Tag: Modern Art
For the past hundred years, abstract art has been a dominant mode of expression in America. But in its character, most of our abstract painting and sculpture pays small fealty to the concepts of those pure abstractionists, who hold that the work of art should be a completely meaningful object in itself, of solely esthetic significance, hermetically sealed against all other associations.
In Europe, as George Hamilton pointed out in the catalogue of his “Object and Image” exhibition at Yale, this atlitude is historically associated with the early modern movemen in its heroic break with tradition and is diametrically opposed to a more recent trend toward an abstract but evocative imagery which reflects man’s consciousness and inner being. In America,
ew even of our pioneer abstractionists could be called purists. The latter began to appear here only in the 1930’s (many from abroad), and while they still form an active and vital group, they have always been a minority. Our tendency, more marked than ever today, has been toward kinds of abstraction which draw on observed reality to create, variously, a conscious imagery, an unconscious imagery or, at the least, a kind of organic and “natural” teleology of form.
It is our purpose here to determine exactly what the relation is between American abstract, art and one traditionally important aspect of observed reality — nature. The inquiry is not in any sense a reactionary back-to-nature thesis. It is, rather, an effort to understand the character of the abstract vision and especially the personal attitudes and methods of various abstract artists in dealing with nature.
These terms are used in their widest and commonest meanings: “abstraction” to describe any art not clearly based on recognizable visual reality, “nature” as the all-embracing universe about us, the tangible world of land and water, the intangible world of light, sky and air, the eternal forces of germination, growth and death which make up the cycles of life and season — with man and man-made things alone excluded.
It is apparent that this is but part of a larger question, the relation of’ abstract art to all experience. Still, it is a significant part, for the multitudinous aspects of nature are inescapable, a part of every man’s environment. Since the Renaissance they have been the timeless themes of art, and there is ample evidence that they continue to move, and sometimes perplex, many abstract artists just as powerfully.
By focusing on this single but universal area of experience and avoiding the moral and social problems inherent in man and his works, we can perhaps dig deeper and hope to reveal certain truths about the abstract artist’s approach to reality, which will be valid in other areas as well.
Such a restriction does not imply dehumanization, for the artist has always found in nature compelling symbols of man’s own “nature,” especially of his relation to the organic world. And even when symbolism is absent, nature inevitably assumes human meaning as it passes through the artist’s eye, mind and emotions to his canvas. In Balcomb Greene’s words, “One humanizes nature even as he sees it.”
Francisco Goya, considered to be “the Father of Modern Art,” began his painting career just after the late Baroque period. In expressing his thoughts and feelings frankly, as he did, he became the pioneer of new artistic tendencies which were to come to fruition in the 19th century. Two trends dominated the art of his contradictory; they actually were not. Together they represented the reaction against previous conceptions of art and the desire for a new form of expression.
In order to understand the scope of Goya’s art, and to appreciate the principles which governed his development and tremendous versatility, it is essential to realise that his work extended over a period of more than 60 years, for he continued to draw and paint until his 82nd year.
The importance of this factor is evident between his attitude towards life in his youth, when he accepted the world as it was quite happily, in his manhood when he began to criticise it, and in his old age when he became embittered and disillusioned with people and society. Furthermore, the world changed completely during his lifetime. The society, in which he had achieved a great success disappeared during the Napoleonic war. Long before the end of the 18th century Goya had already turned towards his new ideals and expressed them in his graphic art and in his paintings.
As an artist, Goya was by temperament far removed from the classicals. In a few works he approached Classical style, but in the greater part of his work the Romantic triumphed.
Born in Zaragoza, Spain, he found employment as a young teenager under the mediocre artist José Luzán, from whom he learned to draw and as was customary, copied prints of several masters.
At the age of 17 he went to Madrid. His style was influenced by two painters who were working there. The last of the great Venetian painters—Tiepolo and the rather cold and efficient neo-classical painter—Antonio Raphael Mengs. In 1763 he entered a competition at the Royal Academy of San Fernando, and failed, as he did in the year 1766. In 1770, he want to Rome and survived by living off his works of art.
Contemporary just means “art that has been and continues to be created during our lifetimes”. In other words, contemporary to us.
