1900s both realism and abstractionism formed important parts of Americas art culture

In an essay of approximately 500 words (with a typical font and spacing, this will be approximately 2 pages), respond to the following question.
In the early 1900s both realism and abstractionism formed important parts of America’s artistic culture. Discuss and compare of these American artistic movements, providing examples of painters and paintings discussed in the videos.
In your answer be sure to include mention of stylistic and subject similarities, differences, and goals.Do this using ONLY the examples that Soltes discusses and explains in his lectures. Do not use Internet sources for inspiration nor as help.Lectures are attached. Use only these.
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Thomas Edison State College | 39 Revolutions in Early 20th Century Painting
The sheer level and volume and diversity of creativity in Paris in the first decades of the 20th century are
breathtaking. But there are a range of other places where art is going on. And there are artists going back and
forth between Paris and other cities. The whole atmosphere is reminiscent of the diversity of terms and phrases
and names and stylistic references that we recall from several lectures referring to the end of the 19th century.
And we must remember that our goal is not to touch on all of them, because it’s impossible to do so in the time we
have. Nor should we panic when we realize that sometimes the nuanced differences between this group and that
don’t seem to be so clear, because often they’re not.
What we want to do is realize, simply, how the amazing range of productivity in art of the West as we move from
the late through the early 20th century is simply awesome, even, and in part, particularly because of its sometimes
hairsplitting assertions of originality and nuance.
So if one thinks to Robert Delaunay, who is regarded as an important and already in himself diverse abstractionist
by 1909, 1910, his work is cubist. His work is labeled as orphic. His work has elements of fauvism within it. If we
look at him, we realize he influenced some Americans who by 1912 went back and founded a movement based
on his style in America, except that they called it synchronism.
And then, he was invited by Franz Marc, to come east to Germany and exhibit with Marc’s group. Franz Marc is
one of the great German expressionists of the early 20th century, who was a founder, together with Kandinski-about whom more in a subsequent lecture– who was the founder with Kandinsky of a group called the Blue Rider,
the Blaue Reiter, group in Munich, and used color to symbolize emotion and feeling in a way that we recognize as
derived, ultimately, from that principle established, perhaps at first, by Gauguin back in the late 1880s.
This work before us, the 1911 Large Blue Horses, is rich with a pathos evoking series of primary colors– blue,
red, yellow– interspersed with very carefully calibrated secondary colors– green and orange and purple. And it
was this kind of a work that is the signature of the Blaue Reiter group that emphasized, in particular, blue among
the primary colors. And yet, this is not to be confused with the blues of Picasso’s Blue Period or the blues that we
saw in our previous lecture favored in a particular painting by Matisse or in a particular painting by Chagall. But for
the Blaue Reiter group, blue was supposed to be its signature.
So we have with Delaunay, then, a French orphic cubist with fauvist overtones kind of painter who influences
Americans and is invited to exhibit with the Germans and does so.
And if we turn to the Swiss artist Paul Klee, 1879 to 1940– he came from Berne, Switzerland, to settle in Munich in
1906– he eventually joined the expressionist Blaue Reiter group. He is an artist who, ultimately, found the turning
point for himself away from Europe altogether, as we have seen with some other artists do, like Gauguin, for
example. He visited on the eve of World War I Tunisia in North Africa, where he was overwhelmed by the intense
light there, that washing over colors gave them a kind of pale quality to them. And he said, “Color has taken
possession of me. Color and I are one” in his diaries subsequently.
We can see this sensibility in a later work by him– the 1932 Ad Parnassum, to Parnassus, the mountain over
which Apollo presides as the mountain of the Muses, the mountain of the arts. We also get a sense in this work of
the early training as a musician that Klee had had, the idea that he shared with Kandinsky. Again, I’ll be speaking
about Kandinsky shortly. He shared with him this sense of a relationship between painting and music whereby the
way in which tones can circle around a central tone in music– you switch from one key to another to another. And
then you come back where you began. So he had worked out a system of color organization in which all the colors
of the spectrum, ultimately, would revolve around a central coloristic access dominated by the three primary
colors– red, yellow, and blue.
He had been creating a series of color constructions that he labelled Magic Squares since 1923, in which each
element in a given image would function like a theme in a polyphonic composition, to use his own turn of phrase.
