credit Wally Gobetz via Flickr licensed under CC 2.0

Introduction to modernism

By Eleni Retsou

Eleni gives us a whistle stop tour of the ethos of modern art.

What constitutes a successful artist is completely different to what it was in previous centuries. Before the modernist movement, technical skills were paramount. Artists had to emulate portraits and landscapes exactly, and art was often about recording history, such as paintings of battle scenes, portraits of important people (like royals), and of course, religious art. These were intricate in their technicality, but not thematically.

Now, the ideas behind art are often more important than execution: an artist needs to showcase not just their skills, but their thought process. An artist’s challenge is to delve deep into their brain, and lay it out on any medium they desire. Anything can be art: a blue canvas, a straight line on a wall, or even a urinal. This is not because of their conventional pictorial talent, but what they represent. There’s a lot of debate on what the Fountain of Duchamp means, but one thing is for certain: Duchamp did not want you to praise him for his technical artistic skills, he wanted to make you think. Is this really art? Isn’t it ironic that a urinal can be worth this much? The most common response to these questions is the phrase: “That’s not art, anyone can do that.” But while anyone could draw circles like Kandinsky, or squares like Mondrian, how many actually thought to do it? And more importantly, what’s the hidden meaning behind those circles and squares?

It is liberating to know that anyone can express themselves artistically. Art is a creative outlet against turmoil in the world, and a powerful tool to communicate a message. Art is more accessible now, so it will be seen and heard by more people. Think of Banksy, and his mural of the Flower Thrower. No one knows who Banksy really is, but everyone knows what he has to say. If you want to see his work, all you need to do is wander around the streets of Bristol: the beauty of street art is that it can be viewed by any person at any time.

Although Bristol is a delightful city, not everyone will find themselves in proximity to it. However, technology has provided a solution: you will now see art any time you open an app. While Instagram does have toxic attributes, you will sometimes stumble across a cool photograph, artwork or poem. Even Tiktok – while at first glance not an intellectual platform that will enrich your artistic knowledge – allows you to open your feed and see art through pottery or jewellery making videos, dancing, singing, or drawing poems.

Art is everywhere and the artist is every one of us. This is the beauty of modern art. Why not give it a go? Let go of all conformities and formalities, pick up a pen and paper, and start drawing like you did when you were a kid. It was Picasso who once said that “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”


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