Now, of course, if you are 96-years old and reading this (By the way, congratulations, if this describes you. Way to keep up with the times!), you can expect a certain amount of overlapping between “Contemporary” and “Modern” art in your lifetime. A good rule of thumb is:
• Modern Art: Art from the Impressionists (say, around 1880) up until the 1960’s or 70’s.
• Contemporary Art: Art from the 1960’s or 70’s up until this very minute.
Here at About Art History, 1970 is the cut-off point for two reasons. First, because it was around 1970 that the terms “Postmodern” and “Postmodernism” popped up – meaning, we must assume, that the Art World had had its fill of Modern Art starting right then.
Secondly, 1970 seems to be the last bastion of easily classified artistic movements. If you look at the outline of Modern Art, and compare it to the outline of Contemporary Art, you’ll quickly notice that there are far more entries on the former page. This, in spite of the fact that Contemporary Art enjoys far more working artists making far more art. (It may be that Contemporary artists are mostly working in “movements” that cannot be classified, due to there being around ten artists in any given “movement”, none of which have shot off an email saying that there’s a new “movement” and “could you please tell others?”)
On a more serious note, while it may be hard to classify emergent movements, Contemporary art – collectively – is much more socially conscious than any previous era has been. A whole lot of art from the last 30 years has been connected with one issue or another: feminism, multiculturalism, globalization, bio-engineering and AIDS awareness all come readily to mind as subject matter.
So, there you have it. Contemporary art runs from (roughly) 1970 until now. We won’t have to worry about shifting an arbitrary point on the art timeline for another decade, at least. Go, be of good cheer, and fear not the term “Contemporary Art”.
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In the series of Regattas, painted from his boat, slight stylistic differences are discernible from picture to picture. These reveal a rather subtle line of evolution, but a significant one.
Sailboat at Argenteuil ( Bravington Collection), tacking with all sails set across the Seine, represents the next step after Pleasure Boats (May Collection). It is handled like the latter, with the paint swept on broadly in thin coats, but the strokes of the brush are no longer quite so separate and distinct as they are in Pleasure Boats; instead of being juxtaposed and contrasting with each other, planes tend to fuse and intermingle. Regatta in Fine Weather ( Caillebotte Collection, Louvre) marks a further stage.
Reflections on the water are no longer rendered in molten dabs of color, but in straight, horizontal, distinctly separate brushstrokes. These strokes, however, are larger than those in Regatta in Gray Weather (Camondo Collection, Louvre). Here, in order to render choppy water ruffled by the wind, Monet dabbed on his paints in small, flickering touches that convey an effect of movement and agitation, and though motivated by circumstances (i.e. the state of the weather) they nevertheless mark a further step in his increasing concern with effects of atmospheric vibration.
In each of these pictures he never failed to adapt his technique to the nature of the scene before him. Sky, water, trees, sails, houses, no two of these things are treated in the same way. The brushstroke is adjusted in every case to the visual impression, which in turn depends not only on light conditions but on the form and texture of the object or element in question.
During the summer Monet was so completely engrossed in nautical subjects that he apparently found time for only one rural landscape: Springtime ( Berlin), a masterpiece of sunny airiness, painted with the utmost simplicity in flat colors. At the approach of winter his thoughts turned again to the open country and he made some snowscapes, mostly handled in thin coats of modulated color (for example, Train in the Snow, Musée Marmottan, Paris, dated 1875), sometimes in a thick impasto, but always smoothly brushed on, without any division of color.
As a result of the severe winters of the early seventies (borne out by his snowscapes), Monet felt the pinch more than ever and, to make things worse, there seemed to be no prospect of better times ahead, for the “incomprehensible” novelty of his painting only widened the breach between him and the public. With his stout physique Monet could bear the hardships of cold and hunger, but his wife’s frail health was permanently injured. His painter friends were Monet’s only resource, but the whole group was faring badly.
An image of Venus in the nude, lying on a green velvet divan with pillows and a spread. Legend would have it that this was the Duchess of Alba, but the sitter has also been identified as Pepita Tudó, who became Godoy’s mistress in 1797.
