Much of the art of the 20th and 21st century is still under copyright because the artist has not been dead at least 70 years. Due to that restriction, it is impossible to show some of the seminal works of the new art movements of the time. Please be sure to watch the video presentations as they will enable you to see the works and learn from the experts

World War I had a major impact on the culture and the art of the early 20th century. It had lasted longer than anyone had expected, had killed an estimated ten million people, and demoralized a whole generation. The war ended at the signing of the treaty of Versailles, but despite the optimism which surrounded the treaty, it was not a foolproof agreement and the seeds of discord were sown even as the signatures were placed on the paper. The Berman officials who had signed the treaty were members of a hastily formed civilian committee, and not the defeated military generals who had fought the war. The military leaders were later to rally nationalist feelings by saying that the treaty was a disgrace for their country. They were especially unhappy with provisions which were intended to keep Germany industrially and militarily weak. These problems later led to the conditions which precipitated a Second World War

The United States reverted to its prewar isolationism. Totalitarian governments took control in Russia, Italy, Germany and Spain. Peace brought boom times to the victorious allied powers. But as the 1920s drew to a close the stock market crashed. The happy-go-lucky atmosphere of the 20’s lasted a few more months, and then the Great Depression hit. The Depression wiped out prosperity, and it was common to see mass unemployment, street demonstrations, and near starvation conditions for many people. Various experiments were tried to restore economic conditions. The British were forced to move away from their cherished gold standard and began using paper money. President Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted his Ne Deal program which was a system o government intervention. He started public projects such as dams, roads, and conservation programs that he thought would “prime the pump” as he called it. He also started unemployment and social security programs and instituted controls on Wall Street and the banks to prevent panic.

Key events of this period:

  • 1911-12-a proto surrealist exhibition opens in Paris
  • 1913- the Armory Show brought controversial European styles of art to the United States and began new U.S. interest in vogue trends
  • 1916-22-Dadaism is founded in Zurich, Switzerland and spreads quickly to New York
  • 1924-the Surrealist Manifesto is published
  • 1927-Charles Lindberg flew a solo flight across the Atlantic
  • 1929- the Stock Market crashed
  • 1930-Joseph Stalin became the dictator in Russia
  • 1933-the Nazi took control in Germany
  • 1936-39- the Spanish Civil War and Franco takes control in Spain

Artists of this age were often looking at the new types of art becoming popular around them, but at the same time they wanted to erase and obliterate the art of the past and start fresh. One of the ways they did this was to issue manifestos. The art manifesto was a way to declare to the public the ideas, views and intentions of the signers. Sometimes they were published to shock their public. In 1855 Gustave Courbet wrote a Realist manifesto, the first art manifesto, to introduce participants who attended his personal exhibition of realist art to his beliefs and ideas. The Futurists published several versions of their manifesto in Italian and French newspapers in 1909, and the Cubists followed in 1912, the Dadaists in 1916, De Stijl movement in 1918, and Surrealists in 1924. Manifestos continue to be a method for artists to introduce their art to the public. Often artists signed a manifesto and then their art evolved to a new style and they no longer felt bound by its precepts.

It is a sign of the turbulent times that artists felt they needed to have a manifesto to outline their beliefs. This is one of the reasons we call it the age of ISMS and SCHISMS.


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PPSC HUM 1023: Modern Civilizations by Kristine Betts and Kate Pagel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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