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Research paper example essay prompt: Modernism - 2361 words

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Modernism . Introduction [ ] Print section [ ] Modern Art , painting, sculpture, and other forms of 20th-century art. Although scholars disagree as to precisely when the modern period began, they mostly use the term modern art to refer to art of the 20th century in Europe and the Americas, as well as in other regions under Western influence. The modern period has been a particularly innovative one. Among the 20th century's most important contributions to the history of art are the invention of abstraction (art that does not imitate the appearance of things), the introduction of a wide range of new artistic techniques and materials, and even the redefinition of the boundaries of art itself. This article covers some of the theories used to interpret modern art, the origins of modern art in the 19th century, and its most important characteristics and modes of expression.

Modern art comprises a remarkable diversity of styles, movements, and techniques. The wide range of styles encompasses the sharply realistic painting of a Midwestern farm couple by Grant Wood, entitled American Gothic (1930, Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois), and the abstract rhythms of poured paint in Black and White (1948, private collection), by Jackson Pollock. Yet even if we could easily divide modern art into representational works, like American Gothic, and abstract works, like Black and White, we would still find astonishing variety within these two categories. Just as the precisely painted American Gothic is representational, Willem de Kooning's Marilyn Monroe (1954, private collection) might also be considered representational, although its broad brushstrokes merely suggest the rudiments of a human body and facial features. Abstraction, too, reveals a number of different approaches, from the dynamic rhythms of Pollock's Black and White to the right-angled geometry of Composition with Red, Yellow, and Blue (1937-1942, Tate Gallery, London) by Dutch painter Piet Mondrian , whose lines and rectangles suggest the mechanical precision of the machine-made.

Other artists preferred an aesthetic of disorder, as did German artist Kurt Schwitters, who mixed old newspapers, stamps, and other discarded objects to create Picture with Light Center (1919, Museum of Modern Art, New York City). Thus 20th-century art displays more than stylistic diversity. It is in the modern period that artists have made paintings not only of traditional materials such as oil on canvas, but of any material available to them. This innovation led to developments that were even more radical, such as conceptual art and performance artmovements that expanded the definition of art to include not just physical objects but ideas and actions as well. [ ] II. Characteristics of Modern Art [ ] Print section [ ] In view of this diversity, it is difficult to define modern art in a way that includes all of 20th-century Western art. For some critics, the most important characteristic of modern art is its attempt to make painting and sculpture ends in themselves, thus distinguishing modernism from earlier forms of art that had conveyed the ideas of powerful religious or political institutions. Because modern artists were no longer funded primarily by these institutions, they were freer to suggest more personal meanings.

This attitude is often expressed as art for art's sake, a point of view that is often interpreted as meaning art without political or religious motives. But even if religious and government institutions no longer commissioned most art, many modern artists still sought to convey spiritual or political messages. Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky , for instance, felt that color combined with abstraction could express a spiritual reality beneath ordinary appearances, while German painter Otto Dix created openly political works that criticized policies of the German government. Another theory claims that modern art is by nature rebellious and that this rebellion is most evident in a quest for originality and a continual desire to shock. The term avant-garde, which is often applied to modern art, comes from a French military term meaning advance guard, and suggests that what is modern is what is new, original, or cutting-edge. To be sure, many artists in the 20th century tried to redefine what art means, or attempted to expand the definition of art to include concepts, materials, or techniques that were never before associated with art.

In 1917, for example, French artist Marcel Duchamp exhibited everyday, mass-produced, utilitarian objectsincluding a bicycle wheel and a urinalas works of art. In the 1950s and 1960s, American artist Allan Kaprow used his own body as an artistic medium in spontaneous performances that he declared to be artworks. In the 1970s American earthwork artist Robert Smithson used unaltered elements of the environmentearth, rocks, and wateras material for his sculptural pieces. Consequently, many people associate modern art with what is radical and disturbing. Although a theory of rebellion could be applied to explain the quest for originality motivating a great number of 20th-century artists, it would be difficult to apply it to an artist such as Grant Wood, whose American Gothic clearly rejected the example of the advanced art of his time.

