Art in the Pre-modern & Modern World

Art in the Pre-modern & Modern World


Institutional Affiliation


Pre-World War 1 Germany

Following research done over the years, it has been said that artists may have known that a catastrophe was upon them. This is due to the various acts of rebellion that they showed against the traditions that the old world had shown through their depictions of their emotions on their artistic pieces. The German Expressionists such as Erich Heckel were in this era. Their rebellion against the old-world traditions through their rebuilding of the old world with new architecture and cities was a way of showing that even though some of these were fantasies, they were effective in revealing that that they were expecting better things with the coming of the modern world even though they were to experience catastrophe first. The catastrophe was clear from the vivid art pieces that they created that could have been said to have been dark and taboo at that point in time due to the violence and suffering that was shown. They also depicted violence past the taboo at the time with slight exaggeration (MacMillan, 2014). The period was said to have been one of the darkest artistic times in history.

The German Expressionists were also rebelling against their predecessors as a way to capture the world using modernism. It was a new way for them to express themselves without the rigidity that the former artists had been subjected to. They paved way to modernism and to what artists today have been able to embrace. They gave the people a new set of eyes, so that they too, would lose themselves of the shackles of rigidity. Franz Marc, a German Expressionist, died at the beginning of the war. The expressionists in Germany more than anything, welcomed the war and violence as opposed to fearing it. Their influences to rebel were the post impressionists who came before them; the likes of van Gogh, with their eyes on getting rid of rigidity.

World War 1

The artists who came during and after the world war 1 had to think of creative ways of painting the peace, something that was much-needed at the time. Many artists were variously impacted by the war. The artists that came out of this period were war artists, soldiers or medics. The art that resulted was as a result of their witness of the war or their engagement in it. There was a shift from battle painting to the avant-garde style of painting (Malvern, 2016). The artists who had embraced the latter style were welcoming to the war as they looked forward to the embrace of new modernity and doing away with the old world. Due to the use of machinery in the war, the artists had look for ways of visually depicting the change. The war period was able to introduce the embrace of modern art so much so that the art would be placed in museums as a way of expressing the experiences during the war as well as the sacrifices that a lot of gave at the time.

The war was said to have been negatively impactful to the modern art, affecting the autonomy in art due to a conservative and restrictive approach that the embrace of the avant-garde approach to art and a neglect of the war art. At the time also, the works of various artists was commissioned by the governments in support efforts of the war (Farrell, 2017). Paul Cassirer, for instance, went from being a nationalist to becoming a pacifist in support of peace, owing to the carnage that the war left in its wake. This changed the details of the art work that he journaled and put up in his gallery. Their influence, however, was more on welcoming modernism around them and in their art.

The Russian Revolution

The Russian Revolution in 1917 sparked both a direction and orientation of the art scene. This revolution brought change to Russia and freedom at its best, to both the lawmakers and the common man, including the artists. It came with the transformation of art in the its aspects of reception, education, distribution, patronage, and production. The revolution was also a contribution of the artists as much as it was the politicians. There was artistic freedom for all artists. The avant-garde type of artistry took over from a restrictive approach of creating art. More museums were founded and art education was reorganized.

The artist, Altman, together with other artists took to a new approach of creating art through the decoration of buildings through the use of sirens, lights and huge, abstract banners (Lindey, 2015). Stepanova was one of the artists to be known as the constructivists who took on service of the revolution through the mass production of their art in form of printed textiles with abstracted, modernity motifs. There was, however, the issue of modern art after the Russian Revolution being inaccessible to the masses. The motivation or the influence of the change by these artists (through the revolution) was the need to embrace modernism as well as creating a platform through which artists would be able to create their works freely without fear of the government. This was achieved after the revolution and the workers were also able to purchase the works.

The Period Leading up to World War 2

Just like in the case of the period before World War 1, the period before World War II had people getting ready for change. In the process, people were anxious, hungry, despairing and disillusioned. The 1930s could easily be identified with the Great Depression with the artists’ focus on American culture and history. One artist, Romaine Brooks, through her artistic works, challenged the behavior and fashion that women at the time went by. She employed shades of gray, white and black in her pieces. This was especially true of her works from the 1920s. She lived in Paris as one of the American, artistic, counter-culturalists; expatriates and leading figures in Paris. Like in the other eras, this period was characterized by the embrace and introduction of new forms of modernization to art and other aspects of life (Lipan, 2019). As in the case of Romaine Brooks, the artists during this time were rebelling against the old traditions and culture that has been embraced for so long and replacing it with modernism in a manner that had been previously taboo. The artists were creating new traditions as they were creating new forms of art. Their motivation and influences were the backward and old traditions that had been embedded in their cultures and history, motivating them to break boundaries by introducing new ways of doing things, such as new dressing for women by Romaine through her artworks.



