The Nature of Changes In the Fine Arts
The historic events and influences that we have just discussed led to changes of attitude in the artists, and affected the art itself in three major ways:
- Changes of content or subject matter
- Changes of form through a preoccupation with the principles and elements of design and color at the expense of traditional concerns with "reality" of form
- Changes in the materials utilized by artists
Changes in Content or Subject Matter in the Fine Arts
In an effort to enable themselves and their audience to perceive their messages
in a new way, artists seek to find new ways to present their ideas. The
intention is to create something fresh and unexpected-- to "surprise" the
viewer into giving his/her full attention to the work of art. In addition, as
the social and political climate shifts, the perspective of the artist must
also shift to take new circumstances into account. Thus many of the greatest
artists have troubled, confounded, and shocked their publics. Among the artists
discussed in class are
Michelangelo (use of nudity in religious art),
(ordinary every day subject matter),
Manet (reinterpretation of classical
themes, nudity vs. nakedness),
(Peasant subjects, social protest),
Monet (changes of technique),
(prostitutes as subject matter),
(new techniques and materials for sculpture of human figures),
Matisse (use of color and form).
The history of art and design does not occur in a vacuum. Artists and
designers are only responding to the events of their time. These are
some of the issues that motivated changes in subject matter since the mid-19th
The social and political environment changed drastically during this period.
Society moved from the ancient traditional rule of religiously sanctioned
autocracies into an era of secular democracies and dictatorships. The
industrial revolution also contributed to the restructuring of society.
Technology, colonialism, and social change brought about contacts between
peoples previously separated by distance, language, and social status. The
result has been more than a century of turbulence, social struggle, and
warfare, all of which can be seen in the arts of the times.
Change in Content: The Development of Photography
Since the 1840s photography has offered a mechanical means of faithfully recording
visual data that surpassed the ability of the painter. The earliest commercially
successful form of photography was the daguerrotype (click on Gallery on the left).
Since photography could record visual data so perfectly, the artist was left to
wonder what he could do that the camera could not. This led to many experiments
in style, technique, and interpretation. For other examples of early photography,
try this link to Edweard Muybridge,
an early practitioner of stop-action photography; or this collection
of early photographs.
The creation of photographic images has also evolved into an art form in its
own right. Early practitioners such as
Matthew Brady ,
Alfred Stieglitz and others
brought the possibilities of the camera well beyond that of a mechanical device
for copying visual "facts." There has been an ongoing dialogue between the painter
and the photographer, as each has learned from the vision of the other.
The existence of photographic images inspired artists to look for other subject
matter. Artists began to concern themselves with issues such as the effects of
light, the relationships of color, and the fundamental character of form and
mass. Comparisons of photographs with paintings by such artists as
Cezanne show that the artist was selecting, simplifying, flattening,
intensifying, even abstracting the view which is before his eyes.
One of the first modern movements to emerge was Impressionism
. The subject
matter of Impressionism was light. These painters were interested in
studying how changes in light affected color. They left the studio where
artists had traditionally worked even when doing paintings of nature. In
natural settings they explored the ways in which changing light conditions
altered the appearance of color and form. One of the leading figures in the
development of Impressionism was
whose work gave its name to this
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