Art is an all encompassing word indeed. The question of “what is art?” has surely popped into our minds at one point or another; and the answer to that question is ever changing, and ultimately relies on current fashions, trends, and opinions. To explore a little of what art has been, is now, and possibly will become; I present to you an ongoing (5 part) post of Art…A to Z, which gives a glimpse into twenty-six major art movements. Though there have been hundreds of art movements throughout history (over twenty starting with the letter “a” alone), I choose some of my favorites as well as attempted to provide a variety of styles, mediums, and artistic philosophies. From abstract art to hyperrealism, kinetic art to surrealism, there is a little bit of everything for everyone. So to begin here are letters A through F.
A is for Abstract Art
Abstract art, a rather broad term when talking about art, was born in the 20th century out of Romanticism, Impressionism, and Expressionism. It is basically any artwork (painting, sculpture, collage, drawing etc) that uses shape, form, color and line to create a composition which has little to no visual reference in the “real” world. Some of the heavy -hitters of the abstract art world pictured above include Henri Matisse, Arshile Gorky, Jackson Pollock, Ellsworth Kelly, Wassily Kandinsky, Helen Frankenthaler, and David Smith. Specific art movements included under the umbrella of abstract art are: Abstract Expressionism, Action Painting, Color Field Painting, Geometric Abstraction, Lyrical Abstraction, and Post-Painterly Abstraction.
B is for Bauhaus
The Bauhaus school, literal translation: “house of construction” is where modernist design and architecture as we know it was born. Established in 1919 by Walter Gropius, in Weimar, Germany, the revolutionary school was founded with the idea of unifying art and design, challenging the students to create objects that were simultaneously useful and beautiful. Though the three Bauhaus schools established in Weimar, Dessau, and Berlin were closed by 1933 under Nazi pressure, their radical ideas live on. Today modernist influenced furniture, architecture, and objects are at the height of fashion; and highly sought after original pieces bring in high prices at auction. In addition the radical unification of the arts that the Bauhaus founders sought to achieve can be seen today at any art school around the world; with fine arts, architecture, graphic and interior design being taught under one roof to all students.
C is for Cubism
Likely one of the most recognizable forms of art; Cubism, characterized by its angular, broken, “cube”-like appearance, began in Europe during the early 20th century and was lead by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Though, in some cases Cubism may look like another form of abstract art; Cubism is actually based in real life. The concept in a Cubist painting is that objects are depicted from multiple viewpoints (which gives it its signature “cubed” look) in order to represent the object in a greater context. Picasso was the first to utilize multiple perspectives in painting, demonstrated in his famed painting, Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon, 1907 (pictured above). From its beginnings in 1907 with Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon to the end of Cubism in 1914 the movement can be broken up into three distinct categories: Early Cubist Painting (1907-1909), Analytical Cubism (1909-1912), and Synthetic Cubism (1912-1914). To differentiate between the three styles of Cubism think of it like this – Early Cubism is objects, people, or landscapes painted in an angular, block-like style. The picture plane is often very flat, however you can identify the subject of the painting as something from life, for example a bowl of fruit, even though it appears “choppy.” Analytical Cubism is the most abstract form of cubism. These paintings, muted in tone, are often painted in a limited range of dark colors such as blacks, browns, greys, and ochres. The subject matter, in most cases unrecognizable, is broken into a complicated web of flat geometric shapes, angles and lines. These paintings, are extremely flat (meaning no depth, or no “space” for an object to exist in). An example above is Georges Braque’s, Glass on Table and Picasso’s The Guitar Player. Synthetic Cubism is in a way the opposite of Analytical Cubism. It is bright and colorful, instead of dark and moody. It is lighthearted and playful, instead of serious and somber. Instead of analyzing objects, simplified versions of objects are depicted from the artist’s imagination. Paint, collage and a large range of mark making are utilized to both reference and “mimic” the real world. This “imitation” or “artifice” lead to the term, “synthetic” Cubism. Examples above are, Diego Rivera’s Table on Cafe Terrace, and Juan Gris’, The Sunblind (La Jalousie). In a nut shell (I know this “definition” is a little long-winded, but Cubism is complicated, it has many sides, *no pun intended,*) Cubism was about breaking the known rules, conventions, and way of seeing in art making. And from this rebellious art movement some of the best paintings and sculptures in history were made and some of the most avant-garde, unconventional art movements, such as Futurism, Orphism, Dada, and Supermatism, were born.
D is for Dada
Dadaism…to place a definitive definition on this movement would almost be insulting to its creators. Formed in 1916, in Zurich, Switzerland, with an anti-art, anti-war, anti-bourgeois, and anti-rationalism ideology; this radical art and literary movement cannot be categorized by a common style (they did everything, collage, drawing, photomontage, assemblages, readymades etc), but by a common rejection of everything. Anarchists of the art world, Dada artists, such as Marcel Duchamp, Hannah Höch, Hugo Ball, Jean (Hans) Arp, John Heartfield, Max Ernst, and Herbert Bayer were not interested in creating beautiful works of art (though ironically many are considered beautiful today) but were compelled to shock society into “self-awareness” through provocative artwork, performances, manifestos, and political propaganda.
E is for Expressionism
Often described with or associated with the following words: emotional, violent, garish, crude, agitated, anxious, grotesque, exaggerated, distorted, vulgar and psychological; Expressionist paintings make us look at what we don’t want to see and were made by artists who weren’t afraid to “go there.” The Expressionists’ intense style was developed as a reaction to the dehumanizing aspects of industrialization and the horrors of war and degradation of humanity in general. Unlike the Impressionists who sought to depict nature and the world around them as it appeared, the Expressionists desired to paint an emotional experience of the world. They created great drama and horror in their depictions of alienation, social fragmentation, sexuality, and angst through their expressive style of painting; utilizing garish colors, distorted views, extreme angles, jagged brushwork and thick paint. Though the monstrosities of WWI were the catalyst of this 20th century art movement, the Expressionist style continues to remain relevant to any artists who simply wishes to make the viewer FEEL something.
“Expressionism doesn’t shun the violently unpleasant effect…Expressionism throws some terrific ‘fuck yous.'” – Alberto Arbasino, Italian writer and essayist
F is for Folk Art
Art which is not “Art with a capital A,” would describe Folk art. It is not created by learned masters of painting nor is it influenced by movements within the fine art world, on the contrary it lies outside the realm of “high art,” or “fine art.” Folk art, closely related to Outsider art, Naive art, or Self-Taught art, is the art produced from the local culture by peasants and tradespeople. Unlike fine art with a concern for aesthetic beauty, Folk art is primarily utilitarian and even paintings are of a decorative, ornamental nature. Generally Folk art can be categorized by its naive style, and lack of proportion, perspective and other traditional conventions in art making. Though the makers of Folk art may not be considered artists in the classical sense, they are phenomenal artists and craftsmen in their own right. From quilting, to paper cut, portraiture, basket weaving, and woodworking, Folk art is extremely relevant to its indigenous culture and is specific to the time of its creation, serving as a mirror into the lives of the every day man.
Now you have seen and learned about a few very influential art movements, stay tuned for the next installment of Art…A to Z with letters G, H, I, J and K (can you guess what they may be?)