MODERN ART MOVEMENTS: AN OUTLINE

 

Impressionists: A very important movement which lasted well into the 1880s and strongly influenced 20th century art.  Important to 20th century art because it formed the background for all the “reactions” to the 19th century.  Great impressionists: Pissarro, Manet, Monet, Cezanne (whose work became a study for Cubism), Renoir…many others, mostly French.  Impressionism was a study of light and particularly emphasizes (but is not limited to) outdoor light.  Many of the Impressionists created great outdoor scenes.  They influenced painters in many other countries, but the movement was centered in France.

 

Music also had a strong Impressionist movement.  It was characterized by the music of Claude Debussy in France, although its roots were older (Franz Liszt’s “Nuages gris” (Gray Clouds) was said to be the first actual “impressionistic” piece, and in fact it does sound much later than the date of its composition).

 

Post-Impressionists:  Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, and Georges Seurat were among the most important Post-Impressionists.  These individuals formed a bridge between Impressionism and later movements.  For example, Van Gogh’s exciting and challenging artwork was almost Expressionist in its emotional content.  Seurat was a Pointillist; he carried Impressionism almost beyond itself in his fascination with daubing paint.  Paul Gauguin was a symbolist.  He used nature to symbolize spiritual or emotional experiences, and was a “naturalist” type painter.  All three of these painters produced fascinating studies in color and light.

 

Art Nouveau was represented by Louis Comfort Tiffany, an American painter and stained-glass wizard, Aubrey Beardsley, an Englishman, and their many imitators.  It was highly decorative.  The movement was succeeded by Art Deco.  An example of art deco is found in and all over the Chrysler Building.

 

The avant garde was an attempt to revolutionize art and society, but it depended very much on the past for ideas and resources. 

 

The music of this period also attempted to be iconoclastic—to tear down forms in order to rebuild them into something new.  The twelve-tone row was invented to take the place of our “normal” diatonic scale.  Late Impressionist and post-Impressionist composers, such as Ravel, borrowed greatly from American jazz forms and Eastern music.  Composers became very much influenced by the World’s Fairs and music began to have a “global” appeal.

 

The Expressionists had a desire to “express” the world, rather than to represent it (p. 16). Movement: E. Kirchner, Heckel, Schmidt-Rottluff and Bleyl, later by Pechstein. German; criticized bourgeois society; desired to abolish all symbolism.  French Expressionists were different: Matisse, for example, sought to express balance and harmony in expressionism, not by violent lines but through the way he placed his objects on the canvas.  Essentially, this movement was similar to that of the movement in music which attempted to tear things apart and put them together again along different lines.

 

Fauves: “Wild beasts”; heterogeeous: Matisse, Vlaminck, van Dongen, Dufy, Braque (who also was a leader in the Cubist movement).  Wanted to rebel against Art Nouveau and the spiritualistic “excesses” of Symbolism.

 

Cubism (1908): Picasso and Braque, Juan Gris in 19ll.  Analyzed Cezanne; fragmented subject and reconstructed on canvas in a formal, geometric reordering.

 

Futurism (1909): Milan. Wanted to destroy everything “stale and out-dated” from tradition and the past, including museums, libraries, cities of art, and so on, to create a new situation based on the myth of the motorcar and speed.

 

Blue Rider Movement: 1911,  Kandinsky and Franz Marc.  Considered Cubism too rational and German Expressionism too socially critical.   The highly spiritualized art of Kandinsky was meant to represent St. George and the Dragon and other Christian/spiritual  themes.  This was a charming and original art, full of color.  A new iconography of sorts, but with more abstraction that the original, very formal symbolism of ancient iconography.

 

Abstract art: From Kandinsky onwards, art became less representative—probably because of fancied competition from the new art of photography.

1910: First Abstract Watercolor, Kandinsky.  Klee, Mondrian, others: The spiritual in Art and Point and Line to Plane were their inspirations (Kandinsky’s work).  Childlike, almost doodle scrawl to total freedom of expression.

 

The twelve-tone composer, Schoenburg, tried to synthesize the art of Kandinsky in his music. 

 

Bauhaus: A German movement in the early 20th century which sought to unite art and industrial design.  Offshoot: Mondrian’s neo-Plasticism.

