Into the twentieth century – thinking about the move away from painting as a mode of expression

I have written this blog after finishing the chapters rather than before and so my answers are based on my subsequent increased knowledge of the period – I was already interested in this period before reading WHA.

Thinking about the move away from the Euro-centric focus of the course – this is primarily due to the two world wars which had a direct economic impact on all sections of society.  Initially after WW1 the 1920’s bounced back with excess and extravagance for the elite or middle class sections of society both in Europe and in the USA.

However this period of opulence and statement was to be short lived at least in the USA with the Great Depression of the 1930’s.  During this period between the wars there was still political unrest as the world recovers from one war which was swiftly followed by the Spanish influenza.

Europe had a great period of rebuilding after WW1 and there is no doubt this affected the moods of the artists involved but the political unrest, rise of facism, Spanish civil and persecution was to mean many artists started to flee across the Atlantic and this created a great hub of creativity in New York which was already a cultural melting pot.

After WW2 again the world had to rebuild but America had an advantage as the two wars had not been on their soil but rather in other countries.  Again more artists fled across the Atlantic fleeing from some European countries as the Soviet bloc cemented its position and hold on those countries.  Paris had been ravaged during the war including a great quantity of art stolen and obviously other countries had to recover.

Artistic expression and moods changed – painting seems to become almost secondary to sculpture as artists sought new ways and methods of expressing themselves.  Abstraction whether whole or part became an intrinsic style – from Cubism to Expressionism to Fauvism with a variety of colour palettes including limited primary schemes to monochrome.

Sculpture was also affected by the great advances in technology and materials – some of these coming out of the advances during the wars.  Sculpture took art in new directions and to me seems reactionary against the complex political situations – the abstraction or simple use of smooth surfaces depicting a need for calm or serenity.  Sculpture also made people think in new ways as it made the spectators question what exactly constituted art – painting did the same but sculpture is three-dimensional and in many cases a spectator can walk around or even in or through it and becomes part of the installation.

Architectural styles also changed – the lines are cleaner, geometric precision vital and surfaces polished with great panels of glass and less ornamentation.  Technology and industrial progress enabled architects to develop styles that moved away from traditional historical styles and in America they did not have to be concerned with the re-building of their cities after the two world wars but rather with the building to accommodate the influx of refugees.  Historical styles did return but in newer formats with modern artistic designs.  Art Deco flourished in the 1920’s – clean lines but with the opulence of the era reflected in the designs and now reminiscent of that period before the great economic crash.

The Cold War had a direct influence on the artists of all genres – again this meant many fled to America particularly bearing in mind that many European countries were bankrupt.  The artists took their movements and styles across to the USA and therefore created new movements which were also influenced by other cultures and artists such as the Mexican muralists.

There can be no question that photography plays its part in the artistic move away from painting – the technology advanced rapidly and it became a tool for both painters and sculptures who in turn created works of mixed media which crossed over both different artistic genres.  Photography became an art in itself – it enabled self-expression as well as expressing the lives of those depicted.  Photography was used to depict the great new skyscrapers from unusual angles or the speed of the automobile and captures images which we now class as iconic and it eventually became a separate art form in its own right.

The simple answer to the question posed is that a combination of social, economic and political factors forced many artists or intellectuals to emigrate and in the process technology advancements combined with new influences and cultures meant new inspiration which in turn enabled new forms of expression to be developed whether in sculpture, land art or photography.  However painting was still a means of artistic expression which underwent its own evolution as the artists reacted to the world in which they lived.


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