Modernism in Art throughout the 19th Century and 20th Century

The modern world of the 19th and 20th century made society to see the world in a new light. Influenced by industrialization and machinery, new worlds were colonized and the working class was exploited by capitalism for labor. This changing society spawned a new form of art known as modernism. Modernism moved art to a new plateau as it used color in much different ways. Modernist used shapes and color contrasts for artistic expression. “Modernism thus implies certain concerns about art and aesthetics that are internal to art production, regardless of whether the artist is producing scenes from contemporary social life”, (Kleiner 654). By examining modern art from beginning to end, one can understand the significance this has to history and the emerging industrial world.

Modernism represents an important period of art history. This is because of the political and historic events of the era. Most importantly, it transformed art by redirecting the sense of art to the art its self. It developed during the late 19th century, 1870 Europe. It was a new artistic expression spawned from a new era. During this time Europe was experiencing an industrial revolution. They lived in a capitalistic society where industrialization made a growing economy. Cities were becoming more urban. This began to influence art, its images and forms. Kleiner explains this best when he states, “modernism used art to call attention to art”, (654). In modernist paintings, the art is expressed by emphasizing the concerns of art. This is seen in van Gogh’s Starry Night which broke against traditional forms. The painted scene shows movement by painting the night and stars in swirls. The era was also stimulated by the after affects of World War I. Artist were critical of arts its self, causing different expressions and representations of the world around them. Modernism gave way to movements such as Realism and Impressionism seen in Paris. Life in Paris was transformed in a new way. Many of these are described as sketches due to the quality the art presents. Color is used and expressed in new and dynamic ways to have true color or white light. Shadow is also used much differently. An artist recognized for Impressionism was Claude Monet. This is seen in this painting Rouen Cathedral: The Portal (in Sun) and also Impressions Sunrise. In these pieces, Monet uses like-colors throughout the canvas and uses these similar hues to highlights the scene and shadows. “Modernism lies in the use of the characteristic methods of a discipline to critique the discipline itself- not in the order to subvert it, but to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence”, (Kleiner 654). Additional Modernist artist include Picasso.

Modernism remained into the 20th century. It continued to be recognized for its form of artistic expression “whereby painting becomes less and less reprentational and more to do with the material of the paint on the canvas”, (Hatt & Klank 231). Whereas 19th century art was limited to Europe, 20th century art expanded to the Americas. It was first seen in 1940’s New York. Later it expanded to India and practiced throughout Mexico and Delhi. Many of these modernist artists are expressed in postcolonial theory. It describes how foreign nations are influenced by colonialism. Expressionism observed in places such as Mexico emphasizes the cultural differences between natives and colonialist. Similar to what is seen in the 19th century modernism, abstract expressionism emerged following World War II. It reached throughout different eras to create Cubism and Dada known for its visual elements (Kleiner). Artist such as Diego Rivera were influenced by the impressionism and symbolism of European art. In the 1920 he created painted murals in both Mexico and the US from the Latin perspective of the farming working class. Throughout the 1930’s Rivera painted pieces such as Man at the Crossroads With Hope and High Vision to the Choosing of a  New and Better Future and Detrioit Industry. In these paintings there are many colors where each image is defined. These pieces have mechanical themes with images showing progression and its relationship with mankind. “The first major American avant-grade movement… the artists produced abstract paintings that expressed their state of mind and they hoped would strike emotional chords in the viewers”, (Kleiner 805). This was also seen in American painter Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. They created abstract images to encourage the viewer to observe a common item from a new perspective using color or form.

Modernism was an artistic movement which could be observed throughout the world from the late 1800’s to the mid 1900’s. It can be seen in both America and Europe, representing a movement important to time and history. This includes industrialization and colonialism. Early modern artist created art that was influenced by a changing world. Monet used swirls to provide form and color of a starry night while Rivera created art to suggest industry and oppression of a Latin people. Modernism moved artist to observe the world in new ways. This was seen in Abstract Expressionism produced by de Kooning to show abstract movement through shapes and contrasting color. By understanding art, one can better understand history and the feelings observed by a changing society.


Works Cited

Hatt, M, and C Klonk. Art History: A critical introduction to its methods. New York, NY: Manchester University Press, 2006. eBook. < of art&hl=en&sa=X&ei=6R-KVPz7G4a0ggSV3YIg&ved=0CEEQ6AEwAzgK

Kleiner, F. Gardner’s Art Through the Ages The Western PErspective Volume II. 13. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2010. Print. < and 20th century modern art&hl=en&sa=X&ei=NimKVMfWFoidNv2pgsAN&ved=0CFcQ6AEwCA


About Russia Robinson

I use my writing talents, and skills I’ve learned through academics and experience, to benefit the greater good of society. Conducting research, writing articles, essays, and blogging, I give informative information on a variety of topics and issues that affect society. I also write creative works like children’s books, short stories, poems, and a novel in progress. I earned a BA in English creative writing and American literature from San Francisco State and graduate studies in Technical Writing at Kennesaw State University. Through my career in education and mental health I have spent more than 10 years’ helping young people succeed. I am a certifiable Language Arts teacher, working in education, social services, and mental health. Interested in my writing services? Feel free to contact me via email.
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