Changes in Content: Colonialism and the Influence of Non-European Cultures

The age of colonialism brought about an expanded awareness of themes and motifs from parts of the world not previously familiar to Europeans.


The influence of the far and near east, sometimes referred to as Orientalism led to changes in subject matter.

The opening of Japan to trade by the American Admiral Perry unleased a mania for things Japanese in the last half of the 19th century. (Chinese artifacts had been in vogue throughout the 18th century). Japanese prints, which exhibited new ideas about the use of line, negative space, perspective, and other elements of composition.

Manet Whistler and Van Gogh were all strongly influenced by Japanese art.

The sumptuous surface decoration typical of the Islamic art of the Near East captured the attention of many artists and designers in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Henri Matisse and Gustav Klimt both made use of opulent surface patterning in the oriental style.

The Influence of "Primitive" Art

Some also looked farther afield to the imagery and artifacts of cultures even more isolated from the West. One of the first artists to be influenced by so-called "primitive art" was Paul Gauguin.

Much of his career as an artist was spent in Tahiti, though he began his painting career in France. He was initially influenced by the ideas of impressionism, and his association with Van Gogh. He too was entranced with color and light, but also with the psychological implications, the symbolic language of color.He was associated with the ideas of the Symbolists, as well as the Expressionists. In tropical Tahiti he found color and light of a brilliance and intensity never seen in Europe. As a result he began to intensify his colors, using them to evoke the exotic environment in which he found himself, and also to introduce the emotional symbolism that color can carry. His work was very influential on the generation of artists that would follow him in the early years of the 20th century.

In the first years of this century, African art became the preoccupation of many young artists. African art hung in the studios of Picasso, Matisse, and many other founders of the important art movements of the years before World War I. It should be pointed out that this interest in African art was not accompanied by any real understanding of the people who made it, or their reasons for making it. Rather, there was an interest in the strong, graphic stylization and abstraction of form that could be seen in the objects, particularly in the sculpture. African aesthetics were fundamental influences for many artists, who admired their simplicity, power, and highly graphic formal qualities. African art was particularly important to the development of Fauvism and Cubism. In later years African art, and other "primitive" art also contributed to Abstract Expressionism and other American styles.


Changes in Content: The Development of Psychoanalysis

The science of the mind developed significantly in the later 19th century. This interest grew out of Romanticism, which was characterized by a fascination with emotional states and hallucinatory experiences. Romantic interest in emotional states can be seen in some early 19th century works, in which dramatic, moody settings are used. The early work of Mesmer with hypnotism was of particular interest in that it showed that there was a life of the mind not accessible in normal waking experience. The Symbolist movement of the later 19th century used atmosphere and mythic themes to create images suggestive of the inner world of the imagination. Redon and Gauguin are among the many artists that sought to include symbolic and metaphysical ideas in their imagery in this period.

The development of psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud at the turn of the century extended the idea that the world of the individual went beyond the obvious, the visible or the tangible. There was now a world of the subconscious to be considered, a world of dreams, alternate reality, and irrationality. This world became a fabulous mine for many artists.

It was Surrealism that most fully realized the possibilities of the new psychological theories. This movement incorporated the literary as well as visual arts, and involved film, photography, and even fashion. The writer Andre Breton was a leader in the development of Surrealist ideas.

The fully developed Surrealist approach as described by Breton sought to access the subconscious by using various "automatic" techniques to evoke images without recourse to the rational, or by bringing together unlikely combinations of images to create visual paradoxes. This approach could be detected as as early as the work of de Chirico and the subsequent DaDa movement. These led to the development of Surrealism, which could be seen in the work of such artists as Man Ray,

Max Ernst , Dali, and Miro.

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