldi, 2007) This explains that there may have been some similarities between Cubism and Futurism due to the movements being similar in the years.

Dada was an art and literary movement that began in 1916 and ended in 1924. It began in Zurich and was formed as a reaction to the first world war. It was mainly influenced by other avant-garde movements such as Expressionism, Futurism, Cubism and Constructivism. It was tremendously diverse with it ranging from performance art to photography, poetry, sculpture and painting. It has influenced many artists around different cities such as Berlin, Hannover, Paris, New York and Cologne. This is an image called The Art Critic which was produced by Raoul Hausmann in 1919-1920. Hausmann was one of the Key figures In the Berlin Dada movement.

Surrealism is defined as “Pure Psychic automatism by which it is intended to express, either verbally or by writing, or otherwise, the true function of thought.” (Klingsöhr-Leroy, 2004: p.6) another definition of Surrealism is “based on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of association heretofore neglected, in the omnipotence of the dream, and in the disinterested play of thought” (Klingsöhr-Leroy, 2004: p. 6) A simpler version of this is Surrealism was a philosophical and artistic movement that explored the workings of the mind (tate.org) their aim was to revolutionise human experience by asserting the value of the unconscious and dreams and by rejecting a rational vision of life. It began in the early 1920s and ended in the 1960s. During the time, Surrealism dominated the years between the wars and was briefly revived in the post-second world war. It had emerged in many different cities such as Brussels, Copenhagen, Prague and London. They then gradually reached more internationally by going to places such as Japan, Mexico and the US. “the word ‘Surrealism’ was originally coined by the French writer Guillaume Apollinaire” (Martin, 1999: p.6)

Surrealism mainly started off as a response to the First World War and came after the Dada movement. Many of their supporters originated from the Dada movement and at some point the two movements co-existed. The image to the left is The Teetering Woman, 1923 (also known as The Equivocal Woman) by Max Ernst. The artist used influences from 19th century illustrated magazines in this particular work.

Between the years of 1929 – 1939, The Great Depression occurred which was then the worst economic downfall in the history of the western world. By the year 1933, 15 million Americans were unemployed and nearly half of the country’s banks have failed. This then created a new idea of surrealism. It was to have been said that the sadness these artists were experiencing influenced them to have the most creative masterpieces.

According to Tate, “Postmodernism can be seen as a reaction against the ideas and values of modernism, as well as a description of the period that followed modernism’s dominance in cultural theory and practice in the early and middle decades of the twentieth century” (Tate, n.d.) it was first used in the 1970s. Pop Art, first came to place in the 1960s and was also the first movement in the Postmodernism era. Other movements in this era included Conceptual art, Neo-expressionism, Feminist Art and the Young British Artists. (Tate, n.d.)

“Pop Art is an art movement that emerged in the 1950s and flourished in the 1960s in America and Britain” (Tate, n.d.) Pop Art reflected the culture as well as fine art, classical literature and music. According to Richard Hamilton, his definition of Pop Art is “Popular (designed for a mass audience), Transient (Short Term solution), Expendable (easily forgotten), low cost, Mass Produced, Young (Aimed at youth), Witty, Sexy, Gimmicky, Glamorous and Big Business)” (Moorhouse, 2007: P.21) It was often described as a reaction against Abstract Expressionism which was seen as intellectual whereas Pop Art was described as fast, fun and tried to bring art back into everyday life. The founding member of the Pop Art movement was a Scottish Sculptor and Artist, Eduardo Paolozzi.

Artists of this movement used images of mass production which originated from advertising, comics, films and books for their work. The images they used interpreted a mixture of irony and humour with the intention to have a wide appeal.

Comics first started in the 1930s but became high in demand in the 1960s. Roy Lichtenstein was huge on comic strips. He started looking at the visual language of comics where he would single out parts of a frame from a strip and replicate it on a larger scale. (Bigham, 2007)

Conceptual Art is “art for which the idea (or concept) behind the work is more important than the finished art object” (Tate, n.d.) It began in the 1960s and usually refers to art made from the Mid-1950s to the Mid 1960s. Artists of this era created works and writings that rejected standard ideas of art and were influenced by the simplicity of minimalism, but also rejected their way of embracing the conventions of sculpture and paintings as the mainstays of artistic production. (TheArtStory, n.d.) it was first used by Sol LeWitt to referenced this movement in 1967. He states that “In Conceptual art, the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist used a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair.” (Tate, n.d.)

This image was created in 1953 by Robert Rauschenberg which is called Erased de Kooning Drawing. Rauschenberg had visited Williem’s de Kooning’s loft and had asked to use one of his work so that he can completely remove thw work that was already there. According to The Art Story, “Rauschenberg believed that in order for this idea to become a work of art, the work had to be someone else’s and not his own” (TheArtStory, n.d.)

According to Tate, Land Art (or Earth Art) is “Art that is made directly in the landscape, sculpting the land itself into earthworks or making structures in the landscape using natural materials such as rocks or twigs” (Tate, n.d.) it was seen as the wider part of conceptual art in the 1960s or 1970s. Land artists would utilise materials that were available at the site they were working on. An example of this is artist Robert Smithson would pick damaged sites for his work, which would suggest renewal and rebirth. (TheArtStory, n.d.) Main artists of this era are Nancy Holt, Walter de Maria, Michael Heizer and Dennis Oppenheim.

The overview perception of art has changed throughout the years of the 20th century. As you can see, many artists have either been inspired by other artists and added their own flair to it, or they have been inspired by different historical and social changes such as the first and second world wars, the great depression etc. Artists used their art to express how they felt about these drastic changes with the hope of the public eye to feel the emotion through their works.


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