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A history of modern art

There is no consensus as to when modern art began [everyone agrees it began in Paris]. The question cannot be separated from the deeper question of how Modernism is to be defined. The art historian T.J. Clark recently proposed that modern art began with The Death of Marat, completed by Jacques-Louis David in October 1793--but that is because he construes Modernism politically, as art "no longer reserved for a privileged minority." Clement Greenberg thought it began with Manet, whose flat, thinly shadowed forms were derived from photographs--a modern technology of representation. --Arthur Danto, 2000

The most distinguishing feature of modern art revolves around the concept of realism. On the one hand a rejection of photographic realism which was typical of academic art (e.g. Jean-Léon Gérôme) and on the other hand an embrace of social realism (the rejection of allegorical representation of symbolic Romanticism and academic art). [May 2006]

Baudelaire on Delacroix as the originator of modern art: "The majority of the public have long since, indeed from his very first work, dubbed him leader of the modern school." --Charles Baudelaire.

It is from Delacroix that the line of progressive modernism extends directly to Gustave Courbet and Edouard Manet. In the conservative view, Delacroix's Romanticism, Courbet's Realism, and Manet's Naturalism were all manifestations of the cult of ugliness that opposed the Academic ideal of the beautiful. Delacroix, Courbet, and Manet, were each in turn accused by conservatives of carrying on subversive work that was intended to undermine the State. --Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe via http://www.arthistory.sbc.edu/artartists/modernism.html [May 2006]

Parent categories: art - modern - modernism - Industrial Revolution

Articles: degenerate art in Weimar culture - modern art and perversion

Developments in the 19th century: Eugène Delacroix (precursor) - Théodore Géricault (precursor) - Social Realism (Courbet, Millet, Daumier...) - Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe (1863) - Olympia (1865) - Impressionism - Salon des Refusés - Gustave Courbet - Claude Monet - Édouard Manet - Symbolist art

Developments in the 20th century: Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907) - Pablo Picasso - Armory show (1913) - abstract art - Abstract Expressionism - anti-art - Art Brut - Conceptual art - Cubism - Dadaism - Expressionism - Fauvism - Futurism - media art - Pop art - Surrealism - Marcel Duchamp - Pablo Picasso

Connoisseurs: Arthur C. Danto - T.J. Clark - John Berger - Rosalind E. Krauss

Preceded by: Romanticism

Olympia , 1863 - Edouard Manet (Oil on canvas, 130.5 x 190 cm, Musee d'Orsay, Paris)


Modern Art is a general term, used for most of the artistic production from the late 19th century until approximately the 1970s. (Recent art production is more often called contemporary art). Modern art started in France of the mid-19th century when Paris was the capital of modernity. The term modern art refers to a new approach to art where it was no longer important to literally represent a subject (through painting or sculpture) -- the invention of photography had made this function of art obsolete. Instead, artists started experimenting with new ways of seeing, with fresh ideas about the nature, materials and social functions of art, often moving towards further abstraction. Additionally, the rise of the art patronage of the bourgeoisie - the new middle class which arose after the French revolution - played a major part in the emerging art world. Names in early modern art are Delacroix, Courbet, Manet and Claude Monet. A possible exception to this French hegemony is William Turner. whose Rain, Steam and Speed (1844) was a precursor in both style and content. [Apr 2006]

See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_art

Faultlines in 20th century art

[May 2006]

Roots in the 19th century

Modern art began as a Western movement, particularly in painting and printmaking, and then expanding to other visual arts, including sculpture and architecture in the mid-19th century. By the late 19th century, several movements which were to be influential in modern art had begun to emerge: Impressionism, centered around Paris, and Expressionism, which first emerged in Germany.

The influences were varied: from exposure to Eastern decorative arts, particularly Japanese printmaking, to the colouristic innovations of Turner and Delacroix, to a search for more depiction of common life, as found in the work of painters such as Millet. At the time, the generally held belief about art is that it should be accurate in its depiction of objects, but that it should be aimed at expressing the ideal, or the domestic. Thus the most successful painters of the day worked either through commissions, or through large public exhibitions of their own work. There were official government sponsored painters' unions, and governments regularly held public exhibitions of new fine and decorative arts.

Thus, breaking with idealization and depiction were not merely artistic statements, but decisions with social and economic results.

These movements did not necessarily identify themselves as being associated with progress, or personal artistic freedom, but instead argued, in the style of the times, that they represented universal values and reality. The Impressionists argued that people do not see objects, but only the light which they reflect, and therefore painters should paint in natural light rather than in studios, and should capture the effects of light in their work.

