Between the two World Wars

I have added notes or responses to my tutor feedback for this assignment at the end of these notes and also have made any necessary amendments.

This is a chapter that I have both enjoyed and scratched my head concerning – I am fascinated by the art and have realised how much I love it but as I have noted in the Art from 1900-1919 I have struggled to understand the concepts and details of 20th Century art – semi or total abstract art and particularly that comprising work of the subconscious mind befuddles me so in order to comprehend my notes and the periods in the future I have left them slightly longer than the course requirements.


WWI – ended long period of material progress/prosperity plus cut short creative genius of late 19th & 20th centuries (p. 798 WHA).  Russian Revolution. USSR established 1923.  Great Depression – 1930’s – Wall Street Crash 1929. Dada movement political implications particularly during early post-war years – Max Ernst one of several artists – mocked pompous bourgeois society/what was considered art/culture – Dada members wanted new order (artistic, intellectual, social) but not many positive intentions.  Surrealists – connections to political revolution including Communism. Diego Rivera played key part in ‘cultural relations’ between North and South America (p. 805 WHA) – most relevant artist in debated over ‘indigenous or national as against international styles in art’ (p. 805 WHA) – debated both in America (North and South) & Europe between Communists & Fascists – End of Mexican civil war government wanted public art available to all. Rivera possibly accepted commissions by American capitalists with hope of getting across political and social awareness and also Communist agenda – had spent a year in Soviet Union and Great Depression had begun. Surrealism – similar vein to Dada being against the bourgeois society plus disruptive but without the spontaneous anarchy – a movement with theory/program – 1939 Surrealists fled to sanctuary of New York. John Heartfield used photomontages for anti-Nazi purposes – exhibition, London, 1939, One Man’s War Against Hitler exhibition – originally works done for posters/periodicals. Photomontages used by Nazi’s for propaganda & advertising due to false reality impression. Photography – portrayed the economic downturn & propaganda of the Great Depression – Dorothea Lange took photographs of the homeless or unemployed; Margaret Bourke-White, photographer, & novelist Erskine Caldwell – recorded social scene of southern stages for book You Have Seen Their Faces (1937) – portrayed reality of rural life for those who live in the city. Post-WW1 Germany – belief artist could help new social conditions – The Bauhaus, Weimer – centre of this feeling throughout Europe. 1936 – Spanish Civil war began – April 1937 Guernica destroyed by Nazi bombers – Picasso depicted the scene – art depicted life with the pictorial techniques of the modern age but now in such a way that the work could be understood by all.


Murals painted in Mexico City 1923-1928 established Rivera’s reputation and hence gained American patrons who wanted public art launched in U.S. Frida Kahlo – given prominent status by Surrealists in way not seen before with women but status defined in Freudian masculine terms – still viewed as something for male needs/desire – mainly painted self-portraits with exploration of her own body and in doing so explored cultural & sexual identity. Alfred Stieglitz – 1902 founded Photographic Secession – he introduced the artistic ideas of Europe to the U.S.A. with photography to express them. After Russian Revolution artists/architects had brief period of official recognition.  1932 Russia suppressed artistic groupings – shift in Soviet artistic policy towards revival styles & Socialist realism (former in architecture and latter for figurative arts) which created official style.


Paper colles – letting torn paper fall and bonding to fix into abstract patterns – Dada. Marcel Duchamp – ready-made art.  Bonnard, Vuillard & others wanted to paint colour as it is actually is in nature. Charles Sheeler – pioneered sharp-focus effects in photography. Max Ernst developed frottage – literally rubbed surfaces and created images. Dada & Surrealist – sculpture/art works made of scrap metal and junk – Picasso moved sculpting from closed form to open form (revolutionary for sculpture); Alexander Calder & David Smith based suspended sculptures on wires – kinetic sculpture followed –  named ‘mobiles’ – free-standing immobile sculptures by Calder called ‘stabiles.  Photography – Alvin Langdon Coburn – Vortographs invented – ‘non-representational images’ (p. 816, WHA); Man Ray – Photograms – objects place on sensitized paper with light turned on very briefly & print developed – 12 published in Les Champs delicieuses 1922 –  images made without use of camera – Surrealist;  Photomontage – type of collage – Dada group, Berlin; Mart Stam, Dutch architect – introduced cantilever principle 1924; Marcel Breuer (1902-81), Hungarian architect, – first chromium plated chairs – used at the Bauhaus 1925.


