Abstract Expressionism History

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This time it was America’s turn. This was the very first strictly American art movement that achieved world wide recognition. It followed World War II and put New York on the map as the capital of the art work, leaving Paris in a distant second place. This was a time when the emotional impact and self-expression of the German Expressionists met with the figurative and anesthetic look of European abstract movement. Thus Cubism, Bauhaus, and Futurism were all inspirations for Abstract Expressionism.
Abstract Expressionism was considered by many to be very rebellious, anarchic, and idiosyncratic. However, the term itself was applied to any New York artist that produced unique art in his own style and some artists, such as Mark Rothko, who would not class their own work as Abstract Expressionism, were still included in this category. Surrealists who had fled war-torn Europe to settle in the United States helped to greatly influence the art movement there and with the freedom to express themselves they inspired a new generation of artists to move on into Abstract Expressionism.
In other words, this art movement was about a specific attitude, not a specific style. The artists did not always paint in the abstract nor were they always expressive in their art. Rather they promoted themes that were high with morals and tended toward the tragic. Of course, these are the types of themes you would expect in a post-war art movement. There was a strong belief in freedom of expression and this spurred artists on to create art work that took the world by storm.
The most famous artists at the time included Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Clyfford Still, Arshile Gorky, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Philip Guston, Lee Krasner, and Ad Reinhardt. Some of these men immigrated to the United States and many of them were born there. Together they formed The New York School. They were interested in the paint itself to a great degree. It qualities of the paint and the actual act of painting itself were of great importance in their expression.
Abstract art itself was pioneered by Vasily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, and Piet Mondrian in the 1910s, who painted separately, but shared the belief that art should not be merely a reflection of reality, but that it should be a spiritual experience. These painters used philosophical writings and metaphysics to influence them and help them in their quest for a higher truth through art. In this light, another important influence on the work of many of the Abstract Expressionists of this time was the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. The work of these men brought about a large amount of intellectual context for them to create impulsive and raw works of art.
What did the art really look like? The styles varied so much that on the one hand you have Pollock’s work which were a series of paintings create by splattering paint on a canvas that was laid on the floor. Even though this sounds so rudimentary, it captures the ideal conception of Abstract Expressionism, the non-objective and non-representational art that is not centered on a specific object. Paintings such as “Autumn Rhythm” portray a ethereal feeling of immense proportions.
Then you can turn to the work of Hans Hoffman, who enjoyed using lines, shapes, and colors to portray three-dimensional objects in two-dimensional space. And of course, one only has to look at de Kooning’s paintings of women, the abstract distortion of reality in this case, to see the Freudian undertones in the work. In these works, he often differed from his abstract colleagues in painting figuratively instead of using blatant abstract technique and imagery.
Abstract Expressionism can be divided into two groups. One is the Action Painting, the purpose of which was to capture the actual physical action involved in painting. The other group was Color Field Painting, which was used to explore the effects of pure color on the canvas. Regardless of how abstract a painting might appear, it was always approached with discipline as the artist worked very specifically with the materials at his disposal. It was never simply a smattering of color or a bunch of shapes put down to fill the canvas. There was always direction to the work and a feeling that came from the artist to give the painting life and a voice.
Abstract Expressionism was a strong movement into the 1960s, when it was overshadowed by the pop art movement. Until then the artists were able to thrive in the freedom of post-war United States, which was rapidly becoming the new empire on earth. It was a completely free time in which to explore art in new ways and made North America an important part of the art world for good.

Art Nouveau History

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The place where the fine arts and the applied arts meet.  Art Nouveau was all about modernity, although it shared affinities with the Pre-Raphaelites.  Developed in the late 19th century, it was created as an international style of art in both Europe and North America that was largely a response to the Industrial Revolution.

The period between 1890 and 1914 was the beginning of urbanization as we know it today.  So many people were shedding the past and moving into this new age of society and the artists and designers of the day were moving along with them.  The very first signs of Art Nouveau actually came along in the 1880s in the progressive designs of architect-designer Arthur Mackmurdo.  High Victorian design also was a precursor in the 1880s.

The name itself was taken from a shop in Paris called Maison de l’Art Nouveau.  The shop was run by Siegfried Bing and it carried the type of new and stylish art that became the obsession of the world of art and design.  Despite its French beginnings, Art Nouveau took the world by storm and it had a different name depending on the region you were in.  It did not even go by the name Art Nouveau in France, where it was called Guimard, after French designer Hector Guimard.  In Italy it was known as Floreale (floral style).  It was called Liberty in Britain, after British Art Nouveau designer Arthur Lasenby Liberty.  In Spain it was known as Modernisme, in Austria as Sezessionstil (Vienna Secession), and in Germany as Jugendstil.

