‘Will no-one stand up to assert the consciousness of having an aesthetic conscience of his own and bring some spontaneous echo of his inner being, some genuinely individual contributory to the furnishing of his own home. ‘1 This essay aims to unravel the possible ‘essential characteristics’ of each discipline in order to determine the credibility of such a universal statement. I will seek to identify the essential characteristic of disciplines in an attempt to support this statement.
I will be focusing upon modernism in art, and more specifically, Cubism and Futurism. The last two movements will be shown to offer identifiabble essential characteristics. These will be discussed in relation to their place within modernism, and alongside the essential characteristic of Modernism. It will then be possible too determine if each discipline is characterised by essential traits or if in fact modern art, and subsequently art as a subject, possesses generic essential characteristics.
I will discuss whether or not each discipline merely adopts these generic traits in the creation of new movements or whether each discipline is in fact entitled to claim an identity from individual essential characteristics. When art was deemed independent from the service or religion of the state artists were given more scope to express themselves in their work. Expressionism was a movement dominated by Germany in 1905-1925. It included everything expressive and unlike trying to be an exact replica of the subject being portrayed it had abstract qualities.
Expressionism was intended to represent the feelings and emotions pf the artist, ‘the artist expresses only what he has within himself, not what he sees with his eyes. ‘2 Colour, abstraction, line, noise, movement, rotation and shape are all expressive and therefore form the essential characteristics of Expressionism, ‘the entire arrangement of my pictures is expressive: the place occupied by the figures, the empty spaces around them, the proportions, everything has its share. ‘3 Avant-garde is a term commonly used to describe modern art.
It represents what is new, original and cutting edge. What makes it this though – colour etc. How can you define a work of art? Is it to do with having essential characteristics or can it be categorised without such criteria. These characteristics of modern art can be seen in all works and movements, whether it be Impressionism, Cubism or even Pop Art. From Picasso to Duchamp the Avant-garde philosophy is always present. Cubism was not intended to create a new movement when it was first found. Picasso said ‘when we invented Cubism we had no intention whatever of inventing Cubism.
We wanted simply to express what was in us. Not one of us drew up a plan of campaign’4. The collective aim of the Picasso’s paintings was to represent some of the aspects of 3d objects so that all angles can be seen and to correct the inaccuracy of critics’ views. By all the objects being presented on one canvas it brings into view hidden views that traditional paintings would had portrayed. For Cubists and the school of philosophy, the idea of a hidden element being present in the image, therefore may not essentially ‘exist’, made the idea of knowing the far side an abstraction.
The Cubists focused upon and incorporated this into their idea. The Cubist artist creates his work with the view of mobility and access to the world. The characteristics are removed from the traditional method of conveying a sense of realism as it explores the concept of reality on a deeper level. These artists paint reality as a stark visualisation to the raw sight, without any censorship or traditional symbollism: ‘one does not imitate the appearance, the appearance is the result. ‘ The idea Braque and Picasso depicted is that the scene must not be copied but created.
Braque stated: one must not imitate what one wishes to create. ‘5 The paintings also went away from the idea of space and more towards a thickness to reality and that everything is somehow connected. Pre-Cubism was painted in an expressionist way. It was interested in block geometric shapes. Braque and Picasso became very friendly in 1908 in the Pyrenees and had studios together in Paris and both had a period of similar ‘Pre-Cubist’ work Picasso and Barque had got to the stage where their works could barely be told apart.
They where both taking high risks in producing such a controversial and different style. Their new style of painting had a profound effect on all artistic work after it. There where two phases of Cubism; Analytic Cubism and Synthetic cubism. Each carried the essential characteristic of flatness but had evolved into specific genres. Analytic Cubism explored the idea of being able to see multiple views of objects and surfaces on one piece of art work. The objects and spaces within a work of art where taken apart and destroyed built re-created with angular geometric shapes.
Artists used limited amounts of colour, with very natural and earthy shades such as browns, greys and blacks. Analytic Cubism explores the way in which we can make sense of things. There are two types of knowledge senses that provide information which then gets processed and re-combined to make sense of it. Cubism wants to get away from the idea of coping scenes/images exactly and painting them onto a surface. ‘Clarinet and a bottle of Rum’ shows an analytical view of reality. There is limited use of colour so as not to take away the meaning of the painting itself.
It is not expressively applied to the canvas; it is more dapped on with a very rough technique, as to not let emotions run wild. Some areas of the painting are more built up with paint than other parts. There is more of an emphasis in the middle sections of the painting than in the corners. It establishes space and movement in space by fragmentising it and laying it flat, showing the flatness of the support of the canvas. Showing the notion of depth and experience in reality. Synthetic Cubism explored the use of different combinations of styles, mediums and visual language in an art work.
As the name suggests, synthetics were important in this phase. The use of collage in Cubism came about as did the introduction of texture. Braque accomplished this texture in his pieces by using sand which created a coarse surface. The use of lettering and charcoal became more frequent. Lettering enabled the painting to have close links to the culture of the time. It brought the painting to the present with the use of everyday products being depicted. ‘Still Life with Chair Caning’ is very important in Cubism as it marks the first collage in fine art.