It is listed for the first time in 1800 as hanging over a door in Manuel Godoy’s palace, but without its companion, The Clothed Maja (P741). In 1808 it is mentioned again, along with The Clothed Maja (P741), in the inventory which Frédéric Quillet, José Bonaparte’s agent, made of the property of Manuel Godoy, who may have commissioned it. Then, in 1813, the two ladies are described as Gypsies in the inventory of Godoy’s property confiscated by King Fernando VII.
This work entered the Prado Museum in 1901 by way of the Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, where it had been from 1808 to 1813, and again from 1836 to 1901. In the hiatus between those two periods, it was sequestered by the Inquisition.
Gabriella Benevolenza, a young woman of Italian-Finnish descent was born in Helsinki, Finland in July, 1968. She was raised in various countries finally settling in Alsace (France), where she lives and paints. She studied “Arts plastique” from 1992 – 1995. She is now a valued member of AIDA (Artistes Independent d’Alsace).
Always very “constructed”, her semi-abstract work is a search for transparancy and colour balance: light and the variations of adding different types of material. She uses plaster of paris, metal pigmented paints, various types of cloth, emery paper or printed collage material.
Gabriella Benevolenza always uses collages and sometimes a square stencil. She gives rythme to her paintings by using horinzontal and/or vertical lines. On a symbolised landscape, a horizontal division may suggest houses, a small harbor, bottles or a simple forms and colors harmony, that no title helps the viewer with orientation.
The artist, herself, often remarks that: “ I may not see anything”
The most important is not the title, but the harmony of the complete color palette : from warm colours to bright orange, smooth and delicate greys, astonishing beiges that illuminate a wide space. A red point may bring , in true freedom, the final touch.
Alfred Alexander Gockel was born in the North Rhine city of Ludinhausen, Germany in 1952. From his earliest days, he was fascinated by the magic of colors on paper. This talent and enthusiasm resulted in the release of his first work of art by a German publisher at the age of 8.
In 1973 he began his studies in the field of design, with an emphasis on typography, graphic design and advertising. After graduating with honors at the Polytechnic Institute in Munster, Germany in 1977, Alex Gockel went on to lecture at the Institute about typography and graphic design.
After making a firm decision in 1980 to dedicate all of his time to painting, Gockel honed in on his skills and developed his identifiable, signature style known today. His work ranges from unique types of etching to serigraphy. In 1983 he established the art publishing firm of Avant Art, and since that time has taken part in important international art exhibitions.
Since 1987 the porcelain, carpet and sportswear industries have made use of his design work. The conversion of a mill purchased in 1988 and used as a centre of graphic printing (screen print etching) has expanded his artistic scope. As a result of international recognition, distribution points and studios were established in London and Connecticut in 1990.
With expressive use of rich, primary colors, Gockel has created and exceptional style that is undeniably unique. His fluid strokes on large white canvas backgrounds, done in the manner of “action painting” have a tremendous universal appeal. It is no wonder that over the last decade, well over 2 million examples of his imagery in various media have been sold in the U.S. art market alone. This incredible exposure has created a demand for this artist’s original works, spawning high profile collectors such as Michael Jordon, who now owns several Gockel paintings.
He currently resides in his native Germany, and in his spare time enjoys playing tennis, and riding his Harley-Davidson through the German countryside.
Max Jacob said that Picasso and his friends were determined to make ‘beaucoup de pastiches volontaires pour être sûr de n’en pas faire d’involontaires’. Yet pastiche is hardly the word for the imaginative transformations which are illustrated. Whereas the young Degas, Manet or Van Gogh often copied literally works which they admired, Picasso after his early youth more frequently used other pictures as starting points for the creation of something very different.
There was an element of personal daring and perhaps of Andalusian panache in this independence of the model. An old friend of Picasso, remembers him coming into ‘Els Quatre Gats’ in 1901 and setting down on one side a copy he had just made in Madrid from part of ‘ Las Meninas’ and on the other his own ‘Dancer’, saying, ‘ Velasquez did that, Picasso did that’. Even earlier he was resolved not to be the slave of any one master, and wrote to a friend from Madrid in 1897, ‘I am against following a determined school as it brings out nothing but the mannerism of those who follow this way’.
Picasso’s constant traffic with other artists’ styles was partly the normal method of a young painter teaching himself his trade, carried to abnormal lengths by his tremendous power of imitation — he was able to use, transform or mock the idiom of others with a skill that reminds one of James Joyce (and since he could imitate everybody it was tempting to do so). But he was also interested in the different languages of art for their own sake, just as many early twentieth century writers had the habit of juggling with a variety of older styles.
