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Sunday, November 11, 2007

HUX 570: Shock of the View Part Two

Shock of the View

Part II

Dadaism * Surrealism * Pop Art

Eric Williams

The 20th Century has been a turbulent time for art and artists. Struggling to keep up with an ever-expanding society, artists have been hard pressed to create any movement that seems to carry longevity to them. Gone are the days in which art movements such as the Renaissance or the Baroque last for decades upon decades. With the dawning of the 20th Century, modernism as artistic formula hit its stride, encompassing numerous minor artistic genres that only last for a few years. As the face of modern society has changed due to advances in technology, theory, and societal conflicts, so too does the art of the modern age undergo massive transformations, embodying the artist’s awareness of these self-same advances. Three of the more prolific movements of the 20th Century have been Dadaism, Surrealism, and Pop Art. All three are movements based heavily on artistic responses to war, technology, and popular theory of the time. By examining the society by which these art movements were born, one can better understand what Dada, Surrealism, and Pop Art truly is. Furthermore, by introducing an example of each artistic style, a point of comparison will be created allowing one to better understand the physical, compositional, and theoretical differences between each movement.

The early portion of the 20th Century was rife with political and social upheaval. Staring down the barrel of the first true World War, artists began to see that “the machine, which had been a source of optimism and euphoria, could no longer be considered a positive instrument, not even a neutral tool, but rather an agent for undeniable devastation” (Larinde 10). While these nations prepared for war, a handful of self-imposed exiles fled their nations in the face of heated nationalistic pride. Taking refuge in neutral Switzerland, these artists congregated in Zurich where, in 1916, Hugo Ball would open a small cabaret -- the Café Voltaire (Hamilton 251). Here the world’s artists would remind the world that there were still independent men “beyond war and nationalism, who live for their ideals” (Ibid.). A charismatic voice for these artists named Tristan Tzara came to the forefront and made scathing attacks on contemporary culture. At different times, both Ball and Tzara would dress up in bizarre costumes and howl bizarre chants or jumbled words over the blasts of music (Hamilton 252). With time, the meetings at the cabaret became commonplace and a name was generated to give a name to the artistic style of these exiles, hence Dada was both coined and born.

Where the term ‘Dada’ originated is not clearly known. The popular rumor us that these artists simply opened a dictionary and the first word at the top of the page would be their artistic term (Hobbs 440). Dada is also the French term for “hobby-horse” (Sporre 445). Regardless of its origin, the term is quite apt for the type of art it describes.

Dada is first and foremost an art form that seeks to reform the suffering and destruction of war through protest (Tansey 974). Dadaists sought to turn the art world upside down by creating artistic renderings and staging exhibitions that were designed to shock and outrage the viewer by their “lack of artistic convention” (Ibid.). In Zurich and eventually Paris, Dada was chiefly the art of the dissatisfied artists who wanted to “hurl gobs of spit in the faces of the bourgeoisie” (Matthews 533). They accomplished this by holding exhibitions in public lavatories, planning meetings to held in cemeteries, and holding lectures in noisy meeting halls that the artists themselves purposely disrupted. The message that these artists and their inane behavior was suggesting was that World War One had made all traditional values meaningless. No longer are artists able to hold onto ageless legacies and traditions put forth by the humanist artists of a bygone age; indeed Dada embraced anti-art as the only ethical position possible in the modern age (Matthews 533). No artist of the past or present was spared the scathing wrath of the Dadaists. They attacked the culture of their era on all fronts. “The founders (of Dada) were laughing at the pompousness of traditional artists and at the society that supported them” (Russell 385).

It wasn’t until the 1920’s that Dada would become fully developed in their new arena: post war Germany (Hughes 63). After the Armistice of 1918, the social and political tensions in Europe eased. This was also true in Zurich, whose citizens had far less tolerance of the antics of the Dadaists. However, Dada would find new life in Germany, among the political artists living there that were sympathetic to the causes of the radical Left (Hamilton 252). The art form would lose much of its childishness in lieu of a much more overtly political form. The war and the anti-logical feel of the world the Berlin Dadaists saw in a ravaged Berlin at the time was transfigured into their art. The imagery of the Berlin Dadaist was rippled with cynicism and nihilism typically created in the form of a montage or collage of clipped images. However, even this renewal in Dada by the Germans was short lived. After eventually crossing the Atlantic into New York, the Dadaist movement would fade by 1922.

There is no definitive style to Dadaist art. More than anything, the Dadaists shared an attitude towards the world at large that was emoted in their imagery and their behavior. Dada is the prevailing atmosphere of “meaningless malevolence” coupled with its disregard for the ordinary canons of artistic design (Hamilton 253). These artists did not wish to be understood and many felt they were living in an incomprehensible world – one that was inevitably bound for its own destruction (Russell 385). The early style of the Zurich Dadaists seemed completely experimental with chance being a major factor in its execution (Sporre 446). As Dadaists saw their craft as being the embodiment of anti-art, their compositions may seem repulsive and designed out of irrationality, malevolence, and harsh use of mechanical effects (Sporre 446). Further, by trying to craft the physical manifestation of anti-art, painters fled from the more typical representations of reality (Russell 387). Dadaists used non-traditional techniques like making rubbings of wood textures or the playful use of commonplace objects in their compositions that had never before been used in high art (Tansey 974). By utilizing a “variety of improvisational methods designed to disrupt reason and engage the full resources of intuition in the making if art”, Dadaists attempted to jolt the bourgeois art audience from their complacent behavior (Ibid.). Thus, Dadaist art was intentionally ephemeral, reinforcing a tendency to the whimsical, the spontaneous, and the intuitive with a dash of the sardonic, humorous, fantastic, and absurd.

By being the artistic voice of anti-art, the Dadaists liberated themselves from age-old conventions and a whole new world of artistic possibilities opened up. The Zurich Dadaists saw art as a practical means of “self-revelation and catharsis”, and that the images they produced that rose out of the conscious or subconscious mind had a truth of their own (Tansey 974). These truths were independent of the world of conventional vision. For them, art emerged to play an important new role in the expression of the different contexts they were now formed, and the free imagination of the artist could draw on materials deep in the human consciousness (Tansey 974). By this, the Dadaists endorsed the psychoanalytical views of Jung and Freud creating a new expression of a reality that were no less real because they were psychic (Tansey 974). Thus, Dadaists reveled in their outlandish pranks and jests, which they described themselves as being “cerebral revolver shots” (Tansey 977).

The Berlin Dadaists, more serious by comparison than their Zurich counterparts were no less eclectic. Two major elements had helped to form Dada style: blind chance and Automatism. The operations of ‘chance’ were a crucial part of improvisational art to the Dadaists (Tansey 977). The Dadaist filmmaker Hans Richter states:

Possessed, as we were, of the ability to entrust ourselves to ‘chance,’ to our conscious as well as our unconscious minds, we became a sort of public secret society. . . . We laughed at everything. . . . But laughter was only the expression of our new discoveries, not their essence and not their purpose. (We used) chance to restore to the work of art its primeval magic power and to find a way back to the immediacy it had lost through contact with … classicism. (qtd in Tansey 977-978)

Chance played a big role in the creation of the collages and photomontages of the Berlin Dadaists. These artists took to pasting images and words from postcards and catalogs and books together to create an image. These montages owe a debt to chance for two reasons. One because they were created almost entirely out of “found” materials (therefore chance plays a role in what was found and how it could be correlated), and in the practice of some Berlin Dadaists of merely gluing the various images or words onto a canvas based upon where they fell (Tansey 978). Further, the Dadaists were innovative in their use of photographs. Raoul Hausmann states that Dadaists “were the first to use photography to create, from often totally disparate spatial and material elements, a new unity in which was revealed a visually and conceptually new image of the chaos of an age of war and revolution” (qtd in Tansey 978).

