Exercise 4: Art Through The Ages: Modern Art (Week 7)
Prior to the 19th century, artists were most often commissioned to make artwork by wealthy patrons, or institutions like the church. Much of this art depicted religious or mythological scenes that told stories and were intended to instruct the viewer. During the 19th century, many artists started to make art about people, places, or ideas that interested them, and of which they had direct experience. With the publication of psychologist Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams (1899) and the popularization of the idea of a subconscious mind, many artists began exploring dreams, symbolism, and personal iconography as avenues for the depiction of their subjective experiences.
Challenging the notion that art must realistically depict the world, some artists experimented with the expressive use of color, non-traditional materials, and new techniques and mediums. One of these was photography, whose invention in the 1830s introduced a new method for depicting and reinterpreting the world. The Museum of Modern Art collects work made after 1880, when the atmosphere was ripe for avant-garde artists to take their work in new, unexpected, and “modern” directions.
The twentieth century was one of particular worldwide upheaval, ranging from wars to economic downturns to radical political movements. No one can disagree that the years between 1900 and 2000 were years of extreme change for artists all over the world. These changes were boldly reflected in the works of avante-garde artists throughout the century. Classical art was being challenged more and more as waves of nationalism and imperialism spread over the world in the early half of the twentieth century.
Artists explored extreme and varying themes in the years before and after World War I, and those same themes were revisited in the aftermath of World War II, creating an interesting parallel. This article is divided into two sections: 1900-1945 and 1945-2000 and focuses on art themes that captured the talents and ideas of some of the most well known artists around the world.
Art After 1945
1945-Present – Abstract Expressionism
World War II (1939-1945) interrupted any new movements in art, but art came back with a vengeance in 1945. Emerging from a world torn apart, Abstract Expressionism discarded everything – including recognizable forms – except self-expression and raw emotion.
Late 1950s-Present – Pop and Op Art
In a reaction against Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art glorified the most mundane aspects of American culture and called them art. It was fun art, though. And in the “happening” mid-60s, Op (an abbreviated term for optical illusion) Art came on the scene, just in time to mesh nicely with the psychedelic music.
In the last thirty-odd years, art has changed at lightning speed. We’ve seen the advent of performance art, conceptual art, digital art and shock art, to name but a few new offerings. As we move toward a more global culture, our art reminds us of our collective and respective pasts. The technology with which you’re reading this article will surely be improved upon and, as it is, we can all keep (nearly instantly) abreast of whatever comes next in art’s history.