"Modern Art" is an incredibly general term that covers about a century of very diverse art forms. One could say that modern art involves a focus on the medium and abstracting, personalizing and changing objects. However none of these can apply to all modern artists, or all genres of modern art.
This node will explore the origins, ideas, and artists involved during the "modern" period, formatted and written so that it doesn't take weeks to read. Although I can easily be an art snob, I have strayed from the typical pretentious language (I feel that art is vastly misunderstood by the masses, and I blame art historians and critics). I would suggest researching any subject that interests you further, there are vast amounts of information not contained in this node. Enjoy!
Includes movements such as Impressionism and Post-Impressionism that crept away from the traditional Greco-Roman trend towards perfection of image.
Two artists involved in the development of modern art before impressionism would include Turner and Whistler.
Turner was a speed fanatic, in the old fashioned sense. He was fascinated by movement. In his paintings (mostly of boats on tumultuous seas, but often of other fast-moving vehicles), Turner very successfully captures the power of motion; emphasizing the danger it poses. Turner would know first hand; he once strapped himself to the bow of a boat in a hurricane, and rode the whole thing out, just to feel it. He was very influenced by technology, especially trains, and the capturing of movement. A famous work, Rain, Steam and Speed uses very gestural strokes in order to portray the movement.
Whistler was an artist that was known for his abstracted paintings that focused on color. The true title of his most famous work, Arrangement in Grey and Black: A portrait of the artist's Mother (known to the public as simply "Whistler's Mother") demonstrates this focus. It is very important to note Whistler's choice to address the formal elements (color, etc.) before addressing the subject. Another important (and much more abstract) work, Nocturn in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket was slammed by a critic saying that Whistler was paid “to fling a pot of paint in the face of the public”*. Whistler sued him for libel, and won, but had to file bankruptcy because of the cost of the lawsuit. Still, it was a triumph for the creative aspect of art. Thanks to Whistler, artists could (within reason) conduct "art for art's sake." Incidentally, the critic went crazy.
Thanks to Gritchka for corrections on this quote
Impressionism-A “club” invented by Degas, consisted of Degas, Monet, Renoir, Cassatt, and others. This group would hold gallery exhibitions hosted by Degas (who was really really rich). Many people considered Edoard Manet to be an impressionist, but this is not the case. Although Manet painted in an impressionist style, he explicitly declined Degas’s invitation to be a part of the group. I will still group him in this category however. The term, “impressionism” was developed by a critic, based on his viewing of Claude Monet’s Impression, Sunrise.This critic was slamming the movement.
The Impressionists typically painted leisure activities of the upper-middle class. This would include boating, picnicking, horseraces, and ballet dancers. Their main focus was the capturing of light, of a particular moment in time, much like a carmera.
Impressionist images are often cropped, or part of the action is cut off. This could stem from photography’s influence on painting. Other stylistic developments in impressionism would include broken brush strokes, and a change in perspective (an influence from both photography and Japanese prints).
Manet was a part of the Salon de Refuses in France, an exhibition of Salon Naturalist artists that were rejected from the standard academic salon. Manet’s paintings were often very controversial because of the use of space, and the use of nude women in inappropriate context (for example, in a park, with clothed men). Manet's Olympia was voted the equivlent of "worst in show" because of both its content (a well known prostitute with a cat (French slang isn't that different from American in that cats and vaginas were related) and a black woman (Africans were thought to be unnaturally sexual) and because of its flat paint.
Degas was the inventor of Impressionism as a club. He personally funded all exhibitions. Degas was quite a snob and, unlike most of his counterparts, refused to paint outside. He frequently painted pictures of ballerinas, who, in late 19th century France, tended to double as prostitutes. As stated, impressionism focused on the leisure activities of the upper middle class, so, although the prostitutes were lower class, they formed the leisure activities of the upper-class males.
Monet focused on painting atmosphere. He made an effort to show the influence of light in paintings by painting the same things over and over again, using different colors. He is most famous for his water lilies and haystacks. Eventually ditched the impressionists with Renoir to work on color theory paintings.