Another key characteristic of modern art is its fascination with modern technology and its embrace of mechanical methods of reproduction, such as photography and the printing press. In the early 1910s Italian artist Umberto Boccioni sought to glorify the precision and speed of the industrial age in his paintings and sculptures. At about the same time, Spanish painter Pablo Picasso incorporated newspaper clippings and other printed material into his paintings in a new technique known as collage . By the same token, however, other modern artists have sought inspiration from the spontaneous impulses of children's art or from exploring the aesthetic traditions of nonindustrialized, non-Western cultures. French artist Henri Matisse and Swiss artist Paul Klee were profoundly influenced by children's drawings, Picasso closely observed African masks, and Pollock's technique of pouring paint onto canvas was in part inspired by Native American sand painting.

Yet another view holds that the basic motivation of modern art is to engage in a dialogue with popular culture. To this end, Picasso pasted bits of newspaper into his paintings, Roy Lichtenstein imitated both the style and subject of comic strips in his paintings, and Andy Warhol made images of Campbell's soup cans. But although breaking down the boundary between high art and popular culture is typical of artists like Picasso, Lichtenstein, and Warhol, it is not of Mondrian, Pollock, or most other abstract artists. Each of these theories of course, is compelling and could explain a great many strategies employed by modern artists. Yet even this brief examination reveals that 20th-century art is far too diverse to be fully contained within any one definition.

Each theory can contribute a part to the puzzle, but no single theory can claim to be the solution to the puzzle itself. [ ] III. Origins [ ] Print section [ ] Art of the late 19th century anticipated many of the characteristics of modern art noted above. These include the idea of art for art's sake, the focus on originality, the celebration of modern technology, the fascination with the primitive, and the engagement with popular culture. [ ] A. Impressionism [ ] Print section [ ] Modern art's celebration of art for art's sake was initiated by French artists associated with impressionism , including Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, and Berthe Morisot. Abandoning direct references to religious and historical subjects, many of the impressionists broke away from the French art establishment in the 1870s and exhibited their paintings independently, anticipating the modern desire for independence from established institutions.

In painting scenes of everyday life, especially life in local bars and theaters, the impressionists anticipated modern art's interest in popular culture. In depicting railroads, bridges, and examples of the new cast-iron architecture, they anticipated modern art's fascination with technology. And by pioneering new artistic techniques (that is, applying paint in small, broken brush strokes) and by intensifying their colors, they anticipated the modern fascination with originality. By exhibiting quickly executed works as finished paintings, they forced the public to reconsider the sketch, no longer as a preliminary exercise, but as an end in itself, thereby anticipating the tendency of modern artists to change and expand the definition of art. [ ] B.

Postimpressionism [ ] Print section [ ] In the last two decades of the 19th century a number of artists who had been inspired by the impressionists' style and technique reacted strongly against the impressionist example. These artists, who were eventually called postimpressionists , established a number of alternate approaches to painting, each of which was to have remarkable repercussions for 20th-century art. Paul Gauguin , for instance, rejected the impressionist technique of applying touches of color in separate, small brushstrokes in favor of using large areas comprised of a single color bound by heavy contour lines. This innovation had an impact on Matisse and scores of later artists who used color as an expressive device rather than as a means for copying nature. In 1891 Gauguin decided to settle on the Pacific island of Tahiti, motivated by a desire to leave Western civilization and embrace a simpler form of existence. His work there contributed to the modern fascination with non-Western art.

Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh , a friend of Gauguin, used both color and brushwork to translate his emotional state into visual form. In addition, he infused his paintings with religious or allegorical meanings (black crows as symbols of death, for example), countering the impressionists' emphasis on direct observation. The work of Norwegian painter Edvard Munch was based on the assumption that painting could sacrifice truth to nature for expressive purposes. Munch used harsh combinations of colors, distorted forms, and exaggerated perspectives to give visual form to the alienation of the individual in modern, industrial society. The works of Gauguin, van Gogh, and Munch laid the groundwork for the later development of expressionism in 20th-century art. Other postimpressionist artists reacted against impressionism in a different way. French artist Georges Seurat sought to raise art to the level of science by incorporating the latest theories about light and color into his work.