Matisse & Braque – post-war style refined colour/texture/handling – landscapes, nudes, still life… signs of ‘bourgeois comfort’ (p. 798 WHA).  Picasso – 2/3 different styles simultaneously. Dada – opposed traditional ideas of good taste or established values for art/literature – major artists Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Jean (Hans) Arp … paper colles. Dada group, in wartime, formed with Duchamp & Francis Picabia – simplified drawings incorporating real/invented mechanical forms by Picabia which paralleled Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even [Large Glass]. ‘Nabis’ – group of painters including Bonnard & Jean Edouard Vuillard – painted intimiste works i.e. scenes of ‘provincial domesticity’ (p. 802 WHA) – pieces intensely private/pleasure loving – impressionist style with soft colours. Edward Hopper & Charles Sheeler – technically Realist movement but refused classification/association with any Realist American groups including American Scene Painters or Regionalist painters – style was or urban scenes through close-observation of down-town Neighbourhood/subsequential effects of the Great Depression. Sheeler – origins in photography – style specialism architectural subjects – painted works of buildings with unusual perspectives developed into Precisionism style – geometry and technology combined mirroring modern American of his era – landscapes painted had all man-made objects without figures. Mexican Muralists – Diego Riviera, Jose Clemente Orozco & David Alfaro Sequeiros – leaders of Mexican art – Rivera’s style was faces/bodies of peasants referring to Pre-Columbian sculptures + Italian Renaissance frescoes combined with mechanical shapes – later work American patrons work less political more nationalistic in style – latter work distinctly secular/materialistic, monumental with use of geometry. Surrealism – Giorgio de Chirico – disturbing style with works focused on dreams/nightmares before changing to more academic deliberate style; first Surrealist exhibition Paris 1925 – style came from the unconscious mind – Ernst recorded dreams in his collage novel series Les Femmes 100 tetes, 1929 – 149 collage images; Salvador Dali – ‘hand-painted dream photographs’ including The Persistence of Memory – disturbing style depicting the mind of the dreamer/passing of time – disturbing/disruptive imagery used by the group including Rene Magritte; Joan Miro – works of semi-abstract nature derived from sub-conscious; Picasso – style of open sculpture – collaborated with Julio Gonzalez to make wire figures first open-form figures from Picasso’s drawings – Gonzalez more daring & combined welding & assembly; Calder’s sculpture work primarily abstract; David Smith – ‘pictorial frame for a frontal yet three-dimensional composition’ (WHA, p. 814).  Alfred Stieglitz – style similar to past but styles of others including Man Ray differed; Henri Cartier-Bresson – captured different aspect of social life as a ‘casual observer’ (p. 818 WHA) – ‘Brussels’ most memorable image; Constructivism – architects/sculptors/designers – El Lissitzky, Vladimir Tatlin – latter totally abstract works – architectural – style spirit ‘utilitarian simplicity & respect for the logic of materials (p. 819 WHA) – ideology … anti-aesthetic – aims .. ‘social, utilitarian and materialistic’ (p. 819 WHA) – role of artist to express the movement – most influential work in exhibition design, typography & publicity + architecture; Lissitzky – Prouns paintings meaning ‘For the New Art’ (p. 820 WHA) – architectural style; Tatlin’s photomontages visually expressed the Revolution & paintings evolved into abstract-expressionist style. Bauhaus style of steel beams supporting expansive glazed walls with reinforced concrete with exterior walls reducing to minimal white strips at top & bottom, absence of moldings/ornamentation, cubic style and precision known International Style – Paul Klee – small scale works based on elemental symbols and ‘essentials of form’ (p. 822 WHA) – Gerrit Thomas Rietveld – Schroder House, Utrecht. Piet Mondrian – ambiguous works that were open to interpretation – Fox Trot A: Lozenge with Three Lines 1929-30. Architectural style:  Le Corbusier + Ludwig Mies van de Rohe – buildings – same straightforward qualities as Mondrian’s work – applied to work of Auguste Perret, France + Edwin Lutyens – latter designed/built WW1 memorials including Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, Thiepval;  Le Corbusier – homes designed with rational thought – Villa Savoye, 1928-9 – functionality in relation to forms which is recognizable (p. 825 WHA) with use of pilotis & no single viewpoint  – primarily used ferro-concrete – Miles van der Rohe preferred steel & glass … skeleton construction enabled open architecture & spatial freedom; Mies van der Rohe, 1931, Berlin project – walls constructed as movable screens – furniture impression of machine precision made but required hand-finishing. Constantin Brancusi, sculptor – often cast marble sculptures in bronze – no trace of his hand is seen on his work as his precision is such they look machine-made; Henry Moore – used qualities of his materials to depict form or subject – abstract works without being open or closed in appearance; Art Deco – parallel with International style – streamlined designs. Urban planning, 1920s – Le Corbusier – Rockefeller Centre at heart of 14 buildings but without the park required for his urban plans – introduced ‘a living city centre a unified planning concept on the large scale he had imagined’ (p. 831 WHA).