Renoir tended to paint flickering light. Most famous for paintings of families in the park.
Cassat was “close friends” with Degas, probably because they were both rich. Marie Cassat only got to become an artist because of her family’s neverending funds. Cassat was very interested in Japanese prints, and studied them greatly. (This was becoming a trend in the artistic community in France). Cassat painted many portraits of mothers and children, simply because it was what she was around.
Post-Impressionism is simply a reaction to impressionism, in either an emotional or an intellectual way. Emotional artists include Van Gogh and Gauguin, Several characteristics of this movement are symbolism (due to dreams, drugs, or religion), cloisonism (a black outline around the figures) and primitivism (trying to find a society that was back to the basics) Intellectual artists include Seurat, Cezanne, and Toulouse-Lautrec. These painters concentrated on geometry and color theory.
Van Gogh was a crazy epileptic artist believed by some to have schizophrenia. Originally wanted to be a priest, but was rejected from the field. Had several failed relationships with women (ended up getting syphilis), and decided he had to be an artist. He and Gauguin shared a yellow house in Arles, France, where they painted obsessively, until Van Gogh cut off his own ear and gave it to a prostitute. He was institutionalized, and eventually commit suicide. Incidentally, his most famous works, Starry Night and many sunflower paintings, were completed during his institutionalization. Van Gogh used swirling brushstrokes to emphasize his insanity. Watch out if you are fortunate enough to have enough money to contemplate buying a Van Gogh, he is one of the most bootlegged artists on the market. Don’t buy a fake!
Gauguin painted flattened forms, and abstracted them quite a bit. Eventually he moved to an island where he was quite content living around natives (he was fascinated by their “uncorrupted” culture (that the women didn’t wear clothes).
Seurat invented pointillism and “neo-impressionism” or intellectual impressionism, and used it in a color theory atmosphere. “Seurat does dots” was the mnemonic device I learned. His most famous painting, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Le Grande Jatte (you know the one in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) is comprised of various dots combining to trick the eye into believing certain colors were complete.
Cezanne often painted still lives and landscapes with a very geometric aspect to them. Influenced Cubism greatly.
Toulouse-Lautrec (or the dwarf in Moulin Rouge) painted lots of advertising art, in addition to his portrayal of bars and whorehouses (including the Moulin Rouge). Although Toulouse-Lautrec was short in stature, he made up for it in other areas. He was nicknamed “tripod” because of the large size of his penis (there are pictures). He often used obscure colors in his paintings.
Expressionism used color and line to convey emotion and significance in a painting. Expressionism in France was known as Fauvism meaning “Wild Beast”, which used lots of orange, pink and green. There are two types of expressionism in Germany, known as Die Brücke, or “the bridge” and Der Blaue Reiter or “the blue rider”.
Fauvism was developed in France by artists such as Matisse, who painted things such as harmony in red.
Die Brücke was developed by artists following Van Gogh’s influence. Die Brücke artists painted in a very angular motion.
Der Blaue Reiter was developed by artists who compared art to music. Many of these paintings were called “improvisations” or “preludes.” This art was very theoretical.
Matisse was the primary fauvist, he painted very whimsical scenes, using color to be sensual. Later in life, Matisse switched styles drastically, dabbling in various movements. His works influenced abstract expressionism greatly (particularly the color-field variety)
Kirchner focused mainly on the idea that art could teach a lesson. He often painted prostitues using scary angular techniques and lots of dark colors (to contrast very deeply with Matisse’s expressionism).
Kandinsky was very interested in music, and painted quite a few nocturnes in his day. Most of his forms are nearly unrecognizable to the viewer, so each person to look at a Kandinsky would take away something different. Kandinsky was very theoretical and wrote several (boring) books about color theory and art.
Marc focused on animal power in his painting. His masterpiece is considered to be “large blue horse.” Marc believed that he could achieve inner harmony through his representations of animals. He also color coded the objects in his painting, blue meaning masculine, red meaning earth, and yellow meaning feminine. As you can tell, he considered men to be strong, (as in a horse).