Impressionist artists formed a group to promote their work, which, despite internal tensions, was able to mount exhibitions. The style was adopted by artists in different nations, in preference to a "national" style. These factors established the view that it was a "movement". These traits: establishment of a working method integral to the art, establishment of a movement or visible active core of support, and international adoption, would be repeated by artistic movements in the Modern period in art. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_art [Jan 2006]

Out of the naturalist ethic of Realism grew a major artistic movement, Impressionism. The Impressionists pioneered the use of light in painting as they attempted to capture life as seen from the human eye. Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, were all involved in the Impressionist movement.

Following the Impressionists came Fauvism [term coined in 1905], often considered the first "modern" genre of art. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_art_history [Dec 2004]

Few art historians would call it a coincidence that painting moved from realism to impressionism during the same decades that photography became a public phenomenon. --http://daystarvisions.com/Docs/Rants/Soapbox3/pg1.html [Dec 2004]

Early 20th Century

Among the movements which flowered in the first decade of the 20th century were Fauvism, Cubism, Expressionism and Futurism.

World War I brought an end to this phase, but indicated the beginning of a number of anti-art movements, such as Dada and the work of Marcel Duchamp, and of Surrealism. Also, artist groups like de Stijl and Bauhaus were seminal in the development of new ideas about the interrelation of the arts, architecture, design and art education.

Modern art was introduced to the United States with the Armory Show in 1913, and through European artists who moved to the U.S. during World War I. It was only after World War II, though, that the U.S. became the focal point of new artistic movements. The 1950s and 1960s saw the emergence of Abstract Expressionism, Pop art, Op art and Minimal art; in the late 1960s and the 1970s, Land art, Performance art, Conceptual art and Photorealism emerged.

Around that period, a number of artists and architects started rejecting the idea of "the modern" and created typically Postmodern works.

Starting from the post-World War II period, fewer artists used painting as their primary medium; instead, larger installations and performances became widespread. Since the 1970s, new media art has become a category in itself, with a growing number of artists experimenting with technological means such as video art. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_art [Jan 2006]

Marcel Duchamp's Fountain (1917) world's most influential piece of modern art

Fountain (1917) - Marcel Duchamp

A humble porcelain urinal [Image link] - reclining on its side, and marked with a false signature - has been named the world's most influential piece of modern art, knocking Picasso and Matisse from their traditional positions of supremacy.

The Duchamp came out top in a survey of 500 artists, curators, critics and dealers commissioned by the sponsor of the Turner prize, Gordon's. --Charlotte Higgins, arts correspondent, Thursday December 2, 2004, The Guardian

Shift from Paris to New York

Modern art was introduced to America during World War I when a number of the artists in the Montmartre and Montparnasse Quarters of Paris, France fled the War. Francis Picabia (1879–1953), was responsible for bringing Modern Art to New York City. It was only after World War II, though, that the USA became the focal point of new artistic movements.

Contemporary art

Contemporary art should not be confused with modern art - the former is art being created today and the art of roughly since the early seventies, while the latter generally refers to art from the mid-19th century until the 1970s. Contemporary art is characterized by its extreme diversity and the apparent lack of specific movements. [Apr 2006]

The Painting of Modern Life - Timothy J. Clark

The Painting of Modern Life - Timothy J. Clark [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

The Paris of the 1860s and 1870s was supposedly a brand-new city, equipped with boulevards, cafés, parks, and suburban pleasure grounds--the birthplace of those habits of commerce and leisure that constitute "modern life." Questioning those who view Impressionism solely in terms of artistic technique, T. J. Clark describes the painting of Manet, Degas, Seurat, and others as an attempt to give form to that modernity and seek out its typical representatives--be they bar-maids, boaters, prostitutes, sightseers, or petits bourgeois lunching on the grass. The central question of The Painting of Modern Life is this: did modern painting as it came into being celebrate the consumer-oriented culture of the Paris of Napoleon III, or open it to critical scrutiny? The revised edition of this classic book includes a new preface by the author. --Book Description via Amazon.com

Not surprisingly, The Painting of Modern of Life has been negatively "reviewed" by every major writer (except Greil Marcus) who has devoted more than a paragraph to it. The manner in which The New York Times responded to it may be paradigmatic: it chose to publish two "reviews" of Clark's book, one devoted to Clark's "politics" and one devoted to his "aesthetics," precisely because his book is an attempt to supercede the contradiction between politics and aesthetics. In its "review" of the "politics" of The Painting of Modern Life, the NYT claimed that "ultimately [Clark] remains weighed down by the chains of ideology"; in its "review" of the book's "aesthetics," it claimed that Clark's book is "seriously flawed" in its lack of attention to the Impressionist painters' concern with "light and color." One isn't sure which is the more preposterous: the ridiculous content of the respective "reviews," or their spectacular separation from each other. --http://www.notbored.org/manet.html [Jul 2004]