War great influence on the artistic movement including WW1 & Spanish Civil War on works of artists such as Miro whose mind & paintings darkened in response.  Large Glass by Duchamp influential on all genres of artists – visually opposite to what is the accepted normal concept of art. Matisse still great influence on other artists. Cubism – style that had same influence on Western art and changed it as much as the Renaissance naturalistic style did.  Great Depression – direct influence on Edward Hopper’s work due to living through it. Surrealism – ideas original in Freud’s theories & methods which then became the model for exploring the unconscious for artists/writers.  Freud’s symbolism directly influenced work of Dali and other Surrealists including Meret Oppenheim (1913-85) & Rene Magritte. Photography continued to influence artists including Giacomo Balla, Italy & Marcel Duchamp. Picasso influenced Vladimir Tatlin. Original influence for the Bauhaus – Viennese Sezession group, Werkstatte, William Morris, English Arts and Crafts movement + Expressionism – later influence De Stijl including Lissitzky who had joined temporarily.


Tristan Tzara – Romanian poet – spokesperson for Dada movement. Clement Greenberg – art critic – 1948 article – asked question concerning Bonnard’s paintings that didn’t tie in with a logical series of art styles or movements & why Bonnard and Matisse who he considered late Impressionists were able to maintain performance consistency at higher rate than those of the Cubists and immediate successors.  Jean Cocteau – artist, film-maker, playwright & poet – promoted post-war call to order. Andre Breton – leader/theorist – wrote first Surrealist manifesto – Paris – 1924 – primarily literature & poetry but very little visual arts – 3 precursors of movement Trotsky, Freud Comte de Lautramont (Isadore Ducasse). Andre Breton – published book What is Surrealism – 1934). Lincoln Kirstein – 1938 – poet/critic – wrote of photography of likes of Lange & Evans of Great Depression. Paul Klee – lectures Pictorial Thinking – German Romantic philosophy + psychology writings of Jung & Freud formed basis for his thoughts which Surrealists took up. Theo van Doesburg – De Stijl theorist – lectured at Bauhaus 1922. Walter Benjamin – German thinker – ‘applied a critically analytical intelligence to photography’ (p. 815 WHA) – A Small History of Photography 1931.


Fleming, J and Honour, H. 1984. A World History of Art. Seventh Edition. London.  Laurence King Publishing Ltd.

Tutor feedback advice/suggestions and my responses:

My tutor has pointed out the fact that in the arts that post World War 1 there was a shift towards harmony, beauty and order which was in response to the ugliness of war and the chaos and division – this is understandable particularly taking into consideration the fact there was the Spanish influenza epidemic in 1918 as well which took the lives of 50-100 million people and infected an estimated 500 million on top of the millions who had died during the world war.  The arts reacted to this chaos and devastation by trying to restore the aforesaid harmony and beauty and my tutor points out that not all attempts at this postwar organisation or harmony were retreats but some were based on simplicity, functionality and harmony.

