Skip to main content Skip to footer content

Irina Borgos

Change: Culture & Art

By: Irina Borgos
College Now Course - HUM 1

The late 1800s and early 1900s formed a period in which great change, in both culture and art, took place. This change was a result of many events and the alteration of people's views because of these events. The new ideas that wars, civil movements and political uprisings created led to the transformation of the concept of art. Though built on top of traditional art, the new "modern" art radically changed what people thought of as art or how artistic subjects should be made into art. The traditional genres of art, the landscape, the portrait and the historical representation were all given new forms. Artists such as Paul Cezanne, Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet redefined these traditional views and, in the process, created new ways to think of art.

Paul Cezanne, whose work eventually led into the Cubist movement, was truly a modern, 20th century artist. In one of his paintings, "The Bather", Cezanne clearly displays some of the fundamentals of modern art. "The Bather" looks as if it could have been based upon the traditional portrait and yet is completely different. In a traditional portrait, the subject would be in the center, as the focus of the piece, which he is. However he is not the traditional subject in any sense. He is very obviously not looking at the viewers but is instead lost in his own thoughts, filled with anxiety and uncertainty. These are certainly what the viewers of the painting feel, which is, in itself, another aspect of the modernism of this piece.

Also the status of the bather is not prominent or, in fact, even displayed. He is not dressed in the finery of a noble or the rags of a peasant. He's barely dressed at all The body which is revealed by his lack of clothing is "modern" as well. The colors in the skin emulate the colors of the background. The bather's skin is not creamy white or rouged. It is bruised with the blues, greens and grays of the mountains and earth behind him.

The concept of uncertainty and the feeling it evokes in the readers is a major part of modernism. The "modern" age brought great changes in society and people's views. Science had created uncertainty and worry. It explained the likelihood of there being no god and reduced the comfort of the religious system. The governments of the world had also failed their peoples. The people could no longer hold on to the little comfort that a government had provided. All of these reasons created the feelings that "The Bather" similarly evokes.

Pablo Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d' Avignon" also takes the traditional portrait and completely changes it. The traditional painted woman is soft, curvy, merciful and gentle. Picasso's group of whores is anything but that. Though the set up of "Les Demoiselles d' Avignon" is traditional, with its women as the central focus, looking at the viewers, the similarities to traditional portraiture end there. These women have angular breasts, hips, hands and faces. Their eyes do not simply look at you, they bum into you. They are scary. They reveal a depth of fear in both the artist and the viewer.

Not only are the women themselves radical, but also the style of the art is. Picasso demonstrates his desire to represent multiple perspectives, a new concept in art. One woman, though her back faces the viewers, has her face turned toward us. No matter which direction the women face, Picasso makes sure that the viewer can always see a sharp breast, or a powerful hand, or a burning dark eye.

Picasso transformed the original idea of a portrait into something that evokes fear of women or at least fear of his women. Modern works reveal a depth of feeling. In this case the viewer cannot help but be frightened and disgusted by the women and yet very much in awe of them.

Claude Monet chose a different genre when he began "Waterlilies". "Waterlilies" is a landscape, but is also unlike the traditional idea of one. The painting has no foreground or background, just the seemingly eternal stretch of water lilies, water and reflection. There is no sky, except in reflection, the water fills the whole frame. It is this continuous infinity that makes "Waterlilies" so modern.

"Waterlilies" reflects Monet's view of art. He believed that there are endless ways of looking at one subject. The change in season, weather and light can change even the most basic object an infinite amount of times. His subjects were not simply one scene or one view but the process of seeing that view. "Waterlilies" does not merely display a pond in Monet's garden but instead creates a world that lives and extends on into eternity. In a single panel, reflections and light effects alone provide this feeling of infinity.

Again "Waterlilies" was not merely a landscape but one which evoked and initiated emotions in viewers that reflected Monet's own. Doubt, perhaps, at what lay in the dark areas of the pond. But also joy at the prospect of leaping into the sunny areas. Traditional landscapes touched only the very surface of a person's layered feelings. "Waterlilies" does far more.

"144 Lead Squares" is a piece that can be touched, walked upon and, of course, danced upon. It cannot be anything but modern art. It is made for interaction in the most obvious, basic sense and so is fantastically different from traditional works. There is really no genre it fits into. It is not a painting, or architecture, or a sculpture. And yet it can be enjoyed purely (and perhaps more) because of this. It transforms anyone's idea of art. Even the people who view it (mostly cautiously) become part of the art. It creates complete interaction the way no other piece of art can.

The period of time from the late 1800s to the early 1900s was one of great change, in politics, religion and general views. The new "modern" art reflected the radical new feelings of the modern age. Uncertainty, doubt, fear and experimentation all became major parts of artists' work. Styles of art changed and with this change transformed the traditional concept of art. Cezanne created a portrait of a man plagued by his thoughts, bare to the viewers in "The Bather". Picasso made terrifying whores the subject of one of the most influential of his paintings. Monet eliminated the need of a sky, or even a static subject in "Waterlilies". "144 Lead Squares" introduced the idea that art could, and should, be touched and walked upon and danced upon. These ideas were new, radical and modern. They redefined what painting was, what art was. These works brought art into the "modernism" of the 20th century.