One of the biggest drives to Art Nouveau, was the attitude that art should be all-inclusive, that it should create a total or “holistic” work of art.  By this they meant to incorporate every aspect of a space into the art, not just the paintings and sculptures.  Therefore, the buildings, furniture, textiles, clothes, and jewelry were all a part of the artist’s palette.  Everyday objects were invited into the picture, no matter how inconsequential they appeared to be.  It was a time to break all ties to the classical period and go beyond mere style.

It was the job of the artist to bring joy, beauty, and harmony into everyday life.
Artists include Gustav Klimt, Alphonse Mucha, Aubrey Beardsley, Georges Lemmen, Georges de Feure, Edmond-Francois Aman-Jean, Theophile Alexandre Steinlen, Giovanni Segantini, and Ferdinand Hodler.  Klimt primarily painted the female body, whether in portrait or in indolent nudes, although he did also take some time to work with landscapes and natural scenes.

Mucha also often featured women in his paintings, although young and dressed in Neoclassical-looking robes.  They were generally surrounded by lush flowers and glowing.  On the flip side, Beardsley was the most controversial artist of the Art Nouveau movement.  He was well known for his perverse images and grotesque erotica, often using history and mythology as his inspiration.

Due to the advancements in technology, there were many more art forms from which to choose besides just the traditional paintings and sculptures.  Prints were now available and magazines were becoming popular.  There were new materials from which to sculpt and create art such as cast iron.  Glass working was also popularized during this time period.  Art was characterized by flowing, undulating, lines and generally depicted floral subjects, birds, or the femme fatale.  The abstract flourished in the lines and shapes used in art and design.  Hyperbolas and parabolas were also commonly found in Art Nouveau art.

The Arts and Crafts movement that occurred during the time of the Art Nouveau movement was more concerned with the hand created pieces, whereas Art Nouveau employed the use of modern technology and machinery with all its benefits.  Art Nouveau artists were more than happy to use new materials as well and took to the new industrial developments as key to their work and as something of which to take full advantage.

So, what happened to Art Nouveau?  It was certainly short-lived, but a very powerful force as it managed to change the way art was viewed forever.  One of the unfortunate things about the style was the expense that it cost to produce it.  Because art was no longer just about the painting on the wall or the sculpture in the foyer, an immense amount of money went into building design, furniture, fabrics, clothing, and the fine arts.

By the time the First World War came upon the world, Art Nouveau fizzled out in favor of less expensive, more streamlined styles that we are familiar with today.  This was Art Deco and was more rectilinear than the Art Nouveau style.  However, Art Nouveau did leave its mark as it influenced a number of smaller movements including De Stijl, a Dutch design movement in the 1920s, and the German Bauhaus school in the 1920s and 1930s.

Baroque History

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The Baroque movement occurred between the late 1500s and the late 1700s.  This 200 year time span allowed for the Baroque period to cover many styles and many different types of artists.  The origin of the name itself is a mystery.  The word Baroque in no way seems to describe the art movement.

Baroque art itself took three different forms over these years.  Although the style made its debut in Italy, it soon reached into France, Germany, Netherlands, and Spain and virtually every country in Europe had at least a taste of it, although the popularity of Baroque did not catch on in England or Holland.

The feel of the art was directly related to the country in which it was produced.  While Spain and Latin America tended toward extravagance in their style, other countries remained much more conservative.
Probably the most influence during the Baroque period came from the church.  The Baroque movement generally depicted the Saints, the Virgin Mary, and other Biblical stories.  This is a direct result of the Council of Trent (1545-1563), through which the church demanded that the artists gear their art toward the illiterate common people instead of the well-schooled and well-informed.

The division between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism was such that the Catholic Church desperately wanted to reach as much of the public as possible and, through a visual and emotional display of the church through art, the wanted to influence as many people as possible to remain faithful to the Catholic Church.  That these paintings were very bold and complex was no surprise when they were presented in the Protestant countries that truly preferred simplicity rather than extravagance.  The key artists in this area of Baroque were Gianlorenzo Bernini and Peter Paul Rubens.

Baroque art also introduced a new and stunning technique through which artists would create a dramatic and selective illumination of a figure out of the dark depths of the shadows.  This was a bold technique and it was revolutionary and had the effect and goal of sharp contrast between images, which allowed some images to stand out while others tended to fade into the background.  The hint of infinite space was present in many Baroque paintings as artists wished to capture a greater sense of space through their work.

