The Beginnings of Modernism Modernism is an historical trend of thought that affirms the power of human beings to create, improve, and reshape their environment with the aid of scientific knowledge, technology and practical experimentation – i.e, it is both progressive and optimistic. Growing out of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, it was one the dominant ideologies of the 20thC and continues to underlie and influence contemporary cultural, social and political practices around the world. The term covers many political, cultural and artistic movements rooted in the changes in Western society at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. In essence, the modernist movement argued that the new realities of the industrial and mechanized age were permanent and desirable.
Looking for Perfection
Broadly, Modernism describes a series of reforming cultural movements in art and architecture, music, literature and the applied arts which emerged in the four decades before 1914.
"Just as the ancients drew the inspiration for their arts from the world of nature...so we should draw ours from the mechanized environment we have created."
— Antonio Sant'Elia Manifesto of Futurist Architecture (1914)
Miss Evelyn Leigh Ralliston, of Teaneck, New Jersey winner of the costume contest at the first annual Ectomo Halloween Masquerade Ball, 1919
Change is good
Embracing change and the present, modernism encompasses the works of thinkers who rebelled against 19thC academic and historicist traditions.
They believed that the ‘traditional’ forms of art, architecture, literature, religious faith, social organization and daily life were outdated in the face of the new economic, social and political aspects of an emerging fully industrialized world.
Modern (quantum and relativistic) physics, modern (analytical and continental) philosophy and modern number theory in mathematics date from this period and contributed to Modernist thought and creativity.
Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase
Background to Modernism : The Age of Discovery, Renaissance, Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution
encouraged widespread literacy and
an ever-greater emphasis on the individual
translations of the Bible in national languages
Humanism and the scientific method (The Enlightenment).
reintroduced the observational method of the Ancient Greeks
valorised the democratic system born in Athens
human and individual rights, utopian ideals and new social theories flourished.
New technologies and new understandings of the fundamental laws of nature led to new industries and new wealth.
Global exploration opened up new parts of the world
new classes appeared
mercantile and innovative middle classes
Woodcut by Ambrosius Holbein for a 1518 edition of Utopia by Thomas Moore. The traveler Raphael Hythloday is depicted in the lower left-hand corner describing to a listener the island of Utopia, whose layout is schematically shown above him.
Social change The old European social structures could not survive the onslaught of religious turmoil, an increasingly demanding and powerful non-aristocracy and rapidly changing demographics. The Age of Exploration had opened up new resources and new markets for the burgeoning European economies. Social struggles such as the 30 Year War tore countries apart and nations fought amongst themselves – jockeying for position in Europe and for the lion’s share of the spoils as they carved up the New World, and later much of the Pacific and Asia, into colonies and ‘protectorates.’ Defeat of the Spanish Armada, 1588-08-08 by Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg, painted 1796, depicts the battle of Gravelines.
The Industrial Revolution (18 th -19thC) – money changes everything. Despite the turmoil, in the long term European populations benefited from the flood of new goods, materials and money that poured into Europe. Peasants left their fields and poured into cities, which grew rapidly and chaotically. Traditional family and community structures were shattered and a new kind of class, the urban working class, developed; unshackled and unsheltered by the feudal structures of the past. New mass-production factories, full of machinery operated by women and children working for near starvation-wages, destroyed skilled artisans’ livelihoods. But new technology and new methods of production also created new opportunities and encouraged the growth of universal education. Innovation bred innovation, and science and technology became the pastime of the day for people of all classes.
Advances in knowledge, particularly in the natural and geological sciences, undermined a literal belief in the Bible and a new age of practical secularism began. As the aristocracy became ever more peripheral, destroyed by their own traditions and privileges, democracy began to spread and the middle-classes became ever more powerful. Progress and human endeavor began to replace ‘God’s Will’ as the driver of society. Secularism For an interesting essay and pics about the evolution of the evolution cartoon: http://www.howlandbolton.com/essays/read_more.php?sid=331
Having more…wanting it all: The birth of consumerism Mechanisation made everyone richer (eventually) and everything cheaper, but the Industrial Revolution would not be so called if it had not fundamentally changed society. In the Middle Ages, Sumptuary Laws had made sure that everyone knew their place in society. Only Nobles, for example, were allowed to wear luxurious materials and colours. The high volume cheap production that new machines such as the Spinning Jenny and power-loom made possible needed new markets to be profitable. Now anyone could dress like the rich – or certainly a lot more colourfully than they’d previously been able to. Consumerism was born and with it a new interest in aesthetics. Everyone wanted nice things. The advertising and fashion industries had their modern beginnings at this point.
