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Modernism: History and Characteristics, Research Paper Example

Pages: 7

Words: 1982

Research Paper

Introduction

The use of art as a tool to inform or pass on a particular message has been in place since the ancient period. In the history of global movements, modernism is one of the most noticeable movements which can’t go without being mentioned. Modernism is a global movement in culture and society in general, which sought a new alignment after the exposure to the new-fangled ideas of the up-to-date industrial life. Emphasizing on the late nineteenth century precedents, the artists around the world used new materials, imagery, and techniques, thus creating artworks that were much better as well as reflecting the hopes of the then-contemporary societies. It is undeniable that many different styles are entailed in the term, and there is an array of principles that define modernism. These entail a rejection of history as well as the conservative values, which entail the realistic illustration of subjects. Modernism is a philosophy that arose from the rebellious mood, which was prevalent in the twentieth century[1]. We can term modernism as a radical approach that sought to revitalize the manner in which modern civilization would view subjects such as politics, life, science, and art. This rebellious nature, which was more rampant between 1900 and 1930s, was inspired by the rejection of the European culture, which had become more corrupt, lethargic, and complacent. Most individuals were too preoccupied with image and scared of change, but the pioneers of modernism thought otherwise. While most of the pre modernism art entails topics of religion and other social issues of the time, modernism reflects aspects of freedom and self-discovery, and these concepts are clearly visible in most of the modernist works.

The dissatisfaction with the existing moral deficit of almost everything in Europe resulted in artist and thinkers to find new and better alternatives. The result would be the emergence of the new culture (modernism), which undermined authority as well as traditions in a bid to transform the then society. Principles of this noticeable movement are innovation and experimentation involving shape, lines, and colors which make up the work having a tendency to abstraction and the emphasis on the processes, techniques, and materials[2].  Modernism as a movement is also one that was driven by various political and special aspects that were mostly utopian. In general, modernism was much linked with the ideal visions of society, human life, and the belief focused on progress. In the 1960s, it is evident that modernism was one dominant idea of art that had influenced many artists.

In most instances, modernism is defined as realism, impressionism, and post-impressionism. The modernist ideals were undeniable far-reaching and affected almost every aspect of daily life and sciences. Realism in this perspective is the accurate and detailed straightforward depiction of the contemporary or nature of life. In that perspective, realism discards the imagining idealization to favor a close observation of the outward appearances. An example is the image titled A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat from the Nochlin essay. The image contained wide characters like boater’s, young and old people as well as soldiers. Some sections of the image required special attention especially the women seated on the foreground. The artwork from Seine played a vital role in how the island looks today.

Another 19th century art work that represented modernism was the scream by Edward Munch. The image contained a creature that was fatal faced, twisted, sexless with mouth and eyes wide open. The image represented a person walking in the evening, and immediately there happens to be war which is proven by screams from a woman. On the other hand, impressionism was characterized by the relatively small, thin, but visible brush strokes, which emphasized on the accurate depiction of the light as well as the changing qualities[3]. An ordinary subject matter would include the feelings of human perception and experience as well as incorporating new-fangled visual angles. Although this style faced criticism from the France community of artists, it gained ground upon being accepted by numerous artists.

Post-impressionism is more focused in rejecting the limitations if impressionism while extending the strengths. For instance, the continued use of vibrant colors, distinguishing brush strokes, use of thick paint as well as factual subject matter. Post-impressionism is also further inclined to emphasize the geometric forms, distort forms of expressive effect.  As well as the arbitrary and unnatural colors in the compositions[4].

Characteristics of Modernism

One notable characteristic linked with modernism is anarchism/nihilism, which entails the denunciation of all moral and religious values as the only means to gain social progress. Simply put, the modernists rejected the set moral rules of the society in which they were part of. Rejecting the moral and religious codes didn’t necessarily mean that they were not believers in God despite some being atheists. However, this rejection was purely inspired by the arbitrariness, conformity, as well as the control, exerted on human feelings by these century-old traditions. The rules of conduct which were well crafted and deeply ingrained in the society were very restrictive and were a form of a limiting force over the human spirit[5]. Modernists were of the belief that in order for an individual to feel accomplished as well as be part of the revitalization process of the society, there was a need to ensure that he or she was free and not carrying out the luggage of centuries-old hypocritical concepts.  This rejection of the moral and traditional principles was further increased by the refutation of all systems of beliefs ranging from arts, philosophy, politics, or sciences.

Another notable characteristic is the embracing of primitivism and freedom. Early modernists found inspiration in the primitive cultures of Africa, the Americas, the Orient, and Oceania. Primitivism, according to the modernist, presented the perfect simplification of form, thus making it a hallmark of modernism. The depiction of abstraction of form to a great extent helped in shedding light on some essential structures which were previously hidden by the realistic technique. Primitivism, in this case, was a characteristic which was aimed at eliminating the irrelevant conventions and sophistications common in previous art that according to them distracted the main purpose of art which is the discovery of the truth[6]. Additionally, primitivism was seen as a means in which it could express all which a civilized man had to express in a bid to get into a contract with the existing society.

