20th century Modernism

32 important questions on 20th century Modernism

When is an artwork abstract?

Something is abstract, when it has no connection with reality.

One of the two main principles of Modernist art is the "search for Abstraction".
Why was this a main principle and how does this differ from the art that came before?

  • Modernists wanted to break with the art that came before and be innovative. One way to do this is by using abstraction, because it breaks from all the conventions of reality and realism.
  • This differs from previous art, because all that art had in one way or another a drive to portray things realistically. In order to break with previous art, Modernists went the other direction.

What are the four main Modernist movements, before WW1?

  • Fauvism.
  • Cubism.
  • Futurism.
  • German Expressionism.
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The first Modernist art movements, before WW1, saw artists starting to let go of medium-specificity. What does this mean?

  • Medium-Specificity means that specific materials/techniques were always being used for a particular art medium.
    • E.g., oil on canvas for painting.
    • E.g., carving out would, marble or bronze for sculptures.
  • The first Modernist movements started using other products, which meant they let go of medium-specificity.
    • E.g., Using newspapers in their art with Papiers Collés.

An event in 1905 is seen as the first signs of Modernist art. Can you explain which event his was and what happened there?

  • In the end of 19th century and beginning 20th century, new salons started to emerge in Paris that exhibited art. One of them was the Salon d'Automne (Autumn Exhibition).
    • While Paris was very conservative in what they perceived as art, this salon searched for new and innovative artists.
  • At the Salon d'Automne of 1905, Fauvist art was exhibited.
  • Fauvism is seen as the fist Modernist art movement.

Who was Henri Matisse?

  • Henri Matisse (1869-1954) was a French Modernist painter and is seen as the leader of Fauvism.
  • One of the first to really break with the art of the past and make modernist art.
  • Famously said: "Modern art spreads joy by its color, which calms us."

When the Manifesto of Futurism arrived in 1909, Italy had not been at the central stage of art for quite a long time. Can you explain this?

  • Western art really started and come to flourish in Italy. After the Renaissance and Baroque age, Italian artists had difficulty with the pressure of standing on the shoulders of the great Italian artists of the past.
  • Futurism is a type of Modernist art and the key thing of Modernism is breaking with the art of the past. Therefore, it doesn't surprise that Italy came back into the picture in this time.

What are the key aspects of a Futurist Sculpture?

  • Tried to bring time, space and movement together in a sculpture.
  • Deconstructing/abstracting objects in time.

What is German Expressionism?

  • German Expressionism is a Modernist art movement from German speaking Europeans (Germany, Austria).
  • They emphasized on inner feelings and emotions.
    • Modernist by abstracting emotions.
  • Expressed this by using:
    • Simplified shapes.
    • Bright Colors.
    • Gestural Brushstrokes.
  • Were inspired by Fauvism.
    • DIFFERENCE: It might look the same, but Fauvists weren't interested in a deeper meaning or emotions and feelings, only with experimenting with color.
  • Two German schools:
    • Die Brücke (the Bridge).
    • Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider).
  • Difference with Futurism:
    • German Expressionist were very sceptical about their own time and society, instead of celebrating it.

What is Der Blaue Reiter?

  • One of the two schools of German Expressionism.
    • The informal one (i.e., without Manifesto).
  • Originated in 1911 in Munich.
  • Biggest difference with Der Brücke:
    • Der Blaue Reiter is all about expressing spirituality.
  • Modernist because use of Abstraction:
    • Believed spirituality could be expressed without using recognizable elements (e.g., Holy Cross).
    • The idea is that colors and shapes can also invoke emotions, without it having a recognizable meaning (i.e., that you know what the objects are you looking at).
  • Important artist:
    • Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944).
  • German Expressionists pessimistic views of contemporary society: war is coming!

In what way did the way Europeans look at technology change, after the First World War?

  • Before the war, there was a big optimism about the great innovations that helped human civilization further.
  • After the First World War, people had seen what the horrible consequences of new technology could be. The optimism was gone.

Why did the First World War have a larger impact on the art world then WW2?

  • The impact of WW1 was bigger, because of the meaninglessness of this war.
  • There was no real reason for the starting of this war, it was more about nations wanting to show their strength.
    • All the casualties felt meaninglessness --> They died for nothing.

Which period do we refer to, when we talk about the Interbellum?

  • When we talk about the Interbellum, we are talking about the period between the First and Second World War.
    • Literally the "interbellum" between the two wars.
    • 1918-1939.

How would you describe art after WW1 (the Interbellum).

  • Pitch dark pessimism, all pre-war optimism was gone.
  • Escapism became prominent in art.
    • People wanting to escape the horrors of contemporary society.
  • Various avant-garde movements were formed.
  • The existed a peaceful coexistence between abstraction and figuration.

During the Interbellum, Abstraction was still found in Russia and the Netherlands. It had more to do with Utopia's. Can you explain?

  • Abstraction was not used to refer to itself.
    • I.e., Art for art's sake.
  • Abstraction was a new way of perceiving and ultimately transforming the world.
    • The movements tried to improve society.

What is the School of Paris?

  • Group of artists in Paris that return to order during the Interbellum.
    • Paris stayed the capital of art until WW2, because it had become a safe haven for artists from other countries after WW1.
  • Artists were tamed after the war.
    • E.g., Braque, Picasso, Matisse.
  • One particular group of artists was called Les Maudits.