Automatism in Dada art is the process of yielding yourself to an instinctive action of painting or drawing or sketching (Tansey 978). Automatism hinges on establishing a set of conditions ahead of time, such as the size of the paper and medium, within which an Automatist work would be executed. Dadaists such as Jean Arp specialized in Automatic drawings. By working within Automatism, the artist seeks to deny the operation of reason, which is seen as a learned or conditioned response (Tansey 977). Thus, Automatism must rely more on understanding the unconscious and trusting in what you feel rather than what you have been taught.

While Dada was a movement based on nihilism and buffoonery, it has left a legacy to the later generations of artists. Automatic Drawing, the act of spontaneous doodling, would anticipate the American abstract art styles of the 1940’s (Hobbs 440). Their nonsensical performances would be revived in the guise of Performance Art in the 1960’s and 1970’s (Ibid.). Their reckless graphics foreshadow in many ways modern advertising design and would be responsible for making the ironic, the absurd, and the manifestation of the unconscious meaningful in later art genres (Ibid.). But above all, Dada gave rise to a reassessment of aesthetic values which continues to this day.

One of the most prolific Dadaists was Marcel Duchamp. Born in 1887, Duchamp was a French painter and a major proponent of Dada. In 1914, Duchamp “bought and inscribed on a bottle rack, thereby producing his first ready-made, a new art form based on the principle that art does not depend on established rules or on craftsmanship” (“Mona Lisa” part 2). This radical idea precedes the Dadaist movement by 2 years. This one act helped to portray Duchamp as a rejecter, and the young, post-war protesters saw Duchamp as an almost mythical figure. Rejecting the norm was of paramount importance to the young Dadaist movement and Duchamp personified this (Cabanne 154). No one was more iconoclastic than Duchamp in the heyday of Dada (Ibid.). His form of anti-art, already established in his ready-mades, is seen perhaps no better than in his work L.H.O.O.Q.

This work, also commonly called “Mona Lisa with a Moustache”, was created in 1919. The work is quite simple. Duchamp bought a post card with the image of the Mona Lisa on its cover. Duchamp, with pencil in hand, scribbled a moustache and goatee on the image, creating another ready-made. The postcard, measuring 7 and ¾ inches by 4 and ¾ inches, was embossed with the letters L H O O Q along the bottom base of the postcard. While appearing to be quite simple, the undertones of this little work are quite serious. The image faithfully captures Leonardo’s masterpiece in all its grainy, faded glory. The Mona Lisa sits, hands crossed before her. She is dressed in a dark blue robe, the folds of the drapery evident in contrasting grades of light and shade. The face is pristine with the slightly curled smile that makes the Mona Lisa such a famed portrait painting. The background is a collection of grays and blues, creating a landscape of rocky outcroppings and twisting rivers that flank the Mona Lisa on either side. Her figure, triangular in its shape, dominates the foreground of the image, the soft illumination of her face is ringed by cascades of falling hair that escape the confines of her robe and hood. The three dimensional composition of the work reflects the touch of an artist of Leonardo’s caliber. Duchamp’s scribbled moustache, thin with the edges sweeping upwards, is easily seen. It’s dark, pencilled coloration contrasts sharply with the much lighter color of the Mona Lisa’s face. Further, the goatee lightly pencilled and sweeping together in a dark point erupting from the apex of the chin stands sharply against the light coloration of the face. The changes that Duchamp has made to Leonardo’s composition are merely cosmetic and are easily remedied if desired. But, the work itself, regardless of its simplicity, stands as important for another reason.

The Dada movement was one that crowed about anti-art. That same design to reject art also led to a rejection of artists of any artistic genre or age. Thus, what might be construed as a simple prank by Duchamp, in actuality has a much deeper meaning. In the years leading up to the Dadaist revolution, artists had almost universally revered the works of the great masters, especially those of the Renaissance. They were seen as untouchable by society; men and women whose works were so invaluable that no fault could be found and no criticism tolerated. The great artist, long dead, was seen as a divine creator (Hughes 66). As Hughes states, Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q is a “gesture by now synonymous with impish cultural irreverence” (Ibid.). For artists who had no problem poking fun or lambasting artists of any age, Duchamp’s ready-made satirized the “sacro-sanctity of this renaissance icon” (Larinde 12). This is even further driven by the peculiar title of the work. “ The coarse title – LHOOQ pronounced letter by letter in French mean: ‘She’s got a hot ass’ – combines with the schoolboy graffito of the moustache and goatee” (Hughes 66). Duchamp’s use of an image that had been reproduced so often that it had become trite, helped to knock down the seemingly inaccessible reputation of Leonardo. By mocking one of the most famous paintings in history, Duchamp created an image that is rather typical of Dadaism, “a rebellion against traditional… habits and values” (“Mona Lisa” part 1). While the basic premise might have been quite simple, Robert Hughes looks deeper at this work, assigning a psychology to it. Hughes believes that by giving “male attributes to the most famous and highly fetishized female portrait ever painted is also a subtler joke on Leonardo’s own homosexuality (then a forbidden subject) and on Duchamp’s own interest in the confusion of sexual roles” (Hughes 66). Whatever the case may be, Duchamp’s mock up of the Mona Lisa definitely stands as a Dadaist piece, both rejecting the classical masters and utilizing a semblance of chance and automatism in the creation of this piece (the chance of simply buying this post card and the automatic, spontaneous doodling that created the facial hair).

In the wake of the decline of Dadaism, a new artistic movement, Surrealism, began to flourish. Surrealism, however, grew in many aspects from what the Dadaists had created. The Dada poet Andre’ Breton was heavily involved in the manifestoes and direction of the Dada movement. His views on the direction that Dada was going and the direction he felt it should be going in were at odds with some of the more “traditional” Dadaists (if there even could be said to be such individuals). This was no more evident than in his very public differences with Tristan Tzara. Breton called for a world congress of Dadas to decide the direction that the modern artistic movement should take (Hamilton 261). Tzara vehemently opposed this idea, believing that Breton’s ideas were totally alien to the spirit of Dada (Ibid.).

Breton had not served during World War I. He worked in a hospital caring for shellshock victims (Hughes 212). Here, Breton helped patients to analyze their dreams, an experience that Breton himself said “constituted…almost all the groundwork for Surrealism…interpreted, yes, always, but above all liberation from constraints – logic, morality, and the rest – with the aim of recovering their original powers of spirit” (qtd in Hughes 212). Breton began then to try and give these dream interpretations form in literature, as in poetry or fiction. In fact, Surrealism as a movement originated as a literary movement in 1924 (Hobbs 441).

Rejecting Tzara and the more conservative Dadaists, Breton “soon assembled a circle of friends, some touched by Dada, but all sharing certain common preoccupations: mainly, a belief in the supremacy of poetry and a loathing of the parental generation whose values had led to the insensate slaughters of the war” (Hughes 213). Together with fellow poet Soupalt, Breton began to explore the dimensions of the inner psyche through “automatic writings” (Hamilton 261). Their writing was produced by what Breton called “the real process of thought”, and was heavily laced with metaphor used to create striking visual imagery in the poems (Ibid.). This use of “psychic” writing served to give some physical manifestation of the unconscious mind. In the poetics of these men, Surrealism was born. By utilizing the rich collection of metaphor and imagery, the poets sought to provide some foundation for the inception of a new type of reality, a sur-reality (Hughes 213). And, this Surreal reality would quickly find artistic voices to give a visual conception to the fantastical imagery of Breton’s poems.

