Art Movements for Non-Artists: Part I

Four You Gallery
March 12, 2021| Christine

Art history is a living thing that requires constant reappraisal to reflect society’s changing attitudes and norms”- Artsy

Art is elite. It breaks the boundaries of time and space and reality. And while I used to believe that that made art exclusive and reserved for only a few to appreciate, my perspective has changed with a newfound respect for art. For the emotions behind it. For its expressions. I know art is subjective and each person takes away from it what resonates with them, but whenever I find myself in an art gallery, I feel out of place – by my lack of proper art vocabulary or art history background – even though I genuinely enjoy looking at a piece of art and seeing where my mind and my heart take me. If only there were a kind of cheat sheet for the different art movements to understand their genesis and style. Oh wait, why not create one! Introducing a three-part series called “Art Movements for Non-Artists”, tackling different movements throughout the centuries, briefly breaking them down, and making them approachable and less-intimidating for non-artists. So many influential art movements paving the way for so many more art movements! In the first of the three-part series, we’ll be tackling Fauvism, Surrealism, and Cubism.

Fauvism: meaning “wild beasts” was an art movement that acquired its name through an insult. The first avant-garde art movement in 20th century Europe, Fauvism was ushered in by non-other than Henri Matisse. Why was it meant to be an insult? Well, renowned art critic of the time Louix Vauxcelles was reviewing the 1905 Salon d’Automne art exhibition in Paris – an annual and independent showcase of progressive art – when he found himself put off by the work of some of the artists; their work was too wild and rough with an “orgy of colors”. According to Dr. George Philip LeBourdais, “through influential and provocative, it was short-lived…with many artists branding themselves as aligned with the movement, diluting is once provocative aims. Fauvist artists met challenges and rivalry from newcomers, such as Picasso.” How can you recognize Fauvism? From its emphasis on the emotional potency of color, with intensely colorful landscapes and portraits, characterized by a rough application of paint rendered directly from the tube. Leaders of Fauvism include Henri Matisse (1869-1954, based in Paris and Nice), André Derain (1880-1965, based in Paris), Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958, based in Paris), and Albert Marque (1875-1947, based in Paris).

Henri Matisse - Still Life with Oranges, 1912

Surrealism: Founded by the poet André Breton in Paris in 1924, Surrealism was an artistic and literary movement. By definition, it “proposed that the Enlightenment—the influential intellectual movement that championed reason and individualism—had suppressed the superior qualities of the irrational, unconscious mind; with the goal of liberating thought, language, and human experience from the oppressive boundaries of rationalism”. Breton was intrigued at the notion that the unconscious mind, the creator of dreams, was in fact the source of our artistic creativity. Which is the reasoning behind artists’ integration of chance elements into their work; throwing around paint, sand, automatic doodling and drawing at random and seeing what comes out etc. According to artist Jon Mann, “surrealism represents a crucible of avant-garde ideas and techniques that contemporary artists are still using today, including the introduction of chance elements into works of art, with the Surrealist focus being on dreams, psychoanalysis, and fantastic imagery…(with) artists like Salvador Dalí creating hyper-realistic, dreamlike visions that are windows into a strange world beyond waking life.” Icons of Surrealism include Salvador Dalí (1904-1989, based in Spain, Paris, and the U.S.), André Breton (1896-1966, based in Paris_, Max Ernst (1891-1976, based in Paris), and the world-renowned Frida Kahlo (1907-1954, based in Mexico City).

Heidi Ukkonen, Heaven Can Wait, 2020 – Egg-tempera acrylics and airbrush on linen, 190 x 130 cm A modern art piece with a feel of Surrealism

Cubism: Think of it as “if your Tupperware drawer came to life”! Inspired by a visit to Picasso, young French painter Georges Braque exhibited a series of landscapes Paris gallery in 1908; the surface of the painting composed of fractured geometric planes. His exhibition was reviewed by Louis Vauxcelles (same critic mentioned in Fauvism!) who, in his review, stated that Braque “reduces everything to geometrical patterns, to cubes”. According to art curator Alison Chang, “Vauxcelles’s review is widely credited as the first used of the term “cubes” to describe this style, which eventually led to the movement’s name: Cubism.” Vauxcelles, it seems, had quite a talent for coining the names of the different avant-garde art movements he reviewed! Picasso and Braque were close friends and intense rivals, with Picasso describing the dynamics of their relationship to French painter, critic, and author Françoise Gilot as follow, “almost every evening, either I went to Braque’s studio or Braque came to mine. Each of us had to see what the other had done during the day,” he recounted. “We criticized each other’s work. A canvas wasn’t finished unless both of us felt it was.” Beginning in 1907, Cubism came to an end in 1914, as World War I began. Icons of Cubism include Pablo Picasso (1881-1973, based in Paris), Georges Braque (1882-1963, based in Paris), Albert Gleizes (1881-1953, based in Paris), and Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979, based in Paris).

Pablo Picasso - Three Women, 1908

Stay tuned for part two with 3 more movements!

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