Sound like you know it all when in reality you know very little
20th century art, often called modern art, is interesting, diverse but also a little confusing. An array of different movements, styles and artists can leave one muddling their Fauvism with their Futurism. As a result, I have picked out what I believe are the key movements of the century, breaking them down into easily digestible nuggets of information. Impress your friends and amaze your family as you smugly appear to be an expert in 20th century art.
Fauvism flourished in France, peaking in prominence between 1904-1908. Be sure to mention bold, vivid colours. Toss in the phrase ‘painterly qualities’ (which basically means visible and distinguished brushstrokes). This is not a movement that strived for a realistic portrayal of nature. Instead it focused on a ‘spontaneous, subjective response’. Henri Matisse is the best example and believed to be the leader of Fauvism.
Cubism is all about fragmentation, distortion and abstraction, with a strong use of geometric forms. To impress, state that it aims to show different points of view within one work whilst simultaneously emphasising the two dimensionality of the canvas. It is integral to mention Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque as they are seen as the pioneers of the movement.
Futurism was based primarily in Italy. It embraced modernity and technology, and artists placed great focus on showing movement, dynamism and speed within their work. The Futurists glorified the car, aeroplanes and industry. The movement was founded in 1909 by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (who despite all his artistic genius was believed to be a massive fascist). The futurists criticised traditional values in favour of modernity.
Dada might just sound like a nonsense word but it is in fact an artistic movement that began in Zurich in the aftermath of World War One. To understand Dadaism, you need to embrace the nonsensical, the ridiculous and the childlike. Emerging out of discontent with the horrors of the war, Dada looked towards the innocence of childhood and was untainted by political language. Fun fact: Dada was named so as the phrase was often the first word for many children in Europe. Dada looked to reject traditional art standards and ideals with a largely experimental practice.
Surrealism concerns itself with the weird and the wonderful. Inspired largely by the writings of Freud, it looks towards dreams and the unconscious mind. Often painted with photographic precision, the work of the surrealists addresses the differences between dream and reality. The scenes are often strange, illogical, surprising and sometimes slightly unsettling. The leader of the movement, Andre Breton, saw it as a revolution. The most notable surrealist is Salvador Dali.
Abstract Expressionism is what could potentially be described as ‘scribbles’. It looks towards a freedom of movement. There is no reference to the outside world. Instead, the artists tended to look inwards, expressing their emotions and feeling through the movement of the paint. When discussing Abstract Expression, talk about the sensual nature of the painting that is exemplified in the fluid and gestural technique of applying the paint. The most prominent artists of this movement are Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.
Pop Art embraced consumer culture, mass production and mass media of the 1960s. The inwardness and self-expression of modernism became inconsistent with commercial culture. Pop Art looks to the external world of adverts and objects. Blocks, bold colours and references to brands and celebrities are the most apparent features of the movement. It was about blurring the lines between high and low art and the depersonalization of work. By appropriating images, artists reproduced what already existed to highlight the impersonal nature of modern culture. The biggest name in Pop Art is Andy Warhol.
The what the who the what now?! Not even postmodernism itself is sure what it is. If you can, avoid bragging about your knowledge of postmodernism, as you will be lost before you’ve even begun. In a nutshell, it is about moving away from modernism. Postmodernism can’t be learnt in five minutes, so we’ll leave that for another day.
Note: Be aware that constantly talking about art without actually knowing anything about it can make you quite insufferable.
Featured image credit: Leo Seltzer/Wikipedia