What Modernism Means

Modernism describes an array of cultural movements rooted in the changes in Western society in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The term covers a series of reforming movements in art, architecture, music, literature and the applied arts which emerged during this period.

At its most basic level, Modernism could be described as the experimentation and fragmentation of the human experience, characterized by deviations from the norms of society.Embracing change and the present, modernism encompasses the works of thinkers who rebelled against nineteenth century academic and historicist traditions, believing the “traditional” forms of art, architecture, literature, religious faith, social organization and daily life were becoming outdated; they directly confronted the new economic, social and political conditions of an emerging fully industrialized world. Some divide the twentieth century into movements designated Modernism and Postmodernism, whereas others see them as two aspects of the same movement.Historians have suggested various dates as the starting point of Modernism. The “avant-garde” was what Modernism was called at first, and the term remained to describe movements which identify themselves as attempting to overthrow some aspect of tradition. Separately, in the arts and letters, two ideas originating in France would have particular impact.

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Initially rejected from the most important commercial show of the time, the government-sponsored Paris Salon, the Impressionists organized yearly group exhibitions in commercial venues during the 1870s and 1880s, timing them to coincide with the official Salon.At the same time social, political, and economic forces were at work that would become the basis to argue for a radically different kind of art and thinking. The growing movement in art paralleled such developments as the Theory of Relativity in physics; the increasing integration of the internal combustion engine and industrialization; and the increased role of the social sciences in public policy.

It was argued that, if the nature of reality itself was in question, and if restrictions which had been in place around human activity were falling, then art, too, would have to radically change.All subjective reality was based, according to Freud’s ideas, on the play of basic drives and instincts, through which the outside world was perceived. Modernism, while it was still “progressive” increasingly saw traditional forms and traditional social arrangements as hindering progress, and therefore the artist was recast as a revolutionary, overthrowing rather than enlightening. Futurism exemplifies this trend. Modeled on the famous “Communist Manifesto” of the previous century, such manifestoes put forward ideas that were meant to provoke and to gather followers.Strongly influenced by Bergson and Nietzsche, Futurism was part of the general trend of Modernist rationalization of disruption.

Modernist philosophy and art were still viewed as being part, and only a part, of the larger social movement. Second, the birth of a machine age changed the conditions of life machine warfare became a touchstone of the ultimate reality. Modernism was seen in Europe in such critical movements as Dada, and then in constructive movements such as Surrealism, as well as in smaller movements such as the Bloomsbury Group.Again, Impressionism was a precursor: breaking with the idea of national schools, artists and writers adopted ideas of international movements. Hostile reaction often followed, as paintings were spat upon, riots organized at the opening of works, and political figures denounced modernism as unwholesome and immoral.

By 1930, modernism had won a place in the establishment, including the political and artistic establishment, although by this time modernism itself had changed. Among modernists there were disputes about the importance of the public, the relationship of art to audience, and the role of art in society.By 1930, Modernism had entered popular culture. As modernism gained traction in academia, it was developing a self-conscious theory of its own importance. After the generally primitivistic/irrationalist aspect of pre-World War I Modernism, which for many modernists precluded any attachment to merely political solutions, and the neoclassicism of the 1920s, as represented most famously by T. S. Eliot and Igor Stravinsky which rejected popular solutions to modern problems the rise of Fascism, the Great Depression, and the march to war helped to radicalise a generation.

Modernism as leading to social organization would produce inquiries into sex and the basic bondings of the nuclear, rather than extended, family. Modernism was at its peek, with the emergence of pop art, and the best examples of that time would be Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. Roy Lichtenstein was born on October 27, 1923 into an upper-middle-class New York City family, and attended public school until the age of 12.

Art was not included in the school’s curriculum; Lichtenstein first became interested in art and design as a hobby.After graduation from Franklin, Lichtenstein enrolled in summer classes at the Art Students League of New York, where he worked under the tutelage of Reginald Marsh. Lichtenstein then left New York to study at the Ohio State University which offered studio courses and a degree in fine arts. Wilson was previously married to Cleveland, Ohio artist Michael Sarisky.

In 1951 Lichtenstein had his first one-man exhibition at Carlebach Gallery in New York. In 1954 his first son, David Hoyt Lichtenstein was born.He then had his second son, Mitchell Lichtenstein in 1956. Lichtenstein began teaching in upstate New York at State University of New York at Oswego in 1958. In 1961 Lichtenstein began his first Pop paintings using cartoon images and techniques derived from the appearance of commercial printing. Interestingly Castelli rejected the work of one of Lichtenstein’s contemporaries, Andy Warhol.

Lichtenstein used oil and Magna paint in his best known works, such as Drowning Girl which was appropriated from the lead story in DC Comics’ Secret Hearts. Drowning Girl now hangs in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Rather than attempt to reproduce his subjects, his work tackled the way mass media portrays them. one of the earliest known examples of pop art, adapted a comic-book panel from a 1962 issue of DC Comics’ All-American Men of War. Jack Cowart, executive director of the Lichtenstein Foundation contests the notion that Lichtenstein was a copyist, saying: “Roy’s work was a wonderment of the graphic formulae and the codification of sentiment that had been worked out by others.

A notable example being Artist’s Studio, Look Mickey (1973, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis) which incorporates five other previous works, fitted into the scene”. In the late 1970s, this style was replaced with more surreal works such as Pow Wow. In 1996 the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC became the largest single repository of the artist’s work when he donated 154 prints and 2 books. In total there are some 4,500 works thought to be in circulation. He died of pneumonia in 1997 at New York University Medical Center.

‘Whaam! ‘ is based on an image from ‘All American Men of War’ published by DC comics in 1962.Throughout the 1960s, Lichtenstein frequently drew on commercial art sources such as comic images or advertisements, attracted by the way highly emotional subject matter could be depicted using detached techniques. Transferring this to a painting context, Lichtenstein could present powerfully charged scenes in an impersonal manner, leaving the viewer to decipher meanings for themselves.

Although he was careful to retain the character of his source, Lichtenstein also explored the formal qualities of commercial imagery and techniques. In these works as in ‘Whaam! , he adapted and developed the original composition to produce an intensely stylised painting. Lichtenstein was inspired by American comics about war when he made this painting. Not only was he interested in the stories they told, but also in the way that comic books were produced. He carefully studied the way small dots of ink were printed close to each other to appear like large blocks of colour on the page. He was also fascinated by the way that bold lines, strong colours and text were used to depict powerful stories.

Lichtenstein used these ideas to make this painting.Bibliography & references Clement Greenberg: Modernism and Postmodernism Fred Orton and Griselda Pollock, Avant-Gardes and Partisans Reviewed Clement Greenberg, Art and Culture Nochlin, Linda, Ch. 1 in: Women Artists at the Millennium Crouch, Christopher, Modernism in art design and architecture Hendrickson, Janis.

‘Lichtenstein’ Beam, Alex Lichtenstein: creator or copycat? http://www. press. jhu. edu/journals/modernism_modernity/index. html http://www. mastersofmodernism. com/? page=Modernism http://www. haberarts.

com/mytime2. htm#modern http://www. lichtensteinfoundation.

org/frames. htm

Author: Donnie Marshall


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