Born out of the desire to capture dream imagery and the shadowy spectres of the unconscious mind, Surrealism is an art form that sought to give form to the formless. Primarily a pictorial art, Surrealism was heavily based on the Freudian idea that the mind contains fathomless, hidden depths (Matthews 533). In essence, one could say that Surrealist art wanted to create images of reality that would include truths hidden in the inner mind. In doing so, Surrealism would grow to capture hallucinations, fantasies, and dream imagery that would create a visual sensation far more startling than Dada. By this very definition, the natural enemies of Surrealism would be logic and reason. The purpose of Surrealism was to “merge dream and reality into an absolute reality, a super-reality” (Hobbs 441). The heart of Surrealism, then, was the Unconscious, and it was to be given the highest priority whether one was absent-mindedly doodling, dreaming, or daydreaming (Hobbs 441). Thus, like Dada, spontaneous writing in the form of doodles and sketches were perfectly acceptable vehicles for the Surreal. In this way, Surrealist painters would “strip away the facades that often conceal…unconscious desires”, serving to create an art form that paid homage to the unexpected, the shocking, and the contrary (Russell 388).

The first artist to adhere to the Surreal was Giorgio de Chirico. De Chirico was the founder of and principal master of the Metaphysical School of painting that traces its roots back to 1917 (Hamilton 261). The works of de Chirico would attempt to shatter the conventional visual logic of painting with results even more expressively disturbing than the Cubists (Ibid.). His artistic style was very innovative and his works were quite popular, often being reproduced in periodicals almost as soon as they were completed (Tansey 974). An influence among both the late Dadaists and early Surrealists, de Chirico’s works were designed to treat everyday objects as dreamlike objects. His proto-Surrealist works made de Chirico a nice bundle of cash and had made him a well-known voice among the progressive art community until he strangely abandoned Surrealism in 1924 in favor of neo-Classicism (Hamilton 262). Max Ernst who would add his own innovative twist to Surrealist style would quickly fill the void De Chirico would leave: decalomania.

Decalomania was Max Ernst’s technique of compressing paint to the canvas while the paint was still wet (Hamilton 264). The images created in the way were mysterious created by the forms the paint had molded itself into. In this fashion, a whole new range of potential images was created. While perhaps a stretch in consideration to the Surrealist ideal that their art was a manifestation of the Unconscious, decalomania was nevertheless accepted. Surrealism still had some of the old ground rules of the Dadaists, especially the allowance for chance and spontaneity in its art. Breton writes that “the marvelous is beautiful, anything that is marvelous is beautiful; indeed nothing but the marvelous is beautiful” (qtd in Hamilton 276). Granted, this equation is far too simple, not taking into account the technical execution of the work, the purpose of the artist, or an allowance of any sort of critical evaluation. Yet, the equation does serve to indicate that Surrealism can be applied to any objects, no matter how unpleasant or disturbing, that still evokes a semblance of the sensation of psychic reality (Ibid.).

The style of Surrealist painting falls into two categories. The first is Realistic, sometimes called Veristic; the other is Abstract (Hobbs 442). Realistic Surrealism, according to Hobbs, is quite traditional. Realistic Surrealism indulges all the devices of “optical realism”: shading, perspective, and shadows (Ibid.). True to Surrealist ideology, it seeks to illustrate dreams through subject matter that is quite original (Ibid.). And, like dreams, Realistic Surrealism creates images that range from mildly puzzling to the exceedingly bizarre. “A dream was supposedly capable of transference directly to from the unconscious mind to the canvas without control or conscious interruption by the artist” (Sporre 448). Thus, these works reflected the dream-like condition, and the strange gathering of seemingly unassociated objects together was to reflect how dreams do that very thing. There was no explanation for the juxtaposition of strange objects, and there was no need for one (Sporre 448). Surrealism in this manner represented a world that cannot be controlled, and stands to show just how entrancing the irrational can be (Sporre 448). Abstract Surrealism took on two primary methods. The first was heavily reliant on “automatism”. Automatic methods like doodling or capitalizing on accidental effects allowed the unconscious to dominate in the creation of the work (Hobbs 443). Use of these sometimes planned accidents and automatism allowed the Surrealist to project the Dream Concept (Tansey 982). The other method of Abstract Surrealism belonged to artists who used for more conventional methods, perhaps uncomfortable with automatism (Hobbs 443). Regardless, both factions of Abstract Surrealists still managed to imply that the unconscious was dominant and that their art was to the end result of automatic thought processes and free associations (Ibid.).

In many ways, Surrealism, like Dada, was a lifestyle or an attitude than a definitive style. Their subject matter was at times dark and controversial. The titles for their pieces were equally bizarre. Typically ambiguous, Surrealistic art titles were purposefully designed to create an uneasy relationship with what the viewer of the art object actually sees (Tansey 983). Using titles that were rife with contradiction between image and word delivered a “blow to the mind” of the viewer – knocking them off balance as to what their rational minds expect to see, and the images placed before them (Ibid.). Much of the impact of Surrealist work begins with the title and the realization of being hit with a seemingly cerebral bullet, one that immediately puts at odds an awareness of the incongruous and the absurd in what is pictured (Ibid.). This may be no more evident in “The Rape” by Rene Magritte.

Rene Francois Ghislain Magritte (1898-1967) was a Belgian painter who created very provocative and sometimes shocking Surrealistic paintings. By 1927, Magritte had already begun to paint as a Surrealist. “A meticulous and skillful technician, he is noted for works that contain an extraordinary juxtaposition of ordinary objects or an unusual context that gives new meaning to familiar things. This juxtaposition is frequently termed magic realism, of which Magritte was the prime exponent” (“The Rape” part 2). Compared to many other painters in the Surrealist school, Magritte was tame by comparison in his personal life. “Yet this stolid enchanter possessed one of the most remarkable imaginations of the twentieth century” (Hughes 243).

Traditionally, painting had has its share of mythmakers and storytellers. Magritte’s work stands slightly askew, as his painting seemed secondary to the story being told (Hughes 248). His work, however, did not consist of “ slices of life or historical scenes. They were snapshots of the impossible, rendered in the dullest and most literal way: vignettes of language and reality locked in mutual cancellation” (Ibid.). Things hidden and things obscure seemed to be what fascinated Magritte.

The Rape, also called Le Viol, was executed in 1934 with oils on canvas. It measures 28 and ¾ inches by 21 and ¼ inches. The painting is one that reveals what at first looks to be a face flanked with a full head of brown, feathered-back hair with red highlights. The hair is not particularly long, but is thick and wavy, sweeping away from the plane of the face. The head itself rests upon an unusually long neck, which disappears at the base of the canvas to the joint of the right shoulder. The face of the figure, however, is not what we expect. The eyes have been replaced by small, but prominent female breasts. The nose has become the navel and the mouth has been replaced by a triangular patch of pubic hair, roughly the same shade and coloration as the hair upon the head. The crown of the triangle points down towards the chin. Quite obviously a human female torso, the face of Magritte’s work now takes on a whole new meaning, especially in light of the title.