Cubism developed from Cezanne’s geometry plus the passage of time. The primary cubist artist is Pablo Picasso, who is accredited with inventing the movement. However, Picasso was living with a man named Braque, and they painted together quite often. For awhile they were not signing their works, and Picasso took credit for the movement (even though it is possible Braque could have started it).
There are three types of Cubism, Analytic, Synthetic, and Decorative. Analytic cubism’s forms dissolved into the background, and used tonal colors. Synthetic cubism added collage to fool the viewer, and Decorative cubism used bright colors and a Seurat-like pointillism.
Braque possible inventor of cubism. Not too much is known about Braque. He pretty much kept quiet while Picasso stole his glory.
Picasso wasn’t the most honest guy. Not only did he potentially steal credit for an entire movement, he stole Egyptian ruins from the pyramids, and appropriated shapes from African masks. Pablo Picasso was afraid of going blind from Syphilis, and was therefore afraid of prostitues (he still went to them). He painted pictures as a form of voodoo against the whores. Les Demoiselles de Avignon was a painting of prostitues wearing African masks. This is one of the earliest paintings to show the passage of time in a cubist way. Picasso had several phases, his blue phase was realistic and depression, his rose period much like the blue phase, only more lighthearted. Circus folk were in many of these painting. He then went into Cubism, Surrealism, and countless other movements, eventually working in line drawings.
MOVEMENTS RELATED TO CUBISM
Orphism- Color cubism similar to Seurat’s color theory added to cubism.
Tubeism- Cubism attitude painted instead with tubular shapes (usually demonstrating fear of technology).
Pureism - Cubism in a pure, architectural manner, often with still lives.
Futurism- Italian movement associated with politics and anarchy. In this movement, war is good. There was not very much geometry in these paintings, but they showed the passage of time rather well. A famous artist in this movement is Balla, who painted dynamism of a dog on a leash
Constructivism- Russian movement focusing on art that was functional and useful. Used modern materials.
Suprematism- philosophy: ART DOESN’T NEED TO TEACH!!! This art was not representations of natural appearances, the art was used to express pure artistic essence. There were no alterior motives, no emotions or opinions. There were certain shapes that were more highly regarded by suprematists, the square was considered perfect. Famous artist Malevich painted White on White, a painting of two squares on top of each other, both are white.
Neo-Plasticism artists believed that harmony in art would lead to harmony in society. Mondrian was the main artist in this movement, he painted various compositional artworks using primary colors and black lines. Squares were very prevalent. Famous works include Composition with Red, Blue and Yellow and Broadway Boogie Woogie
Precisionism- abstraction-based American movement that was interested in American popular culture. This was clearly the predecessor to Warhol's Pop-Art.
Sculpture Brancusi's Bird in Space shows a bird without wings (as in the wings are at its side). This sculpture was refused entry into the United States because it was thought to be not art, but a clever means of smuggling precious metals into the country without paying taxes. Brancusi (obviously) took offense to this, and took it to court. The trial was essentially designed to decide whether or not this sculpture was art. After long deliberation, they finally decided it could potentially have artistic merit. Another legal triumph for art!
Bauhaus and International Style of Architecture used glass wall architecture with steel frames, almost all windows. The domino model was also developed, stacking of levels was invented. This is the prototype for most apartment buildings, and was the predecessor to skyscrapers.
Frank Lloyd Wright was known for more modernist architecture, he used a lot of blocky forms, with line being a primary element. He was known for being more of an “artist” than an architect, as many of his works (such as the Kauffman House, or Falling Water) are falling apart. Used reinforced concrete and cantilevers in many of his buildings.
Dada is a movement developed originally as an Improvisational Theatre. As an artistic movement, it was considered “anti-art”. The artists focused on random images, and were very interested in “outsider art” from untrained artists. They also often used found objects in their work. The term “Dada” was chosen randomly in the dictionary, it is French for “hobbyhorse”.