Modernism and art
New money changed the art world too. Increasingly artists produced for secular and middle-class buyers whilst the old model of religious and aristocratic patronage disappeared. Art’s subjects changed with the change of audience. Once valued primarily as spiritual or imperial statement, art had to find new uses, new markets and new meanings.
Until recently, the word "modern" used to refer generically to the contemporaneous; all art was modern at the time it was made.
For example: In 1437, Cennino Cennini wrote in his ‘Il Libro dell'Arte’ (translated as "The Craftsman's Handbook"), that Giotto made painting "modern”. Giorgio Vasari (Lives of the Artists), writing in 16th-century Italy, referred to the art of his own period as "modern."
Today, however, what we mean when we talk about ’Modern/ist Art’ is the art historical term. Art historically, "Modernism" refers to a period from, roughly, the 1860s through to the 1970s and is used to describe the style and the ideology of art produced during that era. This is one of the reasons that art made since 1970 is generally called ‘contemporary’ no matter what theory it might individually espouse. No art has been ‘modern’ since the 80s.
The Raising of Lazarus, fresco, Arena Chapel, Padua, 1303-6 THIS WAS MODERN ART
Damien Hirst «Beagle 2» Dot Painting 2005. http://www.orbit.zkm.de/?q=node/63 THIS IS NOT MODERN ART. THIS IS CONTEMPORARY ART. Sonia Delaunay Fabric No. I c1928 Paris THIS IS MODERN ART.
Modernism = Formalism?
M odernism has been couched largely in formal terms. Art historians speak of modern art as concerned primarily with essential qualities of colour and flatness and as exhibiting over time a reduction of interest in subject matter (i.e a tendency towards abstraction, minimalism and conceptualism). Many now argue that this concentration on the formal innovations and particular aesthetics introduced by Modernism was an attempt to ignore and devalue the very real social agendas of many of the artists.
Robert Motherwell. At Five in the Afternoon. 1949.
Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue IV 1969-70 Barnett Newman
American Nationalism promoted Modernism
Modernism reached its apotheosis in the ‘50s and ‘60s, by which time it was most strongly associated with the USA and its values.
American Modernist art was abstract art and was heavily promoted internationally by the US Government to assert its own cultural hegemony globally.
Its most fervent and, perhaps, last major theorist was Clement Greenberg.
“ Modernism includes more than art and literature. By now it covers almost the whole of what is truly alive in our culture”
The first half of the 19th century for Europe was marked by a series of turbulent wars and revolutions, which fostered a series of ideas and doctrines now identified as Romanticism, which focused on individual subjective experience, the supremacy of ‘Nature’ and ‘the sublime’ as the standard subject for art, revolutionary or radical extensions of expression, and individual liberty.
‘ Wanderer above the sea of fog’ by Caspar David Friedrich
In search of stimulation…
Romanticism exalted individualism, subjectivism, irrationalism, imagination, emotions and nature - emotion over reason and senses over intellect. Since they were in revolt against the Academy, they favoured the deployment of potentially unlimited number of styles (anything that aroused them).
Francisco Goya - Saturn Eating Cronus (One of the Black Paintings)
The movement basically started as a reaction to the political turmoil of the times, but it was fertilized by the influx of foreign art coming from Canada, Asia and around the world.
Some big names during the period are:
Francisco de Goya
Eug ene Delacroix
Eugene Delacroix - Liberty Leading the People, 28th July, 1830
Left: The Mandrake A Charm - c1785 Fuseli Above: Henry Fuseli - The Nightmare II – 1790
L'art pour l'art'
“ Art should be independent of all claptrap —should stand alone [...] and appeal to the artistic sense of eye or ear, without confounding this with emotions entirely foreign to it, as devotion, pity, love, patriotism and the like“ James Whistler
Young artists increasingly made a virtue of their exclusion from the Salons of the Academies. Some, most wittily, James Whistler, championed the notion of ‘Art for Art’s Sake’ – and insisted that the unique elements of art itself were the proper subject for artists. Hence, rather than simple title his famous painting of his mother with a descriptive title (‘Mother’ for example), he entitled it ‘Arrangement in Grey and Black’ – insisting that it was the compositional and tonal effects that were the content of the painting.
Whistler professed to be perplexed and annoyed by the insistence of others upon viewing his work as a "portrait." In his 1890 book, ‘The Gentle Art of Making Enemies’, he writes:
“ Take the picture of my mother, exhibited at the Royal Academy as an "Arrangement in Grey and Black." Now that is what it is. To me it is interesting as a picture of my mother; but what can or ought the public to care about the identity of the portrait?”
