Class 1.  Background:  How the 20th Century has Changed Art Materials; What are the Fine Arts?  A Class Discussion!


  1. Media have changed in the painting world.  First there was egg tempera, then there were oils and water colors.  Now, there is a resurgence of interest in egg tempera; oils continue to be used; now “plastic paint” is used as well.  How do these media function and what are their limits?  How does wall painting (the mural) differ from other kinds of paintings?  Briefly mention the problems the mural might present for art conservation.
  2. The media have changed the music world.  Ask the students to talk about 20th century inventions which have changed the music world, and to explain how, in a class discussion.  Bring out the ideas of changes made to musical instruments, including electrification (the organ is a good example, from the bellows and pump organs to electric organs) and modifications of other instruments (both electronic and acoustic) for the sake of greater sound.
  3. The media have changed in the plastic arts, as well.  Talk about the changes in the materials used in sculpture, and the ability we now have to reproduce masterpieces with amazing fidelity.
  4. New materials and methods have changed architecture.  Speed has changed the way buildings look.  Tools to transport and carry materials have changed the way buildings are built.  Heritage:  Sullivan?  Early buildings in New York.  Cast-iron buildings?  Our own school is an excellent example of turn-of-the-century cast iron building.  Please notice the details…Now, compare that to the relative stark exterior of a famous structure such as the former World Trade Center.
  5. Why have some of the changes come about?  Why is it, for example, that with the tools at our command, we have so completely streamlined our architecture, compared with what we could do (theoretically)?  Do you think this “minimalistic” approach has changed or is changing?  Perhaps.  Look at the Winter Garden of the Financial Center, or some of the other more elaborately-designed buildings of today.  There is still a certain amount of minimalism, but postmodernism may suggest a greater interest in the ornate embellishments of long ago.

 About art and artists.

 1.      The state of oil painting, sculpture, and other fine arts at the turn of the century: 

a.      The musical world:  The legacy of Wagner, Debussy (opposing forces); the feeling of the need for a new direction in music.  In America: Ravel is influenced by jazz…the spirituals, jazz, the Gospel song…

b.     The artistic world:  The legacy of the Impressionists.  The beginnings of movements such as Dada, Cubism.  Who in sculpture and architecture? 

c.      How about drama, literature, dance? 

Musical comedy:  This can be considered with the Gilbert and &Sullivan musicals, followed by George M. Cohen, George Gershwin, Richard Rogers.

Literature: Russians; social concerns associated with industrialism, etc.  How the Nazis and Communists (and others!) have used music and art for propaganda purposes.

Dance:  Anna Pavlova, Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey, Margot Fonteyne, Barishnikov:  Are these “household words?”

Ceramics:  How have materials and styles changed?  As pottery, this is a very important “plastic art” which we use all the time.  How has the influence of Asian art touched American pottery?  How about ornamental ceramics?

Cinema:  From the silent movies and the “silver screen” to talking pictures, Technicolor, almost unlimited computer effects, films have changed dramatically in the last century. 

Other media:  Arte povera caused many things to be used which were not considered worthy of art at one time.

Jewelery:  One great form of design that extends from the elaborate creations of Faberge to the simpler lines of the late 20th century.

Advertising and Industrial design:  From staplers to chairs, design of household furnishings changes all the time.  These designs require keen artisans.

 Question:  When you think of “modern art,” what names, styles, and media come to mind?