Man Ray made “Gift,” a sculpture of an iron with spikes on it. It was meant to be useless. This was a ready-made aided work, basically, a work that used a found object that the artist has added something to.
DuChamp - was probably the most influential Dada artist. He started out in Cubism (painted Nude Descending a Staircase) then switched to Dada. He was known for taking a urinal and signing it. He also painted a moustache on the Mona Lisa, and wrote L. H. O. O. Q. at the bottom, which, when read in the French alphabet, means (in French) “She has a hot ass” or, “She has a hot asshole”. Marcel DuChamp was the original artist to accuse Leonardo da Vinci of painting himself into the Mona Lisa. DuChamp was quite interested in the idea of Da Vinci being a cross dresser, because, by night, Marcel DuChamp was Marie DuChamp
Surrealism used the randomness of Dada and the otherworldly reality of Sex, Drugs, and Dreams. Surrealists were very interested in Freudian ideas. They also thought of circular logic quite a bit.
Dalí was perhaps the most well-known surrealist painter. He was very interested in dreams and the subconscious. He had forms melting into another, stark landscapes, and ridiculous precision. His most famous work is The Persistence of Memory where clocks are melting. This work shows that time doesn’t matter when you’re asleep. Other awesome Dalí works include Metamorphosis of Narcissus, The Great Masturbator and Cannibalism in Autumn. Dalí was quoted as saying “I do not take drugs, I am drugs”. Later in his career, he made a telephone out of a lobster, and a couch out of a pair of lips. He was known for his moustache, which he claimed was his antenna to talk to aliens.
Magritte was another surrealist painter who was known for painting Ceci nes pas un pipe (This is not a pipe). This painting (which clearly does show an image of a pipe) could be viewed as quite postmodern, (although it was not intended to be at the time) because of its use of language. There are three ways to look at this work. The first is that Magritte is tricking us; making a joke. Obviously, this is a pipe, so it's just weird that Magritte would say otherwise. The second has to do with the French language. As you may have noticed, the French have a fairly sexual sense of humor. Their language is filled with puns and euphamisms. In French, "pipe" is slang for "penis" (quite Freudian, eh?). So, by saying "this is not a pipe," perhaps Magritte is saying "this is not a penis" (and clearly there is no penis depicted in the work). The third interperetation (which was likely unintended by Magritte in this work, capitalized on in his later works) is that "This is not a pipe" is absolutely true. It is not a pipe on the canvas. It is a picture of a pipe. Which gets into all sorts of nonsense regarding the symbolic nature of language, and the idea that we can never truly express anything perfectly through language, etc. etc. this is for another node.
This movement was a combination of realism and characature exaggeration used in Germany to get at social issues. They often portrayed doctors as evil and sadistic.
The WPA hired several artists to portray America in the Depression to show the people that they cared. These artists could be anyone from photographers to muralists, they were meant to either a.) create propaganda or b.) point out obvious problems. During this time period, there were two other ideas going around in America; city anxiety and country nostalgia.
City Anxiety would often show the cities as barren and isolating, creating a feeling of loneliness. Country Nostalgia showed lush, green farms, and white painted houses as a way of remembering the “good old days”.
Lange was a photographer employed by the WPA to take pictures of the migrant workers in their camps. She showed that art can report news and vice versa.
Rivera, a Mexican muralist commissioned by the United States, painted the Detroit Industry, as propaganda, to show the country folk that there were jobs up north. This was a lie, since people couldn’t afford cars, there was no point in making them, but it helped to restore some faith in the economy. Rivera married Frida Kahlo.
Hopper was the main “city anxiety” painter, his most famous work is Nighthawks. The sidewalks are completely smooth, the diner is immaculately clean. All characters are in their own realities. It provides a sickeningly sterile environment where friendliness is a way of the past.
Wood was the painter of American Gothic a very country-nostalgia-type painting. This painting illustrates the great American morals and ethics, a pristine white house, hard working people, and religion. After all, the Gothic period was a time in history where everything revolved around religion.