Obvious examples of this tendency in literature were Picasso’s friend Max Jacob, whose poetry was full of parodies and reminiscences, or du Plessys, a follower of Moréas, who could write at will in the style of the Song of Roland, Villon, Jehan de Meung and others. A little earlier, Laforgue Complainte de Lord Pierrot begins with an ironic parody of Au clair de la lune, and later Joyce, Pound and Eliot were to make similar parodies.
All this seems very far from the nineteenth century and from Cézanne’s ‘We must give the image of what we see, forgetting everything that has appeared before our time’, for Picasso was a highly conceptual painter, more often excited by ideas or by the works of other artists than by that direct, prolonged and intense contact with the object that inspired Cézanne. His friends Mir and Raynal both confirm this, and the latter wrote, ‘ Picasso looked for the essence of things in other works of art, and he realised that in order to distil this essence himself, the most advanced starting point was not reality and nature but the work of other artists.
This is one reason for studying his early friendships and milieu in some detail. Other reasons are the great historical importance of ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’, the strange, disquieting and experimental picture to which the work of all these years leads up, and the fact that Picasso, who was popular and had his choice of companions, chose to live in Paris amongst poets who were nearly all men distinguished or interesting in their own right. The ‘Modernists’ of Barcelona as well as Max Jacob, André Salmon and Guillaume Apollinaire were all lively and original characters who had a considerable impact upon Picasso’s development.
But to turn for inspiration from nature to the work of other artists was only in part a matter of temperament. The fact that it rarely occurred to Picasso in these years to paint realistically in the nineteenth-century sense of the word, although his earliest works had shown that he was capable of doing so, is of course connected with the literary, philosophical and artistic reaction against the Naturalists, who well before the turn of the century were considered stodgy and vieux jeu both in Paris and among the ‘Modernists’ of Barcelona. Courbet’s conviction that ‘Le beau donné par la nature est supérieur à toutes les conventions de l’artiste’ was rejected, in part because it was based on the discredited doctrine of Positivism; and Schopenhauer’s works, well-known in Barcelona, helped to popularise the idea that nature is only an appearance.
Maurice Denis, who was influential in the club of San Luc in Barcelona, and probably had some effect on the simplified rhythm and the sentiment of Picasso’s ‘Maternités’, wrote that ‘l’art, au lieu d’être la copie, devient la déformation subjective de la nature’. Denis was also highly indignant against the master who criticised his idealised nude study by saying ‘Vous ne coucheriez pas avec cette femme-là’. Some of the mediaevalists in Barcelona felt so strongly against satirical naturalism that they tore up the French comic paper Gil Blas.
Picasso’s choice of books showed a similar anti-realist taste. Raynal, writing probably of about 1905, said that Picasso owned the works of Rimbaud, Verlaine and Mallarmé, but no naturalist or psychological novels, which he detested. Mallarmé and Rimbaud both frequently declared that the true subject of art was the idea, the general, and not life’s particularity. This incidentally fitted in, or was made to fit in, with Gauguin’s synthesism and his linear simplifications.
Completely alien both to these writers and to Picasso was that affection for the unique, fleeting and particularised aspects of nature which made Constable date his cloud studies, adding the exact time of day and the direction of wind, or Duranty’s belief that in rendering a man’s back view one should show his age, temperament and social status. Picasso’s preference for more timeless and generalised subjects may be partly responsible for the choice of such ritual figures as mother and child, harlequin or clown. We know also that Picasso liked the works of the Catalan poet Juan Maragall which were published in 1906 just before the artist went to Gosol when he translated one into French. Like many Catalans of the time Maragall was more interested in German literature than in naturalism and he translated Novalis The Blue Flower into Catalan.
