Modernism. The breadth of Modernist theory resulted in an immensely diverse and somewhat confusing period. Whilst committed to progress and the emancipation of the bourgeois through knowledge, Modernists were often highly elitist artists. Their frustrate

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        Modernism was not a single movement, but a broad period encompassing many movements. It spanned from approximately 1860 to 1970. Considering this breadth, the practices of the Modernists are immensely varied, indeed, at times paradoxical. These differences, however, are logical. Modernist philosophy is highly open – to challenge traditional thinking with the aim of emancipating the bourgeois from conservative Victorian values. Considering the enormous scope of this manifesto, multiple interpretations emerged.

The generic Modernist philosophy was realised through other, more specific philosophies. Of fundamental concern to most Modernists was representing the emotions inherent to an object or artist, as opposed to depicting something with utmost realism. Such an approach developed particularly because of a major technical advance in the 1820s and 1830s – the invention of the camera by Frenchmen Joseph Nicéphore Niépce and Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre. Photography “rendered much of the representational function of art obsolete -  which had previously been a major goal of Western art practice. Now, however, artists were spurred to explore new ways of representation. The Impressionists, for example, abandoned the pursuit of creating a flowing, porcelain canvas. Instead, they focused upon the impact and movement of light and reflection, often using free, jabbed brushstrokes. This is demonstrated in Claude Monet’s, “Regatta at Argenteuil,” 1874 (See Figure One). It represents objects in basic detail, concentrating more on how the houses, sky and yachts reflect upon the water. Certainly, Impressionism is not isolated in this regard. Nearly every Modernist movement employed abstraction; it is more a question of style and degree. The Surrealists, for example, painted in a highly realistic style, yet of imaginary objects. Alternatively, Action Painters such as Jackson Pollock entered pure abstraction, that is, beginning with no object, such as seen in his extravagant 1952 drip painting, “Blue Poles” (See Figure Two).

This attitude can also be expressed as a desire to start again, that is, to evaluate accepted art practice and invent radically new styles. It was not only the advent of photography that contributed to artists exploring new avenues. Rather, numerous elements produced a desire to retreat from traditional values; to not only develop new approaches to art practice, but to the universal practice of life and thought. Enormous developments were made in the arenas of the classical sciences, social science, psychology and philosophy - each challenging traditional thought. Charles Darwin’s abstract, “On The Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection,” (1859) contested the ideal of divine creation. Karl Marx’s communist ideology, expounded most notably in “The Communist Manifesto” (1848) and “Das Kapital,” (Three volumes, 1867, 1885 and 1894) introduced many new, challenging concepts to the fields of politics and social examination. Such theories invited artists to examine their own thinking in a new light, resulting ultimately in the exploration and expression of boldly new artistic principles.

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The work of psychologists Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche contributed to the ideal of re-beginning in particular. Simply expressed, they shared the belief that all humans function according to fundamental, intrinsic drives. They believed internal human psyche determined perception, opposing the traditional concept that perception is an objective interpretation of the external environment. Jung termed this the “collective unconscious” . Artists were greatly influenced by this theory and thus sought to reconnect with their base, innate drives. The Surrealists reflected such sentiments in that they sought solely to make art conceived via their subconscious, which they ...

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