Understanding Modern Art from Historical Perspective

modern art 3Definition

The definition of what is meant by modern art has been subjected to multiple interpretations. Now, modern art is taken as the art of the modern period, that is, art that comes with the revival, is now understood as the art of the enlightenment, or as the art in the nineteenth century, and breaks with the academy canons to come to propose a complex process of ruptures in the vanguard of the twentieth century. The history of recent art often takes this option, taking as a modern one that draws on impressionism to come to develop with Cubism, Dada and the Russian avant-garde of the first three decades of the twentieth century. Some parts are common to these developments: one questioning the issues of pictorial representation, a new understanding of spatiality, a new visual result of photography’s claim and the film and finally the emergence of a new artistic device exposure based on a new institution – the Museum of Modern Art, of which the best example is the Museum of Modern Art in New York, opened in 1928.

Modern art has been the subject of an ongoing reconfiguration of its frame, whether in aesthetic terms, ontological or as a historical category. Overall, the great difference in perspective on the modern comes from the application of the categories of history to art; according to which modern art is the modern period, taking your first moment in the Renaissance or else understand modern art as the art of modernism. This is the point of view which has been getting a particular host in the Anglo-Saxon environment (particularly, in the American context because it is a cultural context that, unlike Europe, does not come directly from the Renaissance).

In this context, it is now generally accepted that the large field that normally is called modern art begins in the nineteenth century as a result of profound changes in the practice of painting (which is not unrelated to the invention of photography), and have your first expression in Impressionism context, culminating in the processes of the vanguards that transform the European art during the first three decades of the twentieth century. In general, we can say with little margin of error that modern art includes a number of radical projects that arise in the form of the various modernisms including a “Mannerist” time of modernism itself that comes in the form of the vanguards. Modernism is, in general, an artistic formulation trying to think and evaluate the conditions of a modern practice in the art, building different artistic paths that are proposed to test the limits of their own artistic practice.

Modern Art ChineseThus, the modern in the nineteenth century is contemporary of important changes in visual schemes that arise from the creation of a new form of image capture and fixation from a chemical light (photography) influencing the historical practice of picture (painting) towards the empowerment of the experience of truth or, on the contrary, the realistic incorporation of the moment. The artistic modernity in its various versions is built around a new paradigm regarding the reproducibility of image: to the invention of reproducible photograph from a negative, almost all images of the world were artistic; from that moment the proportion is reversed, making the artistic images a small segment of the many images that populate the everyday.

Cubism of Picasso

So, the great task of modern painting is to find your own field and setting its transcendental, i.e. the conditions of possibility that no longer pass through the paint in its historical tradition: building an image to convene a “suspension of disbelief” (the mechanism theorized by Coleridge that describes how, before the artistic practice, we can put suspend our disbelief in order to take processes or systems of representation that are not consistent with the perceptual or cognitive realism as true, but that are the protocols that art defines us), from light / dark qualities, the use of perspective and production mechanisms trompe l’oeil , as well as the definition of pictorial space, etc. The pictorial modernism is drawn from the early twentieth century abandons these qualities to test the viability of painting from a breach of likelihood which processes the image according to the investigation of the conditions of possibility of one’s pictorial image. In this context, the first great modernist moment arises with the Cubism of Picasso and Braque, namely the possibility of producing a pictorial representation system that breaks with the usual conventions of the medium painting practice because of a new system of representation Space.

More important than Cubism; however, was the invention of collage as a device that builds an image from a combination of visual elements from different origins, dismantling the processes trompe l’oeil and proposing an image that is not based on the “Suspension of disbelief”, but precisely on the demonstration of the constituent processes of their own image. Glue, moreover, is a fixed image equivalent to the invention the film assembly would allow the creation of a new space-time kinematic unit, thereby defining the rules of film as would become clear to Sergei Eisenstein.


The second key focus of modernism lies in destroying the boundaries of artistic disciplines due to the formation of a broad new category, the art in painting replacement, sculpture, drawing, etc. This holistic perspective meets a first modern and cumulative version you can recognize in the project Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk, and the dimension of total work of art present in the project of Viennese Secession directed by Gustav Klimt.

Major Contributors

It would, however, with so-called “Great Russian Experience” (the artistic developments taking place in Russia and, later, as a result of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917), between 1915 and 1927, which were to systematically question the boundaries between artistic disciplines. This is why the work of artists such as Vladimir Tatlin, Malevich, Lazar Lissitzky and Rodshenko and Diaghilev (dance), Moisei Ginzburg (in architecture) or Dziga Vertov (the movies) are important contributions to the definition of an art which lies at the intersection between artistic disciplines and that has its ultimate focus on policy intervention capacity and how establish new fields from cross concepts, globally from a new spatiality.

In the more derisive way, the Dada movement was born in 1915 and quickly established in diaspora with major hubs in Berlin, Hanover, Paris, New York and (especially) Zurich, where the Cabaret Voltaire directed by Hugo Ball was born. It built a web of forms of artistic intervention in which the word, the sign, the manifest, the political intervention and cultural criticism mingle with the use of painting and collage discovered to propose a radical and contradictory approach to art.

Outside of a strictly given context, Marcel Duchamp sets a new artistic device that would mark the twentieth century in various ways: the ready-made, that is, the appropriation of everyday objects that intervened or not, come to be taken as works of art by the decision (aesthetics adds itself) of the artists. This dismissal of manufacturing as a condition sine qua non for the existence of the artwork is constituted as one of the most important acquisitions of modern art, along with distrust of the decorative quality of the artwork – refusal of which is evident both in the Demoiselles d ‘Avignon (1907) by Pablo Picasso, as in hybrid work of the Russian Constructivists. Simultaneously, in the field of artistic disciplines (painting and sculpture) was found the path of abstraction in various ways and in various types, particularly with Mondrian and, later with the De Stijl movement (in the Netherlands and Germany), or with Supermatistas (Russia) -a process that should be in the creation of modern linguistics with Roman Jacobson.

Modern Art SculptureTwentieth Century Modern Art

Thus, modern art is based, in the first decades of the 20th century in a number of ways that are largely different, but they have in common an attempt to define the conditions of possibility of art itself, sometimes trying to find a field outside art itself to the development of their radical processes. One such way has to do with a passion for primitive; at it was to art and aesthetics which can contribute to a reconstruction of the artistic building based on a utopia of veracity. It is in this sense that we can understand the fascination of African Picasso and Matisse, but also the invention of a hypothetical language originated by Kurt Schwitters (in Ursonatte , a huge phonetic poem), and the establishment of anthropology bases with Franz Boas (with Primitive Art, 1927), or Michel Leiris jobs and Georges Bataille. Finally, modern art has two main devices: the Modern Art Museum, the first and greatest example is the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which opened in 1929, and the very systematization of the exhibition as an artistic device. The first, on par with the Landes Museum in Hanover directed by Alexander Dorner, lays the foundation of modern art by performing the first musealization of living artists from critical and historiographical criteria, bringing modern art into the museum and establishing the scientific parameters of the museography of modern art.

The emergence of exposure as the device clearly affects the artwork by introducing the issue of installation as the last of the work conditions and possibility of the first in the relationship with the viewer. The exhibition with its rules, its procedures and protocols creates the ultimate frame for the artwork, building a context of relationship and inter-relation for the modern enjoyment of the artwork.

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