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A Brief Dive Into the Timeline of 20th Century Art



Are you craving a taste of modern art? Let’s take a brief dive into 20th-century art and find out how each movement changed art as people knew it.


The world has changed more in the last 121 years than it did throughout all of the previous centuries combined. There were more disruptive changes in technology, literature, music, and art in the 20th century than ever before in history.

Each decade of the 1900s saw the emergence of new artists, each generation with their new and unique approach to art. The era was defined by several ground-breaking art movements that occurred, one after another like a domino effect and sometimes even at the same time.

Dive into the world of 20th-century artists and explore their extraordinary ideas of modern art.

Nostalgia (1900-1915)

● When we entered the 20th century, the world was still experiencing the hangover from Impressionism, also known as the post-impressionist period.

● Artists had already begun to fight against the limitations of Impressionism to produce art that was subtly different from the past era. As the century progressed intellectuals and artists like the great Josef Albers became more obsessed with the intricacy of forms and shapes.

● One thing that started to change was how color was used. Impressionists had consciously dimmed out colors to make them look less vivid and more “natural.” With the change of the century, people used more vivid colors and started to move away from the “natural” look, which is how the avant-garde phase started.

● French artists started a movement called Fauvism, which is distinguished by the use of vibrant colors. It was rough and spontaneous, and it seemed violently executed. Distorting what was natural was the goal, but it was only the beginning.

● While the French were playing with violent colors, the Germans came up with their version of abstraction, which is how Expressionism began. The expression of human emotions through art became the ideal. They used the distortion of natural things to display the dark and complex side of humanity.

● Around 1907, as Fauvism started to fade, a more significant movement was on the horizon. Cubism was brought onto the scene by two significant figures: Georges Braque and of course, Pablo Picasso, whose legacy is unparalleled. Cubism revolutionized perspective and broke further away from the depiction of reality as we know it by telling a multi-dimensional story in geometric shapes yet sticking to a two-dimensional contract.

● Lastly, there was the Italian art movement called Futurism, which started at the end of the 1910s. Here was yet another move away from realism into the abstract. It represented the future, depicting the speed and velocity with which the modern world and technology were changing. This became the dominant movement leading up to WWI.

Complete Divergence (1915-1966)

● Three different art movements came forward starting from 1915 until well into the ‘60s. This era is about complete divergence from realism and naturalism into absolute abstraction. What had started with Fauvism and developed further with Cubism came into true transformation with Dadaism.

● Dadaism started as a means of protest. Artists hated war and political propaganda and could not remain unfeeling during the First World War. They showed their rejection of war, capitalism, and nationalism by creating art that didn’t make sense and got tagged as absurd.

● Dadaism gave in to the true culmination of abstraction, one of the most historical and unique movements of art: Surrealism.

● Surrealism moved from art to literature and finally into the culture. This was a time when humans moved from what was visible to the invisible, that which only exists in our minds.

● Therefore, Surrealism is the expression of reality beyond what can be seen, almost like an exploration of dreams. In dreams, we see things in metaphors, and similarly, surrealist art showed things in distortion, bringing contrasting objects together to make something that had never previously existed.

● For example, picture a fluffy hand towel on the grass. Now imagine two eyes, pointy ears, whiskers, and a tail attached to it. That fluffy thing was both a cat and a towel, two completely unrelated things.

● From surrealism developed modern abstract expressionism, where forms completely left the picture. The artist’s complicated thinking process was being expressed mostly through bold splashes of violent colors, and any existing shape was abstract and vague.

Getting Bolder (1950-1970)

● As Surrealism started to fade, the pop art movement was already emerging. As people started to tend to their post-war scars, a more peaceful era gave birth to the dominance of media and pop culture.

● Vivid, sharp colors were used to express what was popular. This was an era of art that was vibrant and eye-catching. Pop culture had the slightest touch of Surrealism but was more satirical, and euphemism started to come into play.

Less is More (1960-1970)

● Just as the pop art movement was raging, another movement was on the horizon. Minimalism was stepping away from details and zeroing in on what was simple. The focus was on the shapes and structure of the subject instead of going into complicated expressions or detailed personalities.

● Even if the movement was comparatively short-lived, it brought a new idea into art, culture, and lifestyle. Many people in the present believe in a minimalist lifestyle, and it has lived on as a trend, particularly in how minimalists decorate or design their homes.

Echo of Modernism (1980 Onwards)

● An overall change in the art scene, which we know as Modernism, started around the 1960s and continued to the 1980s.

● The phase that started in the 1980s is known as Postmodernism, but it can’t be called a single art movement. Rather, it is a collective of all the art movements that have passed before, both in their pure forms and also in collaboration with each other.

● It is a collection of both new thoughts and old, but the new prevails more and has more appeal for the current day artists. You will see a touch of Surrealism here and abstract Expressionism there, and pop art is still a raging favorite for the lovers of pop culture.

Final Thoughts
The 20th century showed a complete change from what artists knew about art, bringing in new structures and ideas. Due to the fast changes in the world, art and literature also changed rapidly.

Shape and form took precedence over details, while art lovers mostly looked for inner depth, but some also appreciated art in its rare simplicity. The past century truly transformed the art world, teaching us, the beholders, a new perspective of how to view and admire it.










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