Although the technique of collage wasn’t invented by Picasso, his use of it was revolutionary and modern. ‘Still Life with Chair Caning’ has characteristics of traditional Analytical Cubism however it is still somewhat original and radical. It includes iconography with references to Paris cafi?? ‘s, and uses the oval shapes to distinguish the objects. The uses of musical instruments in Braque’s pieces involve a sense of touch which introduces not just a visionary aspect but a somewhat tactile one also.
The painting also involves textual elements which gives the painting a sense of time and relevance to everyday life. The values introduced by Barque where formed by memory, depth and the viewers ability to interpret objects and everyday things. The paintings where based in nature itself and had established a way to express the paintings where not just formalist but that they are also pictorial. Cubism marked the first wholly Modernist movement. Cubism has universial essential characteristics that makes it similar to Expressionism/Modernism. Picasso sees Cubism as ‘no different from any other school of painting.
This quote questions the idea that each discipline has essential characteristics as it claims that there is no difference. However, the use of colour, line and shape within Cubism, was used to depict not just what the eye can physically see, but also what it cannot, and Cubist artists believed what could not be seen was as equally important as what could be, and so expressed themselves through their art works. This idea had not been explored in previous disciplines, so therefore, it could be said that the essential characteristics of the movement were what defined it as a movement in its own right.
However, they were still similar to the essential characteristics of Expressionism in the sense of colour, line and shape. So maybe, the essential characteristics only defined a particular style in the collective term of modernism, and really defined modern art as a whole, rather than each individual discipline. The Futurist movement came about after cubism in 1909 and in 1911 manifested itself as a movement. Futurist ideas where forced upon society in an aggressive manner through ‘shocking’ manifestos that ‘neglected all past values, even art itself. 7 It too denied anything to do with traditional western art.
Their fight for liberty from constraints of the past, led to their reputation as ‘the symbol of all that is new, terrifying, and seemingly ridiculous in contempory art. ‘8 . The idea of modern technology and advances in it were portrayed through many of the works from this movement. It conveyed dynamism and movement. Futurists thought of war as a positive influence and believed that the glorification of war would cleanse Italy ‘we will glorify war’.
Patriotic Celebration’, a piece by Carra, was a demonstration for intervention for the war. The Revolutionary ideas of war to liberate man and the idea of the will of the people were, as I’ve said before, important at the time the Futurists came about. War brought about those conflicting with the past and the possible future, and this was a key concept in Futurism. At the time of this work of art, Futurists where quite dominant with the influences of Dada and Surrealism and their ideas have a macho quality as the movement was heavily dominated by the male sex.
Futurism not only influenced Italy but had profound effects in Russia, Germany and Britain. Futurism also has close links to Vorticism in that Vorticism was connected with Nazism and the power to rebel, however it is more Illusionist than Futurist. The essential characteristics of the Futurist movement where; colour, movement, dynamism, and reflecting the machine age. The subject and content were very important and where similar to Cubism in that the shapes of some of the artworks where angular in form and the use of collage was also used in Futurism, which was a revolutionary concept of Cubism.
It also had similarities to Expressionism in that through the use of text and the strong messages of war, the Futurist’s conveyed a form of their expression. What separates it from the other disciplines is that it is of the machine age, and it looks towards the future and not to the past. This was the essential characteristic to Futurism. Without it, it would not have that distinct feature that would separate it from Cubism, and Expressionism. Art works, such as ‘Patriotic Celebration’, where almost statements of the Twentieth Century living and expresses new technology within the pieces themselves.
For example, the introduction of the motor car and the noise associated with industry. The use of cars and speed in the art pieces allows a certain amount of movement. Carra’s ‘The Red Horseman’ (1913) shows movement in that the horse is seen to be running with the use of more than 4 legs being shown on the piece, a kind of mapping of the horses movement. The primary goal of the Futurist was to ‘transport the spectator to the centre of the canvas, to involve him in the action of the painting and thus to awaken in him a response with the painters vision, a vision of the “inner core being”.
The spectator would be drawn to the centre of the array of technical forms, but would then become a participant in the action taking place. Noise is included in many pieces of Futurist pieces, i. e. Dada and his sound poems. It represents the sound of everyday life as well as looking and feeling it. Noise is a different characteristic used in Futurism but it can be linked to Expressionism as noise is an expressive action, therefore it can be argued that it doesn’t form an essential characteristic in Futurism.
However, if looking at it that way, you can conclude that everything is an expression of some sort, and so why then isn’t every work of art classed as Expressionist? Is noise therefore different enough to be a separate essential characteristic or is it one that is shared with all that is Expressionist? Noise was only really recognised through Futurism, so in that way it could be argued that it is different enough, as it was only when it was suggested that it could be referred to as an expression, it wasn’t identified before hand.