New York became the new center for art after the armory show, where contemporary European modernist art was displayed.
Abstract expressionism was the idea of using non-objective and barely recognizable forms to express emotions. These were often called gesture paintings. There were three types of Abstract Expressionism: Action painting, Color Field Painting, and Figural Abstract Expressionism
Action Paintingwas the art of the brushstrokes. The main component of this was line. Action painting has been thought of as a combination of Mexican Muralist painting, Navajo Sand Paintings, and Asian paintings.
Color Field Painting uses a limited number of colors to create a spiritual element. This movement is –not- to be confused with minimalism.
Figural Abstract Expressionism was a combination of action painting and recognizable forms.
Pollock, the granddaddy of action painting, an alcoholic. Now the object of an Oscar-nominated movie. Pollock would splatter house paint on a giant canvas on the floor. He would be throwing paint while smoking and drinking, and would often be so violent that cigarettes, alcohol, blood and broken glass are embedded in most of his works. When Pollock had covered the canvas with paint, he would crop it, taking only his favorite part.
Klinewas another action painter, often used black and white lines to create an image.
O’Keeffe was known for painting flowers with very few colors. Got accused of painting the female genitalia instead of her organic masterpieces. Perhaps this is because her husband took nude pictures of her and put her on display in the gallery.
Frankenthaler, a color field painter, would use the “pour” technique where paint was poured on the canvas, and the canvas was manipulated.
Rothko is the artist haunting my art history professor. He was the primary color-field painter, who would do works with a big orange square on top of yellow, or something similar. His works were intended as very spiritual ideas, but often get confused with minimalism.
De Kooning painted violently expressionistic female forms. He was accused of attacking the canvas.
Bacon had lots of issues. He was a homosexual living in northern Ireland that enjoyed S and M. This came out in his art. He painted a reproduction of Velasquez’s Pope Innocent with meat in the background. He used meat in a similar way to Rembrandt. This is important because it shows the conflict between Protestantism and Catholocism. Bacon’s brushstrokes are very visible, you can really see where they are going.
Neo-Dada was basically Marcel Duchamp with a little bit of pop culture added. The Neo-Dadists had more of an optimistic take on Dada. Instead of being “anti-art”, Neo-Dadists believed that anything could be art.
Jasper Johns is the highest paid living artist in history. His controversial art includes his paintings of the American Flags, targets, and cans. Jasper Johns makes an appearance on the Simpsons as a cleptomaniac.
Rauschenberg invented the “combine” painting, a combination of a painting and a sculpture. The point of this was to break down boundaries. One of his paintings featured a fully sculptural ram that was through a tire. Paint was splattered all over this ram and tire, and it really brought up questions. What is it? Painting or Sculpture?
Pop Art originated in England as a general fascination with American pop-culture. This spread to the United States, where ideas like consumerism were attacked and embraced.
Hamilton was a British artist that did the collage Just What Makes Homes So Unique, So Different? which contains images such as a bodybuilder, Ford logo, Tootsie Pop, stripper, Alexander Hamilton, the moon, and T. V.
Hockney was another British artist, concerned with American beach culture. He painted Bigger Spash which could also be considered minimalist.
Lichtenstein was an American artist that was very interested in comic books. His art was a development on Dada, as it used a found object and altered it. Lichtenstein’s works were huge blowups of one frame of a comic, simplified and altered to make some sense. He would translate the medium from ink to oil, adding to the “artistic quality of the works. Perhaps the most interesting aspects of Lichtenstein’s works (in my opinion) is his use of the Ben Day Dots (pixels, for computer people out there) in his artwork. He had to paint every single dot himself. Lichtenstein basically uses two types of comics, war comics (WHAM!) and soap opera comics (Drowning Girl).
