In the context of western art, many artists from the modern art movements shape their artistic approaches through the avant-garde ideals they are convinced of. These ideals are the beliefs that behave like doctrines in their practice against the political background where both war world one and two took place. The modern art period gave birth to artworks of revolutionary value [a] produced in rebellion against traditional art practices, models, methods consequently altering the long established perception on functions of art. [b]The change in artistic perceptions are considered being more suitable for the environment where the “social, economic, and intellectual conditions” have changed. [c]
This research is propelled from the queries that arise in my practice as a visual artist where my interest revolves around questioning the identities of everyday objects. I question the reality of their existence, the absoluteness in their definitions and forms presented by the everyday conventional reality. Abstraction in the context of this writing refers to the ‘absurd’ attempts of redefining existing accepted definitions framed by everyday conventional reality. As Theodor Adorno agrued”modern art is as abstract as the real relations among men” [f] (Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, 45)
Therefore this writing takes the approach of looking at the radical efforts of selected artists from the modern art period who have demonstrated in their practice, added new dimensions to their investigated subjects. These artists that are selected in this study strive to provide alternate perspectives to the existing mundane definitions in each of their artistic domains. The definitions borne of the conventional reality taken into their investigation include the ideas on object, form, colour, time and space. Such subjects are continuously reinterpreted and given new definitions by the artists of this period.
The research questions in this writing aims to contemplate and justify the practice of the selected artists who are unsatisfied with mundane representations of the conventional reality against the background of their political situation. What are the trajectories taken in their practise of these pursuits? How are their artistic beliefs justified in their practise? What are the truths in the definitions of these subjects defined by conventional reality if reinterpretations could be justified? What is the impact of these reinterpretations in the scene of visual arts during the modern art period? How are the Singapore contemporary artists influenced by these ideals? These redefinitions in and of visual arts lead to main research question in this paper; what constitutes and substantiates the meaning of ‘real’ in conventional reality? Can these be a projection of “psychological reality” [g] as positioned by Erin G. Carlston of modern
Proclamations of the artists’ beliefs in different aspects executed through diverse methodologies are imprinted in manifestos and documented in writings of artists and art critics. Artists with similar aims come together amongst others, which resulted in different and possibly co-related art movements. Within some of these selected co-related art movements is the sign of migration of the artists whose beliefs change or are said to echo more closely the credo of later movements. The momentum of this writing look into modernity as a continuity of movements (from late nineteenth century to 1970) through the study of interconnected artists.
While artists have their subjective interpretations of what the subject matter could be, the core of my research is an attempt to rationalise the array of artistic definitions and trace the evolution of these new reinterpretations across the radar of different modern art movements to the present contemporary art scene. It will also be strived for in this research to compare the conventional and the artistically portrayed definitions of the studied subjects. Hence, this seeks to build the tempo to the main research question. However, it is not the purpose of this research to embrace or establish any reinterpretations as the epitomised explanation in the field of visual arts.
Artist with similar research subjects will be compared and categorized together across modernity with their artistic journeys examined under an umbrella. Ideally, the conclusion to this research will be to piece and compare particles of similar reinterpretations across the selected different modern art in western art history in order to derive a relatively holistic depiction of each investigated subject. Therefore critical studies will be made on the artist’s thinking, works, style, writings, manifestos and critic’s responses. How does each artist re-define and justify their subjects in their art works? How do these reinterpretations affect the way we currently look at these investigated subjects? How are these ideas translated in contemporary art? Ultimately, what could be the main doubt behind all these reinterpretations; that the conventional reality is illusive?
In the latter part of the writing, two cases studies of Singapore artists influenced by the modern art ideals in this writing will be included.
As the study of this research will be carried out in the investigation of per-art-movement approach, I intend for this work to be documented and presented in the form of a journal (running account) where the recordings of critical findings and personal interpretations are written in a formal yet time-sensitive format. This approach is analogous to the chronological art movements that have taken place, such as a piece of time-based artwork.
Modern art movements
The majority of modern art artists selected for study in this research adopt new philosophies and ways of seeing. They were interested in promoting better fitting ideologies for the changing Western society during the late nineteenth to early twentieth century, where ideas on traditional forms of art amongst others, were deemed obsolete. It was then artists established an unofficial pledge of individualism in their practice. [d] Many modern art manifestos retort towards older conventional dogmas making modernism an era inherent of revolutionary responses especially towards “what was aesthetically, morally or politically accepted”.[e] Here, art movements where traditional ideologies were initiated from the art movements that took place before the early nineteenth century encompass Medieval Art, Renaissance, Neoclassicism and Romanticism.