Who were Les Maudits?

  • Particular group within the School of Paris.
    • During Interbellum (1918-1939).
  • French for "the Cursed".
  • About their chosen lifestyle.

What can you tell about the Russian Avant-Garde?

  • Modernist art movement during Interbellum.
  • Ca. 1913-1930.
  • Russian artists wanted to connect with French artists.
    • Russia was always on the sidelines in between Europe and Asya.

Russian Suprematist artist Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935) believed that the Cubists and Futurists were doing exactly the opposite of what he was doing. Can you explain this difference between Suprematism and Cubism/Futurism?

  • According to Malevich, Cubists and Futurists were to depended on the visible reality.
    • Which is true compared to Malevich' extreme abstract Black Square.
  • While disconnecting art completely with reality, though abstraction, it becomes only spiritual, and nobody could use the art for their own (political) agenda.

What can you tell about this CANON painting?

  • Composition with Yellow, Red, Black, Blue and Grey, by Piet Mondriaan.
  • Painted in 1920.
  • De Stijl:
    • flat plane is integral to painting.
    • horizontal and vertical lines.
    • Only primary colors, white, black (and sometimes grey).
    • Simplicity, clarity and peace.
    • Very Elitist.
  • Modernism:
    • Absraction (total Abstraction).
    • Innovative form of: precision, abstraction and purity.
    • Breaking with the past: neo-plasticism.
  • When in Paris in 1911, Mondriaan got attracted to Cubism, which he took to its logical conclusion in this work.
  • In CANON:
    • De Stijl.
    • Difference in state of mind for the Netherlands, who were neutral during WW1.

During the Second World War, the union of the Allied Forces can be called a Reluctant Alliance. What does this mean?

  • It was an alliance of states who had polar idiologies, but came together to defeat a common enemy.
    • Idea of the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
  • Everybody knew that this alliance would seize to exist, when the common enemies were defeated.

Which event marks the end of the Cold War and when did it take place?

The Fall of the Berlin Wall, November 9, 1989.

When was the USSR dissolved?

December 26, 1991.

How does the philosophy of Existentialism translate to art?

  • You cannot hide behind a technology, fixed style or idea anymore.
    • Artist are responsible for their own choices.
    • No Fixed styles --> You have to make your own choice.
    • The only thing an artist needs to do is just "start" creating something.
  • Abstract Expressionism (U.S.A.) is a great example of Existentialism being translated to art.

Not all art, made after WW2, is Postmodern art.
How can we define Postmodern art.

Art is Postmodern, when it has a connection with Postmodernist philosophies.

How did Postmodern philosophy translate to art?

  • Postmodern philosophy culminates in the idea that there is no 'one truth.'
    • Multiple truths coexisting.
  • This translated to the arts in the crisis of legitimation.
    • No more established/fixed rules or conventions that determine what art is or should be.
    • Anything goes.
  • Solution: embrace insecurity and doubt! Avant-Garde!
  • This saw the emergence of cultural industry.
    • End of the 'High arts', starting of the 'pop arts'.
    • Art wasn't only for the elite.

In what way does  this quote by Roland Barthes "Death of the Author" connect with Postmodern philosophy?

  • The "Death of the Author" connects with the Deconstruction of art.
  • The main idea of Deconstruction is, that there is no such thing as a 'one fixed truth.'
  • It then follows that, the meaning of a text is not given by the author, but by the reader.
    • It's up to the reader to decide how he/she interprets the text.
    • This can be totally different from what the author intended. In fact it doesn't really matter what the author thinks.

Who was Jean Baudrillard?

  • Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007) was a French Postmodern philosopher.
  • His philosophy is centered around a new type of society: consumption and media society.
    • I.e., the era of Neo-Capitalism.
    • There is a central role for mass media.
  • Concept of Hyperreality.
    • Because of mass media, we have lost our connection with reality; reality is different from what we see on tv.
    • The reality of the mass media is the 'hyperreality.'
      • I.e., the simulation of reality.
  • Simulacrum.

What is Nouveau Réalisme?

  • Postmodern art style.
    • In category of Art and 'Real Life'.
  • ca. 1960-70.
  • European-French counterpart of Pop Art.
  • About the new ways of perceiving the real.
    • Restore contact between art and real life.
    • The world is one large artwork/image.

What are the characteristics of Political art?

  • Vietnam War (1955-1975).
  • Explicitly political art.
  • Figurative art and photography.
  • Deconstruction visual world.

Which two Postmodern art movements fall under "Environmental Art?"

  • Land Art.
  • Ecological Art

What do you know about Graffiti and Street art?

  • Characteristics:
    • Wide range of expressions.
      • E.g., wildstyle, tags, flyposting.
    • Opposition to establishment institutionalized art world.
    • Unsanctioned public artwork (illegal).
    • Graffiti aesthetic = appropriated by high arts.
  • Postmodernism: art for everyone to see.
  • Artists:
    • Keith Haring (1958-1990).
    • Banksy (1974-now)
      • Artifist. (Activist, artist)
    • Jean-Michel Basquait (1960-1988).
      • First to put graffiti on canvas, bridging art with underground.
    • Judy Baca (1946-now)
      • Great Wall of Los Angeles.

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