 

Constructivism: A movement born out of the Oct. Revolution in Russia, seeking to associate social control with art and to promote the communist ideas. Example: Rodchenko’s “Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge.”  Its abstract nature set it apart from social realism.  Russians were constantly looking over their shoulders to see if they were about to be arrested for being too “Western” and modern in their approaches. 

 

Musicians were severely restrained under the Soviet system, certainly up until the death of Stalin.  They constantly watched each other.  That did not prevent some of their great composers from being some of the finest in the world, but it did cause some great composers and performers to come to the West (for example, Rachmaninoff).  On its own account, Russian music attempted to

“express progressive humanist ideas, draw upon the life-giving source of the multinational art of the peoples inhabiting the USSR, and develop further the traditions of the 19th century European classical school” (Lyudmila Polyakova, Soviet Music, Moscow, ca. 1955).  Great composers to remember include Prokofiev and Shostakovitch, whose music dominated the scene almost from the turn of the century until the death of Stalin.

 

Metaphysical painting:  1910, de Chirico reacted against Futurists by painting exact opposite.  Used mannequins, other inanimate objects as subjects. A return to Classicism, but also meta (after)-reality, meta-history, meta-physics.

 

Dada: 1916, developed in neutral Zurich, Switzerland.  Entertainment, pure chance, and total liberty were the decisive elements for making art (35).  Dada was against all artistic and social values.  In NY: Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray were acknowledged Dadaists.  Art was to negate value as nonsense.

 

Surrealism: 1924, Surrealist Manifesto (Andre Breton). Inspired by Sigmujnd Freud and his psychanalytical theories, tried to portray dreams, but not night-dreams; they said art itself was a dream.  Breton, Max Ernst, Magritte, and, of course, Salvador Dali. 

 

School of Paris: France was a free country after WW I and the artists sought to have a free and autonomous art in Paris.  Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Utrillo, Soutine, Chagall, Severini, Roualt…Brancusi, Modigliani, etc. Libertarian and cosmopolitan spirit.  Without a doubt, Picasso reigned supreme, not only over the School of Paris, but over 20th century art in general.  He had any number of imitators, and his lifestyle and political adventures strongly affected artists of all kinds all over the world.

 

Reaction to the Avant-Garde:

 

Realism:  Attempts, particularly in Italy, to react to abstract expressionism, surrealism, etc.  Reality was given priority.  In Germany, New Objectivity was given political significance.  Note that Realism, and Photo-Realism, are very much alive today in the works of Richter and the Wyeths.  This is a powerful and ever-pervasive movement, even though the camera has strongly influenced artists and made many feel that realism is redundant (the “you might as well take a picture” school of painters).

 

Social Realism appeared to promote both Nazi and Communist propaganda by turns.  Large posters appeared in China, Russia, and Germany glorifying various dictators.  Some Social Realism was done in the United States and in Mexico, which, of course, had a different political agenda.  Think about posters promoting US Savings Bonds, participation in the wars, etc.—then multiply these by millions, and you will have an idea of what living in China must have been like under Mao (and still is a bit like today).

 

Op and pop:  These art forms appeared in 50s and 60s.  Op art was the art of optical illusion, and pop art was championed by Andy Warhol, who used comic strips, soup cans, and popular “icons” (such as the Lord’s Supper by Da Vinci) as subjects for his witty and irreverent prints.  A famous example is his muti-portrait of Marilyn Monroe.

 

Happenings:  Again, during the ‘60s, happenings were created to show that the very ordinary (or violent, or absurd) gatherings of human beings were a form of art.  These were idiotically spontaneous at times.  But there is  truth in the idea that when human beings get together to create, art “happens.”

 

Body art continues to the present with kohl drawings and tatoos.  Of course, it was also represented by a couple of women rolling naked in a bucket of blue paint as part of a “happening.”  Whatever it is, body art is very dated; at some future date, those with tatoos will look very outmoded. 

 

Postmodernism is a current phenomenon which attempts to overthrow the art of the 20th century and create something new by synthesizing something new with something old.  Postmodernism is seen in many areas of our lives, but in art, it may be something of a positive phenomenon.

 

Postmodernism also exists in Christian music and worship!  There is a new desire to “take out of the treasury” (of the Kingdom) “things old and new” (Christ).  The result is that Protestant churches are re-thinking such ancient forms as chant, and looking at medieval religious practices as well as trying to line up their worship more closely with that of the Early Church.