History of Modernist Art Movement

During a defining moment in history, there can be an event that can arrive that can aim at a mechanism of change. In art history, this mechanism of change is the object of art or particular artists with the intention of marking the beginning of a new period of creative practice. The western world experienced a changing period of revolution in thought, technology, and society as the older ways collapsed and paved the way for “modernism.” At the head of social and cultural movement, influencing and reflecting these changes were Artists exploring elements of their craft and personal expression as never before. “It is understood that modern artists are those who experimented with new ways of seeing, expressing new ideas and methods” (Cianelli, 2009). As a result, there were many distinct styles that emerged, each arising from a different part of the changing world, and each reflecting the idea of Modernism in its own way.

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According to Justin Andrews (2009), modernism describes the style and theory of art that emerged from the late 1800s lasting into the mid-20th century. Modernism describes a series of reforming cultural movements in art and architecture, music, literature and the applied arts. During this time, there was a strand of thinking that began to assert that it was necessary to push aside previous norms entirely, instead of merely revising past knowledge because of current techniques. Many of the art and the writings intend to depict emotions and happenings at that particular time.
Modernism proposes new forms of art since these are more appropriate to the present time. The people during this modernist time wanted to impact history and how issues were viewed then. The Modernist point of view argues that people should adapt to change and accept the views of the 20th century which is forever progressing. These groups that wanted to be heard formed what was called the avant- garde literary group. Avant-garde is the breaking away of something to begin the application of something new. “Change and revolt, the very meaning of avant garde, became the measure of progress in Modern art. It provided a focus and a purpose for art” (Parks, 1989, p.11). Consequently, a series of writers, thinkers, and artists made the break with traditional means of organizing literature, painting, and music.
Modernism rooted in the idea that the “traditional” forms of art had become outdated, and that it was therefore essential to move it aside and embrace and accept change. Modernism rejected tradition and proposed a return to the fundamentals of art that allows artists to experiment with colour and form along with a freedom of expression. Modernism weakens all prior theories regarding the existence of objective reality and the use of reason as a suggestion to gain it. Modernism’s extreme focal point on subjectivity led to a contemplative age in art, literature, philosophy, and systematic study.
Modernism supports the reassessment of every piece of reality. “Because art was constantly rejecting the past and replacing it with new and innovative ideas, standards for judging quality had no benchmark. Therefore, formalism became the measure of quality; a work was judged not for its relevance to external concerns, but based on aesthetic coherence within the work itself” (Parks, 1989, p.11). Formalism in art is appreciated for the forms of its components such as the way it is made and the visual aspects. Formalism basically emphasizes elements such as color, line, shape and texture (Lotito, 2002). Modern artists started intentionally drawing viewers’ attention to the shape of a painting’s support (canvas) and the properties of the painting’s forms. Thus the painting’s flatness became an integral component in the viewer’s experience of the artwork. According to Justin Wolf (2010), Clement Greenberg argues that the single most important element in Modern painting is its flatness. While Greenberg focused on the depicted flatness, the artist balances forms of color and line to create a painterly value that appears utterly flat. Paintings are flat by the nature of the canvas. Since flatness was the only circumstance painting shared with no other art, Modernist painting adjusted itself to flatness as it did to nothing else.
Modernism changed from the way the classical or traditional artists view nature, the environment, plus social norms and structures. Artists embraced their newfound freedom of expression, experimentation, and discrimination. According to Jade Wildy (2010), modernism saw more experimentation with colours, vibrant with warm colours that let artists concentrate on tone and structure of the artwork, as a result the structure of art changed significantly. Artists tried to break down the community’s view of art, analyzing theories of color and composition and frequently presenting these explorations on canvas. Artists tried to show the strengths of the human condition, uniting with unlimited human needs. Therefore, Modern Era artists increases the materials they use to create their pieces, resorting to approaches such as collage and even setting aside objects as art solely because of their being chosen by an artist. In addition, the artists increase the materials they make use of to compile their pieces, going to procedures such as collage and also adopting objects as art only because of being selected by an artist.