Further aberrations abound. There are no eyebrows and no ridge where a nose would be placed. Instead, we have a very smooth torso complete with a line that would indicate the joining of the muscles of the abdomen running from between the eye/breasts to the nose/navel. The face/torso is pale with realistic shadows that play across the left side of the head and a curving shadows that runs down the neck, just to the left of center, meeting at the thorax. The face and neck dominate the painting, consuming almost the entirety of the image save for a space several inches in length where the top of the head ends and the peak of the canvas begins. The background is a simple gradation of deep blues at the top of the canvas, to bands of lighter blues to greens to nearly white where the sky meets the horizon of the land. The land, if it can be called thus, is a long, flat expanse of neutral grays where it meets the sky, to nearly black where it meets the base of the canvas. There is no sun, stars, moon, foliage, or animals in the image. Magritte’s work is designed to lock our attention on the “face” and nothing else.

Why did Magritte choose to create this? Magritte had “an obsession with the covered faces which. . . haunt(ed) him” says Naomi Elias. “In such hidden images Magritte was able to hide emotions, identity, conversations and thoughts of the subjects he painted” (Elias). The Rape was produced several times by Magritte in several versions and mediums between the years 1934 and 1948 (“The Rape” part 1). The image was so scandalous when it was first released that it was displayed at an exhibition “in a private room and shown only to initiates” (The Rape” part 1). The subject matter, while extremely controversial even today, was not altogether taboo to the Surrealist painter. Sex was “one of the great Surrealistic themes; but Surrealism was only interested in one kind of sexual freedom, the man’s, and a heterosexual man’s at that” (Hughes 249). This seems to be reinforced by the love Surrealist artisans seemed to hold for the works of the Marquis de Sade. Sade was a “blasphemer, an atheist, a traitor to his class, the aristocracy – no wonder Sade had such an appeal to the Surrealists, who were also atheists, blasphemers, and traitors to their class, the bourgeoisie” (Hughes 249).

Magritte’s painting of The Rape may be one of the best examples of the Surrealist celebration of heterosexuality. As Hughes states, The Rape is a

…magnificent protest against fixation and fetishization, where the woman’s face turns with frightful clarity into the ‘genital face’ whose blind, mute, and pathetic sexuality has a truly Sadeian character. In general, the image of woman in Surrealist art had no real face: she was always on a pedestal or in chains. Her preferred form was mannequin, itself…a somewhat compromised object… (Hughes 249-250)

Magritte creates a dream-image of what, perhaps, woman might be perceived as or amount to in the Surrealist world – objectified and left without voice, identity, or pity. Elizabeth Wright contends that Magritte's imagery in The Rape is a “metaphor…signifying desire and an invasion of the other’s desire: The Rape” (qtd in he Rape” part 1). One could contend that the image is one by which a Surrealist man may see a woman: nothing more than genitalia. But, by the very title, could Magritte be sympathizing with the plight of women and rejecting the Surrealist manifesto in regards to women? The possibility is there. Magritte, in a letter, addressed the meaning of perhaps this very work:

Questions such as “What does this picture mean, what does it represent?” are possible only if one is incapable of seeing a picture in all its truth, only if one automatically understands that a very precise image does not show precisely what it is. It’s like believing that the implied meaning is worth more than the overt meaning. There is no implied meaning in my paintings, despite the confusion that attributes symbolic meaning to my paintings. (qtd. in “The Rape” part 2)

The overly sexualized nature of this piece, and many Surrealist painting by and large, may be the leading difference between this art style and Dada. Considering that Surrealism grew out of many Dadaist styles and forms, it is no wonder that there are more similarities than perhaps obvious differences. Essentially, if Dada is the art of the rebel who is sick of the state of the world, then the Surrealist is the artists who seeks to bring to light the sickness in their own inner selves. Duchamp claimed that anything could be art, hence his ready made Mona Lisa. Further, by the simple addition of a scribbled moustache and beard, Duchamp’s piece readily embodies the Dadaist spirit. Magritte’s image, darker and yet more glaring, reflects wonderfully the legacy of the Dada’s, that anything could be art, while adhering to Surrealist take on women and the desire to create images of the bizarre that erupt from someplace deep within the psyche of the artists. But Surrealism is not the last art style to liberally borrow from the Dada’s. Pop Art owes a great deal to the trail blazed by the Dadaists too.

After World War II, a vast increase in the production and availability of consumer goods inundated the United States. Commercial arts helped to advertise and sell these items to a vast array of consumers through billboards, magazines, and newspapers. Artists of this age felt compelled to parody this increase in consumerism and the means by which products were advertised. Pop Art as a movement can trace its roots back to 1956 London, where a coalition of artists, architects, sculptors, and art historians calling themselves the Independent Group held some exhibitions that heavily utilized imagery and symbolism from mass society (Russell 442). British art critic Lawrence Alloway, in attendance at one of these exhibits, would coin their style as “Pop Art” (Ibid.). Eventually this movement would grow in the 1960’s, becoming a definitive force in the modern arts in its combinations of both fantasy and realism (Ibid.).

Pop Artists concerned themselves with creating an art to represent the feel of mass society. As a result, their subject matter of choice came from mass culture and commercial design as, these were considered by Pop Artists as being essential aspects of their visual environment (Sporre 453). They used the images, artifacts, and styles of American advertising as “emblems of the sumptuous, materialistic side of life. . . .The images spoke of unimaginable richness and surfeit, especially to foreigners” (Tansey 1057). Pop Art, then, is an art that adopts the look and technique of mass advertising, borrowing from such inspirational sources as billboards, Hollywood films, comic books, pulp literature, advertisements, and the machines which produced them en masse. To wit:

Pop Artists…take familiar images from the manufactured environment as the basis for their art. Pop was not a single group, but a number of individuals who all accepted the central premise that popular culture is a valid subject for serious art. The source of their imagery is the mass media – the slick magazine , the comic book, the TV images, newspaper ads and billboards -- and the imagery itself is the whole of the visual field of originating in the artificial, urban environment. Their statements are neutral, but of such nature as to compel the viewer to ponder the multiple levels of meaning made possible by their imagery and then to take a stand. (Larinde **** 23)

Quite obviously, there is no deeper belief in the spiritual, metaphysical, or philosophical per se. This stands outside of the rebelliousness of Dada based on their raging philosophy against the societal undercurrent of World War I, or the desire to bring to life the unconscious world as the Surrealists would. Pop Art was an art of the here and now and presented a sometimes humorous, sometimes optimistic, and sometimes inane view of the modern world of mass consumption.

Pop Art style reflected the awareness of the mass media. Pop Artists typically worked in two dimensions and rejected the modernist belief that spiritual values may be expressed in nonrealistic works (Matthews 566). Their works used a mixture of mass media imagery mingled with gestural (sic) paintings and “found” objects (Tansey 1057). This mimics the Dada principle of creating collages of imagery together or using “chance” to find/drop the correct object in its correct place. Some Pop Artists rendered advertising images with commercial art techniques while others used Pop motifs to pose questions about the nature of verbal and visual symbols (Tansey 1057). Pop Art has a tendency to create large-scale images to serve additional impact. In this monstrous images, Pop Artists would use repeated images to reflect the mass packaging of modern society, or emphasize some object or truth through sheer size in order to get us to not only see but also acknowledge those elements we might otherwise ignore (Russell 442). In this way, the viewer might finally become aware of images they see in the modern world for the first time. The images they show are presented without satire or antagonism; they simply are (Ibid.). This is what contributed to the success of Pop Art, due in large part to “its use of easily recognizable images, an iconography of commerce and culture as widely known in the modern world as earlier symbols tied to religion and government had been in pre-modern society” (Tansey 1057).

