Early Modernism/Cultural Determinism Modernism was a sustained period of innovation and expansion in the arts, starting roughly from the 1800s to the late 1970s. There are a few key themes: Modernism is told as a great meta-narrative. Going through the 20th century it is told by key figures such as artists critics, historians, and has a sense of hierarchy and order. It also signifies a conventional, patriarchal view of art and design history. Showing a a quest for originality through constant experimentation in literature, music, visual arts and architecture, it was a series of interlinking movements. Another key theme was determinism. From the 1870s innovation in science, technology, and industry and changing socio-political ideas was closely linked to the changes in art. The philosopher Karl Marx broke down society into the infrastructure (economic sphere of productive activity) and the super structure (social sphere). He argued that change happens at different speeds in each sphere and what happens in the infrastructure determines the superstructure.
The Shock of the New and Crisis of Representation The old ways of portraying the world were no longer relevant. The idea of a static image of one perspective no longer made sense so new ways had to be thought up in order to depict the new interactions with industry and technology, time and space, changing social conditions and notions of peoples identity. It's now a more complex world.
20th Century Paris (Post-Impressionism)
In 1889, Paris held the Exposition Universelle, a world's fair to showcase art and technology side by side. The Eiffel Tower was a big symbol of modernism and so served as the entrance into the fair.
Impressionists were revolutionists, painted real everyday life, usually outdoors with a first person view. It was developed by artists such as Claude Monet who's work showed a greater understanding of light and colour in natural scenes by working quickly. Post-impressionism, however, describes the changes that came about after the Exposition. One of the major figures who developed the art movement was George Seurat, a French artist best known for introducing the painting techniques chromoluminarism and pointillism. His work differs from classic Impressionism as even though he is still painting what is real, his work was heavily pre-thought out in a studio before resulting in the final piece.
Another important Post-Impressionist was the French artist Paul Cézanne, who's work is characterised by vivid colours and constructive painterly brushstrokes to create geometric forms. His work also featured creative perspectives; his paintings would often show the subject from different angles at the same time, which later became a major influence on Cubism.
20th Century Milan (Futurism)
Futurism was a movement that originated in Italy which emphasised speed, technology, youth, and violence. A lot of Futurist art contains themes such as the car, airplane and the industrial city. Founded in Milan by the Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, a manifesto was brought out where he was joined by painters such as Umberto Boccioni and Giacomo Balla. Futurists wanted you to be energised and motivated.
Boccioni's painting 'The City Rises' is a good example of Futurism, symbolising manual labour through the rapid movements of the crowd scene. Similarly, Balla's painting 'Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash' shows the action in blurred frames depicting light, movement and speed.
Modernism can be seen as a design for living. Structuralism implies we are formed and influenced by our surroundings; form follows function.
20th Century Moscow (Constructivism) Post Russian revolution saw the first flush of communism. Film makers, artists and designers were used as messengers of the state and to create its visual identity. The western idea of the artist was rejected; they would use their talent as artists to get messages out using words and images as agents of revolution to influence society. This became known as Constructivism; a belief that art should reflect the modern industrial world. Agitprop was designed to get people attention, motivate and get people to do stuff. Posters were created that were assertive, powerful in order to be used as mass communication. They featured dynamic geometric layouts but were restrained to limited colour options, fonts and usually made from recycled materials. They also featured heavy use of photography, using the power of image to grab peoples attention. The Stenberg Brothers were Soviet artists and graphic designers famous for their cinema posters which were nearly all of them were illustrated. They actually developed an overhead projector that allowed them to project images onto the posters and play with geometric forms, distort perspective, crop and montage elements and type. One of their most famous posters was for the silent film Battleship Potemkin. The piece has strong features of industry and modern warfare capturing the viewer with bold and powerful colours. Geometric elements seen through the use of diagonals as opposed to static verticals create a more dynamic perspective to the composition in addition to exaggerating scale. Another Russian artist associated with the Constructivist movement was El Lissitzky who is thought to have pioneered geometric collages of just photographs. The piece 'The Constructor' features himself with his hand over his face holding a compass. The highlighted eye gives the impression that he is symbolising the notion of the idea to production. It differs to the Stenberg Brothers work as it is has no colour, thought to make his face stand out more. The lines are are sharp, precise and distinct which represents the revolution of the machine. The type 'XYZ' symbolises the idea that it is the end of the last art movement; futurism is the future. It is overall a very powerful image.