Through these paintings the common working-class folk were portrayed in stark contrast to the religious focus of the time.  The goal was to capture the inner passions of the soul on the faces of those they were painting in order to connect with the inner world of the mind.  Cloth and textures were very realistic and set a high standard for the artwork.  The key contributors to this form of Baroque were Rembrandt van Rijn, Jan Vermeer, and Michelangelo Merisi-Caravaggio.

The Baroque style coincided with what is now known as the age of enlightenment.  During this time scientific and astrological knowledge was rapidly being expanded upon and there were countless texts on the subject.  This allowed artists to portray their work with incredible astronomical accuracy.  The realization that the earth was not the center of the universe inspired landscape paintings devoid of human life.  In addition, with colonial America becoming a major influence in the world and both they and Europe were enjoying economic growth and freedom.  Thus, the art portrayed this growth.

Of particular interest was the concept of the absolute monarchy and an “absolutism style” was born from this influence.  The monarchy itself thoroughly enjoyed the Baroque style and thus they used it frequently, not just in paintings, but also in sculpture, architecture, and décor.  With the increase in trade around the world, paintings often portrayed landscapes and people that were unfamiliar and exotic in Europe.  This made for exciting and well sought after paintings for the sheer uniqueness of the subject matter.

Baroque art thrived on emotion and a great variety in themes.  A sense of movement, energy, and tension are an integral part of the whole and the contrast between light and shadow help dramaticize these effects.  It was a time of grandeur, of the large scale.  It was also a time of returning to pictorial clarity.  Despite the dominance the church had over the art of the time, many artists still returned to nature as inspiration and the nature scene with its landscapes and noble subjects was quite dominant during this period.

This Baroque style was full of drama and a richness that set it apart.  The movement and emotion was borrowed from the Mannerist Movement and the grandeur and solidity were taken from the Renaissance.  These elements formed this new and exciting style of art that had approximately 200 years of success and exposure.  Baroque art led the way into the Rococo Style of art, which retained many of the characteristics of the Baroque style.

Contemporary Art

The word Contemporary in art does not merely mean art that is created at the time of consideration.  The term can loosely replace the term Modern Art and it is applied to any media that can be considered an art form.  These media include painting, sculpture, photography, performance art, architecture, fashion, and print making.

Generally, Contemporary Art is art that has been produced since the 1960s or 1970s until the present.  The 1960s and 1970s are considered the start date simply because it was around this time that the terms Postmodern and Postmodernism came into use and it was also around this time that definable art styles and movements were not apparent or easily classified.

Almost anything can be considered art these days.  There is so much out there that the average person looks at and says, “THAT is art?  My five-year-old could make that.”  However, there have been some amazing creations made in Contemporary Art and this movement is the true representative of life in the 20th and now 21st centuries.  This all brings up the question of whether the art is “serious” art or “good” art.  This is difficult to judge at times as the art is so fresh.

Contemporary art holds such a broad arena of art styles that the focus cannot be placed solely on the traditional art forms such as painting and sculpture.  The visual arts now include even more innovative media such as video art, installation art, and unconventional sculpture.

One of the most prestigious awards for Contemporary Art today is the Turner Prize, a British art award that recognizes ingenuity and boldness in all Contemporary Art forms.  While the art is sometimes controversial and criticized, it is always unique and inspiring.  The candidates for the Turner Prize have created some highly unusual art, although many would not term it so.  This includes the 2005 winner, Simon Starling, who converted a shed into a boat, sailed it down the Rhine River, and then turned it back into a shed.  Other exhibits have included an empty room with the lights being turned on and off, a disheveled bed with various indicators of a good time, and a group of people dressed as police officers and standing in silence for an hour (the 1997 winner).

Technology also allows for digital art.  This refers to any art that is created on a computer, either directly, in the form of a scanned photograph, or using vector graphics software.  Digital art is commonly used in advertising and has also made an impact on the publishing world.  There has been extensive software development for the digital art world, particularly when it comes to photograph manipulation.  This form of digital art allows the artist to create art from a photograph often to the point where the original photograph is barely recognizable.

Digital art has yet to gain a reputation as a serious and respectable art form simply because it is often assumed that it is the computer that does all the work.  While there is no brush technique involved, there is still a person controlling the program and who has the talent and vision to create a beautiful image.

Despite the new and flashy technology that has allowed for an expansion of art styles and even changed how many people view art, there has been a revival of Realistic painting.  Realism proper came about in the mid to late 19th century and came along with the introduction of photography.  It was a way to depict life just on life’s terms, just as it was viewed, with no emotional overlay.  It seems that artists are once again returning to Realism, in an effort to save the good name of art.

