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The Rise of Modern Art

The history of modern art is also the history of the progressive loss of art’s audience. Art has increasingly become the concern of the artist and the bafflement of the public.

-Paul Gauguin

When Did Modern Art Begin?

The rise of modern art can be traced to the Industrial Revolution (1760-1860).  It was the period of rapid changes in transportation, manufacturing, and technology began around the mid-18th century and lasted through the 19th century. 

It was the one of the most crucial turning points in world history. It profoundly affected the economic, social and cultural conditions of life in North America, Western Europe and eventually the world.

Revolutionary forms of transportation, including the stream engine, the large machine-powered factory, the subway, and the railroad profoundly changed the way people lived, traveled and worked, expanding their worldview.

People migrated from the rural areas to the city centers to find work; the center of life from the family and village in the country shifted to the expanding urban metropolises.

In addition, other developments had also influence on arts in this period. In 1841, the American painter John Rand (1801-1873) invented the collapsible paint tube.

The Interpretation of Dreams (1889), a publication of psychologist Sigmund Freud and the idea of a subconscious had a great, epochal influence on arts, literature and philosophy at that time.

The artists began exploring dreams, personal iconography and symbolism as directions for the depiction of their subjective experiences.


The Invention of Photography

“Boulevard du Temple”, a daguerreotype made by Louis Daguerre in 1838, is generally accepted as the earliest photograph to include people.

The invention of photography offered new radical possibilities for interpretation and depiction of the world. Photographic technology advanced, and became increasingly accessible to the public.

Within a few decades, a photograph could reproduce almost any scene with perfect accuracy.

The photography became a serious threat to classical art conventions of representing a subject, as neither painting nor sculpture could capture the same degree of detail as photography.

In regards to photography’s technical precision, artists were obliged to discover new modes of expression, which led to new paradigms in the art world.

The development of photography and its allied photomechanical techniques of reproduction has had an obscure but important influence on the development of modern art, because these techniques deprived manually executed painting and drawing of their main role so far, as the only means of depicting the visible world accurately.

In earlier periods before 1800, artists were often commissioned to make artworks by institutions or wealthy patrons. The most of the art of those times depicted mythological, religious or historical scenes that told stories intended to instruct the viewer.


From Patronage to Personal

But, during the 19th century, many artists started to create art based in their own personal experience and leaning.

Instead of following the Hierarchy of Genres and being content with academic subject matters, interspersed with ’meaningful’ landscapes and portraits, artists began to create art about everyday things; about the ordinary people, places and ideas.

As a creative response to the rationalist practices and perspectives of the new ideas provided by technological advances of the industrial age, modern art intent to portray a subject as it exists in the world, according to the artist’s unique perspective and is presented by a rejection of traditional values and styles.

In the early 19th century European artists simply began experimenting with the act of observation.

All across the Europe, the artists, such as Henri Fantin-Latour and Gustave Courbet, created works that aimed to depict situations and people objectively, with the all imperfections, rather than creating idealized exposition of the subject.

This new radical approach to art would become known as Realism, a broad school of art and movement.

At the same time, the Romantics started to present landscape as they saw and felt it.

The landscapes painted by J.M.W. Turner are dramatic representations that capture the feeling of the awe-inspiring that hit the artist upon viewing the particular scene in nature.

This representation of a place in conjunction with a particular feeling was a decisive step for creating the modern artist’s unique perspective.

The other artists shifted their focus to emphasize the visual sensation of the observed subject rather than a objective representation and naturalistic depiction.


The Beginning of Abstract Impressionism

It was the beginnings of abstraction in visual art. James McNeil Whistler’s Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket (1874) and Monet’s Boulevard des Capucines (1873) are the key examples.

Claude_Monet,_1873-74,_Boulevard_des_Capucines,_oil_on_canvas,_80.3_x_60.3_cm,_Nelson-Atkins_Museum_of_Art,_Kansas_City

In the former case, the artists coupled small flacks and large splatters of paint in order to create a depiction of a night sky illuminated by fireworks; it was more atmospheric than representational.

Monet created an aerial view of modern Parisian life. In this scene, he made the pedestrians and cityscape as an ‘impression’, a visual representation of subjective and slightly abstracted perspective.

Some artists connected their work to preceding ideas or movements, but the general goal of each artist in modernism was to advance their practice to a position of a true originality.

Some of them established themselves as independent thinkers risking beyond what constituted acceptable forms of art at the time which were endorsed by traditional academies and the upper-class patrons of the arts. These personas depicted subject matters that many considered controversial or even substantially ugly.


The Rise of the Commoner

In this regard, the first modern artist who stands on his own with his distinctive style was Gustave Courbet.

Courbet scandalized the French art world by his painting Burial at Ornans (1849-50), portraying the funeral of a common man from a peasant village (his father’s uncle).

The French Academy bristled at the depiction of dirty farm workers around open grave; Courbet was ostracized for his work, but he, eventually proved to be tremendously influential to the following generations of modern artists.

The paintings of Gustave Courbet, Edouard Manet and the Impressionists represent a profound rejection of the dominant academic tradition and a quest for a more objective representation of the visual world.

The most commonly cited date that marking the birth of modern art is 1863- the year that Edouard Manet exhibited his painting Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe in the Salon des Refuses/ Salon of the Rejected in Paris.

Despite the fact it was modelled on a Renaissance work by Raphael and Manet’s respect for the French Academy, it was considered to be one of the most scandalous paintings of the period.

Modernism embraces a variety of theories, movements and attitudes whose modernism resides especially in a tendency to reject historical, traditional, or academic conventions and forms in an effort to create an art practice more in keeping with changed economic, social and intellectual conditions.

Art history tends to classify artists into units of historically connected and like-minded individuals. The approach of establishing categories is particularly suitable to well centralized movement with a single objective, such as Impressionism, Cubism, Futurism.

When Claude Monet exhibited his painting Impression, Sunrise at Parisian Salon in 1872, the painting was poorly received. Consequently, Monet and his fellow artists were motivated and united by the criticism; it was a precedent for future independent artists who sought to group together based on the same or similar aesthetic approach.

The practice of grouping artists into schools or movement in not always appropriate. For instance, Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Cézanne are considered the major artists of Post-Impressionism movement.

The movement was named so because the chronological place in history as well as artists’ deviation from Impressionism. However, it did not represent a cohesive group of artists who united under a single ideological frame. In addition, some artists do not fit into any particular category, school or movement.

Despite the inconsistency, the designation of schools and movements allows the broad history of art to be broken down into segments separated by contextual factors.


The Arrival of the Avant-Garde

The progression of Modernism in art led to what is known as the Avant-Garde. The term Avant-Garde derives from the French ‘’vanguard’’, literally means advance guard- the lead division going into battle.

Most of the creative and principal artists were avant-gardes. Their objective was to improve practices and ideas of art and to challenge what constituted acceptable artistic form in order to accurately communicate the artists’ experience of modern era.

From about 1890s and on, a succession of a variety of schools, styles and movements emerged that represent the core of modern art and one of the high points of Western visual culture.

The modern movements include  Realism, Romanticism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism, Symbolism, Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism, Expressionism, Suprematism, Constructivism, Metaphysical painting, De Stijl, Dadaism, Surrealism, Social Realism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop art, Op art, Minimalism and Neo-Expressionism.

Despite the enormous variety, most of them are ‘modern’ in their investigation of the potential inherent within the various medium for expressing an inner, spiritual, response to the changed conditions of life in the 20th century.

These conditions include the expansion of scientific knowledge and understanding, accelerated technological change, irrelevance of traditional source of value and belief and an expanding awareness of non-Western cultures.

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