Object . Figure . Landscape
“Discuss the three major genres and how they developed in Modernism”
Modernism was an art movement that started in the 1870’s, due to a cultural revolution. It was an era of rapid social change and exciting new art styles, that continued in the Western world until the 1970’s. Modern art was a conscious break from the past and a search for new forms of expression. Modernist artists aimed to depart significantly from classical and traditional forms of art. They wanted to modify traditional beliefs and challenge everything the art world knew. It was a rebellious time of experimentation, both in terms of materials and subject matter. Over the years there was a tendency to move towards Abstraction, as artists became free to do and make whatever they felt like, in more expressive ways. Before this change happened, the classic period of painting was to paint a “view through a window”. The artist would be considered successful if they could give the viewer the feeling they were looking through a frame into the real world.
Driven by various social and political events, such as World War 1, the industrial revolution was influenced by technological advancements such as the invention of the camera. Modernism was a time of change. Artists started to have more access to information through new forms of travel and transport and engagement with the news. Modernism was characterised by the progression of many different styles, as artists continued to be driven by new ideals and the perspective of constant innovation. Some of the most prominent styles were; Impressionism, Expressionism, Cubism and Surrealism. Throughout these different styles the three main genres of art, the figure, the landscape and the object, were adapted and used as the subject for many different artworks.
Expressionism emerged in Germany, around 1905. Artists at the time had an urge for change. They wanted to express their individuality, authenticity and spirituality through their art practice. Expressionism was a time when artists broke away from the conventions of realism and naturalism, seeking to convey experience and feeling in an expressive way. It allowed new standards in the creation and judgment of art. Art was now meant to come forth from within the artist. Modernism encouraged artists to express their own views on the world. Expressionism was a subjective and emotional response to the modern world, with artists painting how they felt instead of what they saw.
Wassily Kandinsky was born December 4th, 1866, in Moscow, Russia. He was a revolutionary Expressionist painter and used his art to express his spirituality. Kandinsky sought to convey human emotion through visual language, in a colourful and somewhat abstract style, transcending cultural and physical boundaries. His painting “Moscow 1” (1916) is an extremely powerful artwork, with many different colours and shapes bursting out in a bouquet of emotion. I can see an urban landscape, a chaotic city depicted in mixed up colours and shapes. It almost appears as if the city is on fire. I can see gravestones and black birds flying into the explosion of sky. This painting has a destructive power to it. When I look at his work I am overwhelmed with different things to look at. Each colour brings a different emotion into my mind. I feel like this painting was his representation of how he felt about all the issues of the modern world at the time, including industrialisation and urbanisation. Even though I see a lot of the world around him in this work, I can also see this inner human emotion coming through. I think Kandinsky was successful in expressing these issues. It’s almost as if I can feel the destruction myself. He paints it in such a light that is intriguing, I want to jump into this explosion of colour.
Abstraction was a central stream of Modern art and started in the 1900s in New York. The word abstract in itself means to separate or withdraw something from something else. Abstract artists sought to break away from traditional realistic representations. Cubism developed out of Abstraction and was at its peak during 1907-1922. Cubism was about abandoning perspective and expressing things from multiple angles, so you almost get dizzy looking at the image. Cubist artists said no more to realism, focusing on bending the reality into multiple viewpoints, fragmenting its appearance and blending the background into the foreground. These artists wanted to represent a response of changing the way they saw movement, space and time. They wanted the viewer to stop being distracted by the structure of form and the density of the central image.
"Cubism is like standing at a certain point on a mountain and looking around. If you go higher, things will look different; if you go lower, again they will look different. It is a point of view." - Jacques Lipchitz
Pablo Picasso was born in Spain, October 25th, 1881. Picasso was a painter, poet, sculptor, printmaker and set designer. He was the co-founder of Cubism and co-inventor of collage. From a young age Picasso was pursuing this talent, with support from his family and at age 16 he moved to France and started attending art school. He died on April 8th, 1973, however his legend lives on, still influencing art to this day.
Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” (1907), is a Modern, Cubist take on the classical female figure. I can see five distorted geometric women. The women appear quite staged, like they’re watching the painter. As I examine this piece I noticed the two outer women have this dark mask-like shadow causing them to look almost evil. Picasso was inspired by African sculpture and masks and I can see the influence in this work. This painting is one of the most famous examples of Cubism, challenging the expectations of idealism in the representation of female beauty. I believe Picasso was trying to convey the problems there were with society’s expectations of women. At this time in the world, women didn’t have the freedom of equality. For “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”, Picasso used five prostitutes as models. I think this says a lot. He could only stray so far from traditional society. He had to find inspiration to do something different from these women who were already straying from society. It’s like he’s fragmenting our perception of women, giving us multiple views. I think Picasso wanted to redefine the way the audience saw the world and the way viewers perceived figures in artwork, particularly female figures.
Cubism is not a reality you can take in your hand. It's more like a perfume, in front of you, behind you, to the sides, the scent is everywhere but you don't quite know where it comes from." - Pablo Picasso
Surrealism was dominant in Paris from 1920-1960. It emerged out of Dadaism, after World War 1. Surrealism rejected logic, reasoning and natural order. Surrealist artists sought to channel the unconscious and unlock the power of the imagination. Andre’ Breton, known as the founder of Surrealism, defines Surrealism in his Surrealist Manifesto of 1924 as “Pure Psychic Automatism.” Surrealism was meant to jolt the viewer out of their comforting assumptions, to shock them. This movement quickly expanded globally and affected not just the art world but literature, film, music, politics, philosophy, and social theory as well. Surrealism was about diving into ones imagination and dreams and pulling out something unexpected, something that challenged the audience to think twice. Salvador Dali’s major contribution to the Surrealist movement was called the “Paranoiac-Critical Method.” This was a mental exercise of assessing the subconscious parts of the mind to have inspiration. He used this method to analyse dreams and the imagination.
Salvador Dali was born in Spain, May 11th, 1904. He was a painter, sculptor, filmmaker, printmaker and performance artist. From a young age, Dali was encouraged to pursue his art practice. Dali was distinguished for his unique, flamboyant personality. He considered himself to be Surrealism itself. Through his art making, he changed the real world to the way he wanted it to be. Dali attempted to express a visual language capable of rendering his dreams and hallucinations. At that time in the world, the rise of Spain’s fascist leader Francisco Franco, led to the artists expulsion from the Surrealist movement. However, that didn’t stop Dali from doing what he loved, which was painting, until he died in 1989.
Dali’s “The Melting Watch” (1954), is a Surrealist painting of a clock shattering and melting from some sort of explosion. It explores Dali’s theory of “softness” and “hardness”. Dali uses colour to transmit emotion, the painting consists of browns, gold and blue. In the background I can see a small cluster of mountains, and in the foreground a large square fading off into the distance. It’s almost unexplainable. It fragments my sense of perception. It’s a very mysterious dream-like piece. The soft watch perhaps symbolizes space and the erratic passage of time, portraying how useless and irrelevant our normal concept of time is inside a dream state. I think he was trying to convey that time passing, brings eventual destruction. In my opinion, he could be commenting on the state of the earth, a ticking time bomb.
In conclusion, the three major genres developed throughout Modernism. The relentless urge these artists had for change, the need for constant innovation, drove a competitive race for expression beyond conformity. Artists like Kandinsky, Picasso and Dali inspired each other to continually break the mold of accepted expression and express landscapes, figures and objects in new ways.
Modernism – from annas handouts
Wassily Kandinsky- Annas handout
Moscow 1- Annas handout
Pablo Picasso information
Pablo Picasso information
Salvador Dali information
Les demoiselles d’Avignon - Google images
Melting watch- Google images
Moscow 1 – Google images