The Art Renewal Center (ARC) is an online Museum, which displays thousands of works by current artists.  The ARC is devoted to bringing back the standards in art and the training that was once such an integral part of becoming an accomplished artist.  They are also dedicated to bringing back into awareness the techniques of the old masters and the high standards of the art establishment prior to the 20th century.  This applies to every aspect of traditional art including painting, sculpture, and drawing.

The place that Contemporary Art will ultimately have in the grand scheme of art history is not yet known.  Contemporary Art is still current and we have yet to see what movements it will influence in the future.  All art movements were contemporary at one time in history.  Some of them were recognized or established themselves right away as a distinct movement, but hindsight is the only true way to be able to see the impact and form of an art movement.  Thus, it is only time that will tell what impact our Contemporary Art movement will have on the world and future art.

Expressionism History

Expressionism is not an art movement unto itself.  Rather, it is a style of art that has occurred mainly in the late 19th and 20th centuries and was primarily centered in Germany and Austria.

This style of art is devoted to the distortion of reality for emotional effect.  In other words, it is all about pulling feelings out of the very depths of the soul and the emotions conveyed tend to represent, not the outside world, but the depths of the artists own feelings and psyche.  It is about depicting the world as the artist sees it through anguish and pain, which shows in the art as the distorted model of the world experienced by the artist himself.  Of course, these tendencies made appearances throughout art history, but never did they develop into an art form in its own right until Expressionism came into being.

Expressionism made its way into other art forms such as three dimensional forms (wood carving, sculpture, etc…), dance, cinema, literature, and the theater.  However, in paintings it is characterized by vivid colors, strong brush strokes, and an exaggerated reality.  It is highly subjective and often jarring and violent.

Just think of Edvard Munch’s The Scream, one of the early influences and examples of Expressionism.  The intense colors and torturous lines that he blends into against the straight lines of society that are represented in the bridge and the people approaching him from the far end of the bridge, perhaps to stop him form jumping or perhaps to put him in a straight jacket.  Very few Expressionist works are cheerful in nature as they generally have a morose, terrifying, and macabre feel about them.  Other Expressionist artists include Franz Marc, Egon Schiele, Rolf Nesch, and Wassily Kandinsky.

While Expressionism is mostly confined to more modern times, the desire to inspire intense emotion through art has been repeated throughout history during times of upheaval.  The chaotic history of Europe can been tracked through the artwork that characterizes periods such as the Protestant Reformation, the Peasants’ War, the Spanish Occupation of Netherlands, and many other gruesome and ghastly episodes during European history.

In Germany it was the dominant form of art after the First World War and there were two movements of Expressionism in Germany – one called Die Brücke and the other called Der Blaue Reiter.  The former gained its inspiration from the likes of Munch, van Gogh, and Gauguin.  Vincent van Gogh was particularly influential as he began painting in his Expressionistic style within the final year and a half of his life.  This was an especially emotional period for van Gogh and he wanted to paint that emotion.  This was a common desire of the artists in this movement, to paint their own emotion into their paintings.  This may have been the original art therapy.

Die Brücke was a sub-movement of Expressionism that was founded in Dresden, Germany.  This group of artists isolated themselves in a working class neighborhood in Dresden and created works of high emotional intensity that depicted violent imagery and primitivism, an art form started by Rousseau that was based on the need for society to get back to its roots and reconnect with nature, mysticism, and the primal impulse.

Der Blaue Reiter, centered in Munich, was founded in response to the rejection of one of Wassily Kandinsky’s paintings by Kandinsky’s own group of painters.  While there was no one style that defined this sub-movement, it prominently featured horses, which Franz Marc liked, and the color blue, a color that Kandinsky considered spiritual.  Their work was primarily an exploration of the spirituality of their art.

In addition to these two German movements, there was one other that existed for a short time yet had a great influence, particularly on Impressionism.  These were the Fauvists, a group of artists from France who were under the tutelage of Gustave Moreau.  Their work was done in brilliant color and emphasized simplified lines and an ease of viewing.  These paintings were about the freshness and spontaneity rather than the perfectly finished product.  Art was to decorate and bring joy, opposite to the general goal of Expressionism, that of expressing the artists emotions and being gloomy and somber.

Expressionists acted as a bridge or link between the past and the future.  They were very modern in their methods and ideas, but they also had a strong link to the past and gained much inspiration from that as well as their own feelings.  Many Expressionist artists lost their lives during the Nazi Regime as the art form was considered to be anti-Aryan and anti-naturalism.  Some artists have worked Cubist or Abstract styles into their Expressionism to create truly unique pieces.  These are artists such as Franz Marc and Kandinsky.  Expressionism is an art form that has continued on throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century.

