Understanding artistic movements and styles is essential for appreciating art and celebrating the diversity and richness of a country's artistic culture. Art movements are somewhat like periods in the history of art when artists share common ideas and techniques. They work together to create artworks that reflect their vision of the world. Art styles, on the other hand, are aesthetic characteristics often found in artworks of a certain time and place. Art styles are often associated with broader art movements like Impressionism or Cubism. By learning about artistic movements and styles, we can better grasp the evolution of art and the influences that have shaped it. We can also more easily distinguish the ideas and techniques used, as well as the contexts in which the works were created. In this second part, we will explore some significant European and American movements that have marked the history of painting in the 20th century.
This term is probably the most well-known worldwide, and for most people, it is associated with the French painter Claude Monet. But what is Impressionism, and where did this name come from?
This artistic movement emerged in the 19th century in France, mainly during the 1860s-1870s. It developed in reaction to the dominant artistic styles of the time, particularly academicism, which advocated strict rules and traditional painting techniques.
Impressionists placed great importance on how light reflects on objects and alters colors. They painted “en plein air”, which means directly in nature, using strokes of pure and bright colors to capture variations in natural light at different times of the day.
By using a palette of vibrant and intense colors, often applied in juxtaposed strokes rather than mixing the colors on the palette, they aimed to express the sensation of color rather than represent objects realistically.
In contrast to the noble and idealized subjects of academicism, the Impressionists chose to depict scenes of everyday life, such as landscapes, bustling streets, leisure activities, and moments of modern urban life.
Among the key Impressionist artists, we can mention Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, and Berthe Morisot, among others.
This movement emerged in the early 20th century, primarily during the period of World War I. It was created in reaction to the horrors of the war and the traditional values of the society of the time. Dada is often considered an anti-art, anti-establishment, and avant-garde movement that aimed to challenge the norms and conventions of both art and society.
The term "Dada" is often seen as having uncertain and imprecise origins, reflecting the absurdity and irrationality that characterize the movement. Dadaist artists used humor, satire, provocation, and nonsense as a means to question the artistic and social conventions of their time. They employed all kinds of materials and media, such as collages of newspaper clippings and magazines, assemblages of different objects, creating unexpected associations of ideas.
Key artists associated with the Dada movement include Hugo Ball, Raoul Hausmann, Tristan Tzara, Hans Arp, Hans Richter, Marcel Duchamp, among others.
Surrealism is an artistic and literary movement that emerged in the 1920s, primarily in Paris, France. A few years earlier, artists from the Dada movement had sought to define an alternative culture based on the irrational. This idea was picked up by the surrealists and taken further in their artistic expression.
Surrealism is characterized by an artistic approach that seeks to explore and express states of consciousness beyond reality, with an emphasis on the subconscious, dreams, and imagination. They used fantastic and symbolic elements in their works to create surreal and enigmatic worlds. Unexpected and surprising associations of ideas are formed by juxtaposing different objects or elements, resulting in strange and disturbing images that defy conventional reality. Surrealists often addressed themes such as social and political critique, sexuality, desires, and human impulses in a provocative and subversive manner.
Key surrealist artists included Salvador Dalí, René Magritte, Max Ernst, among others.
Emerging at the end of the 19th century in Germany, this movement is characterized by an emotional, subjective, and expressive approach to artistic representation, emphasizing emotions. Expressionist artists seek to express their perception of the world in a visceral and often exaggerated manner, rather than aiming for a faithful representation of objective reality. They use vivid colors, distorted forms, striking contrasts, and expressive gestures to explore themes such as anxiety, loneliness, marginality, the human condition, intense emotions, and social conflicts. Notable expressionist artists include Edvard Munch, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Emil Nolde, Franz Marc, Egon Schiele, and Otto Dix.
Fauvism is an artistic movement that developed in France at the beginning of the 20th century. It is characterized by the bold and expressive use of vibrant and intense colors, as well as the simplification of forms and distortion of reality.