Although most of the artists are stylised according to the art movements where they are branded under, each of them practise according to their individual beliefs; where self consciousness remains a signatory feature of many modern art artists. Hence, discussions on what art encompasses includes the process of art making, discussion on the physicality of the materials used from the traditional viewpoint to the resultant work itself. Functions of art are largely debated and revamped during this timeframe.
Although modernism does not support thoughts on enlightenment, it does however, reflects the questioning of the axioms in the practice of its artists. Discourse on abstraction in forms is often a response penetrating into this area of research. Majority of the artists included in this writing either produces abstract works or sort out solutions to their practice in an abstract and unconventional manner as opposed to abstraction per se.
Areas of research: Reasons behind the selection of major modern art movements (arranged chronologically, in terms of association) Include artists and their ideals
The ideas that rejected traditional perspective of stemmed strongly from the Cubism movement spearheaded by Pablo Picasso and George Braque. This movement brought about an avant garde positioning of the European paintings and sculptures by redefining the one-viewpoint perspective in these genres. First of its kind in creating multiple viewpoints on one surface of the canvas and assembly of sculptural forms, this movement reinvented what the view of an image could be from a traditional standpoint. The conceptual concerns also involve the elements of space and time.
Der Blaue Reiter
This art movement started because of the rejection of Wassily Kandinsky’s painting from an exhibition and naturally revolves around his artistic beliefs since there is no record of a core artistic manifesto. This group believed in expressing spiritual truths though their abstract works, in contrast to conveying the existence of spiritual truths by figurative depiction of biblical scenes.A study drawing the parallels and differences between Kandinsky and Paul Klee will be included.
With the adoption of Cubism, Furturism developed its style of broken colours and divided short brush strokes that emphasised on the connection of movements, technology and speed amongst other elements contributing to industrialisation. Breaking away from the conventional idea of capturing a freezed moment on canvas or in sculptural form, this movement dwelled at the portrayal of moving motions in objects. This is “universal dynamism” was being read as the connection between objects and their surroundings, where none was a standalone element. Artists with distinctive styles include Umberto Boccioni and Giacomo Balla.
The originator of this movement is Kasimir Malevich who had been inspired by Cubism and Der Blaue Reiter. He wrote a book The Non-objective World which relates the interest of this movement, focusing on basic geometric forms especially the square and the circle. Introducing the idea of replacing regular images with geometric forms or coloured masses, Suprematism also integrated the spirit of Futurism into its philosophy with non-euclidian geometry where forms are imagined to be in movement. Another important thinking infused in the movement was the idea of the fourth dimension by P.D. Ouspensky.
This movement advocated the ideal of utopia. It pushed the spirit of Suprematism to new heights by its attempt to communicate the ideas of spiritual harmony and order through the manipulation of only primary colours including black and white, geometric forms of only the square and the rectangle, with straight horizontal and vertical lines. The underlying philosophy in its artistic direction was known as neoplasticism or the new plastic art, a new term and improvised methodology in the history of western modern art. Piet Mondrian, an important figure in art history, invented the term neoplasticism for his abstract paintings wrote in his essay ‘Neo-Plasticism in Pictorial Art’ that “As a pure representation of the human mind, art will express itself in an aesthetically purified, that is to say, abstract form […]The new plastic idea cannot therefore, take the form of a natural or concrete representation […]”1
The legacy that Dada has left and impacted on the contemporary art world of today, lies in its embrace of extraordinary materials, methods and strategies2 unthought-of in the history of art movements prior to it.Although Dada started out to assume a “very definite political” identity2 due to the war, it evolved to adopt the character of “undermining expectations and shocking the viewer into questioning blindly accepted, fundamentally repressive conventions and structures of all kinds” 4 in cities further from the catalyst of the Great War. Marcel Duchamp and Constantine Brancusi participated in the Dada movement. Both friends created works that transcend the conventional representation of reality where the meaning of “form” is reinterpreted in their practice.
Fluxus is a 1960s attitude that is highly associated to Dadaism. It gained many insights from Marcel Duchamp and therefore their art performances are associated with the idea of perceived connection of the everyday objects. It is know that artworks produced under the influence of Fluxus are simple, handmade, humorous and small. Yoko Ono and Joseph Bueys are renowned artists linked to this style.