Venus in Exile : The Rejection of Beauty in Twentieth-Century Art (2001) - Wendy Steiner

Venus in Exile : The Rejection of Beauty in Twentieth-Century Art (2001) - Wendy Steiner [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

"In the twentieth century, the avant-garde declared a clean break with history, but their hostility to the female subject and the beauty she symbolized had..." (more)

From Publishers Weekly
Ever since the Renaissance, the female body has been a primary symbol of artistic beauty in the West. But with the advent of avant-garde and modernist art, beauty suddenly became suspect. In Venus in Exile, renowned cultural critic Wendy Steiner explores how this happened, tracing the twentieth century's troubled relationship with beauty. Steiner shows how the avant-garde set out to replace the supposed impurity of woman and ornament with pure form - a new standard of art. Arguing that both modern artists and feminists rejected the female subject as an aesthetic symbol, Steiner suggests that we understand the experience of beauty as a form of communication, in which finding someone or something beautiful leads viewers to recognize beauty in themselves as well. She ends by discussing recent works that have begun to restore beauty to art, including the paintings of Marlene Dumas, the novels of Penelope Fitzgerald, and the choreography of Mark Morris. --via Amazon.uk

see also: aesthetics - art - beauty - Venus - modernism

Modern Art Despite Modernism (2000) - Robert Storr

Modern Art Despite Modernism (2000) - Robert Storr [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

This text explores anti-modernist impulse, as exhibited in painting and sculpture through the social, political and cultural conflicts of the 1920s, 30s and 40s. It discusses taste and vulgarity, and the implications both past and present for institutions like the New York Museum of Modern Art. --via the publisher

Book Description
Throughout the 20th century, the evolution of mainstream modernism in the arts has been shadowed and complicated by alternative expressions, intended either to set back the clock or to redirect the stream of progress. Modern Art Despite Modernism explores the anti-modernist impulse as exhibited in painting and sculpture through the social, political, and cultural conflicts of the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. Texts by Robert Storr remind the reader of the strengths of some of this work--paintings and drawings by Otto Dix, Lucian Freud, Francesco Clemente, and even Pablo Picasso--and of the enduring popularity of such artists as Pavel Tchelitchew, whose Hide and Seek, along with Andrew Wyeth's Christina's World, are among the public's favorite pictures. Storr also discusses taste and vulgarity and their implications, both part and present, for institutions like The Museum of Modern Art that are thought of as canon builders. This book was published as the second in a series of three titles, in conjunction with the millennial exhibitions schedule of MoMA2000 at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. --via the publisher

See also: modern art - modernism

The Shock of the New (1980) - Robert Hughes

The Shock of the New (1980) - Robert Hughes [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

In 1981 (some sources claim 1979), Robert Hughes (author of The Fatal Shore) made a BBC television documentary series on modern art called The Shock Of The New. From that series came this book. In July 2004, the BBC re-aired this series as follows:

The Mechanical Paradise - Episode 1
Traces how developments in technology inspired art between 1880 and the end of WWI, leading to movements like cubism and futurism.
See also: Machine Age - Exposition Universelle (1889)

The Powers that Be - Episode 2
Hughes explores the interplay between art and politics, seeing how artists were affected by the development of mechanised warfare and ideologies like fascism and communism.
See also: art and politics

The Landscape of Pleasure - Episode 3
The French artists who attempted to reconcile man with nature, from the determination of the impressionists to paint outside to Matisse's vibrant use of colour.
See also: impressionism - landscape

Trouble in Utopia - Episode 4
How modern architects in the wake of the Bauhaus aspired to change societies with their designs, a move represented both by Le Corbusier and the plans for the city Brasilia.
See also: utopia - architecture

The Threshold of Liberty - Episode 5
The art movement that gripped its exponents with the fervour of a religion: surrealism. Artists like Di Chirico, Ernst, Miró and Dalí; brought the subconscious to the fore and attempted to tap into innocent and irrationality.
See also: Surrealism

The View From the Edge - Episode 6
Expressionism sprung out of the harsh, secular atmosphere of the 20th Century and evolved, through the strong colours and often sombre moods of artists like Munch, to the non-figurative work of Pollock and De Kooning.
See also: Abstract Expressionism

Culture as Nature - Episode 7
Artists began to take man-made images as their inspiration, leading to the pop art of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein as well as Stuart Davis' collages inspired by jazz.
See also: Pop Art

The Future That Was - Episode 8
The final episode in the series explores the decline of modernism and how various artists have reacted to the consequent commercialisation of their art.
See also: postmodern art

Notes: Robert Hughes fails to mention the influence of photography and illustrated newspapers on Impressionism. [Mar 2006] --http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/documentaries/features/shock-new-eps.shtml [Mar 2006]

See also: new - shock - modern art

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