Borrowing from the words of Sigmund Freud for a man to function fully in a civilized society, there is a need to lay aside the many uncivilized yearnings within the self. Such include incest, homosexuality murder, and adultery, which are all held as taboos. Freud argues that through the repression of natural desires, then it results in modern neurosis.  The embracing of primitivism in this instance was thus viewed as the negation of the existing traditions as well as the confirmation of the original expression of the hidden self, which can only express itself during dreams. The modernist love for primitivism enhanced the obsession for the forbidden as well as the re-discovery of life in which they believe for years had been laid dormant[7]. That said, one fundamental aspect in this class of art was the primacy of the unconscious mind of the mental life. This means that the subjective reality was mostly based on a play of basic drives and instincts in which the outside world was seen. It is believed that a subjective and productive mind is one that is full of primal impulses and which counterbalances the self-imposed restrictions which are derived from the social values.

Departure from nature is another fundamental aspect that characterizes modernism. Despite this being ironic, most of the portrayal of human nature takes place within the context of the city instead of nature, which was the major point of focus. Nature, according to the modernist, is associated with God, and towards the end of the 19th century, God had been associated with chaos and random existence. To the modernist, nature is more of an irrelevant aspect with the city superseding nature as the life force[8]. The shift of the modernist to the city is highly caused by the fact that most of the modernists had left the countryside for the city trying to make fortunes in the city. It is in the city where man is dehumanized by the existing degenerate forces. The modern man is thus microscopically disintegrated, and he finds himself thus breaking the yoke of traditions and codes.

Surrealism was used by the artists to ascertain and understand imaginations and dream. One of the images that used this format was the Birth of the world by Joan Miro. The paintings’ purpose was to show the genesis of human life. Miro used brush and paints on a canvas. He argued that the painting was giving shape to the next level as he was painting. Additionally, artists used analytical cubism to represent ideas. The paintings were 3D in nature and represented the landscape. African culture was the ideal form of art for most artists. Young girl with a guitar by Braque was among the analytical cubicle paintings. In this artwork, the woman is standing while her eyes were closed.  The idea from this piece of artwork enhanced the peoples view on feminism. Another artist who promoted cubism was Picasso. His pieces of artwork contained mosaic with diverse shape and texture. The paintings reflected many aspects of modernism.

Last but not least of the characteristics is the incorporation of iconography. Despite being found in almost every form of art, iconography entailed scenery, elements, and details which are incorporated in the work of art. For instance, artists such as Courbet decided to paint the scenes of everyday modern life. They were also interested in the capturing of movement and effects of light which they saw and established their own styles through the use of bright colors and rapid brushstrokes[9][10]. This radical technique created paintings that can appear more abstract, thus pioneering modernism.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, modernism believed that art needed to represent the whole truth, which could simply be described in a direct manner. That said, modernism art wrote as well as painted in a very suggestive and metaphorical manner, which endowed the particular objects or images using a symbolic meaning. While modernism was not devoid of criticism, it helped overcome the critics and came with a form of art that expressed the ideal.  In simple terms, modernism helped express real-life scenes such as human activities, natural phenomenon, and other real-world phenomena. These aspects helped modernism art to gain ground and spread faster, thus breaking from the yoke of codes and traditions, which, to a great extent, had negatively impacted the free expression of ideas. It is this true to conclude that modernism opened doors for modern art, which was in line with the civilization process that was taking place hence changing the society for the better.

Bibliography

Herbert, Robert L. Impressionism, originality, and laissez-faire. na, 1987.

Nochlin, Linda. “Seurat’s Grande Jatte: An anti-utopian allegory.” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 14, no. 2 (1989): 133-242.

Pollock, Griselda. “Modernity and the Spaces of Femininity.” In The Expanding Discourse, pp. 244-267. Routledge, 2018

Solomon-Godeau, Abigail, and Going Native. “Paul Gauguin and the Invention of Primitivist Modernism.” Art in America 77, no. 7 (1989): 119-20.

Schapiro, Meyer. The Apples of Cézanne: An Essay on the Meaning of Still Life, by…. ” Art News Annual, 1968.

[1] Pollock, Griselda. “Modernity and the Spaces of Femininity.” In The Expanding Discourse, pp. 244-267. Routledge, 2018

[2] Pollock, 23

[3] Herbert, Robert L. Impressionism, originality, and laissez-faire. na, 1987.

[4] Herbert, 20

[5] Nochlin, Linda. “Seurat’s Grande Jatte: An anti-utopian allegory.” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 14, no. 2 (1989): 133-242

[6] Nochlin, 145

[7] Nochlin, 196

[8] Schapiro, Meyer. The Apples of Cézanne: An Essay on the Meaning of Still Life, by…. ” Art News Annual, 1968.

[9] Ibid, 12

[10] Solomon-Godeau, Abigail, and Going Native. “Paul Gauguin and the Invention of Primitivist Modernism.” Art in America 77, no. 7 (1989): 119-20.

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