Metaphysical art movement is the catalyst for the development for both Dada and Surrealism. Metaphysical art promoted illogical reality where objects are placed out of their explanatory context in conventional reality in paintings, to explore their inner conscious of being. This spirit is being continued in Surrealism where Andre Breton first became the leader of. He also supports Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic methods and went on to develop automatism and explore the real function of thought. The group believed it was a better method to call for societal change compared to Dada’s aggressive opposition on existing values.
Abstract Expressionism: Spirituality
This movement originated from America and this terms applied to the new abstract art of the 1940s and 50s. With similar aims from Surrealism, the movement believed in that art should come from the unconscious mind and also involving the spiritual, took steps to further refine this re-interpretation of art. There are two groupings in Abstract Expressionism; action painters and colour field painters. In action painting, artist like Jackson Pollock realised the process of making work is as vital as the work itself. The discussion on the physicality of the work and the journey in the gestural making of the work as the artwork itself was hence debated by the art critics then. On the other hand, Paul Klee and Barnett Newman experimented with the psychological use of form and colour, keeping their objectives to only the basics.
Often being put across as a movement in opposition to Abstract Expressionism in terms of their philosophies and discourse, Minimalism took an extreme reductive approach in the creation of works. Contrary to the complex surfaces of works under Abstract Expressionism, it was argued that the basics could represent the state of sublimation better, an attempt to re-decipher the spirit in art. These works are at their most fundamental essential, geometric forms, a feature analogous to works produced under De Stijil. Artists like Donald Judd, Sol Lewitt, and Tony Smith integrated these ideologies and took their works to the maximum with seemingly minimal complications. Robert Morris wrote in defining the framework of Minimalism to be very much about the idea of the gestalt hence re-defining the edge in visual arts. Consequently, Minimalism became a bridge to postmodern art practices.
Op Art: forms and illusions
Op Art is also known as optical art which is a painting method that gives the eyes optical illusions. It sets off perceptual experiences that stem from the interplay of the figure-ground relationship, patterns and colours. Although this form of art received positive responses from the public, art critics thought of it merely as trickery to the eyes. Optical art is also about seeing and understanding the seen. In Bridget Riley’s works, one could experience movement with the changing patterns and colours. This is the perception illusion has given by a still object, and in this case a painting sparks off the thought of the illusions that arise from objects in the conventional reality. How does one define the real and unreal in conventional reality?
- Postmodern art and Contemporary art
Although art works produced after World War II are considered as contemporary works in some literature texts, works produced after the 1970s to the present are considered as contemporary study. Postmodern artworks were created in response and some say in rejection to modern art movements. However, museums like Tate treated postmodern works to be a continuation of modern artworks. Ideals rejected by the modern art movements are re-established during postmodernism. Therefore utopian ideals are carefully scrutinised and examined to provide relatively up-to-date views on the investigated subjects.
- Exhibition component (non-theoretical/practical module)
I am interested in the re-interpretation of objects in my practice. Works will be made to address similar research questions in this proposal to complement the theoretical component of the course.
- “Neo-Plasticism”. 2009. Tate. 04 Dec. 2009. <http://www.tate.org.uk/collections/glossary/definition.jsp?entryId=191>.
- Leah Dickerman et al., Dada: Zurich, Berlin, Hannover, Cologne, New York, Paris. (Washington, D.C: National Gallery of Art, and New York, 2005) ix.
- Richard Huelsenbeck, En Avant Dada: A History of Dadaism, 1920. Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics. Eds. Herschel B. Chipp, Peter Selz and Joshua C. Taylor. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968) 378.
- Sarah Ganz Blythe and Edward D. Powers, Looking at Dada (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2006) 3.
- Art in theory, 1900-2000: an anthology of changing ideas By Charles Harrison, Paul Wood Page 360
- http://books.google.com.sg/books?id=rsZ-fGso3gIC&pg=PA1&dq=modern+art&client=firefox-a&cd=5#v=onepage&q=&f=false Modern art: a very short introduction By David Cottington pg 10
- http://books.google.com.sg/books?id=rsZ-fGso3gIC&pg=PA1&dq=modern+art&client=firefox-a&cd=5#v=onepage&q=&f=false Modern art: a very short introduction By David Cottington pg 6
- theodor Adorno , aesthetic theory, p45) Extracted from:The Problems of modernity: Adorno and Benjamin By Andrew E. Benjamin
- Thinking Fascism: Sapphic Modernism and Fascist Modernity By Erin G. Carlston