Warhol is probably the most famous pop artist. He was known for his silkscreen medium works, particularly of Campbell’s Soup and Marilyn Monroe. Warhol was quoted saying “everyone gets their 15 minutes of fame” and “I want to be a machine” (which he said because many of his works were mass produced). Warhol’s work dealt with consumerism, particularly visual marketing strategies in America (ie facing a product), and the idea of excess. My favorite Andy Warhol painting is 30 are better than 1, where the image of the Mona Lisa is repeated. Basically, if this work of art is so great, why make anything else? Warhol went on to help form the Velvet Underground (a really really good band).
Minimalism used a low differentiation. The art was less art, and more mass produced to distance the artist from the art. An emphasis was made on purity in medium. Brush strokes are bad, subject matter is bad. A painting shouldn’t be part sculpture, and a sculpture shouldn’t be part painting. A sculpture changes space, and a painting is two dementional.
Kelly – a minimalist painter that worked on Red, Blue, Green, a painting titled as to not give it any credit as subjective. These colors were chosen as they are a primary colors of the visual light spectrum.
Flavin was an artist that used light to manipulate space. Usually his art was put into a closet-like space and turned on to flood the whole area with blinding light. His art was not sculptural unless it was turned on.
André was the type of guy to go to a Menards and buy a bunch of tile and lay it on the floor in a geometric pattern. His philosophy was that people would be able to walk on it and ineract with the art. Instead, since it was in a museum, people would avoid it, and it would manipulate the entire space around it.
Post-Modernism is art that breaks down barriers. These barriers could be barriers between the sexes, the media, artistic genres, and the barrier between the artist and the artwork. Post-Modernist art has a dialogue with the past, and pushes towards the future. It encourages viewer participation or interaction. This art began in the 60’s during Vietnam, the Woman’s Rights Movement and the Sexual Revolution.
Post-Modernist art includes (but is not limited to) Graffiti (illegal art, defaces public property), Installations (temporary work created inside a gallery to give the viewer a 3D experience), Site Art (large works of art, artists are commissioned to do a piece of art for a particular place. The artist considers the area around it. AKA “Plop Art”), Packaging (wrapping objects such as cans, bottles and wheelbarrows, viewer asks the question “what’s inside”), Appropriation (depending on your beliefs, “stealing” or “borrowing” another artist’s idea. Good appropriation has a dialogue with the previous art, bad appropriation is simply a copy), Happenings (artist acts as a director, the audience participates and each person takes home a different experience) Performences (artist = actor) and Conceptual art (art makes viewer think).
Judy Chicago was a feminist artist that did a “dinner party” that had the names of thousands of important women’s names that were not properly recognized.
Koons- translated a plastic blowup Easter Bunny to stainless steel. Broke down the barrier between art and pop-culture.
Kruger-- did the photo Untitled (your gaze hits the side of my face) to comment on the power structure set up between women and men. The “gaze” refers to the idea that the viewer is male and the “object of that gaze” is female. The fact that the gaze hits the side of her face shows a rebellion against that. Turning her cheek.
Haring- painted graffiti brightly colored figures all over the place. Eventually he became famous and it was ok, but prior to that, he was arrested.
Christo (Christo Javacheff) was the primary site artist. He started by packaging art, but ended up turning several islands pink, and putting up thousands of umbrellas in California and Japan. These were taken down after they killed some people. Most of the battle in Christo’s art was his methods of raising money to put them up. He did this by selling sketches.
Botero was a Colombian artist to substitute fat people for the subjects in –really- famous works of art (ie. The Mona Lisa, and the Arnolfini Wedding Portrait).
Kike would cut people out of famous works of art and make collages. A good example is Sunday Afternoon Trying to Find The Car where Seurat’s painting is cut up and put in a field of VW bugs.
Current post-modern artists include Weezer (their music video for Buddy Holly in particular), the creators of Southpark, and the Simpsons, and the fashion industry.
Art is forever changing. Right now it is about the “new” and “different”. New ideas are coming up every day. This is just a summary of some of the important modern art that is out there. If anyone has anymore, please send me a message and I’ll add it.
Special thanks to Pedro and Gritchka for helping with typos