The next paragraph of the feedback refers to the Dada movement if it can be called a ‘movement’ at all and my tutor asks “What is a work of art? Who gets to decide? If the artist gets to decide what a work of art is, then is choosing a work of art significantly different than creating it? Can an idea – not an object – be a work of art?” …. these are all questions that are incredibly relevant in the modern era 100 years on.  For me personally as someone studying textiles and now with, what has become a life long, passion for art history a work of art is something that is intensely personal and yes the artist is the person who ultimately decides if something is a work of art because he/she has created it BUT a buyer or viewer may not share the same view.  I do feel strongly that choosing a work of art is totally different than creating it because a viewer or buyer does not necessarily know the whys or how it was created unless there is an artistic statement alongside it or some other information and also because a viewer or buyer may have different tastes or the art evokes different emotions or responses to the artist.  Some viewers or buyers may be in opposition to something because called a work of art so for example I find the work of Damien Hurst very difficult to comprehend particularly those of the preserved carcasses and for me they are not art but to many others they were – this brings us back to the question of who gets to decide if something is a work of art?  I find the unmade bed of Tracy Emin another artistic work difficult to understand without doing any research on it – I write this literally from memory without any research, as I have the Damien Hurst carcasses, and know with both if I did my research and read about their thinking or inspiration then I would no doubt ate least comprehend the pieces or ideas.   The last question of whether an idea rather than an object can be considered a work of art is perhaps easier to answer – yes I feel it can because an idea forms the basis of a work of art and without an idea there can be no art.  When I think of the great works of art of history every single one started with an idea including those inspired by mythological characters – the ideas formed the basis for the composition and so each idea is the work of art.  About 4 or 5 years ago I discovered a quote by Paul Klee that I always remember each time I do piece of art work – “A line is a dot that went for a walk” and therefore each line an artist draws started with a dot and each work of art whether it is a painting, a sculpture or a textile piece or even an unmade bed is a work of art that started with an idea.

My tutor asks me to think about the intersection of art and politics and the ways in which artistic representation reflects cultural values and this I am choosing to answer as a separate blog due to the fact I am writing this on 22 January 2017 and it is 2 days since the inauguration of a new American president and there have been some interesting urban sketches in a Facebook group which I have permission to use.   The link to the blog is:

I have also been asked to think about the architectural design of Bauhaus – I find that the movement is functionality with the architectural style pared down to almost its most extreme level which in turn creates the style.  The simplicity of block shaped buildings with the distinguishing features of glass curtain walls as seen in Gropius’s Workshop Wing which my tutor mentions.  The style is also concerned with clean lines and no superfluous features as the whole design is about rational functionality – this is minimalistic  design.  The pale paints of the exterior of the Gropius building contrast with the dark frames of the windows which is appealing aesthetically and these large windows bring much valued light into the building and prevents it being a dark solid concrete block.    I am interested in my tutor’s notes regarding the new materials not being hidden behind decoration because these materials included new developments in steel and concrete – the latter of which my grandfather became a renowned expert in during the 1940’s – 1970’s and I wonder now if his interest lay in the developments that were happening during his childhood years (he was born in 1913).  

Finally perhaps the area I am most interested in – photography.  My tutor asks me to consider “how have twentieth-century photographs balanced the camera’s capacity for documentation with its aesthetic possibilities in order to convey a variety of social and cultural messages?” this is the second question I feel I would like to answer in a separate blog and the link is:

My tutor feedback for these notes,  which can be fully read under the category heading Tutor Notes, has been incredibly informative and has really made me think again about the art of the period.  I appreciate I am writing this incredibly close to submitting for assessment as I do my final checks over my blog and I am finding I am answering with a strong sense of my own opinion based on the knowledge gained throughout the course and also finding my opinions I feel have changed drastically due to that gained knowledge.

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