James McNeill Whistler, 1871 Oil on canvas 144.3 × 162.4 cm, 56.8 × 63.9 in Mus ee d'Orsay, Paris More about Whistler http://en. wikipedia . org/wiki/James_McNeill_Whistler
Realism – just looking
Parallel to the activities of aesthetes like Whistler were the activities of the Realists. Taking their cue from the vibrant genre and symbolic but exquisitely precise still-life painting of 16 th and 17 th Dutch art painting and from the observational informality of English painter Constable’s rural painting, a group of French artists formed what became known as the Barbizon School after the village they first gathered.
They sought to draw inspiration directly from nature. Natural scenes became the subjects of their paintings rather than mere backdrops to dramatic events. One of them, Jean-Fran oi s Millet, extended the idea from landscape to figures — peasant figures, scenes of peasant life, and work in the fields.
In The Gleaners (1857), Millet portrays three peasant women working at the harvest. There is no drama and no story told, merely three peasant women in a field.
The Gleaners. Jean-Fran oi s Millet. 1857. Mus ee d'Orsay, Paris.
Pre-Raphaelites: Old-school Realists
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of English painters, poets and critics, founded in 1848 by John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt. They wanted an art of spiritual realism and opposed the materialism of their time.
They thought Art had lost its way, had become false, formulaic and decadent. And they knew who to blame – R aphael. It was all his fault, what with his smooth Classical illusions and charmingly elegant compositions. They would look at nothing that came after him, instead basing their work on the ‘true’ earlier artists (hence pre-Raphaelite).
They also strongly objected to the influence of Sir Joshua Reynolds, the founder of the English Royal Academy of Arts. They called him "Sir Sloshua", believing that his broad technique was a sloppy and formulaic form of academic Mannerism. In contrast they wanted to return to the abundant detail, intense colours, and complex compositions of Quattrocento Italian and Flemish art.
Persephone , by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
The Pre-Raphaelites emphasised the personal responsibility of individual artists to determine their own ideas and method of depiction. Influenced by Romanticism, they thought that freedom and responsibility were inseparable.
Paradoxically, they were particularly fascinated by Medieval culture. They believed it had a spiritual and creative integrity lost in later eras. This emphasis on medieval culture was to clash with the realism promoted by their stress on independent observation of nature.
In its early years, the Pre-Raphaelites believed that the two interests were consistent with one another, but in later years the movement divided in two directions.
The realist side was led by Hunt and Millais, while the medievalist side was led by Rossetti and his followers, Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris. This split was never absolute, since both factions believed that art was essentially spiritual in character, opposing their idealism to the materialist realism associated with Courbet .
Hylas and the Nymphs: John William Waterhouse, 1896 Burne-Jones The Arming of Perseus (unfinished), 1885,
These dual movements; one emphasising aesthetics, the other insisting on close attention to nature and observation, came together in the Impressionists.
Another major influence was Japanese art prints (Japonism), which had originally come into France as wrapping paper for imported goods. The art of these prints contributed significantly to the "snapshot" angles and unconventional compositions which would become characteristic of the movement.
View of Mount Fuji from Satta Point in the Suruga Bay, woodcut by Hiroshige, published posthumously 1859.
Impressionism : seeing with light
Impressionism initially focused on work done, not in studios, but outdoors (en plein air), from nature. We have seen how interest in light and optics exploded at the beginning of the 19thC, leading to the development of new optical technologies such as photography and animation, and to new understanding of the mechanisms of human sensation. The Impressionists, using these new understandings, argued that human beings do not see objects, but instead see light itself.
Characteristics of Impressionist painting include visible brushstrokes, open composition, emphasis on light in its changing qualities (often accentuating the effects of the passage of time), ordinary subject matter, the inclusion of movement as a crucial element of human perception and experience, and unusual visual angles.
The Impressionists relaxed the boundary between subject and background so that the effect of an Impressionist painting often resembles a snapshot, a part of a larger reality captured as if by chance. Photography was gaining popularity, and as cameras became more portable, photographs became more candid. Photography inspired Impressionists to capture the moment, not only in the fleeting lights of a landscape, but in the day-to-day lives of people.
Degas, Ballet Dancers on Stage.
The public, at first hostile, gradually came to believe that the Impressionists had captured a fresh and original vision, even if it did not receive the approval of the art critics and establishment. Impressionism is now the most generally popular art movement ever.
By recreating the sensation in the eye that views the subject, rather than recreating the subject, and by creating a welter of techniques and forms, Impressionism became seminal to various movements in painting which would follow, including Neo-Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, and Cubism.