Roy Lichtenstein (1923 – 1997) was one of America’s most prominent Pop Artists. His work is hailed as being perhaps the most widely recognized in the genre (Sporre 454). His work focused around magnified cartoon strips which he uses to maul the standard image of sentiment and violence in comic strips by enlarging them to enhance the impact on the viewer (Russell 443). And even though his imagery is enlarged dramatically, he still presents the work accurately, down the last pixel. To create these effects, Lichtenstein used a stencil to enlarge the dots to the size of a dime (Hamilton 393). “Using a stencil about the size of a coin, the image is built up into a stark and dynamic, if sometimes violent portrayal” (Sporre 454). Pop Art by its very nature induces people to confront aspects of their culture that generally go unnoticed because of habit or apathy. Lichtenstein believed that Pop Art looked outward into the world in an attempt to redeem popular culture:

Well, it is an involvement with what I think to be the most brazen and threatening characteristics of our culture, things we hate, but which are also powerful in their impingement on us. I think art since Cézanne has become extremely romantic and unrealistic, feeding on art; it is utopian. It has had less and less to do with the world, it looks inward…

--Roy Lichtenstein on Pop Art—(qtd in Hobbs 486)

Lichtenstein is considered to be the most formal of the Pop Artists. This can be suggested though many of his works like Drowning Girl, painted in 1963. Executed with oils and synthetic polymer paints on canvas, Drowning Girl measures 67 and 5/8 inches by 66 and ¾ inches. It is a massive image rich with pathos but ironically shallow. The massive head, right shoulder, and left hand of a young, blue-haired woman emerges through a churning deluge which threatens to drown the poor lass. Prominent black eyebrows frame closed eyes, again with prominent black eyelashes. Transparent tears framed by heavy lines pour forth from here eyes. Obviously in distress, the girl is in fear of drowning in the sea of light blue waves highlighted by fields of black and tips of white to create striking effects of texture for the water. The water is presented as a mixture of Art Nouveau and Japanese Hokusai (Coplas 16). The girl dominates the better part of the work, her head placed slightly above the center of the piece, her mouth open. While we would assume she would be gasping for breath and much more animated, the girl stands almost defiant/calm in light of her situation. The enlarged use of Ben-Day dots help to create a fine modeling of form, realistic “comic-book” flesh tones, and agitated background waves (Hamilton 393). This helps to create a very compelling effect of seemingly monotonous repetition. These repeated dots serve to intensify the hypnotic impact of the enormous face, “distorted by violent emotions but projected by emotionless, almost mechanical means” (Ibid.). There is no sign of land or sky in the background, the woman is completely locked in the element which will likely spell her doom. Most interesting to this and other Lichtenstein pieces, is the inclusion of a word bubble. Long the staple of comic books, word bubbles are superimposed over the overall image and allows the reader of the strip to read the thoughts or aural mutterings of the various characters. In this case, the girl is thinking: “I don’t care! I’d rather sink -- than call Brad for Help!”. This simple set of lines completely changes our perception of the work as we now realize this lass had a lovers quarrel, yet stubbornly refuses to call to ‘Brad’ for help even if it means her life. The use of the word bubble makes the image much more concrete for us and not only points immediately to the intended irony of the work, but also serves to make ourselves aware of our own indifference to the girl’s impending death (Coplas 15-16). This ability makes the viewer suddenly realize the skillfully pictured “double entendre…and our own disquieting lack of concern” (Coplas 15).

What, then, do Dadaism, Surrealism, and Pop Art have in common? The same thing that Cubism, Fauvism, Impressionism, Minimalism, Expressionism, and Earthworks have in common: Modernism. All of these art ages, many discussed in the two sections of this very report, are modernist art movement. Stella Russell’s text defines Modernism as: “Early twentieth-century American movement that rejected traditional art values in favor of radical new European styles” (491). This is far too limiting a definition. If one is to define modernism based on the premises presented in Robert Hughes’ Shock of the New, then one must exercise opinion and associations created by Hughes’ own words. Modernism, (in the opinion of this writer) must be traced back to the closing of the Romantic age and the dawn of the Impressionists. The reason for this is that the three primary forces which were needed to create a modernist art movement, only began then in the much latter half of the 1800’s. These three forces were a rise in technology, a change in the social and political strata in Europe due to nationalism, and the new found desire to break away from Western Classical artistic tradition.

Technology has played perhaps the greatest role of the three, in large part affecting and effecting the other two. It begins with the rise of industrialism and the invention of a revolutionary device: the camera. The creation of the camera allowed for the quick and detailed capture (albeit in black and white) of landscapes, people, still-life’s, group, portraiture, etc. It allowed the camera to capture as much realism and depth and clarity as the best photo-realist paintings. Impressionism was a direct response to that – an attempt at capturing the same reality of the world in the amount of time a camera takes to capture said image. It was their attempt at capturing the fleeting moment. However, aside from the obvious schism between the speed accuracy of a camera versus the time consumption and “bare-bones”, technical accuracy of a realistic painting, even aside from Manet and other Impressionist’s attempts at capturing light in paint, one sees this as really the start of painting for the sake of painting. Photography may be able to reproduce life accurately, antiseptically, but paint adds depth, dimension, color and texture that celluloid couldn’t at the time. Technology also allowed the painter the means of escaping the studio for the first time and paint and work and create in the openness of the world. If this is not a break from traditional Western Classical values, then nothing is. Impressionists were taking an awful risk in challenging the established norms, but had they not, modernism as it stands today may not exist and visual arts may have suffered in the long run.

Technology also directly led to the art styles of the Cubists, Minimalists, and Pop Artists. Cézanne was the first to work an art style that related to the boom in technology in his time. Technology had shown to all men and women very clearly that the world was much more vast and infinite than once accepted; there was no single perspective or point of view available to look at the whole of the technological world. Cézanne tried to capture an awareness of this when he “insisted on an empirical act of fresh perception to clear away the cobwebs of the past ideologies of Classicism, Romanticism and Naturalism in order to structure a new vision of a world defined as infinite and dynamic” (Larinde 8). Cubism took this idea and ran with it, rejecting even newly established Impressionist styles that seemed progressive and radical in their time. Creating images based on multiple perspectives and the outright segmenting of large subjects and objects, Cubism helped to create an art style infinitely dynamic and radically different from classical style. Further, technology boomed following World War II, and the mass production of synthetic consumer goods boldly announced both that technology had come into its own and detailed its impending legacy on the arts. Pop Arts and Minimalism were born out of this time, striving to show how commercialized the world had become. Minimalism heralded this development by creating an art style that focused on the here and now, typically using discarded waste or some object like street signs or what not as the primary image in their art. Their painting became one-dimensional and this matter of fact declaration was the “total denial of any aspect of romanticism and its accompanying multiplicity of levels of meaning” (Larinde 21). This made art equivalent to a consumer product and innovators such as Warhol presented their art as just that. The further technology proceeded, the less aware we became of the nuances of our own society. Pop Art shows this in their renderings of white flags that infuriate Americans or their capturing of evident tragedy designed to make us uncomfortably aware or our own apathy.

Social and political changes in the face of awakening nationalistic pride also served to change the arts. The Expressionist movement was one that mirrored the immense anxiety of a world on the brink of catastrophic conflict just prior to World War I. If there had been any lingering notions of Romanticism and Classical form and values, they were crushed by the end of World War I. Until that time, the age-old notions of fighting in a grand and chivalric war for God and country still reigned supreme in the poetry of pre-war Europe. The poems young writers wrote in the service of the British Crown were poems that spoke of noble sacrifice and doing one’s duty. By the end, many of these poets were dead and replaced by men who were shell-shocked beyond repair and writing poetry that truly described the hell that war had become. Expressionist painters were extremely in touch with the ominous undercurrent of war that was seething beneath Europe at the time. These artists tried to place on canvas the fears and anxieties that crippled and paralyzed many of them, creating visual harbingers of the doom that failed notions of Utopia had manifested into. Further, the end result of World War I had an immense impact on Andre Breton and his time in the hospital caring for the mentally stripped and crippled war veteran. His observations would lay the foundations for Surrealism, an art based not on reality and not on the apocalyptic fears of the Expressionists, but on the inner feelings of the Id and the dark places it resides in the unconscious mind and the dream world.

