Y3 – Day 42 – Bower’s Lecture 2

Today, we spent quite a bit of time learning about Alfred Stieglitz (photographer) and Mardsen Hartley (a self taught painter). The American Modernist movement begins.

At first Stieglitz tried to make his photographs look like paintings or as our Professor of Art History, Kristin, describes it as “he tried to give his photographs a painterly quality”. We viewed the photograph, Winter 5th Avenue, 1897, as an example alongside a painting. But then in 1907, he starts to depict straight photo shots without manipulating, adjusting or changing  them in any way in the dark room. He starts to embrace the medium of photography for what it has to offer.  He shows mood, feelings and experiences using shadows, shapes, light and dark contrasts. His 1924, Equivalent Mountains and Sky, and From the Shelton, 1932 were shown as examples.

In 1913, Modernism in the US takes off with the Armory Show in NYC. This is the first large scale exhibition of Modern Art and at the time, critics were harsh, confused and complained there was no narrative or realism in the paintings. An interesting fact is that artwork used to be displayed stacked from floor to ceiling till then. The modern aesthetic hung artwork spaced out and at eye level.

Kristin touched upon Matisse who used bold colors and deconstructed his nudes and settings, Picasso with his cubist leanings and Marcel Duchamp who created distinctly new and different art in the Dadaist style – to explain the influence of Europe’s art expression onto our American creatives.

There are two more important things I came away with today from Kristin’s lecture: Although I do not personally like some of these paintings, the goal of the Modernists was to break down reality, stop reflecting or mirroring the classics but instead to opt to demonstrate a new point of view, a different perspective, even if it was disturbing or not pretty.

And the second tidbit of information I related to was that this was the beginning of conceptual art which really didn’t flourish till the 1960’s. Therefore, the Modernists ARE important, even if it was a bit radical and off putting, so as to make way for future artists that profited from their (modernists) breakthroughs.

I also started to relate it to the use of food deconstruction on the gourmand plate in the last fifteen years or so…or avant-garde artists like Lady Gaga.

I also couldn’t help wondering, with a wry smile, if Duchamp’s painting of a mustache on the Mona Lisa wasn’t just making a point and questioning the validity of respected work, but rather a predecessor of Monty Python.

Dadaists believed that reason and logic led Europe into the first World War and they wanted to change the way we usually think about everything by introducing us to the world of the Abstract.

In this lecture series we are learning not just about the art, but WHY the art. Fascinating.

Next week: Harlem Renaissance and Social Realism

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