And here before us, we see these subtle gradations of colors in tiny little squares, tiny tesserae. It’s very mosaiclike. We see that Mount Parnassus has been stylized as a pyramid. And it turns out he had recently visited Egypt
before this painting. We see the symbolism of the door below– that secret, closed doorway to which one wants
access to the Muses, to the arts, to Parnassus.
Meanwhile, back in Paris, Marcel Duchamp, 1887 to 1968, was starting to shift from his earlier analytic cubistinspired painting to Dada with his LHOOQ Mona Lisa with beard and mustache of 1919, in which as you can see
he simply vandalized a copy of Leonardo’s iconic image. He drew a mustache and a beard on her.
Now, Dada as a movement was responding to the barbarism of World War I, this great war which so emphatically
raises the question of whether all of our technological achievements and advancements really do lead to genuine
human advancement. And we remember that fin de siecle malaise that we saw expressed in various movements
by various artists that seemed to anticipate the horror of World War I. Now, we’re in the midst of, or coming after,
that horror, and see the malaise turned into something even more disturbing.
The Dadaists saw all of this– the Great War– as a function of bourgeois interests with which bourgeois cultural
artifacts were associated. And so they wanted to create a non-bourgeois non-artifact anti-art. And so the
deliberate vandalization of Leonardo’s iconic image has as its intention to inject meaninglessness into it to reflect
the meaninglessness of reality.
This is even more extreme in Duchamp’s slightly earlier Fountain of 1917, in which the most banal of objects has
simply been revisioned, tongue-in-cheek, to its conceptual object. Instead of being a receptacle for liquid human
waste, it has been recast as a source for the consumption of water to quench thirst, to survive, simply by shifting
its position, right? He’s turned it 90 degrees on its side, declared to be a fountain. And, of course, signed it R.
Mutt, 1917, to further assert that there’s no inherent significance in any man-made object. It is what you make of it
in a very literal sort of way.
The Dada movement of which Duchamp was part had been founded about a year or two before in Zurich. And
one of the originators of the movement was Jean Arp. Born in 1887, he lived until 1966. Also known as Hans Arp,
because he was born in Alsace, which was part of Germany at the time of his birth, and then became part of
France, and has moved back and forth. So he’s got both a German and a French first name.
Arp’s Collage of Squares Arranged According to the Laws of Chance, and done in 1916-17 allegedly was
accomplished by simply allowing square pieces of paper to fall on a larger sheet, and then to glue them where
they fell. Except it seems that the charming dance of these squares in space and the sense of organization may
mean that there was a little bit more human control over the composition then he would lead us to believe.
The idea of leaving, in any case, the artistic product to chance was allegedly to make it closer to nature by virtue
of eliminating the human intervention, because humans had so proven ourselves to be irrational in World War I
that to think that we could rationally create a work of art is a false kind of notion. Dada, remember, has as its
intention to be meaningless, so there’s a kind of irony to the fact that its influence spread internationally from
Switzerland to France and to Italy to Germany and to Soviet Georgia and to the United States in the next few
years.
Nor is there any certainty as to where the word Dada comes from. There those who say, oh, maybe it comes from
Romanian– dada, meaning, oh, yeah. Sure, sure, sure– since one of the theoretical founders of the movement,
one of its theorists, was a Romanian– Tristan Tzara. Or maybe it was the arbitrary falling of the eye onto a word
when one of the founders opened a German-French dictionary and saw the word dada, which is a kind of slang
word for hobby horse.
In any case, the origin of the word tubism, on the other hand, applied around the same time period to the work of
Fernand Leger. Born in 1881, he lived until 1955. The origin of that term with respect to Leger’s work is very clear.
He was part of an offshoot group of the cubist movement. His very personalized vocabulary of tubular, conical,
and cubic forms in primary colors– again, red, yellow, blue with a little bit of black and green and white thrown in-carried into the era of the Great War. In fact, in which he was one of those who were gassed at the horrible battle
of Verdun in 1916, and almost lost his life. It was that kind of a battle, where gas used by the Germans ended up
actually destroying about half a million British and French, but also about half a million Germans, because the new
technology, while it could spread gas over the enemy, couldn’t control the winds, which spread the gas back over
their own soldiers.