Impressionism History

Impressionism has its roots in Paris in the mid 19th century.  A group of artists began to show their work in public and it was different than anything seen before.  The name was derived from Monet’s painting entitled Impression, Sunrise.  The precursor to Impressionism was a style of painting that mirrored reality as perfectly as possible and did not exhibit any of the artist’s own emotions or character.  This traditional style of painting was strictly upheld by the Académie des beaux-arts in Paris.

Thus, Impressionism was met with resistance, both by the professional art world and by the public, although both groups eventually came around.  This was because Impressionist painters began to emphasize brush stroke and color.  Instead of using the traditional somber colors of the portrait, historical subjects, or religious themes, they used lighter colors and sought a freer style.

What else set this movement apart from what had come before?  Not only had the brush become freer and the color come alive, but the subjects themselves became less constrained.  It was now a time of capturing candid moments and moving the paintings to the outdoors, experimenting with different times of day and in different weather.  Paintings were now done to capture their subjects as they played and worked.  A more contemporary setting as well as focus on landscapes.

Impressionist techniques included:

  • Short, thick strokes of paint that were used to quickly capture the essence of the subject, side tracking the details.
  • Colors are applied side-by-side with as little mixing as possible.  This created a vivid look to the painting and this way the eye of the viewer could create the optical mix of colors instead of the painter dictating it.
  • They did not use black in pure Impressionism.  Grays and dark tones were produced by mixing complimentary colors.
  • Wet paint is placed into wet paint without.  This certainly cut out the drying time between applications and it produced softer edges and an intriguing blending of color.
  • Impressionist painters did not generally use glazes and opted instead for an opaque surface.
  • Impressionist painters made use of the play of natural light, particularly the reflection of colors from one object to another.
  • In paintings made outdoors, shadows are emphasized while the blue of the sky is depicted as it is reflected onto surfaces.  This gives a sense of freshness and openness that was not captured in painting previously.

While these techniques were not new, they were never used all together and in such a bold way as the Impressionist painters used them.

Previous to Impressionism, it was the way of painters to mix their own paints by grinding and mixing dry pigment powders with linseed or other appropriate oil.  With Impressionism, painters began to buy pre-mixed paints.  These paints came in lead tubes and they gave the artist immense freedom as these pre-mixed paints allowed the artist to work with greater spontaneity.  After all, he had all the colors at his disposal all the time and could then paint what he wanted as he saw it at the time.

As touched upon earlier, the public was none too pleased with Impressionism at first.  They felt that Impressionist paintings were too much like a sketch and, of course, was shocking to the eyes after the more subdued paintings of the previous movements.  But the movement grew in popularity and the public began to see it as a fresh new approach.  After all, with photography on the rise as a new art form, the ability of the painter to catch their subjects in the moment became that much more important.  Photography was indeed a major influence on the movement.  Another important influence were Japanese prints, which were used as wrapping paper for goods that were shipped to France.  These prints again emphasized the “snapshot” aspect of art.

There are several well known painters from the Impressionist movement.  Among these are Claude Monet, August Renoir, Edgar Degas, Paul Cézanne, Berthe Morisot, and Mary Cassatt.  Monet and Renoir enjoyed using a small comma-like brush stroke to emphasize the various sensations of light.  Degas was much more objective in his work and his paintings had a coldness about them that was rare among painters in this movement.  Cassatt preferred to work with children and children were a prominent subject for her art.  She tended to capture children in their natural state of being, which was not at all proper most of the time.

Impressionism paved the way for many other movements.  Post-impressionism, Neo-impressionism, Fauvism, and Cubism were all inspired by the Impressionist movement.  Essentially, Impressionism brought about the modern art movements of the 20th century.  This is because, like the following movements, the focus was not on the subject of the painting, but was on recreating the sensation in the eye that viewed the subject.

Post Impressionism History

While Impressionism had its beginnings in France, it was a British artist and art critic, Roger Fry, who named the Post-Impressionist movement as the development of art after Monet.  He coined this term after the Post-Impressionist artists were all dead so they remained unaware that they had inspired a true art movement.  Other than van Gogh, the artists were all French and most of them were previously Impressionist painters who had redefined their idea of what a painting should be.

Fry put on more than one Post-Impressionist exhibit in Britain, although the first was by far the most successful.  While the critics were not raving about the art, many were highly impressed.  These exhibits gained a large amount of publicity and they drew crowds because it was something to have so many works of Cézanne, Gauguin, and van Gogh in Britain at the same time.

