Expressionism first came about in poetry and painting, and was first noticed in Germany around the start of the 20th century. It's a thoroughly modern movement, and the aim of the movement in all its forms is to present the world from a subjective perspective. This means that the point of view in expressionistic art is entirely subjective, and often distorts reality to suit the wishes of the abstract Expressionist artist. The movement is also heavily dominated by emotional output. The creative response is therefore often viewed as being tied to the artist’s emotional state.
The form became popular in Germany, and has particularly strong links to Berlin. Overall, German Expressionism art has a general feeling of anxiety and despair around much of the work.
Many sculptors use the style, for example one famous sculptor involved in the movement was Ernst Barlach. The movement even spread into the cinema, especially just before the First World War. The expressionist style was obvious in movies such as Nosferatu, Metropolis and The Last Laugh. This Expressionist mood has also been noticed in contemporary movies, such as much of David Lynch's work.
The movement is said to have been created as a reaction to the dehumanising effect of industrialisation. This hints at the subjectivity of the specialist movement. Essentially, abstract Expressionist artists rejected realism. Emotions and responses to the environment characterise all aspects of Expressionist work.
With the style originating in the early 20th century, there was a huge explosion of Expressionist artists using the visual form. These included many famous names, some of which have come to be iconic.
For example, Kandinsky is generally seen as an Expressionist artist. Another famous Expressionist artist from the United Kingdom was Francis Bacon, who, alongside Lucian Freud, is seen as a leading light of the specialist arena. These were mainly abstract expressionist artists.
The surrealism cultural movement began in the 1920s, and since then it has gone from strength to strength, with some of the leading lights in the movement becoming nothing short of household names. The aim of the surrealist movement was to try and endeavour to resolve the two conditions of dream and reality. This meant that the movement quickly became characterised as having strange, dreamlike images (the ‘surreal meaning’) interposed with more realistic elements.
The best painters in the movement excelled at creating rather unsettling images, often using everyday objects (the realism aspect) and images to create something rather more disturbing. Leading lights included Salvador Dali and his grasp of surrealism is perhaps the most easily recognised.
The end result of any surreal definition in art was clear for all to see. Here was a movement that had its roots in the subconscious, and was not afraid of showing it.
One of the leaders of the surrealism art movement, Andre Breton, maintained that all surrealist art was a pure movement, and was designed to further the ideals at the heart of the movement. His thoughts were centered on revolution, and not necessarily art in its conventional form.
Paris became the official centre of the movement, and was responsible for the growth of the famous Dada ideals and projects. The movement was also far-reaching, in that it spread around the world and instilled itself in far more than visual art, including an impact upon cinema, music and literature.
Salvador Dali was perhaps the most well respected and famous of the surrealist painters, and his work continues to divide critics today.
Surrealism eventually branched out into politics, even having a place in the anarchist movement. Through the 1930s, surrealism managed to go through what many term it’s ‘golden age’, a time when the movement was maturing, and bringing forth such talent as John Tunnard and Gordon Onslow Ford.
Surrealism is often said to transcend art, and has gone beyond it into major literary works by writers such as Thomas Pynchon and Salman Rushdie. But the heart of the movement is in the visual image, and this is where the collective culture’s understanding of the medium lies.
Modernism is a different kind of movement in that it embraced a much wider spectrum as regards culture. Many parts of culture were involved in modernism, and it is for this reason that it is often hard for people to understand or even define.
It had its beginnings in the nineteenth century, but really began to find its feet after World War Two, with the visual arts beginning to take up the modernist baton in earnest.
During the late 1940s an artist called Jackson Pollock set out to carve his own path in art, a path that happened to cross quite neatly with modernist ideals. Pollock considered the process of making art to be almost as important as the art itself, and this was reflected in his various pieces, all of which were more concerned with making art than actually expressing an emotion through a final form.
Other famous modernist artists included William De Kooning, Franz Kline and Mark Rothko. The recent nature of their work should show you just how important modernism is to contemporary artists and the culture they work in.
Modernism skirted with controversy often, especially in the early days. One of the main bones of contention among critics of the movement was the fact that modernism seemed to spurn religion. This may well have been true, but if you asked any serious modern artist of the time, he or she would more likely have responded that they were more open to spurning industrialisation.
Modern art prints that defiantly have modernism at their core are now very popular, and immediately accessible to the public as regards understanding. Modern art and modern artists continue to use abstract concepts in their own work, borrowing heavily from what was (and still is) one of the most daring and unconventional artistic movements of the cultural landscape.
One of the most influential movements in modern art, Pop Art really exploded in the second half of the 20th century. Everything about Pop Art challenged traditions in fine art. Any Pop Art definition generally states that Pop Art took its name from the fact that it borrowed ideas, concepts and imagery from popular culture. The key to much of the work is the fact that this imagery and conceptual work is often removed entirely from its source. The jarring incongruence that results is where the heart of the movement lies.
Pop Art uses plenty of cultural anchors, including comic book imagery and advertising imagery.
One of it’s biggest and most famous Pop Art artists was Andy Warhol. Andy Warhol Pop Art has remained iconic and has had a massive impact on popular culture, even today.
The apparent precursor to the Pop Art movement was a group of artists from London called The Independent Group. The group used found objects to convey ideas and concepts and the movement did lead directly to the Pop Art era.
The American effect
The Pop Art movement flourished in America, especially during the 1960s. Jasper Johns and Roy Lichtenstein were important figures. Most of the work had direct links to American popular culture, but also a hint of objectivity and detachment. This apparent detachment and lack of emotion created a sense that Pop Art was slightly cynical and ironic.
Other countries took great inspiration from pop art. Japan in particular has shown great affection for the movement. It is arguable that modern Japanese manga comic book work continues the Pop Art movement to this day.
Pop art is an incredibly diverse and large area of popular culture. It also has a lot to say about commercialism and mass production. There are many different artists to discover in this area, and looking at artists like Warhol and Lichtenstein is truly only scratching the surface.
Cubism came about in the early 20th century. It shook up the art world mainly due to the fact that it was so different and disruptive. History has called cubism art one of the most influential art movements of the 20th century, if not the most influential.
For a cubism definition, it is important to understand what the process was. The art work involves looking at objects, analysing them, breaking them up and then reproducing them in an abstract form. The art also involves a multitude of viewpoints of the same subject.
Cubism is primarily a European art form, but it did make headway around the world. The entire art form is built around the concept of revolution. As a case in point, one of its most famous artists was Pablo Picasso. Picasso himself is often viewed as a revolutionary artist, and Picasso cubism is seen as particularly representative of the form.
Cubism also spread quite widely throughout the world of architecture. There are plenty of examples of cubist architecture around the world, in places as diverse as India and Germany. The movement has also stretched into other artistic endeavours, including literature. Gertrude Stein is famous for producing written work that includes repetitive phrases. This technique would combine to make a novel. Picasso was said to have influenced Stein’s writing. William Faulkner is also famous for writing a book called As I Lay Dying, which uses the cubist approach to depict experiences of characters which, when combined, produce a novel.
Famous works in the Cubism movement include Picasso’s Girl with a Mandolin, Jacques Villon’s Girl at the Piano and Jean Metzinger’s The Bluebird. These three are particularly fine examples of the genre, and fit neatly into the concept of deconstruction and then reconstruction.
Cubism is striking, and not necessarily for everyone. But it cannot be denied that the idea of taking reality apart and then reconstructing it using the sum of its parts is a fascinating one. This is one reason why Cubism still so influential today.