Initially rejected from the most important commercial show of the time — the government sponsored Paris Salon — the art was shown at the Salon des Refus ee, created by Emperor Napoleon III to display all of the paintings rejected by the Paris Salon. While most were in standard styles, but by inferior artists, the work of Manet attracted tremendous attention, and opened commercial doors to the movement.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir Two Sisters (On the Terrace), 1881
Manet Edo uard Manet is generally considered the first modernist painter. Paintings such as his shocking ‘Le D eje uner sur l'herbe’ are seen to have ushered in Modernism. Edo uard Manet, Le D eje uner sur l'herbe, 18633 Oil on canvas (Musee d'Orsay, Paris)
When Le D eje uner sur l'herbe was exhibited at the Salon des Refus ee in 1863 a lot of people were scandalized. When his painting of Olympia was exhibited the public were even more upset. Night Art picnic with nude from Manet http://www. youtube . com/watch ? v=1OX9PhquTWE For more of Manet’s paintings: Manet http://www. youtube .com/watch? v=rQiD8Wfl7lk Edo uard Manet, Olympia, 1863 Oil on canvas (Mus ee d'Orsay, Paris)
Other Important Impressionists: Paul C eza nne Cezanne was one of the major predecessors of the Cubists and other 20thC art movements. He believed that all reality was built on simple ‘primitive’ shapes. He was interested in the simplification of naturally occurring forms to their geometric essentials, he wanted to "treat nature by the cylinder, the sphere, the cone" (a tree trunk may be conceived of as a cylinder, a human head a sphere, for example). Additionally, the concentrated attention with which he recorded his observations of nature resulted in a profound exploration of binocular vision, which results in two slightly different simultaneous visual perceptions, and provides us with depth perception and a complex knowledge of spatial relationships. We see two different views simultaneously; Cezanne employed this aspect of visual perception in his painting to varying degrees. The observation of this fact, coupled with Cezanne’s desire to capture the truth of his own perception, often compelled him to render the outlines of forms so as to at once attempt to display the distinctly different views of both the left and right eyes. Thus Cezanne‘s work augments and transforms earlier ideals of perspective, in particular single-point perspective. Corner of Quarry, 1900-02 More at: http://en. wikipedia . org/wiki/Paul_C %C3%A9zanne
Claude Monet The most prolific of the Impressionists and the one who most clearly embodies their aesthetic In 1872 he painted Impression, Sunrise (Impression: soleil levant) depicting a Le Havre landscape. It hung in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874 and is now displayed in the Mus Marmottan-Monet, Paris. From the painting's title, art critic Louis Leroy coined the term "Impressionism", which he intended to be derogatory, however the Impressionists appropriated the term for themselves. Art of Monet http://www. youtube .com/watch? v=FPlW1H9m4dc
Mary Cassatt An american-born artist who lived in Paris and participated in four Impressionist exhibitions. As well as practicing the Impressionist aesthetic, Cassatt was important because of her subject matter; the social and private lives of women, with particular emphasis on the intimate bonds between mothers and children. The Child's Bath (The Bath), Mary Cassatt, (1893), oil on canvas, Art Institute of Chicago
Edgar Degas (a realist who despised the term Impressionist, but is considered one, due to his loyalty to the group)
Absinthe , 1876, oil on canvas, by Edgar Degas
The second great 19thC school was Symbolism, a literary and art movement that originated in Belgium and France. Symbolism was largely a reaction against Naturalism and Realism, movements which attempted to objectively capture reality. Spurred on by the increasing mechanisation of the environment, some opted in favour of spirituality, the imagination, and dreams.
Symbolism was marked by a belief that language is expressly symbolic in its nature, and that poetry and writing should follow whichever connection the sheer sound and texture of the words create. The Symbolist movement in literature has its roots in Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil) by Charles Baudelaire. The aesthetic was developed by St eph ane Mallarme and Paul Verlaine during the 1860s and '70s. During the 1880s, the aesthetic was articulated through a series of manifestoes and attracted a generation of writers and artists.
You'd Stick the World into Your Bedside Lane
You'd stick the world into your bedside lane.
It's boredom makes you callous to all pain.
To exercise your teeth for this strange task,
A heart upon a rake, each day, you'd ask.
Your eyes lit up like shopfronts, or the trees
With lanterns on the night of public sprees,
Make insolent misuse of borrowed power
And scorn the law of beauty that's their dower.
Oh deaf-and-dumb machine, harm-breeding fool
World sucking leech, yet salutary tool!
Have you not seen your beauties blanch to pass
Before their own reflection in the glass?
Before this pain, in which you think you're wise,
Does not its greatness shock you with surprise,
To think that Nature, deep in projects hidden,
Has chosen you, vile creature of the midden,
To knead a genius for succeeding time.