Post-Impressionism took up where Impressionism left off and, while it still was characterized by vivid colors, distinct brush strokes, a thick application of paint, and real-life, candid subject matter, these artists also tended to focus on geometric forms or to distort forms explicitly for the expression this enabled them to achieve.  Another characteristic of this movement was to use color in an unnatural manner.

The Post-Impressionists were well aware that they owed a great debt to the Impressionist style with its bold brush strokes, vivid use of color, and its act of breaking away from the traditional.  What the Post-Impressionists did was to make the art more personal, not to the viewers, but to themselves.  In other words, these were artists who were truly painting for themselves and not others, possibly for the first time in art history.

Post-Impressionists tended toward restoring structure to art, whereas in Impressionism the paintings were more trivial and unstructured.  Unlike the Impressionists, Post-Impressionists liked to paint alone.  The Impressionists tended to be more of a close-knit group and painted together often.  However, Post-Impressionists did exhibit work together.

Pointillism was one incredibly unique form of Post-Impressionism, introduced by Georges Seurat.  This form of painting consisted of using tine dots of color to create a piece.  Seurat was inspired by the new theories that light was made up of particles as well as waves and by the process through which we see color.  As a result he began painting by using tiny dots of intense color which would allow the mind of the individual viewing the painting to mix those colors.  This style of painting led to the creation of a new movement called Neo-Impressionism, founded by Seurat and Paul Signac.  Many did not favor their style, but it still inspired many.

As part of the Post-Impressionist movement, Paul Cezanne separated himself from the Impressionists with the aim of making paintings that were more solid.  He focused more on the underlying forms that created the objects he painted.  His work seemed to be a patchwork of color without much depth and with various planes in his work.  Cezanne seemed to ignore the laws of gravity in his work and it is this aspect in particular that greatly influenced Picasso and Braque when they created Cubanism.

In contrast, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin felt Impressionism was too objective and sought a more spiritual expression of themselves through their work.  They both had a life wrought with mental illness and were unsettled, which may be why they expressed the spiritual in their work.  They also both started painting later in life after pursuing other careers.  They were artists that truly painted what they felt, not what they saw.

Post-Impressionism laid the foundation for two later art movements, Cubism and Fauvism.  Cubism was a movement that depicted an object from more than one view point by breaking it up into pieces, analyzing it, and reassembling it in an abstract form.  Thus their art did not consist of the traditional one viewpoint and they often consisted of many right angles that overlapped without creating a particular sense of depth.  Fauvism was less abstract and focused on lines and brilliant color.  They often applied paint straight from the tube as they were more interested in spontaneity than in the finish of the work.  Both of these movements were short-lived but powerful in their influence.

Pre-Raphaelite History

Properly known as The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, this group of artists was founded in 1848 by the English painters Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, and William Holman Hunt, as well as the following poets and critics: William Michael Rossetti, an art critic and Dante’s younger brother; the art critic Frederic George Stephens; the painter James Collinson; and the sculptor and poet Thomas Woolner.

The group was formed in reaction to Victorian materialism and the stiff conventions of he Royal Academy and they were also particularly inspired by Medieval and Early Renaissance art, right up to and including the art of Raphael.  They wanted to go back to a style of art that took advantage of intense colors and was full of incredible detail.  They abhorred the Manneristic style and rebelled against it.

What distinguished Pre-Raphaelite art was the ability of the painters to portray archaic, romantic, and moralistic qualities in such a way as to mold them into a unique creation.  While their initial subject matter came from the bible, history, and poetry, they soon realized that their modern and real world surroundings gave them a rich tapestry of subjects with which to work.  Nature once again reigned supreme in the art world and they portrayed this just as passionately as they portrayed the historical themes.

The earliest doctrines of the Brotherhood were to have genuine ideas to express, to study nature attentively so as to know how to express it well, to sympathize with what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art to the exclusion of what is conventional and self-parading and learned by rote, and, most important of all, to produce thoroughly good pictures and statues.

The Brotherhood believed that every artist had within his grasp the freedom to create anything and that along with that freedom came a responsibility to express it well.  They created a name for themselves and they published a periodical called The Germ, which was used to promote their ideas and influence others.

The Brotherhood created an interesting mix of Realistic and Medieval art and although they were somewhat split down the middle on the issue, there was never much dissention and the Brotherhood stayed in tact.  This is primarily because, while many of the artists leaned one way or the other, they all believe that art was to be spiritual in nature and they all treated their art in this manner.  During this time, Hunt and Millais developed a unique technique that allowed them to capture a crystal-like quality in their paintings by applying multiple thin glazes of pigment of wet white background.  They were looking for a brilliance of color that opposed the use of bitumen used by earlier British artists to create areas of muddy darkness.

