From the very beginning, human civilization and the culture that grew from it forged a dynamic fascination for art, for interpreting the world and creating a narrative, or concept that would intrigue, inspire and infer – harking back to those first few cave paintings to the modern-day minimalist pieces.
Understanding modern art is simple. You just have to peer into art history to find the art that sparked a movement. If you try to understand the choices made by these artists and their process, you'll start to grow an appreciation and awareness for what goes into many of the abstract, expressionistic, or pop art pieces you see in exhibitions today.
We’ll be looking at two movements in this article:
The visual language of abstract art
The paintings that mark the start of abstract art as a movement were those of Robert Delaunay’s “Le Premier Disque” (1912-13) and Kazimir Malevich’s “Black Square” (1915). Before the 1910s art had primarily been representational of the world around them. Painters like Van Gogh, Monet, and Cezanne painted people, places, and things as their subjects – and were prominent figures in art history themselves.
However, Delaunay and Malevich sought to liberate art from this pictorial-Esque representation, instead opting to represent feelings, or emotions artistically as the focus – otherwise known as non-representational painting, or paintings that did not represent anything in the real world.
Their fresh way of thinking freed artists to create compositions by relying purely on the visual language that all artists would understand: color, line, form, and shape. The true power of abstract is how those work in unity, or disunity – and what emotional response that it triggers within the viewer. No objectivity. No realism. Just pure feeling.
The art of the readymade
Otherwise known as “found object” art, the art of the readymade can often be perceived as unpleasing to the eye – but that’s what an artist who sparked the movement, named Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), intended. The most famous piece created by Duchamp was the one he submitted to the “1917 Society of Independent Artists” as a witticism about how art institutions were farcical.
The artwork was known as “The Fountain” (1917) and was a signed urinal painted against an infinite white-grey background. It was rejected by the society, but was defended by art critics who understood the intention of Duchamp, that “an ordinary object could be elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist.”
Instead, art should be made to inspire the mind rather than to please the eye. It is the artist's will and the viewer's questioning of their cultural, aesthetic, and technical norms and values concerning that art.
Below is my most recent Spontaneous Realism portrait of Fred Roger's of Mister Roger's Neighborhood for a 10-piece commission series for a client in southwest Oregon.
Art in medias res
Understanding some of the original intentions of the artists and the pieces of art that sparked a movement can give an artistic, or a purveyor of art history to better grasp the intention and impact that a certain art genre can have on its audience.
But art history is always in medias res – in the middle of things. Art is in the eye of the beholder and its meaning changes from viewer to viewer, so never feel afraid to share your ideas or thoughts behind a work of art as there are truly no incorrect answers.
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