In turning away from the naturalism of his predecessors Picasso was also reacting against the practice of his own father. Apparently he told Sabartés that the latter painted ‘dining-room pictures’. ‘Fur and feathers, pigeons and lilac, together with an occasional landscape completed his repertoire. He was happiest when he could make his feathered models symbolic of moral or sentimental drama, as in his painting of a happy couple perched on the threshold of their pigeon-house, while a third party, ruffled with jealousy, spies on them from below.’ Naturally, the father could not at first reconcile himself to his son’s novelties. The painter Bernareggi declares that when he and Picasso were studying together in Madrid in 1897, they would send home their copies to Picasso’s father. If these were of Velasquez, Goya or the Venetians all was well, but when they sent copies of El Greco he replied severely, ‘You are following the bad way’.
Anti-realism was only one of many characteristics that fin-de-sièle, ‘decadent’ or symbolist movements had in common, but the atmosphere differed from country to country. Barcelona with its particular brand of modernism was important to Picasso’s development long after he first visited Paris at the end of 1900; for it must be remembered that Picasso crossed the Pyrenees seven times before he settled in Paris in April 1904.
In Paris he lived at first almost entirely amongst Spaniards from Barcelona and could not speak French. Even in the Rue Ravignan from 1904 onwards his old friends constantly visited him. Gertrude Stein and others have rightly perceived the Spanish basis of the Blue Period, even though this began in Paris shortly before his departure for Barcelona in December 1901 and owed something to Gauguin, Maurice Denis, Carrière and Van Gogh. His friend Nonell’s drawings are probably the forerunners of many of the crouching, outcast figures painted in the years 1902-4.
The Nietzschean writer and dramatist Jaime Brossa compared the artistic climate of Barcelona to hearing, in a fin-de-siècle café, a Ballade of Chopin and the ‘Marseillaise’ being played at the same time. This exciting ferment of literary and political insurgence must have had some effect on the parallel if unconnected extravagances of Gaudi and Picasso. ( Picasso, it may be said in parentheses, admired Gaudi as a curiosity but never met him; the architect was thirty years senior, a bigoted Catholic and member of the rival club of San Luc, disapproving strongly of the atheist, anarchist and Bohemian ‘Els Quatre Gats’.)
The version of the international fin-de-sièle movement flourishing in Barcelona emphasised ‘Sturm und Drang’, a Nietzschean energy and defiance of the bourgeois rather than the lilies and langours of Swinburne and Burne-Jones or the pessimistic irony of Laforgue. There was more vitality and toughness in Barcelona than in England (or France), partly because of the strenuous political movements and the fiery anarchism and separatism of Catalonia, which incidentally increased the popularity of the Middle Ages as the time of her grandeur and autonomy before the centralising policy of Ferdinand and Isabella.
When Picasso was first living in Barcelona hardly a year passed without a bomb outrage, and there was considerable feeling in favour of the prisoners detained in the fortress of Montjuich after one of these incidents. The hardships of the soldiers returning from the Cuban war also aroused popular sympathy and were probably the subject of one of the drawings of Picasso’s friend Nonell. We shall see from Picasso’s own works, such as the drawing of an anarchist meeting, that he was affected by this social unrest as well as by the poverty of his own family.
Perhaps the most obvious feature of the Catalan ‘Modernismo’ was an obsession with everything northern. Rusiñol even described ‘Els Quatre Gats’, which was modelled on a Montmartre café, as ‘a Gothic tavern for those in love with the North’. In the reviews to which Picasso contributed, such as Pel i Ploma, Joventut and Catalunya Artistica, there were frequently translations from German literature and articles on Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. From 1900 onwards an Asociación. Wagneriana, modelled on one in Munich, used to meet in ‘Els Quatre Gats’, and there were frequent performances of the operas, notably Siegfried and Tristan and Isolde. The new avant-garde theatres produced plays by Ibsen and Maeterlinck, most often Ghosts and The Intruder, which had an obsessive attraction for Picasso’s generation.
There was a natural link between the plays of Ibsen, Hauptmann, Strindberg and Björnson, exalting heroic individual action and the ‘vitalismo’ of Nietzsche. Nietzsche, probably the greatest intellectual influence of the time, came as an antidote to the numbing determinism of the Materialists, the cult of pity in Tolstoy and of death and pessimism in Wagner and Schopenhauer. A friend of Picasso has said that before he was seventeen he had read most of the works of Nietzsche and that this was characteristic of his companions in ‘Els Quatre Gats’. According to him Picasso took most of his knowledge of Nietzsche from Maragall. and from the rather banal poet Joan Oliva Bridgman, two of whose works Picasso was commissioned to illustrate.