That sense of meaninglessness, of rationallessness, of irrationality, is what motivated the Dadaists. And it’s what
Leger personally experienced. And so after the war, we see his mechanical period, in which in a work like this
1921 Three Women, subtitled The Great Meal — Le Grand Dejeuner– as an example of that style, with his figures
as very robotic and defined by very sleek and tubular and machine-like forms. Such works as this, in their very
careful organization, are also part of his idea of returning back to order after the chaos of war.
There’s a kind of paradox between the flatness of the image and the fact that he has used a kind of chiaroscuro to
give these tubular forms, and also in the layering of his colors, given us a kind of stylized perspectival depth. So
the painting is both in depth with chiaroscuro and very flat at the same time. And if we compare it to Picasso’s
Desmoiselles d’Avignon, which we considered in lectures 37 and 38, then the mechanistic quality of the three
women have an added nuance, for, if they are not dejeuner– a meal– but rather, as in Picasso’s women, in his
Desmoiselles d’Avignon, rather, prostitutes, then what they do they do for cash as machines, rather than for love
as humans might.
One might notice well that the two right-hand faces in Picasso’s composition, as we have seen and said, are
derived from African art. And the right-hand figure in Leger’s work is African by way of her skin pigmentation, even
as her hair and face are essentially the same as the other two figures. And we’re reminded that Paris in the ’20s is
as obsessed with being hospitable to blacks as in the period before World War I it had been obsessed with being
hospitable to Jews.
Other artists were also responding to the varied evidences that Western civilization has not been on a simple and
straightforward and steady ascent towards greater glory in the aftermath of industrial and technological and
scientific and intellectual political revolutions such as those that began in the late 18th century.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, for example, who live from 1880 to 1938, formed a group in 1905 in Dresden, Germany,
die Bruecke, the Bridge, which, like so many post-impressionist groups, had as its primary principle to see greater
freedom for younger artists. Well, that seems to be what every generation of artists wants relative to the previous
generation– greater freedom for itself. It thinks of itself always as new and revolutionary. And Kirchner’s group
was certainly part of that kind of idea.
When die Bruecke was founded, it stayed briefly in Dresden, but then moved to Berlin in 1910-11 or so when
Kirchner’s response to being immersed in a very imposing metropolis caused him to create a series of very bold
works to represent the hectic and often chaotic life in the city. So his 1913 Berlin street scene, painted to suggest
this kind of hurly-burly.
When he joined the second generation of the Blaue Reiter group– yes, he joined the second generation of the
Blaue Reiter group, reminding us that this interweave of different groups and group names is a complexity that
shouldn’t daunt us, but just amaze us with its fascinating complications. So he joined that group. And at the same
time, we recognize in his color a relationship back to Matisse’s fauves and to Marc’s Blaue Reiter group and to
Delaunay’s orphics, and so on.
But what does he add? His own very harsh and awkward angularity. He adds a very attenuated sameness, as if
everyone has some form of anorexia, as much as being part of a streamlined modernity. And they have very
mask-like facial expressions that suggest a very disconnected relationship– or rather, a lack of relationship– to
the world and the people rushing around them. And sometimes the faces are not even visible.
The following year, the war will have broken out. This was, again, a work from 1913. And the negative side of
modernity will have exponentially begun to reinforce itself.
And in Vienna, Oskar Kokoschka’s Bride of the Wind, also sometimes known simply as The Tempest, will place a
relaxed and protected sleeping woman in the arms of a very wrinkled and torn-looking male, his hands a study in
craggy power, the whole pair of them swooping and swirling in a wild confusion of concentrated dark colors and
chalky white visual passages. Somehow, it would seem at first glance that love and its lovers survive– perhaps
even flourish– in the midst of an anguished expressionistic world, spinning at the edge of the cold hopelessness,
which is prevented from completely swallowing the world by love’s incandescence.
Or is, this rather, not that? Is it rather not the image of personal anguish that the woman is Alma Mahler, with
whom the artist Kokoschka had a tempestuous affair that ended when she said, I can’t stay with you. I’m being too
consumed by passion to stay with you. So that’s what we see floating, is this couple unhappily floating. He stares
unhappily into space, holding her, who is obliviously asleep in his arms. The whole work is really a whirl of sharp
little brush strokes and muted colors. Lovers or not, it seems swallowed by loneliness, swallowed by anguish. This
is yet another form of expressionism at its fiercest.
