From one reality to another

The journey through an art museum is often a journey through human history. 

We walked through the period of Medieval to Renaissance, from Neoclassicism to Romanticism; when the rise of photography finally liberated artists from the domain of providing an accurate depiction of the physical world, as they began to explore how paintings can go beyond the ideal of imitating reality, there arrived the era of Modern art. 

But what is left there to paint? Artists like Renoir and Monet focused on portraying moments of impression, accentuating the changing qualities of light with visible brushstrokes. It departs from capturing the still moments of life, and instead attempts to project a particular segment of their memories onto the canvas. By doing so, artists seek to capture a feeling or experience—something completely subject to their own interpretations as well as the expression of their individual ideals. 

Claude Monet (French, 1840 – 1926), Woman with a Parasol – Madame Monet and Her Son, 1875, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon 1983.1.29

As time went on, this presence of subjectivity and individuality became more and more dominant in the art scene. Artists like Picasso and Braque defied the traditional expectations and explore alternative ways of constructing visual experiences of their own; Rothko employed significant open space and expressive use of colors as a profound form of communications; Pollock ascertained the journey toward making a work of art could be as important as the work of art itself. Throughout the 20th century, a variety of materials were applied, and a number of methods were experimented; they expanded and developed the definition and possibilities available to the artists for the creation of new artworks, even when it meant forcing the audience to take the trouble to question their own preconceptions about art.  

Jackson Pollock (American, 1912 – 1956), Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist), 1950, oil, enamel, and aluminum on canvas, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund, 1976.37.1

Art is evolutionary, and great art movements are revolutionary. Bearing the influence of what came before them, each generation of artists heroically march into the unknown and comment upon the reality in the way that encompasses the fundamental changes of technology, society, and philosophy. As the world is fleeting as it is transforming, their works help us apprehend the zeitgeist of the days in which they had trailblazed. 

 

References:

Irvine, Martin. Introduction to Modern Art and Modernism: Framework for Case Studies at the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Laurie Schneider Adams, A History of Western Art. 5th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011.

Strickland, Carol, and John Boswell. The Annotated Mona Lisa: a Crash Course in Art History from Prehistoric to the Present. Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2017.