He divided color into its constituents (purple into blue and red, or green into blue and yellow, for example) and applied these colors to his canvas dot by dot. His method, called pointillism, was meant to eliminate all intuition and impulse from the activity of painting. Another postimpressionist, Paul Czanne , sought to introduce greater structure into what he saw as the unsystematic practice of impressionism. Objects appear more solid and tangible in his paintings than in the works of his impressionist colleagues. But despite this increased solidity, Czanne did more than any previous artist to destabilize the integrity of form through subtle distortions and seeming inaccuracies in his many still-life paintings. Objects do not rest comfortably on their bases, vases seen from the front have rims seen from above, and the horizontal edges of tables, when projecting from either side of a tablecloth, sometimes do not match up.

It is almost as if Czanne was dismantling the very solidity he meant to reintroduce to the depiction of objects. Czanne also introduced a radical innovation in works such as his Mont Sainte Victoire (1902-1906, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City): The edge of the mountain opens up to allow areas of sky to penetrate the otherwise solid mountain. With this simple device, Czanne decisively changed the course of art history. Two physical entitiesearth and skybelieved to be distinct and separable were now made interchangeable. The world as it is seen and experienced, Czanne seemed to say, is not as important as the laws of picture making. After Czanne's example, the world of reality and the world of art began to drift apart. The fragmentation initiated by Czanne's work spearheaded Picasso's later experimentation with form and invention of cubism.

[ ] Cultural historians have related the fragmentation of form in late-19th- and early-20th-century art to the fragmentation of society at the time. The increasing technological aspirations of the industrial revolution widened the rift between the middle and the working classes. Women demanded the vote and equal rights. And the view of the mind presented by the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, stipulated that the human psyche, far from being unified, was fraught with emotional conflicts and contradictions. The discovery of X rays, physicist Albert Einstein's theory of relativity , and other technological innovations suggested that our visual experience no longer corresponded with science's view of the world.

Not surprisingly, various forms of artistic creativity reflected these tensions and developments. In literature, James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, and Virginia Woolf experimented with narrative structure, grammar, syntax, and spelling. In dance, Sergei Diaghilev, Isadora Duncan, and Loie Fuller experimented with unconventional choreography and costume.

And in music, Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky composed pieces that did not depend on traditional tonal structure. Music not only took its place among the most experimental of the arts, but it also became a great inspiration for visual artists. Many art critics in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were influenced by German philosophers Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche , who had proclaimed that music was the most powerful of all the arts because it managed to suggest emotions directly, not by copying the world. Many painters of the late-19th-century symbolist movement, including Odilon Redon and Gustave Moreau , tried to emulate music's power of direct suggestion. By including abstract forms and depicting an imaginary, rather than an observable, reality in their paintings, Redon and the symbolists paved the way for abstract art.

[ ] A. Fauvism [ ] Print section [ ] The idea that art could approximate music is reflected in Henri Matisse's Red Room (Harmony in Red) (1909, State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia), a painting whose subtitle is borrowed from musical terminology. From Gauguin, Matisse borrowed large areas of unvaried color, simplified shapes, and heavy contour lines. The simplicity of Matisse's drawing style relates to Gauguin's fascination with the art of non-Western cultures. Matisse also employed the abstract designs of carpets and textiles, reinforcing the flatness of the painting rather than attempting to create the illusion of depth. His interest in these designs demonstrates the influence of forms of creativity not often associated with fine art.

Although Red Room was intended as a pleasing image of middle-class domesticity, Matisse's manner of depiction was considered highly revolutionary, especially in the way he assigned intense colors to objects arbitrarily and not according to their appearance in nature. ...

Related: modernism, human body, virginia woolf, comic strips, psychoanalysis

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