Art Movements for Non-Artists: Part III
“Art, freedom and creativity will change society faster than politics” – Victor Pinchuk
Art is elite. It breaks the boundaries of time and space and reality. Art is an expression, of the mind, of the soul, of the world – our inner world and our outer world. Art has proven to be rebellious and boundary breaking. It is a social reform. Art is a human movement. And it has proven this reality time and time again over the centuries, with every movement that rises, paving the way for the evolution of mankind, on more levels than one. With every movement that rises, paving the way for so many more art movements! In the final part of the three-part series, we’ll be tackling Art Nouveau, Fluxus, and Abstract Expressionism.
Art Nouveau: Having made its debut in Belgian art journal L’Art Moderne in 1884, the Art Nouveau movement bridged a fundamental gap between 19th-century aestheticism and 20th-century design. Artists of the movement drew inspiration from plant forms in nature which they then conceptualized into elegant and organic motifs. According to art curator George Philip LeBourdais, “this impulse was as political as it was aesthetic”. William Morris, Art Nouveau’s philosophical father, defined its main goals: “to give people pleasure in the things they must perforce use, that is one great office of decoration; to give people pleasure in the things they must perforce make, that is the other use of it.” Making everyday things pleasurable – to use and to make. According to LeBourdais, Morris “insisted that functional design be incorporate into the objects of everyday life, and his mix of aesthetics and ethics rejected the heavy ornamental qualities of the 19th century, specifically the cumbersome, almost suffocating excesses of the Victorian period.” Why did Art Nouveau matter? Because its goal was tearing down the hierarchies between the arts. Unfortunately, the movement shined bright and burnt fast; just as quickly as it bloomed, the movement began to wither in the early 20th century. Leaders of the Art Nouveau movement include William Morris (1834-1896, based in England), Gustav Klimt (1862-1918, based in Vienna), Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933, based in New York), and Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926, based in Barcelona).
Fluxus: “Purge the world of bourgeois sickness, ‘intellectual,’ professional & commercialized culture, PURGE the world of dead art, imitation, artificial art, abstract art, illusionistic art, mathematical art, — PURGE THE WORLD OF ‘EUROPANISM’!” As was the call to action by artist George Maciunas in 1963 – the dawn of a new movement in art which he called “Fluxus”. How did he call attention to his movement? In the form of a manifesto, a document composed of different definitions of the word “flux” from different dictionaries: a purging or discharge of fluids. According to writer Karen Kedmey, “the movement attracted a loosely affiliated, international group of artists, designers, poets, and musicians who readily embraced one of its central tenets: the total integration of art and life… to be fully grasped by all peoples, not only critics, dilettantes and professionals.” Fluxus was against labeling, categorizing, pigeon-holding art; the movement was inclusive, multidisciplinary, entertaining, fun, light, and relatable, elicited from everyday life – from everyday materials and experiences. When asked to define the Fluxus movement, Maciunas’ typical response was: he would play recordings of barking dogs and honking geese. Why did Fluxus matter? It completely redefined the notion of what could be. According to Kedmey, “fluxus artists pushed art well outside of mainstream venues like galleries and museums. Their informal, spontaneous, and often ephemeral pieces were not only difficult to collect and codify; they were also sometimes hard to recognize as art.” Leaders of Fluxus include George Maciunas (1931-1978, based in New York), Yoko Ono (1933-present, based in New York), Nam June Paik (1931-2006, based in New York), and Alison Knowles (1933-present, based in New York).
Abstract Expressionism: Born in the city that never sleeps, Abstract Expressionism is often referred to as the New York School, on account of their centralized location. The first generation of artists, although coming from and working with different themes and approaches, exhibited together and very often got together (in bars/cafés/studios etc.) to discuss and pick each other’s brains about their revolutionary new art form. According to artist Jon Mann, “post-World War II existentialism, which grappled with the darker potential of human experience and the need for authenticity in human behavior, led certain Abstract Expressionist painters to think of their canvases as spaces within which they expressed their truest selves, rather than simply surfaces to be covered with paint. For these artists, the process of making a painting became a heroic battle against the struggles of human existence.” But then again, that’s what art is all about – expressing emotions, known and unknown. For artists of the movement, they shared a common belief that abstract art embodies the capacity for freedom in artistic creation. Abstract Expressionist pieces as they’re known today largely falls into two groups or supporters (of style): gestural or action painting, and color field painting. As defined by Mann, “gestural painting denotes work in which the movement of the artist’s hand or process is highly evident in the completed work…Color field painting, on the other hand, sought to engage or absorb the viewer with large areas of intense color”. Why does the Abstract Expressionism movement matter? Because it garnered international recognition, inspired generations of artists on a global level, and made New York City the heart of the Western art world.
After working on this three-part series (with still so many other influential art movements that we haven’t tackled yet!), I’m looking forward to art galleries opening back up after lockdown!
So many art movements, so little time!
So many influential art movements paving the way for so many more art movements!
As artists Christo stated, “the work of art is a scream of freedom”.