The Brotherhood was not well liked by everyone, despite the fact that they had enough of an impact to create their own movement in art history.  Many did not like their attention to detail and many thought their work blasphemous, especially Millais’ painting “Christ in the House of his Parents”.  Their saving grace was very likely the support they received from art critic John Ruskin, at a time when they were being publicly slandered.  This support came in the form of both finances and good critiques.
It wasn’t long after the controversy surrounding Millais’ painting that the group disbanded.  However, this was no the end of the movement ad there were a number of artist who were inspired by the Brotherhood.  These artists include John Brett, Philip Calderon, Arthur Hughes, Evelyn De Morgan, Frederic Sandys, and Ford Madox Brown.

Rossetti became the primary influence for the Medieval style of art and he became a partner in his friend Wiliam Morris’ firm, Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., along with the artists Ford Madox Brown and Edward Burne-Jones.  Through the firm, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhoods ideals were upheld and these ideals and the style were a major influence for interior designers and architects of the day.  Medieval designs were once again of interest.

Later, Hunt and Millais moved on to create art based on the scientific and realistic knowledge of the time.  The idea was to reconcile religion and science.  Later they each moved on.  However, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood influenced many British artists well into the 20th century.  This work even influenced J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the famous Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Later in the 20th century, art once again moved away from reality as the idea of abstract art came into prominence.  The detail of the Brotherhood was too intense for many critics and the idea of expressing oneself and one’s emotions through abstract art became important.  Despite this, it is quite an accomplishment for a movement that was so criticized and so short in terms of time to have been so strong and influential.

Realism History

Realism was a movement that began in the mid 19th century and lasted until the end of that century.  It was sparked by the introduction of photography, the development of new technologies in architecture and design, and the new found interest and knowledge of the properties of light.

Realism was exactly as it sounds.  It was real.  It depicted life precisely as it existed without emotional embellishment or interpretation.  Romanticism was popular at the time Realism came into being and the Realist painters did not favor Romanticism at all.  In fact, it was the aim of Realist painters not to imitate past artistic accomplishments, but rather the use of nature and life as it truly is for all inspiration.  Art was to be the epitome of objective reality.

Realism was also born in an age of what is known as Positivism, a time of positive thinking in which human beings had an almost unshakable faith in knowledge and science and that these two things could work to cure al ailments and solve all human problems.  This is a far cry from times past when the church largely controlled the art establishment and encouraged faith in the divine rather than knowledge.

Of course, no painting can be completely true to life.  However, Realist painters tried their utmost to create paintings that were as true to life as possible.  There was no theatrical drama about a painting.  There were no classical themes or great subjects.  These paintings were about common life.  This style of painting is not new.  Many cultures around the world at different stages throughout history have dabbled in the realistic representation of their subjects.

Because the paintings of Realism were not embellished, they would not only portray what was considered beautiful.  It would also portray the plain and the ugly, just as they were.  Often times, Realism would capture the social conditions of society, and the work of some artists such as Gustave Courbet, Honoré Daumier, and Jean François Millet had their work referred to as social realism.

Of course, the subjects of the Realist artists were the same as the subjects as the Romantic artists and other artists as well.  The difference was in how they were portrayed.  After all, the working class had been portrayed before, but never with such stark realism.  Realists tended to depict the actual lives, appearances, problems, customs or primarily the middle and lower classes.   They found the unexceptional, the ordinary, the humble, and the unadorned to be ideal for depiction in their art work.  It was once again a time of painting, not based on what the artist felt, but on what they actually saw.  However, these painting were still packed full of meaning, much more so than a simple portrait that was meant to merely capture an image.

Realism tended to be political statements in some countries.  In France it followed on the heals of the French Revolution of 1848 and it supported democracy.  In England, Realism was used to make a statement against Victorian materialism and the principles of the Royal Academy in London.  However, despite its social inclinations, Realism was almost completely centered on painting.  Otherwise, in construction, it was about mass production – creating a skeleton of something that could then be reproduced in large quantities.  Sound familiar?

There were three different schools of Realism painting.  The Realists were a group in Paris between the years of 1800 and 1899.  They truly focused on new scientific concepts of light and optical effects.  They were democratic and shunned the more traditional views of the world.  Artists included Marie Rosalie Bonheur, John Singleton Copley, Gustave Courbet, Honoré Daumier, Hilaire Germain Edgar Degas, Thomas Eakins, Ignace Henri Theodore Fantin-Latour, Wilhelm Leibl, and Edouard Manet.