Romanticism came about in the 18th century with a movement that was focused on the intellectual and artistic aspects which placed emphasis on individual imagination, emotional intensity, and freedom. Eugene Delacroix existed during this period. His works showed a lot of emotion above rationality and order, for instance, through the depiction of human suffering and violence such as in his piece The Massacre at Chios. He took an untamed approach in the mood in his art pieces, so much so that a number of the pieces depicted a despairing mood as in the case of The Massacre at Chios as well as mentioned in one of the letters to his brother (Zieve, 2009). The artist also applied fantasy in his works as in the case of the Death of Sardanapalus painting which was critiquing western European societies as they competed with the Exotic East. Artists in this period were motivated by the sense of loss from the Napoleonic empire’s disappointing hopes which generated heightened emotions resulting moods and fantasies in line with this.

The stylistic characteristics that Eugene applied were mostly pain and suffering, which depicted the influence that this age’s artists got from their emotions and their inner world. The artists’ influences were the French and American revolutions as well as the disappointing hopes of the Napoleonic empire. Eugene was further influenced by Peter Paul Rubens and Michelangelo (Bolton, 2002). The technique applied in this period involved strokes that were close and small to result in visual effects that were vivid and brilliant through use of complementing colors. Artists used human symbols to depict nature’s language. The message during this period was that artists could apply freedom in their artistic language, borrowing freely from their environment.

Post Impressionism

This period focused on the vision of the artist in a subjective manner. A shift occurred from the view of the world to the view of soul and mind of the artist, which is where neo-impressionism, expressionism and symbolism thrived. Vincent van Gogh was one such artist from this time period. The artworks of the artists were highly symbolic and of a very personal nature including van Gogh’s works. They were motivated to evoke emotion instead of focusing on realism in their pieces of work (van Heugten, Pissarro, & Stolwijk, 2008). The period was symbolized by a lot of emotion from the artist. Artists were able to depict their emotions through use of lighter and darker moods as they evolved during the work on the pieces. This period had artists that managed to merge their realities with fantasy in a seamless manner that was not overdone which would pick up from the artist’s emotional state overtime.

The stylistic characteristics in use were colors that were considered random and unnatural, strokes that stood out, forms that were distort and geometric, and emotional symbolism (dependent on the artist’s mind). The technique in use at the time was brushstrokes that were made up of broken color as well as distinctive ones (Brettell, 1987). The artists were influenced by impressionists through the colors and prints used. The period emphasized on the focus on the artist’s subconscious for motivation as did van Gogh. Lastly, the symbolism from the works in the period was of emotions and memories of the artists.

German Expressionism

This style depicted subjective responses and emotions that events and objects were able to arouse within a person. It was a style formed as an attack against the nineteenth century art and any corruption and materialism that existed in the twentieth century. These artists were very emotional especially as a result of the attack against their predecessors in form of frustration, violence, any contradictions they had in the current state, disgust, anxiety and discontent. Erich Heckel was one such artist (Hess, 2011). The mood came from a subjective point of view where their emotions were directly impactful to their moods through creative distortion. Fantasy was uncommon during this period. It was, however, applied by some artists, for instance, in the case of rebuilding the old world with architecture that was imaginary as well as creating pieces that went past the social taboos of violence. The art pieces in this period were expressive and emotive of artists’ feelings as stylish characteristics and symbolism. A lot of the art was presented via film. The techniques used were events and acting that were highly symbolic of what humans around the world were going through (Darsa, 2016). Others were use of brushstrokes that were jagged, colors that were clashing and bright, and shapes that were flat, on top of use of shadows. The artists in this period were influenced by nineteenth century artists such as Vincent van Gogh. The message of the artists was to distort the world through subjectivism to evoke moods through use of emotion.

Fantasy Art

Fantasy art is art that is supernatural or magical. One of the artists that falls within this style of art is Hieronymus Bosch. The artists that use this style in their works use emotions in their pieces in form of memories as well as creation of new ones through divergent thinking, thus subjective. The mood develops from the emotions and memories that the artists are able to borrow from in the creation of their works. In the case of Hieronymus, the mood applied is that of abandonment. The mood is unique in each artist’s creation. His dark works evoke a creepy emotional reaction from people who view his works. The fantasy world and ideas are the motivation for these artists. In the case of Hieronymus, his fantasies are strange and wondrous. As in the case of divergence in emotions, the fantasies are also based on an artist’s memories (Moray, 1971). Fantasy art is characterized by magical and supernatural themes. It also has an element of surprise. The works symbolize scenes or characters from fantastical literature, as well as what is in the subconscious mind of the artist, bringing unrealistic ideas to life through art. The techniques applied are the use of strokes of brushes, watercolors and pencils in a realistic way through use of light and dark colors to give realism to the characters and scenes. Fantasy art is influenced by fantasy literature, thus borrowing from history. Lastly. The message of fantasy art is communication of the ability to bring unrealistic ideas to life to show the creativity of the artists.


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