O sordid grandeur! Infamy sublime!
Trans. Roy Campbell, Poems of Baudelaire (New York: Pantheon Books, 1952)
Charles Baudelaire (1821 - 1867) and Les Fleurs du mal (Flowers of Evil).
http: //fleursdumal .org/
Symbolist Art Symbolism was a continuation of some mystical tendencies in the Romantic tradition, which included such artists as Caspar David Friedrich, Fernand Khnopff and John Henry Fuseli and it was even more closely aligned with the self-consciously dark and private Decadent Movement. Fernand Khnopff's The Caress, 1887
Symbolist painting The Symbolist painters mined mythology and dream imagery for a visual language of the soul, seeking evocative paintings that brought to mind a static world of silence. The symbols used in Symbolism are not the familiar emblems of mainstream iconography but intensely personal, private, obscure and ambiguous references. More a philosophy than an actual style of art, the Symbolist painters influenced the contemporary Art Nouveau movement and Les Nabis. In the 20thC, the Symbolists were important influences on the Surrealists and Dadaists, whilst their influence can be felt today in artists such as Hirst and Barney, but also in popular culture, particularly horror and fantasy genre books, films and games. Gustave Moreau (1826-1898)
Symbolist Art There were several, rather dissimilar, groups of Symbolist painters and visual artists, among whom Gustave Moreau, Gustav Klimt, Odilon Redon, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Henri Fantin-Latour, Edvard Munch, F eli cien Rops, and Jan Toorop were numbered. Symbolism in painting had an even larger geographical reach than Symbolism in poetry, reaching Mikhail Vrubel, Nicholas Roerich, Victor Borisov-Musatov, Martiros Saryan, Mikhail Nesterov, Leon Bakst in Russia, as well as Frida Kahlo in Mexico, Elihu Vedder, Remedios Varo, Morris Graves, David Chetlahe Paladin, and Elle Nicolai in the United States. Auguste Rodin is sometimes considered a Symbolist in sculpture. Redon, Odilon The Smiling Spider 1881
Gustav Klimt Austrian Symbolist painter and one of the most prominent members of the Vienna Art Nouveau (Vienna Secession) movement. His major works include paintings, murals, sketches and other art objects, many of which are on display in the Vienna Secession gallery. Klimt's primary subject was the female body, and his works are marked by a frank eroticism - nowhere is this more apparent than in his numerous drawings in pencil. These female subjects, whether formal portraits or indolent nudes, invariably display a highly sensitized fin de si ecl e elegance. A section of the Beethoven Frieze
Gustave Moreau (1826 –1898) French Symbolist painter whose main focus was the illustration of biblical and mythological figures.
Edvard Munch (1863 –1944) Norwegian Symbolist painter, printmaker, and an important forerunner of Expressionistic art. His best-known painting, The Scream (1893), is one of the pieces in a series titled The Frieze of Life , in which Munch explored the themes of life, love, fear, death, and melancholy.
Odilon Redon Odilon Redon, a native of Bordeaux, produced a rich and enigmatic corpus: 'Like music', he declared, 'my drawings transport us to the ambiguous world of the indeterminate.’ In contrast with Goya's monsters and Kubin's nightmare visions, his work is imbued with a melancholy passivity. While origins of this disposition must be sought in the artist's experience, the overall effect is entirely consistent with the moods of Symbolism ... : nocturnal, autumnal, and lunar rather than solar. His mature production began around 1875 when Redon entered the shadowy world of charcoal and the lithographer's stone. This period yielded sequences such as [Guardian Spirit of the Waters (1878)] and [Cactus Man (1881)]. Redon made it clear that they had been inspired by his dreams, and they inspire in the spectator a conviction like that of dreams. Redon's art was always commanded by his dreams, but the thematic content of his work over his last twenty years is more densely mythical, brimming with newfound hope and light which rose quite unexpectedly out of the depths of the artist's personality. Guardian Spirit of the Waters, 1878, by Odilon Redon
Jan Toorop (1858 -- 1928) was a Dutch painter whose works straddle the space between the Symbolist painters and Art Nouveau.
Resources Modernism, Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe http://witcombe.sbc.edu/modernism/roots.html Arts: Art History: Periods and Movements: Modernism http://www.dmoz.org/Arts/Art_History/Periods_and_Movements/Modernism/ Modernism and the Arts in the 20th Century: Links http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/avp/cas/fnart/HP/20th_mod.html MIA Modernism (Overview of design movements) http://www.artsmia.org/modernism/ Modernism: designing a new world 1914-1939 (V&A exhibition http://www.vam.ac.uk/vastatic/microsites/1331_modernism/flash.html