More frightening to consider is how technology itself led to the changes outlined above. Technology had created the means to destroy, annihilate, corrupt, and savage society. The “progress” that technology made in saving people’s lives was nothing compared to the leaps and bounds it had made in taking people’s lives. The Expressionists were sensitive to this development and that was one of the inspirations/phobias that they used in the execution of their vision. Even architecture in the styles and codices of men like Mies van der Rohe utilized the progress that technology had wrought in building materials. Yet, while the Expressionists considered technology and the social currents of their time to be hazardous, van der Rohe and his architecture was the last gasp of the utopian society the Expressionists knew would be soon destroyed. His “International Style” led to a radical change in building designs, utilizing steel beams to create box-like skyscrapers that would precede the “modern corporate image, a symbol of power that imposed itself upon the needs of the populace rather than accommodate them” (Larinde 14). The innovative premises of the International Style would give rise to the Bauhaus and through their efforts, would come to spread the ideology of the International Style so that it became the dominant architectural expression of technological and cultural progress after World War II. Their skyscrapers would become living monuments of a valid and progressive modernism, one that rejected the means of age-old architectural conventions so successfully, that the world would scarcely be recognized by those old masters of the classical Western Ideal if they were to walk the earth today.

Finally, the desire to break away from western “traditional art”. Almost every art style we have mentioned (and even those we haven’t ala Op Art and Futurism, etc.) broke away from the conventions of traditional art forms either out of necessity or choice. The clearest example of this is the Dadaists. They felt so betrayed by the world at the time of World War I, that they felt alienated from not only the familiar aspects that society had given them for so long, but they also felt alienated from art itself. Believing that the world had destroyed any notions of reality and social and cultural identity, the Dadaists felt that the world of the old masters had failed them. In their mean-spirited rejection of their own artistic past, the Dadaists are probably the most prolific example of a style that rejected not only all the heritage and legacies built into art by such men as Michelangelo, Raphael, Rubens, or David, but outright rejected itself. Dada was a revolt against the past, the present, and the future in every respect. They hated what they thought technology had done to their world. They hated what they thought was a betrayal by their own governments and cultures against them. Their art broke away from the traditional norm out of necessity, not due to the advances of a camera, or the anxiety of the world around them. Their bold statement, radical even by today’s standard (especially when you consider they spat in the face of 2000 years or so of established Western Heritage) paved the way for more abstract expressions like Surrealism, more commercial minded expressions like Pop Art, and more naturalistic expressions lie Earthworks. Anyone would be hard pressed to not find some traces of Dada influence of any major art styles since its rise and fall. Ironically, the Dadaists probably hate that.


Just what is modernism? That is the question posed in the end of this paper and prompted by the very document responsible for the creation of this essay. If I may be allowed to wax intellectual for a moment…answering this question was one of the single hardest concept questions ever posed to me. I truly felt challenged in trying to create a viable answer to this query. All the books and internet answers or definitions fell short, not living up to or including what I consider to be a major factor in the creation of Modernism. Robert Hughes states that it was the 1970’s which finally recognized modernism as its official culture (366). While it may be true that America accepted that inevitability then, modernism has been around for well over one hundred years. In all the chapters that Hughes outlines, technology always plays some role in the creation of art. If indeed Hughes’s book can be seen as being true to disseminating Contemporary/Modern Art as the title dictates, than no one should be able to dismiss the role that technology has had in shaping modern arts. The camera, while a trivial instrument today, must have outraged and frightened the artists who felt their very livelihood was at risk. The visual arts had to be saved for the sake of its own longevity. Their had always been artists who had sat outside the established parameters of what good art is or what traditional art is. Titian was just as controversial as Manet and Giotto was just as innovative as Lichtenstein. The major difference is that art then, I feel, changed for the sake of change, not for the sake of survival as it had to with the Impressionists. Technology first opened the eyes of the artist to the changes in their own lives and the lives around them. It has directly influenced the cultures and political strata of Europe and the United States in consideration to bombs that can obliterate a million lives and a new vaccine that can preserve a million more. It has caused the artists to need to break away from tradition, whether as an angry response to war, a way of rationalizing your fears, a need to understand the hidden depths of the unconscious, to make us aware of our own apathy, or to simply make us stand outside the convenience of our air conditioned and internet ready homes to see the world at large and how great works -- small, large, or mammoth -- can add a semblance of hope or awe, anxiety or calm to our own lives. Modernism is a reflection of the world and its own desire to try and keep up, nothing more.

Works Cited

Cabanne, Pierre. The Brothers Duchamp. New York Graphics Society, Boston. 1975.

Coplas, John. Roy Lichtenstein. Praegar Publishers, New York. 1972.

Elias, Naomi. “Surreal Encounters”. July 23rd, 2002.


Hamilton, George Heard. 19th and 20th Century Art: Painting * Sculpture * Architecture. Harry N.

Abrams Inc. Publishers, New York. No date.

Hobbs, Jack A. and Robert L. Duncan. Arts, Ideas, and Civilizations. Second Edition.

Prentice-Hall Inc. Englewood, New Jersey. 1992.

Hughes, Robert. The Shock of the New. Revised Edition. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. New York, 1991.

Larinde, Dr. Noreen. Humanities 570. “Key Periods and Movements: Contemporary Art”. Course

Guide. California State University, Dominguez Hills. 1997.

Matthews, Roy T. and F. DeWitt Platt. The Western Humanities. Third Edition. Mayfield Publishing

Company, Mountain View, California. 1998.

“Mona Lisa with a moustache L.H.O.O.Q”, Part 1 – Marcel Duchamp’s Most Disrespectful Brush

Strokes. July 23rd, 2002. <http://www.finesite.webart.ru/shocking/lhooq-1.htm>.

“Mona Lisa with a moustache L.H.O.O.Q”, Part 2 – Marcel Duchamp’s Most Disrespectful Brush

Strokes. July 23rd, 2002. <http://www.finesite.webart.ru/shocking/lhooq-2.htm>.

Russell, Stella Pandell. Art in the World. Fourth Edition. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College

Publishers, New York. 1993.

Sporre, Dennis J. The Creative Impulse: An Introduction to the Arts. Second Edition. Prentice-Hall,

New Jersey. 1990.

Tansey, Richard, Horst de la Croix and Diane Kirkpatrick. Art Though the Ages. Ninth Edition.

Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers, New York. 1991.

“The Rape”, Part 1 – Magritte’s Scandal. July 23rd, 2002.


“The Rape”, Part 2 – Magritte’s Scandal. July 23rd, 2002.


HUX 570: Shock of the View Part One

Shock of the View

Part I



Eric Williams

Dr. White

HUX 570-41

Contemporary or modern art is a phrase that is often met with a rolling of the eyes and an audible groan from the casual art critic. Typically, the vast majority of men and women tend to appreciate, or at least “understand” more dated artistic styles like Neo-Classicism or Renaissance works. The most often argued reason for this understanding is that the observer can clearly make out images in a well-defined manner; the figures are made realistically in every aspect of their creation. These same people, when faced with vibrant colors of the Impressionists, the anguished energy of the Expressionists, or the seemingly bizarre arrangements of rock or sand in the art of the Land or Earthworks artists, are simply confounded or confused by the images present. All too often, the casual art critic or lover will dismiss these works without truly realizing the underlying meaning or messages behind these pieces, or the level of actual skill involved in the creation of said pieces.