The second group was called the Barbizon School, and it was also centered in France in the 1840s and 1850s.  These were the nature and landscape artists who escaped from the depths of revolutionary Paris to create their art.  They inspired the love of visual reality and brought the reality of nature into the view of the art world in a fresh new way.  Artists included Camille Corot, Charles-François Daubigny, Jean-François Millet, and Pierre-Etienne-Théodore Rousseau.

The third school was British and it went by the name of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and they existed from 1848 to the mid 1900s.  They held belief in the doctrine that the artist’s goal was to imitate nature and they believed the only truly great art was the art created before the time of Raphael.  They held high the accuracy and detail of their work and took a very moral approach to painting.

Realism was a time of integrating art with the world as we know it today, with science, materialism, and the stark reality of the modern life in the late 19th and 20th centuries.  It paved the way for other expressions of art that, although it did not necessarily capture life exactly as it was seen and experienced, continued to use form and line to create new expressions of the modern way of life.

Renaissance Art History

The home of the Renaissance was Italy, with its position of prominence on the Mediterranean Sea.  Italy was the commerce capital between Europe and Eurasia, during this time period, from 1400-1600, and it boasted a large number of wealthy families who were willing to pay for education.  Over all, the Renaissance art movement completely discredited the Middle Ages as being dead both intellectually and artistically, thus rendering the Byzantine, Romanesque, and Gothic style art as being without value.

The Renaissance came from a revival of the Classical ideas, concepts, and knowledge.  What had once been forgotten was once again the focus of society.  It was also found that in Classical times artists enjoyed a much higher level of prestige than they did during the Middle Ages.  Artists wanted to enjoy this status once again.

The Renaissance took place over a long period of time.  Maybe this is an indication of its immense popularity both then and now.  However, the Italian Renaissance can be divided into three distinct periods known as Early, High, and Late respectively.  These stages were preceded by the Gothic art movement, which acted as a bridge between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and was followed by Mannerism, which bridged the gap between the Renaissance and the Baroque.  Mannerism hardly had an effect on the popular arts of the time and was not fit into the already neatly categorized art periods when historians looked back upon the era.

Early Renaissance art took up most of the 15th century and was characterized by inspiration from antiquity.  The movement was focused in Florence, Italy because this local had brought attention upon itself through various conflicts within the church and with its neighbors.  The art form focused on the human body, space, and the laws of proportion when it came to architecture.  The belief was that progress and development were the backbone of the evolution and survival of art.  The primary painter of the time was Masaccio.  His work was religious in nature and his inspiration came not from other painters, but from the sculptor Donatello and the architect Brunelleschi.

High Renaissance art was characterized by creating physical presence, drama, and balance than on the behavior and personality that were the focus of Early Renaissance art.  The major painters of the time were numerous.  There was Leonardo Da Vinci, Donato, Bramante, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Titian.  This period was short lived, lasting from about 1495-1520 and served as a transitional period between Early and Late Renaissance.  However, although brief, the art that flowed from this period was exceptional and some of the most famous artists ever produced work during this time.  After all, these artists had such a command over their talents that they were able to produce any natural effect they desired and they had an intellect that allowed for balance and harmony along with fine detail.

The Late Renaissance began with the sack of Rome in 1527.  Artists had to scramble to relocate throughout Italy, France, and Spain.  This period led to what is now called Mannerism.  Mannerism artists turned to producing paintings of people, often nudes, that were portrayed in strange poses and looking somewhat grotesque while odd themes were used and emotion looked horrifying.  Michelangelo was the only painter from the High Renaissance to make into the Late period.

The Renaissance movement ushered in the use of oil paints.  This was a boon to artists as, due to the slow drying time of oil paints, they could edit their paintings, making adjustments over a period of months.  They could now focus more on the quality of light on their paintings and were also more in tune with the architectural accuracy of the buildings in the background of their work.  Themes centered on Greek and Roman mythology as well as Biblical characters and the Madonna was a pre-eminent figure.  When it came to depictions of the human body, emphasis was often put on the nude form and the perfection of the body.

Another important result of the Renaissance was that painters began to communicate more with poets, essayists, philosophers, and scientists.  The boundaries between these disciplines began to blur and they began to share ideas with one another and recognized one another for the visionaries they truly were.

Over all, the Renaissance produced some of the most well known art ever created in human history.  It was a time of revival, of going back to something form the past that worked and bringing that past into new light.  After more than 500 years we still marvel at the works of artists such as Da Vinci and Michelangelo.  This period was unique in its portrayal of the human body and in its enmeshment of art and science.  It was proof that the old and the new can come together in harmony.