The names of some periods in art history can create confusion. Consider the term “Modern Art.” Art historians have observed that artists of earlier times also perceived themselves as modern. Renaissance humanists thought they were revolutionaries in the 15th century. Modern Art refers to art created roughly between 1867 and 1975. Major movements included Impressionism, Cubism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, and Pop Art. To human eyes, Modern pieces reflect change, including technological, social, scientific, and political changes. This period also included the emergence of modern governments.
Claude Monet’s Impression – Sunrise (1867) was the painting that marked the beginning of Impressionism and Modernism. For two decades, French painters and other artists studied the way light changes as you create a landscape or another scene. In Cezanne’s A Modern Olympia (1873-1874), the observer sees another example of how Modern Art abandoned Realism and Naturalism in sketchy borders between forms. A nude woman rests on a swath of clouds in a very earthy composition.
Early in the 1900s, the Cubists and Surrealists, including Picasso, Braque, Dali, and Miro, continued the progression towards abstract art. For example, Pablo Picasso, a founder of Cubism, demonstrated how geometry can express the depth of forms like the female body and drapery in The Dance of the Veils (Nude with Drapes) in 1907. By the time Georgia O’Keeffe painted “Blue and Green Music” in 1919, American artists reflected the influence of Cubism and Surrealism. In Blue-Green, O’Keeffe uses a curvilinear style reminiscent of Cubism in a work that bursts with movement and emotion using hues of blue and green. Her painting also shows that strong lines are used in Modern Art when needed to express a concept or artistic vision.
Later in the twentieth century, artists like Jackson Pollock painted with a new emotional style in Abstract Expressionism. In One: Number 31, 1950, Pollock used the paint spatter technique with acrylic to create a vivid abstract composition of white, black, and grey on tan canvas. As the U.S. entered the 1960s, Andy Warhol embodied the plastic nature of popular culture with commercial art. He famously used celebrities and commercial items like Campbell’s soup cans to create art that reflected his time.
Throughout Modern Art, the observer can reflect on what change is considered by the artist to be important. While this observation is true about many periods, Modern Art shows a heavy consciousness of change. When you explore Modern Art, remember how much truly changed in 100 years. If you could express the impact of the Internet today in a work of art, you would seize upon the concept of Modernism.