“In the beginning there was Art. It wasn’t called Art, but it was Art, none the less.” this is an extract from an article written by Denis Taylor, artist and editor, about abstract art for painters TUBES®…more than just an art magazine
The act of making a mark to communicate something to another human seems to have been etched into the very DNA of our species. For example, helped to establish cooperative successful working methods in the gathering, hunting or trapping of other animals for food. This, there is no doubt, helped the survival and dominance of our species. Imagery it seems, became the de-facto communication medium before language or the written word evolved into the sophistication we know today.
This is an assumption of course, because we cannot be sure that imagery was the all important difference that elevated the human species to dominate the planet. However, to date no one has proved otherwise and what positive evidence there was is scratched on the walls by our early ancestors. Whatever is the truth, imagery was and still is, the quickest form of communication and the most effective, as far as conveying deeper meanings concerning the complex psychological conditions of a human.
“moved away from any spiritual considerations, especially in Art.”
Adopting images to convey spiritual understanding and encourage religious fervour was the strategy embraced by the leaders of an organised society, from the ancient civilisations through to our own time. The legacy of Art is felt world wide and held in high esteem. Today much of this art is almost worshiped as ‘divine’ as if it had having been ‘touched by the hand of God,’ as Picasso once said but only in private. Perhaps he should have said it louder and in public than he did. Which he would have had he not been aware of the backlash this statement would have caused at the time in the early 20th century, an era that was fast approaching a more nihilistic society that was more science based leaning, and moved away from any spiritual considerations, especially in Art.
In the past centuries there was a general acceptance that Art was the cultural reflection of all humanities activities, its belief systems, the questioning of social morality and human interactions. It is not surprising that Artists would adapt, change or develop their art to public opinion and be employed by almost every nation to instil on the mass population its own specific dogma. It was not unreasonable for the artists to believe that conveying that dogma was their job. In the past Art was also relied upon as the path finder for new ways of conveying philosophical ‘thinking’ about life, death, the after life and existence itself.
In the 21st century, that is not really the case, as other mediums have superseded static visual art. Film or videos, television and to some extent, even social media, now fulfills the roll of influence. Art has become a product introduced into a complex capital system.
“…an easier life with better conditions.”
By the beginning of the 20th century the Western world had progressed technologically to a point where the future seemed as if all the problems of the previous centuries would be solved. Automated machines made efficient transportation systems. Power (electric and gas) was available at the switch of a button, clean water was piped directly to all citizens homes, new sewage systems cleaned up the environment of the City, improved infrastructures led to vast company profits and the population followed behind it, albeit much slower perhaps, but nonetheless most people continue to be incrementally better off and live an easier life in better conditions.
Most important, National states acquired a cultural superiority complex, one that they believed provided high global status, one which was the justification for empire building. Aid, in the shape of money, became a moral duty, despite the evidence of corrupt practices. Art and artists reflected this complex society with advances in image making and celebrated them by producing work that looked and felt ‘modern’ as the industrial revolution sped towards its total dominance of the natural world and much of this incredible change was before the famous 1900 Paris World fare.
By the turn of the century in Paris at the World Trade Fair (Paris by then was the art capital of the world) the impressionists were ‘the stars of the show.’ They were very well established in the fashionable art galleries of the French capital city. By the 1900’s, the camera became a must have accessory of the people, with many artists predicting the end of the need for painting. Paul Gauguin was creating his last masterpieces in Haiti, Vincent van Gogh had been dead ten years. Degas eyesight was in decline and Rodin was proving his status as the ‘genius’ of the new modern sculpture. And Cezanne? He was just beginning to make his presence felt on the art market as a great modern painter in posh galleries, when in truth he wanted to be in the old Art Museums, just like all the other dead painters.
The art world witnessed the birth of post impressionism. And christened them ‘Fauves’ in 1905 (wild beasts) and it’s most intellectual member, of that group, Maurice Denis, had already made the challenging statement in an essay published in 1890…
“…remember that a picture, before being a battle horse, a nude woman or some anecdote, is essentially a flat surface covered with colours arranged in a certain order.”
It appears that many Artists, before 1900, were the cutting edge of a brave new century to come and therefore prepared the way for artists to go forward to open the minds of the population of Europe (or at least the corner of it that they occupied).
“when the means had become so refined, so weakened, that their power of expression had gone, we had to return to the essential principles on which human language was formed.”
So wrote Matisse when talking about the formation of ‘Fauvism’ thirty one years later in 1936.
The military inspired French phrase Avant-Gardé could have been applied to any one of several artists at this early stage of modernism, and what we now could regard as early examples of contemporary painting. Today, however, we regard Cubism as the real beginning of what typifies 20th century Modernism (Abstraction in painting). For example, certain names spring to mind the minute the word Cubism is used, namely Cubism’s innovators, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, even though neither of them ever referred to themselves as Cubists, nor took part in any of the Cubists exhibitions (before or even after 1911).
In between time Artists from the New World (America) began to visit Europe and take ideas back with them. These artists were at the forefront of the realists movement which was known as the Ash Can School. This started a thought process, that once exposed to the likes of Matisse, Cezanne, Mondrian, Kandinsky and other great European innovators, was to transpire into one of the most influential art movements of all time…abstract Expressionism. Read the full feature in painters TUBES magazine soon to be published on www.pocketmags.com and in available print to order. In 2022 Tubes will no longer be available in print.