The term "Fauvism" emerged in 1905. At that year's Salon d'Automne, the paintings of several young artists were grouped in a room around two marble busts by Albert Marque. These works were executed with pure and vibrant colors, which sharply contrasted with the Impressionist painting that the public had become accustomed to. Among these painters were Henri Matisse, Charles Camoin, André Derain, Henri Manguin, Albert Marquet, and Maurice de Vlaminck. Their works drew fierce criticism, with comments like "They're anarchists," "It's incoherent," and "It's like throwing a pot of paint in the public's face." However, the most notable comment came from an influential art critic of the time, Louis Vauxcelles, who compared the paintings with their intense and vivid colors to wild animals ready to pounce on Marque's sculptures. He wrote, "In the center of the room, a child's torso and a small marble bust by Albert Marque, who sculpts with delicate skill. The candor of these busts surprises in the midst of the orgy of pure tones: Donatello among the wild beasts." This comment had a significant impact, and the term "Fauvism" stuck.
This movement developed in the early 20th century, primarily associated with artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. These artists believed that the most accurate way to represent reality was to paint an object from multiple viewpoints simultaneously, creating a complete image of the object as it is perceived and understood in people's minds.
The term "cubism" once again comes from the early 20th-century French critic Louis Vauxcelles. In 1906, he said about Georges Braque's works, "Braque is a very daring man. [...] He scorns form and reduces everything, sites, figures, houses, to geometrical schemas, to cubes."
Cubism is characterized by a radically new approach to representing reality. Instead of depicting objects and subjects using natural forms and traditional perspectives, cubist artists deconstruct forms by fragmenting and breaking them down into a multitude of geometric facets, thus creating a complex and often abstract "total vision" of reality.
Abstract art emerged during the first half of the 20th century but truly gained popularity and recognition after the Second World War. Several forms of abstraction developed on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Geometric Abstraction, Lyrical Abstraction, Abstract Expressionism, Tachism, Action Painting, and Color Field Painting are all abstract artistic movements. Among these, Lyrical Abstraction, Abstract Expressionism, and Tachism share several aesthetic characteristics, making them difficult to distinguish. Generally, the term "Abstract Expressionism" is used when the work is of American origin, while "Lyrical Abstraction" or "Tachism" is used for works from other origins. Also, the terms "Tachism" and "Lyrical Abstraction" are often used interchangeably to categorize the same artwork.
This movement emerged in the early 20th century. It is characterized by the representation of pure geometric forms, lines, colors, and structures, often devoid of references to objects or forms from the real world. Artists who practice geometric abstraction seek to explore the aesthetic properties of geometric shapes, such as straight lines, circles, squares, triangles, rectangles, and colors in a non-representational manner. Famous artists like Kazimir Malevich, Piet Mondrian, Theo van Doesburg, and Josef Albers are notable representatives of geometric abstraction.
Lyrical Abstraction and Tachism
These two movements emerged in the 1940s and 1950s, mainly in France. They are characterized by the use of spontaneous color splashes (hence the term "Tachism") and energetic gestures to create abstract works of art.
Artists associated with these movements apply paint to the canvas quickly and gesturally, using techniques such as splattering, smearing, dripping, and paint projection to create abstract and organic forms. Colors are often vibrant, and compositions are often characterized by a sense of freedom and spontaneity. Notable artists associated with Lyrical Abstraction include Georges Mathieu, Pierre Soulages, Jean Dubuffet, Hans Hartung, Serge Poliakoff, and Pierre Alechinsky, among others.
Abstract Expressionism developed in American art during the second half of the 20th century, primarily after World War II.
Like Lyrical Abstraction, Abstract Expressionism emphasizes spontaneity, gestural mouvement, and the emotional expression of the artist. One could say that Abstract Expressionism is the American equivalent of European Lyrical Abstraction.
Abstract Expressionism is generally divided into two main approaches: Action Painting and Color Field Painting. Action Painting is characterized by the artist's spontaneous and dynamic gestures, using their body and motion to create emotionally charged abstract artworks. Color Field Painting, on the other hand, focuses on the use of large areas of pure color without expressive gestures, creating abstract and harmonious compositions.
Notable artists of Abstract Expressionism include Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Franz Kline, and Clyfford Still, among others.