The age of modern arts begins sometime late in the span of the Romantic age of arts, sometime in the late 19th century. The term “modern arts” is a catch-all type of phrase…one that involves multiple artistic disciplines and genres well into the 20th century. Three of the more well-know genres of modern art are Impressionism, Expressionism, and earthworks. In an attempt to unravel the seeming complexities of these three artistic styles, a brief definition of them all will be presented. Further, a brief introduction to the theories, techniques, and histories of Impressionism, Expressionism, and Earthworks will be provided as well as a presentation of one example of each style. Through an analysis of these artists and their works, a better understanding of what Impressionism, Expressionism, and Earthworks will be acquired, leading to a better understanding and appreciation of these artistic forms.

Impressionism is defined in the text The Western Humanities as an artistic style “marked by an attempt to catch spontaneous impressions, often involving the play of sunlight on ordinary events and scenes observed outdoors” (Matthews ****). This definition is at best a broad overview of Impressionism and at worst a monumental understatement. Impressionism, by and large, was a product of its very age. The latter half of the 19th century was marked by continual breakthroughs in technology and an ever-quickening pace to society and day to day living. At this time, the invention of the camera was of immense importance to the visual arts. Although universally hailed as a technological wonder, the camera was viewed as a threat to the painter of this era. “Because the camera could capture a sitter, an event, or a scene more quickly and more realistically than the painter could, no artist was needed to transcribe reality” (Russell 350). This forced many artists to seek no avenues or outlets for their artistic expressions. No painter could seek to capture the immediacy or the detail of a photograph. As a result, there undoubtedly was a marked decline in portrait paintings and other ‘realistic’ renderings of the artist’s brush. Edouard Manet first broached this dilemma. A French painter, Manet began to combine a number of styles sometimes referred to as “Protoimpressionism” (Russell 350). Manet’s works were provocative, often choosing exotic subjects and rendering them with broad or flat areas of color and seeking a way to capture the brilliance of the suns natural brilliance in brilliant, shocking colors (Russell 350). Manet broke away from tradition in a variety of ways and suffered the barbs and taunts of art critics everywhere for his aggressive innovations. In essence, Manet broke the rules and helped to lay the foundations for what Impressionism would become.

Stylistically, Impressionism owes a debt to Realism and Romanticism. Yet, at the same time, Impressionism marked the first true departure from the Realistic tradition that had dominated art since the 14th century (Matthews ****). Further, it serves to bridge the “gulf” between the traditional and modern worlds (White ****). Impressionists saw the challenges the camera presented and responded in kind, creating a form of artistic expression that was designed to capture the fleeting moment as a camera might. Impressionists by definition sought to capture the immediacy of the moment. The application of paints reflects this ideology, often appearing to be applied in a haphazard or slapdash fashion. In effect, the Impressionist painter hoped to paint an image in the same amount of time it took to see it (Hughes 113). This was a challenge to the artists on many fronts. First and foremost, it was a challenge to the age-old concept of painting indoors in the studio. Even landscapes were rarely, if ever, painted outside the studio proper. Thus, the Impressionist needed to find a way to escape the constraints of the studio and, in effect, the constraints of generations-old rules of artistic style and creativity handed down since the Romanesque age.

In order to escape the limitations of the [L1] studio, the Impressionists embraced technology. The discovery of new chemical dyes and oils allowed for paint to now be kept in tubes (Matthews ****). With the addition of lighter or collapsible materials, the Impressionist painter left their allegorical cave, and like the man in Plato’s story, ventured forth into a world of unrestrained color. The effect was instantaneous. The artists realized that the world was wonderfully colored -- that not all grass was green and not all the skies were blue as had been represented faithfully in the visual arts for eons. Indeed, each “motif in nature is multicolored as a part of a screen of hues that change perceptibly with the shifting sun” (White ****). The colors the Impressionist used then were designed to capture the subtle shades the sun creates at various points in the day. In the effort to capture that “moment” artists vigorously painted without stopping to refine their strokes (White ****). The image then has that seem feeling of a sketch, the same spontaneity that defines that form. Further, due to their desire to understand and appreciate the colors in the world, any object might find its way to being the subject of a painting depending on how the light hits it at a particular time of day. Their eyes became attuned to capturing various atmospheric conditions as well as an eye for the subtleties of movement (Russell ****). Their colors were enriched by the fact that painters worked directly on primed canvases, not bothering with the typical umber hued base coating that was typical practice at the time (Russell ****).

What the Impressionists created then was their own vision of a transient moment imbued upon a canvas in broken colors, flat shapes, emphasized visual sensations, and unusual perspectives (Russell ****). To look at an Impressionist piece is to be transported to that transient moment; a moment where the artist has broken up seemingly solid surfaces, has concentrated on the play of light over objects and people, and has stressed the vivid contrasts between colors bathed in sunlight or immersed in shades (Matthews ****). Their works tend to focus on the fleeting or fragmentary, creating a vibrant and optimistic image of society with a sense of shimmering immediacy (Sporre ****). In the canvas of an Impressionist colors can stand for thoughts or moods with short and choppy strokes of the brush. At close range the objects seem unintelligible; a mish mash of colors thrown together. In the words of one critic, it seems that “Impressionists fired their paint at the canvas with pistols” (Tansey 923). Ah, but the canvas is not simply a perception of an object or group. It is a looking glass directly into the lives, world, and minds of the painters themselves; a world that is in a perpetual state of flux with no discernible focal point. It is a world “emptiness is given the same weight as fullness” (White ** **). These ideals are evident in the works of Claude Monet.

Claude Monet (1840-1926) was a French Impressionist painter who made his mark rendering very non-traditional images like rivers, cathedrals, waterponds, and haystacks. Monet’s childhood was a happy one, gaining an early reputation with his caricature sketches until a chance meeting with Eugene Boudin in 1858 served to turn his passions to landscape and open-air paintings (Gaunt 279). His career was marked by critical and financial successes, allowing him to travel extensively and to engage in the lifelong passion of gardening (Gaunt 279). His last great work was painting a series of water-lily prints, using his very own gardens as the subject and inspiration for the work.

Monet’s water-lily prints began around 1904 and the dates of execution for many of them are unknown. The Waterlilies print contained in Robert Hughes’ text The Shock of the New (plate 78) will be examined. This particular figure is impressive in its size and scale for an oil painting on canvas. Measuring a considerable 79 by 168 inches, Waterlilies creates a feel for the spectator of being “enclosed by Monet’s vision of a nature which absorbs all sounds, all sights, all color, and all light into itself” (Hamilton 108). This work intersperses a hodge-podge of colors including visible yellows, blues, reds, and greens into a massive open form figure. There is no classical balance point and there is no discernible horizon. The viewer’s eye sweeps across the surface of the pond, skimming across the interspersed lilies. Water fills the entire frame of the work with flashes of light reflected upon the surface. The colors of the image are in accordance to perhaps a morning sun, the colors a vivid, yet not completely realized, locked into neutral dark shades. The heavy use of brush stroke is easily recognized here. We can almost imagine Monet standing before this pond, desperately racing to capture the play of sunlight across this image before it changes. Monet presents for us what the pond and lilies simply are, a flat image with an array of images evident across the surface: “the clouds and lilypads and cat’s-paws of wind, the dark patches of reflected foliage, the abysses of dark blue and the opaline shimmer of light from the sky…all compressed together in a shallow space, a skin like the space of painting” (Hughes 124). Monet’s creates for us a field of dynamic nuances comprised strictly from his energy and artistic vision (Hughes 124). The painting conceived here seems endless and rhythmic, bristling with life in the artists attempt to capture the fleeting moment. Everything about this image speaks confidently in the Impressionists tongue. An outdoor scene created with a thick and hurried application of paint, a rejection of the timed realism that the old masters would have been bound to, and presentation of simple beauty as worthy and representational of the underlying optimism of the age. Monet’s work stands as a giant in the Impressionist canon.