Nietzsche was first introduced into Barcelona by Pompeyo Gener.Gener, born in 1848, took a medical degree in Paris and produced poetry, plays and translations. In spite of his age he was on the staff of Joventut and published numerous translations, extracts and articles on Nietzsche, including a long article, ‘Arte Dionisiaco’, on his death in 1900. Gener emphasised the need for men to be heroic and to reflect the rhythm of the universe, becoming fiery, revolutionary and progressive. Another disciple, Jaime Brossa, who had at one time been forced to flee to London because of his anti-militarism, extracted from Nietzsche’s works creeds which he called ‘the great Excelsior of the twentieth century’ and the ‘cult of the me’, adopting Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-bourgeois, anti-Philistine teaching.
Nietzsche’s doctrine probably reinforced Picasso’s temperamental unwillingness to be a good apprentice, like Matisse, with steady artistic aims. His inclination towards constant changes of style would have fitted in with Nietzsche’s belief that art proceeds by violent explosions. The Nietzschean cult of unhindered self-expression and contempt for Philistine and bourgeois values may have helped Picasso to disregard criticism and with ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ even to invite it. Leo Stein describes Picasso as late as about 1905 in a Nietzschean mood, perhaps in jest, raging at a bus queue on the grounds that the strong should go ahead and take what they want. Nietzsche also condemned hedonism and sensuous art, and this became the creed of Picasso’s friends in opposition to that of the Nabis and Fauves.
The optimistic view about the future of art current in Barcelona — that it was eternally evolving towards perfection and that everyone was waiting on the threshold of the twentieth century for the appearance of a great new style of art — probably also owed something to Germany. The spread of Hegelianism, German historicism and contemporary ideas of progress perhaps encouraged such critics as Picasso’s friend Junyent to declare that it was impossible to resurrect any past style and that ‘the nineteenth century has died with the consolation of seeing on the horizon of the infinite the splendour of a great art, an elevated art, strong, complicated, earthy and spiritual’. This kind of belief created a favourable climate for producing experimental art; it was apparently not spoilt for Picasso and his friends by the fact that Junyent proceeded to declare that Turner, Rossetti, Holman Hunt and Millais had reached the highest point ever achieved by painting.
Two of Picasso’s early illustrations, ‘La Boija’ and ‘El Clam de las Verges’, seem akin to the world of another northerner, Edvard Munch (1863-1944), particularly to his work inspired by the morality dispute of 1885, which centred on questions of sexual ethics, raised by the controversial novel From Christiana’s Bohemia, written by Munch’s friend Hans Jagers. On a visit to Paris in 1889-90, where he was influenced by Gauguin, Munch had written, ‘No longer paint interiors with men reading and women knitting. There must be living beings who breathe and feel and love and suffer… People would understand the sacredness of them and take off their hats as if they were in church.’ The works produced in this spirit which are most akin to Picasso’s early illustrations were executed in Germany round about 1895.
Examples are the pictures of women brooding alone in rooms, like the characters depicted in the plays of Ibsen and Munch’s friend Strindberg, such as ‘The Morning After’, ‘Puberty’ (1894) or the ‘Frieze of Life’ although Picasso did not apparently know them at this period. The long faces drawn by Picasso in the Barcelona period such as ‘The Mad Woman’ or ‘The Old Man and Young Woman’ do resemble Munch, but they could have had other sources, such as El Greco or Dario de Regoyos who collaborated with Verhaeren in a book called España Negra which Picasso planned to imitate. In any case Catalan artists such as Casas, Rusiñol and Picasso’s friend Nonell, who went to France, may easily have brought back German editions of Munch’s graphic art.
Moreover Stuck’s silhouettes in Jugend and Paul Riethes’ diseuses are somewhat like those of Picasso in the Barcelona Museum and like the works of his friends Pichot and Opisso. The links between Munich and Barcelona at this time were strong, as can be seen from Picasso’s letter of 1897 when he writes, ‘If I had a son who wanted to be a painter I would not keep him in Spain a moment, and do not imagine I would send him to Paris but to Munik… as it is a city where painting is studied seriously without regard to fixed ideas of any sort such as pointillism and all the rest’.