Category: Art History and Movements
Modern Art – art created from the 19th cent. to the mid-20th cent. by artists who veered away from the traditional concepts and techniques of painting, sculpture, and other fine arts that had been practiced since the Renaissance (see Renaissance art and architecture). Nearly every phase of modern art was initially greeted by the public with ridicule, but as the shock wore off, the various movements settled into history, influencing and inspiring new generations of artists.
Origins of Modern Art
In the second half of the 19th cent. painters began to revolt against the classic codes of composition, careful execution, harmonious coloring, and heroic subject matter. Patronage by the church and state sharply declined at the same time that artists’ views became more independent and subjective. Such artists as Courbet, Corot and others of the Barbizon School, Manet, Degas, and Toulouse-Lautrec chose to paint scenes of ordinary daily and nocturnal life that often offended the sense of decorum of their contemporaries.
Like man in the course of his personal existence, societies undergo a transformation of the mind or spirit, as well as of their outward appearance. The universe is a continuous creation, a bearing or ‘bringing forth’ in Biblical terms, and all its elements are subject, like the world, itself, to the great law of mutation or change. It might be said that history is only an analytical account of the transformation of mankind of which art is the direct and synthetical expression. The essence of successive societies is embodied in the divers forms of art which have been left to us over the centuries.
It is an explicit statement, complete in itself and in need of no commentary: for instance the XIIIth century can be read more easily in the statuary of Chartres cathedral than in the most learned history-books. The tedious, futile series of battles and political upheavals seems to have crawled out of the yellow press, when compared with those tangible witnesses we find in works of art. And what other conceivable evidence for the XIIIth century could there be, than those anonymous illustrations of the Scriptures, made by those sculptors and glass-makers who were as humble as they were effective?
Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564), Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and poet, b. Caprese, Tuscany.
Early Life and Work
Michelangelo drew extensively as a child, and his father placed him under the tutelage of Ghirlandaio, a respected artist of the day. After one unproductive year, Michelangelo became the student of Bertoldo di Giovanni, a sculptor employed by the Medici family. From 1490 to 1492, Michelangelo lived with the Medicis; during this time he learned from such philosophers as Ficino, Landino, Poliziano, and Savonarola.
Although Michelangelo claimed that he was self-taught, one might perceive in his work the influence of such artists as Leonardo, Giotto, and Poliziano. He learned to paint and sculpt more by observation than by tutelage. Michelangelo was known to be extremely sensitive, and he combined an excess of energy with an excess of talent.
Michelangelo’s earliest sculpture was made in the Medici garden near the church of San Lorenzo; his Bacchus and Sleeping Cupid both show the results of careful observation of the classical sculptures located in the garden. His later Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs and Madonna of the Stairs reflect his growing interest in his contemporaries. Throughout Michelangelo’s sculpted work one finds both a sensitivity to mass and a command of unmanageable chunks of marble. His Pietà places the body of Jesus in the lap of the Virgin Mother; the artist’s force and majestic style are balanced by the sadness and humility in Mary’s gaze.
Expressionism is a term used to describe works of art and literature in which the representation of reality is distorted to communicate an inner vision. The expressionist transforms nature rather than imitates it.
In painting and the graphic arts, certain movements such as the Brücke (1905), Blaue Reiter (1911), and new objectivity (1920s) are described as expressionist. In a broader sense the term also applies to certain artists who worked independent of recognized schools or movements, e.g., Rouault, Soutine, and Vlaminck in France and Kokoschka and Schiele in Austria—all of whom made aggressively executed, personal, and often visionary paintings. Gauguin, Ensor, Van Gogh, and Munch were the spiritual fathers of the 20th-century expressionist movements, and certain earlier artists, notably El Greco, Grünewald, and Goya exhibit striking parallels to modern expressionistic sensibility. See articles on individuals, e.g., Ensor.