Friday, July 6, 2012

What is modern art?

Edvard Munch's "The Scream" (1893)
recently sold for $120 million.
This sentence is art. The cool thing about pretending to be artistic is that one can begin an article in a very informal and random manner and get away with it — by, of course, defending it as one's own understanding and interpretation of something, or even nothing. Stupidity aside, what makes modern art modern?

Einstein & Lenin Paint History

In the modern period, artists increased the palette of what they could paint and sculpt. More was observed. From around 1905, when Albert Einstein announced his theory of relativity, until the 1920s, around Vladimir Lenin’s revolution, art took a big step away from tradition and embraced modernity in numerous ways. For one, the dependence on the patron lessened as the artists of the early 20th century sought to use original mixtures of abstract suggestion and portrayal to bring emotion and imagination into their work.

Express This

The ‘wild beasts’, or Fauves, of the early 1900s took the post-impressionist/expressionist past of painters like Vincent van Gogh and Edvard Munch and turned the colours upside down.

Henri Matisse's "Music" from 1910.
The sky was green, the trees were blue, cats were purple, and people were also, unimaginatively, green. Unsurprisingly, the public exclaimed at the outrage — they would not tolerate being levelled as the same colour as an oak tree.

Is it a bird?
Moreover, the high-class Parisians were now replaced by masks of “savages” from Africa, such as seen in the works of Henri Matisse and other Fauves.

This “antirealism” was also adopted into sculpture, where details were unimportant and glossed over. For example, Constantin Brâncuşi's “Bird in Space” (1923) does not clearly depict a bird; however, it represents the bird on an elementary level with a few basic shapes and curves.

Simplicity was admired by the ‘world-wide beast’ of the 20th century, known as Picasso. He put his emotional unorthodox means of painting to dominate the spheres of innovation throughout his lifetime. His paintings told his story and those of others. The “Blue Period” was the beginning of his experimentation — he lived in poverty and painted his anguish through extrapolated limbs of characters similar to his ‘Spanish’ predecessor, El Greco.

Paintings from Pablo Picasso's "Blue Period", including "The Old Guitarist" (1903), "La Vie" (1903),
"Madame Soler", (1905), "The Tragedy" (1903) and "Le Gourmet" (1901).

Pablo Picasso created one of the most renowned criticisms of governmental action, “Guernica”. It was a piece that in itself represented human error and negative emotion, where the characters he used to represent one instance could be easily used for another. Throughout his painting, he gave birth to an original artistic style known as Cubism; however, prior to this, he broke major laws of perspective and both aesthetical and symbolic manners of art with his scandalous “Desmoisilles d’Avignon”.

Picasso's paintings, "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" (1907), and the Cubist social-commentary, "Guernica" (1937).

Cubism destroyed the easiness in art. While attempting to portray something in as many points of observation as possible, the art-work became a freshly opened puzzle (like the one you got for Christmas and pretended to like). Cubism itself developed alongside other artists and split into many forms and sizes.

The Great War: Construct-a-Cube

The chaotic scene seen in a Cubist artwork was applied to European society, where the First World War broke out and called for different political frenzies and the destruction of lives. The chaos of war was preceded by praise of modernity, such as that by Umberto Boccioni in his celebration of power and dynamism through Futurist sculpture. The Futurist recipe for art was motivated by the superiority they saw in development and modernization, as they took to new and wacko themes and depictions.

Boccioni's "Unique Forms of Continuity in Space" (1913), and "Development of a Bottle in Space" (1913). He liked space. 

The future was in our hands, and thus, in the Russian Empire (and later the Soviet Union), the movement of Constructivism was prominent. Constructivists wished to re-construct both art and society. They wanted to remove the classic elements that were carried along by humanity to give way to a reflection of technological advance. They primarily used geometrical shapes and constructions to show their impressions of how things are and how they ought to be. For example, Kazimir Malevich an important member of Russian avant-garde, played with non-objective abstract patterns in a movement he saw as Suprematism. His “Black Square” is a bright example (pun intended) of the controversial inartistic talent required to create such a surprisingly original piece of art, which could contain hidden messages and meanings in its basic form.

Constructivism of Malevich's "Black Square" (1915) against O'Keeffe's feminist elements in
"Ram's Head White Hollyhock and Little Hills" (1935), "Blue and Green Music" (1921), and "Pineapple Bud" (1939). 

Nearing the end of the early 1900s, art once again took a general turn in a different direction. The culprit was Georgia O’Keeffe who took early 20th century art back to its literal roots. She portrayed things of nature, many landscapes, rocks and even flowers — profoundly resembling the women’s reproductive organ; her art had inner feelings of feminist connotation deeply interweaved in what was being visually depicted.

Throughout the years that followed, the world took many more turns — in the form of art. From American Precisionism to German Expressionism, from Dutch Stijl to Dada, Surrealism and Modernist architecture, art was not a single entity that could be even defined by a single or even more numerous characteristics. The list was, and still is endless, with many interpretations for what makes an artist and what makes a viewer. Modern art can be simplified to be everything that wasn’t, but also as what was, is and will be (postmodernism and hypermodernism). There's a little bit of modern art in everybody — where is yours?