‘What is Modernism?’ was given as an essay task question several months back. With lectures and seminars given on the subject clues were given to help us answer this question so in setting out to write my essay I started by re reading many of the notes I had written during these enlightening sessions and also by reading a few books. The best of the books that helped me understand this topic being Christopher Crouch’s book ‘ Modernism in art, design and architecture’.

The next step was trying to understand ‘avant garde’ and the relationships between Dadaism, Impressionism, Surrealism and the multitude of other ‘isms’ that permeate the art world. Mapping them out and understanding how they linked together gave me a thread to follow in writing the essay. Adding the names of artists to each movement I saw that relationships started to appear, Dali and Breton, Breton and Masson, Dali and Picasso, Kandinsky and Bauhaus, Bauhaus and Constructivism, and slowly the map of the art world began to unfurl.


To add context and meaning I needed to link in the art movements to a time line. Key events emerged. World War 1, The Russian Revolution, World War 2, all milestone moments in the shaping of early modernism. Delving further back I looked into where modernism had emerged from and concluded it had been a slow creeping change for centuries starting with the creation of the printing press and gathering speed and pace as the 20th century began.

I decided that in the first part of my essay I had to tell just a small part about of the birth of modernism and by choosing Darwins ‘Origin of Species’ I concluded that this book more than any other had religion ‘On the ropes’ a position it never recovered from. Once Darwins book had been accepted by the public, human beings started ‘making their own minds up’ about where they had come from and where they were going.

When you can look ahead and ask the question ‘What does the future look like’ whilst all the while staring at the harsh realities of life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, men and women must have dreamed. In essence they wished for a new fresh perfect society, with poverty and hardship a thing of the past. Above all they wanted a better life.

As I studied the various artists that were key in the development of Modernism in art, the principle of trying to make the world a better place seemed a common theme. Bauhaus designed buildings, furniture and art to be used from the perspective of function, simplicity and efficiency. Mass produced goods started to appear which bore little resemblance to the goods of the past, cutting many of the ties to the ages of suppression. At its core though Bauhaus celebrated craftsmanship, ingenuity and experimentation but rooted itself in economic reality.

It was here that I found Kandinsky linking Constructivism with Bauhaus and the birth of abstract art.


Linking Kandinsky’s works with his studies of colour and fauvism I found Salvador Dali and the surrealist movement. This modern showman was fun to research and most definitely was unique. Dali admired Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque and their Cubist paintings. This made my last link in the chain for this essay.


The essay has made me look again at the portfolios of these painters and I now have a better understanding of their work. Its made me look again at the art I enjoy and made me question, why do I like it?


Taking this analytical approach has helped me look at my own art again and question myself as to the reasons behind creating it. From the emotional colours and shapes of Kandinsky, the imagination of Dali and the unusual view of the world from Picasso and Braque I want to somehow blend these elements into my own work in the next 12 months.

Never did I believe this one essay could help to open my eyes so much or conversely reveal to me just how blind I have actually been.


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