Modern Art – Revolution from Dawn to Dusk

Most of the contemporary people, who do not earn for their living by writing critical art reviews and who are not big fans of visiting multiple art shows and performances, often associate the term “modern art” with the art pieces, created today… or yesterday, as a maximum. However, the truth is that the era of modern art or modernism expired several decades ago and all the works created today refer to what is called postmodernism or contemporary art. Hence, modern art in its true meaning denotes the period of art evolution or rather revolution, lasting approximately from 1860th to the 1970th. It is amazing that for just about a hundred of years, modernism virtually performed a revolution in art, striking out all the traditional approaches to fine art, experimenting with new materials and reconsidering the core functions and roles art plays in the society.

Modern Art – the Origin

Art historians still have no a single opinion as to the date of modern art birth. However, that is no wonder, since art evolution is like a dynamic stream, which does not have clearly defined stops, marking the end of one period and start of another. Year 1863, when Édouard Manet first exhibited his painting Le déjeuner sur l’herbe in Paris, is most widely accepted as the official beginning of the modernism era in art. Sometimes among the factors, contributing to the art metamorphosis, critics mention French Revolution, which gave a significant raise to the political and social active reconsideration of the postulates, which had been beyond any doubt for centuries before. Romantics, realism and impressionism were among the first swallows, announcing the beginning of a new modern stage in art. Turner, Delacroix, Jean-François Millet, Vincent Van Gogh are the representatives of this early period in modern art development.

Edouard Manet, Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, 1863

Vincent Van Gogh, The Blooming Plumtree, 1887

Delacroix, Bride of Abydos, 1857

Modern Art – the Bloom

The transition between the 19th and 20th century has brought further development of modernistic ideas, concepts and techniques in art. Inspired by Cezanne’s idea, saying that all nature objects can be illustrated with just three geometrical figures: cube, sphere and cone, Pablo Picasso created his first paintings, which became the icons of modern art and cubism movement in particular. The industrial revolution and the early 20th century introduced fauvism with its expressively vivid colors verging on aggression in the works of Henri Matisse, Andre Derain, Maurice de Vlaminch and Raoul Dufy.  German painters Franz Marc, August Macke, Gabriele Münter and others developed their own version of fauvism and called it expressionism. Italian artists, refusing everything with old roots and inspired by the rapid development of technology, appearance of first cars and airplanes, developed in their turn the art movement under the name “futurism”. Finally, surrealism, exploring the secrets of dreams and filling art with psychological meaning, reached its apogee during the early 20th century with the works of Marc Chagall, Joan Miro, Rene Margritte and fantastic Salvador Dali.

Pablo Picasso, Three Musicians, 1921, Cubism


Henri Matisse, Le Bonheur de vivre, 1905, Fauvism

Franz Marc, Fighting Forms, 1914, Expressionism

Umberto Boccioni, The City Rises, 1910, Futurism

Salvador Dali, The Persistance of Memory, 1931, Surrealism


Modern Art – the Decline

When the whole world was stuck in wars (the World War I and II), art responded to those events in its own way, introducing the so-called anti-art movements, such as Dada. It was only after the World War II when modern art experienced another peak of its evolution, generating the works in pop art (Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, David Hockney, Georg Segal) with its unbelievable mixture of commercial advertising, contemporary objects and fine art, abstract expressionism (Vasiliy Kandinsky) with its emphasis on not always positive emotions, FLUXUS (George Maciunas) with the motto to create art for people and not for critics, and minimalism (Donald Judd, Agnes Martin, Frank Stella) with its focus on the most fundamental features of objects and phenomena.

Hannah Hoch, collage, 1919, Dada

Roy Lichtenstein, The drawning girl, 1963, Pop art

Newman, Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue, 1966, Abstract impressionism

George Maciunas, flag poster, Fluxus

Frank Stella, Harran II, 1967, Minimalism

However, this peak during the 50th-60th of the 20th century also marked the end of modernism and the dawn of new era in art evolution, called postmodernism or contemporary art. What was the main achievement of modernism in art? There were many of them, actually. The most important one is letting art out of limitations, stated by rules, genre requirements, postulates, social expectations, etc. From the beginning, the modern art tended to reveal the truth of life, often exaggerating some aspects of it just to draw the public attention and show that the world around is different, changing and far not always ideal. Absolute freedom is what was propagandized by modern artists; provocative character of many modern art works was meant to wake up those parts of human soul, which are ruled by emotions and imagination rather than by rational reason. Against the background of super rapid industrial development, social revolutions and world wars, which marked 19th and 20th centuries, a huge amount of fresh and earlier unaddressed themes appeared; and art reacted promptly, filling the gap with absolutely new trends, concepts and techniques. Many of the modern artists joined the pantheon of art icons, whose works will remain clear and close to many following generations.

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Paul Viluda

Cruzine magazine founder interested in everything around graphics and design.