Now, Kokoschka is regarded as a third of the great trio of Viennese artists that bridged the 19th and 20th
centuries. The first is Gustav Klimt, whose work we discussed earlier in lecture 36. The third is Egon Schiele,
regarded by his contemporaries at the time as Klimt’s heir apparent. But he died of the Spanish influenza 1918 at
the age of 28 so it’s hard to know where he might have gone. But he went pretty far, even in the brief time allotted
to him.
His 1915 Death and the Maiden pursues a theme, a love and death theme, a struggle with time and death, that
we have seen struggled with before visually by Hans Baldung Grien centuries earlier, back in lecture 24. And
we’ve seen it revived by a number of fin de siecle artists of the previous generation.
And in a way, Schiele’s work is reminiscent of Kokoschka swirling bride with the wind, but we see a very different
kind of brush work. Schiele’s is much smoother, much more finished-looking, as it were, less expressionistic. The
couple, of course, are enveloped in a winding sheet and embedded in a surreal golden landscape, not simply
floating in the clouds. This is death as the artist. The artist has represented himself as death in Death and the
Maiden. It’s a self-portrait in this disturbing image, with his landmark remarkably large hands and long fingers
staring out glassy eyed. Wrapped with him in this winding sheet, whom we can identify as his girlfriend, Vali-Valerie Neuzil, whom he would summarily dismiss the following year to marry someone else.
So it seems that the struggle between love and death has been transformed here into a kind of kiss of death. The
end of a relationship to be mourned is represented here by the coalescence between the sexual act, in which
each partner is lost in the other, and death, in which the self is lost in a final kind of way.
Many of these works, with their deliberately unnatural imagery, point to another movement that was growing out of
the movements extending from the symbolists to the orphics. And that, of course, is the surrealist movement.
Described by Andre Breton, its primary theorist, it’s a movement that has as its intention to liberate the mind– and
eventually to liberate society, supposedly– by yielding to the imagination, and thus to the dream state of the
unconscious. And so it encompasses Freudian thinking, as well. The unconscious, the other, the sacer, in that
sense, which is a truer reality than the awake, conscious, everyday [INAUDIBLE] reality in which we live. And
surrealism began to emerge around 1920 as a kind of outgrowth of the Dada movement, and the attempt of Dada
to respond to the failure of reason to get us anywhere, as evidenced by World War I.
The Greco-Italian painter Giorgio de Chirico, who between 1911 and the end of his life moved back and forth
between Paris and Italy, was one of the important early surrealists. He’s sometimes called a proto-surrealist or
pre-surrealist. He’s also referred to specifically as the founder of the metaphysical school of surrealism. I would
call him a metaphysical surrealist, if you wish, because his intentions were typically so intellectual and
philosophical– therefore, metaphysical.
And so we see in his signature work called The Great Metaphysician of 1917 that is part of this World War I period
four typical elements of his style. We have neoclassical architecture to the left and the right, giving us a quasilandscape setting, and an idealized philosopher’s landscape setting at that, but devoid of people, and thus
suggesting a kind of existentialist loneliness. We’ve got sharp, long, rakish shadows suggesting late afternoon, but
a dark sky background, which is nothing of the sort. So creating a sense of unease, because we can’t figure out
what time of day it is. In the viewer, an unease, that is. A dominating vaguely anthropomorphic figure– the great
metaphysician– that’s more like a cross between a mannequin and an unfinished construction site than a person
that plays on the notion of machine age anonymity on the notion of the loss of humanity, the questionable
direction that we can get to by way of philosophical reasoning. And finally, a sense of the illogic of the juxtaposition
of all these parts to suggest a disturbing dream. And it’s this last element– the illogical juxtaposition disturbing
dream quality– that connects the metaphysical school, so to say, with surrealism in general.
One may see in Max Ernst’s early surrealism a symptom of how that movement grew out of de Chirico’s scuola
metafisica, his metaphysical school. Ernst had established a Dada group in Cologne, Germany, back in 1920 with
Jean Arp. But he returned to Paris and Montparnasse about two years later.
And in his The Elephant Celebes, we see a giant mechanical figure that is and is not an elephant, with a trunk
hose terminating in a bull’s head that’s not a bull’s head. Turns out that the bulbous body of the pseudo-elephant
was inspired by a Sudanese corn bin that he had seen. On the creatures back is a kind of de Chirico-like
construction. Floating above it are fish. There’s a figure without a head that really isn’t a figure that is cut off
towards the bottom right. And the fish above make us …
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