There were many distinct styles that emerged and reflect the idea of Modernism. One of the styles is the concept of expressionism. According to Architecture411.com (2006), modern expressionism is characterized as a creative style which the artist produces their artwork by combining illustrations or objects with emotions. This is accomplished by using both factual and theoretical emphasis on color, consistency, unclear subject matter, deformation, abnormal strength, exaggeration and changed surrounding imagery.
During the Modernistic movement, artists disposed of the old rules of perspective, color, and composition to figure out their own visions. Edvard Munch, a Norwegian, expressionist artist, is a unique figure in the history of modern art that formed and express his inner vision when it came to art. Munch was reared by his father who was a military doctor. Munch’s childhood was filled with dramatic and tragic losses, including the death of his mother when he was five followed by the death of his elder and closest sister when he was 15; both died from tuberculosis (Høifødt, 2006). These tragedies impacted his emotional and intellectual development.
Munch studied engineering at a young age but later turned to art. “Between 1892 and 1908, Munch spent much of his time in Paris and Berlin, where he became known for his prints–etchings, lithographs, and woodcuts.” (Pioch, 2002). Munch’s work of art was modernistic. Munch was essentially subjective, expressing his personal emotions through daring color, unconventional compositions and deeply symbolic content. Because of the tragedies that Munch had to endure explains the harshness and negativity of much of Munch’s work. Munch’s work was the only way that he could express the pain and loss that he had suffered. Munch was a true expressionist. His art was a major impact of the expressionist movement, where artists sought to result in emotional responses.
Munch conducted experiments with various painting procedures, paints, colors, and canvas. He regularly made basic paintings with a strong use of color as a representation of feelings. Munch’s painting, The Scream, was one of Munch’s most famous oil on canvas paintings and is a vital part of modern art. Many think that it has collected so much interest because it illustrates not only the strength of modernism, equally as a belief and as an art movement, but trouble and indifference of the modern world. (Dranitsin, 2010).
The Scream is considered as a depiction of existential pain and isolation. The Scream “represents the apogee of anxiety, the soul’s final breaking point” (Fineman, 2005). The painting is Munch’s personal expression on living and handling depression. Munch recreated an image when he was younger that had grabbed him while walking with two friends on afternoon. In the painting, there is an illustration of an agonized, tortured figure that stares directly out at the viewer, hands pressed to ears, with mouth open in awe standing.
There have been several interpretations to this painting. The use of color has been used to describe the mood of the subject as well as contribute to a sense of chaos and disorder, which helps to support the expression of the figure. The reddish tinted sky caused the intensity of the scene with the contoured body of water and landscape. In the painting, the figure appears as if screaming. It is unknown whether the figure seen something dramatic or if this is a release of inner emotions. But, the way the mouth was open in an oval shape scream displays pain. The figure in the image is covering the ears which suggest that it’s not the person who is screaming but maybe an inner, silent scream coming from anxieties in life that frighteningly is heard by the one figure, while the other people in painting may be unable to hear anything. In addition, the scream from the figure may suggest that they are releasing the torment and frustration life can bring on people and this may symbolize an inner scream.
In conclusion, modernism consists of the latest styles and attitudes, also new ideas and practices. Modernism can be seen as an overall open-minded style of thoughts, which make individuals progress and change the environment with the aid of scientific knowledge and most up-to-date technologies. The concept of formalism during the Modern Era deliberately calls attention to the natural flatness of the canvas in an artist’s work. Artists have exercised a uniquely modern trend, in which the viewer is not intended to appreciate the interpretation of anything, but the act of the painting itself.
The many artistic styles and movements all reflect the idea of modernity by being of their own time, dealing with contemporary images or issues, and continuing to create new methods of expression through the varied use of art. Even though modernism had almost become an outdated form of expression, it did not die out, but instead made the way for Postmodernism which was in many respects, a revision of modernist ideas. Edvard Munch’s, one of the most prolific, innovative and influential figures in modern art, captured the feeling of the moment instead of the sights in his famous work The Scream. The painting displayed a glimpse of what Munch was really like inside. The painting reflected the idea of modernism and expressionism in a way that it is known what and how the artist was feeling at the time, because it illustrates nothing but human emotion. Lastly, the painting created multiple meanings nevertheless conveys a universal emotion that is recognized and experienced by all.

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