Expressionism, by contrast, was a very different art style. It does, indeed, owe its birth to the Impressionists and their attitudes towards color and light. The Impressionists had opened the door for the idea of color representing moods more than they had in the past. This fit perfectly well for the Expressionists, who sought to use emotionally fueled color to create a stark and sometimes frightening painted image of life.

Expressionism is defined as an “artistic movement characterized by the expression of personal feeling rather than objective reality” (Matthews ****). Simply, where Impressionists sought to create an impression of the moment, the Expressionist sought to express emotions. The Expressionists owe their art style to the vision of Vincent Van Gogh and Edvard Munch -- two men who sought to transcribe their own inner struggles and paranoia onto the face of the canvas. These men used the canvas as the vehicle for their “autobiographical outpouring”, showing their vulnerabilities and their insecurities to the eye of the viewer (White ****). And while Munch and Van Gogh are often grouped as Impressionist painters, their desire to vent their frustrations onto the canvas is eerily recognizable and much more dramatic than the lighthearted subject matter of the nominal Impressionist. And while the Impressionist uses color to capture the mood of the atmosphere or the room or the subject, the Expressionist uses color to aggressively display the mood of the artist in an attempt to depict the stress filled realities of modern life (Tansey ****).

It might be argued that the works of the Expressionist is therapeutic. Indeed, Richard Tansey states in his text Art Through the Ages that Expressionist art is produced by an “inner necessity” (Tansey 968). Impressionism was an attempt to capture the beauty and versatility of colors on the earth, a way of showing exuberance, optimism, and trying to convey the image of the now onto the canvas. For the Expressionist, the task was much different. They were “troubled by the dehumanized and materialistic world they saw” (Russel ****). They were much more concerned with the Self by the time Expressionism hit its heyday in the early part of the 20th century. The utopian ideals that had once seemed so promising in the previous ages now seemed distant and unattainable. The continuing progress of technology and society continually threatened to leave humanity behind. This insecurity on the hearts and minds of the Expressionist became so strong that the artist had not choice but to “recoil upon himself”; the Self being the only secure place in a hostile world (Hughes ****). As a result, the Self was in constant turmoil, a “battleground on which the forces of desire battle with social restraint” (White ****).

Stylistically, the Expressionists focused on a joint artist/respondent reaction to their composition of elements (Sporre ****). For them, any element, whether line or color or form, could be emphasized to elicit a specific response (Sporre ****). The subject itself mattered very little; it was the message the image and the colors conveyed that was crucial. It was also crucial that the image somehow evoked the same emotional response in the viewer that it had in the artist (Sporre ****). Thus, Expressionism refused to paint ‘safe’ objects, opting for more poignant figures that were designed to respond to the uncertainty of the world with despair, anxiety, and helplessness (Matthews ****).

Edvard Munch (1863-1944) is an innovative trendsetter in Expressionistic art. Munch was a Norwegian painter who was afflicted with a crippling sense of “human isolation” who “expressed alienation, anxiety, and despair” in many of his works (Russel 362). While his legacy has been largely relegated to his homeland where the vast majority of his works are kept, he is important nonetheless because “he was the first modern painter to make a continuous study of the idea that personality is created by conflict” (Hughes 276). And if inner conflict is one of the necessary ingredients for Expressionism, then Munch might have been overqualified. His family consisted of a “ranting religious bigot” for a father, a mother who was a “submissive wreck”, and a sister who perished young by the ravages of tuberculosis (Hughes 277). By his own volition, Munch’s life was populated by “disease and insanity . . .the black angels on guard art my cradle” (qtd. in Hughes 277). As a result, much of Munch’s early years were spent in the sickroom, watching his sister waste away or his mother succumb to nervous anxieties. This undoubtedly led to creating an image of family quite retrograde to what most of us hope for in our own lives. The seeds were planted early for Munch’s aggressive Expressionistic images deathbeds, sickly women, and screaming souls.

The Scream, hailed as Munch’s most poignant work, was executed in 1893. It is an oil painting on canvas and measures a modest 36 by 29 inches. The Scream is dominated by a sexless, hairless figure in the foreground. The figure is very gaunt. Its hands, rendered with little detail, try desperately to cover its ears in an attempt to drown out the sound of the world. Its mouth gapes open in an oval shape, silently screaming at us from the void of its world. The screamer wears a simple, dark colored shirt or robe that undulates and swings with his body. The screamer stands on what appears to be a boardwalk with the railing of the fence rocketing past him on his left side. The urgency of the image is made even more prominent by the couple who stands beyond the screamer, apparently unaffected by what ails the poor soul. To the right, the water of either lake or ocean sweeps past with thick brush strokes, meeting the dominant tan shaded beach as well as the disturbing reds and oranges of the sunset sky that cuts a swath across the horizontal axis, separating sea and land from the air. The screamer’s face shows little detail other than the rudimentary inclusion of eyes and nostrils. The image stands as visual metaphor for modern alienation (Matthews 496). The railing racing past the figure can be construed as representing the passage of time; the ever quickening pace of society leaving segments of humanity behind, raging at a world that passes them by unnoticed as in the couple in the background. The railing, being the primary man-made construct in the work, reinforces the notion of technology and society. The swirling of the colors creates the feel of an unnatural world. The heavy orange and red of the sky could signify the emotions of anger while the deep recesses of the blue sea could represent a semblance of despair or melancholy. Further, as many Expressionists felt the apocalyptic despair of their modern age, the sunset could stand as a metaphor for the end of humanity. The screamer stands still in its twilight as the rail fence, again a token of progress and industrialism, races ever onward. Munch’s own screamer is study of bleak, neutral colors; a figure who stands off as a pall on the thick colored currents of the world.

The image of the screamer him or herself is based on a real figure of an Incan mummy, not Munch himself, which has been often surmised. The Incan mummy was displayed at the Parisian Great Exposition of 1889 (Hughes 285). It had been buried in the fetal position, one that was an emblem of fright, despair, and the heady need for a semblance of security (Hughes 285). The Incan mummy was quite the rage among European painter at this time. Paul Gauguin reportedly used its image in a number of his painted works as an image of death (Hughes 285).

While the figure looks nothing like Munch, we cannot be hasty to dismiss it as the mirror of his very soul. Munch had scribbled the words “Can only have been painted by a madman” in upper part of the picture, a bleak badge of Munch’ self-assessed self-worth. His emotional isolationism can be witnessed by the physical isolation of his screamer. Truly, “one senses the separation between normal and neurotic experiences in the two ordinary figures, walking on, for whom the sunset holds no such terrors; they cannot hear the Scream” (Hughes 285). Truly Munch’s The Scream stands identifiable as an Expressionist work. The colors are baleful and represent more emotion than images of the Impressionists. Further, Munch’s image conveys the human figures own fears as the driving force of the image creating a pessimistic world, one vastly different than Monet’s world of tranquil water-lilies and fleeting optimism.

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Graduate of The University of Akron, Graduate of California State University (HUX)

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