Modernism and the Development of Visual arts

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Modernism and the Development of Visual arts Essay Sample


Modernisms is referring to a series of radical movements in art, photography, architecture, literature, applied arts and music. Modernism emerged in the early 1890s. Its philosophical roots are traced to the 18th century Enlightenment. However, it is deeply rooted to transformation in Western society between the 1890s and at the beginning of 1900. The term visual arts encompass art forms such as painting, ceramic, drawing, design, printmaking, photography, architecture, and sculpture. Before the modernism, visual arts were limited to fine arts including printmaking, sculpture, and painting. This paper discusses the impact of Modernism on the development of visual arts.

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Modernism and Visual arts

In the first half of the 20th century, rapid industrialization resulted in global industrial capitalism, which propelled the emergence of consumer economics and politics. Besides the industrial benefits, these developments presented the society with numerous problems. The social, political and economic changes triggered anxiety, estrangement, and excitement. This sensation or themes would describe Europe during modernism. The First World War and the emergence of dictatorship amplified this social disorder. Visual arts reflected the same mood and themes under various aspects. New discoveries forced artists and the society as a whole to change its perception of the world. According to Eysteinsson and Liska (384), these transformations attributed to Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment in the preceding eras. Visual artists participated in the re-evaluation, frequently recognizing new discoveries by transforming the theoretical foundation of their work. Most aspects or effects of modernism on visual arts are a history or radical dismissal of conventional definitions and limitations of both art and the world. One of the fundamental sources of change was faith in science. Since science is based on observable or empirical fact, it provided an alternative of the traditional teachings and conception of the world (Eysteinsson and Liska 383). Economic theory and philosophy underwent transformations as objections to the dominance of objectivity emerged.

Impact of Modernism on Visual Arts

Equally, visual artists were affected by the devastating events during modernism. Some responded with hopefulness and others with bleak dejection. For visual artists working during modernism, adapting to the shifts in institutional structures within visual arts, and recognizing the impact of modernism resulted in a rich period for the progression of visual art, particularly Avant-garde (Eysteinsson and Liska 19). Eysteinsson and Liska (19) define avant-garde as a form of experimental art. The Modernism avant-garde visual artist took lead in aggressively challenging the conventional and highly treasured thinking about visual art and its relations to the society (AskArt par. 4). As the new social orders including communism and capitalism took shape, avant-garde artists also came up with new perspectives and uses of visual art within the radically changing world. These artists pursued an introspective assessment of conventional artistic principles, leading to increased emphasis on modernist’s goals and formal qualities of visual art (Eysteinsson and Liska 452).

The expansion of colonial empires during modernism exposed the American and European artist to the work of artists from Japan, India, and Africa (Eysteinsson and Liska 35). Additionally, Modernism led to the departure of artists from the traditional concepts of a constructed, unified and orderly pictorial space, which reflected the observable world. In other words, Modernisms set the pace of representing the world as the dynamic interplay of space and time (Eysteinsson and Liska 396). There are several movements that surfaced during and after modernism, which can be used to expand the discussion on the impact Modernism on visual arts. These include expressionism, fauvism, German expressionism, Abstraction and Cubism (AskArt par. 1). Other movements include purism and collage.

Expressionism. At the onset of modernism, painters used unnatural colors and geometric forms, as well as symbolism to depict emotions. One notably visual artist at this time was Paul Gauguin, influenced by African, Japanese and Asian art. Other notable visual artists at the beginning of modernism were Toulouse Lautrec (French) and Vincent van Gogh (Dutchman).Modernism led to the development of symbolism or expressionism. Expressionism refers to art characterized by an artist’s personal or unique vision, which has an emotional inclination (Ghosh 65). It emerged as the effect of avant-garde movement. Expressionism contrasted with the conventional art that focused exclusively on the visual description of the practical world. Additionally, Expressionism was a rejection of the Renaissance doctrines that had ruled the Western art prior to modernism.

Fauvism. This movement was fuelled by the desire to create visual arts that had elements of impressionism, emotional capabilities and intense color juxtapositions (AskArt par. 15). Unlike the previous artist, the Fauves used contrasting colors in bold patterns. As an aspect of Modernism and modern art, devices such as inward and outside expressionism triggered viewer’s emotions. Henri Matisse and Andre Derain are given credit for this movement (AskArt par. 15). The two were influenced by Van Gogh and Gauguin. Henri Matisse realized that color played a critical role in conveying artistic meaning and this became the basis of fauvism.

German Expressionism. German expressionists: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (leader), Emil Nolde, Vassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc were appealed by the immediacy and audacity of the fauves (Ghosh 66). Characteristically, the artists produced paintings that represented their inner feelings in visual form. As an effect of Modernism, the artists introduced the distortion of reality in visual art for an emotional effect.

Cubism. Modernism and avant-garde led to cubism, a visual art style developed in France in which artist concentrated on the volume and space of structures within a composition (Eysteinsson and Liska 452). Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso were the advocates of the movement. Under cubism, objects were dissected, analyzed artistically and reconstructed through abstraction. Cubist abandoned the naturalistic portrayal of the world by considering the use of forms and shapes abstracted from the traditionally conceived world.

Abstraction. Pablo Picasso and other artists also embraced the expressionist deviation from strict conformity to the traditional illusionism in visual art. Under abstraction, all aspects of observational drawing were mastered.


The term modernism was used by historians to refer to the period between 1890 and the end of the world war. The period was characterized by rapid transformations in materialistic social and cooperate word. Therefore, Modernism was not only a rebellion against the repressive principles of the Victorian Era but also the emergence of the rapid transformations in co-operating materialistic world. The rapid transitions were subject to the ceiling issues such as technological changes, unemployment and the confusion brought about by the First World War. The impact of modernism on visual arts is illustrated by the emergence of various artistic movements including expressionism, fauvism, German expressionism, Abstraction, Cubism, and collage.

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