Changes In Form In the Fine Arts

The search for new subject matter reduced emphasis on the object depicted in the work of art. The move away from the object as the focus of art led to drastic changes in form. Early changes were relatively subtle. The Impressionists and Post-Impressionists applied paint and color in new ways to capture particular visual qualities such as light and atmospheric effects (Monet, Seurat), or emotional states (Van Gogh or Redon). The way in which mass and form were composed on the canvas became almost as important as the actual subject (Courbet, Cezanne). Fauve painters (Matisse, Derain, Vlaminck) began to distort their subjects to the point where reality was secondary to the formal issues being explored. In Cubism (Picasso, Braque) reality becomes submerged in the hyper-rationalism of surface geometry. The actual objects were distorted or made abstract by this focus on pure qualities of color and form.

The next step in the process of changing form was to eliminate recognizable subject matter altogether. Art which concerns itself primarily with the formal elements and has no evident subject matter apart from these elements can be referred to as non-objective art. Some of the non-objective artists whose work might be shown in class are Mondrian, Kandinsky, Pollock, and Vasarely.

While in a sense painting has always been "abstract" in the sense that it attempts to depict the three dimensional world on a two dimensional surface, many modern artists have more dramatically and intentionally simplified, modified, and selected from nature. Among the important movements in art which exemplify these changes in form are the following:

  • The Impressionists and Post-Impressionists
  • The Fauves
  • The Cubists
  • De Stijl
  • DaDa and Surrealism
  • The Expressionists
  • Changes in Form and Color: The Impressionists and Post-Impressionists

    Beginning in the 1870's, this movement introduced a new, bolder, and more tactile way of painting which suited their content interests. The subject matter of the Impressionist was, above all, light. Impressionist painters virtually always worked directly from nature, not in the studio, which was the traditional method. Whether depicting a human figure, a still life, or a landscape, the concern was not so much with subject per se but with the transient qualities of light which revealed or obscured forms. This transient quality resulted in techniques of painting which were described by a critic as "Impressions" - a term intended to be derogative. Monet was the most well known of the impressionists. Seurat was the founder of a related style, known as pointillism. The Post Impressionists, who shared some qualities with this movement, included

    Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, and others.
    Cezanne's explorations of the geometry of form, and the relativistic qualities of perspective and point of view, were of particular importance because of their effect on artists in the early modern movements such as Fauvism and Cubism.

    Changes in Form and Color: The Fauves

    The short-lived movement known as Fauvism appeared just after the turn of the century, and has been described as the first truly abstract style in that their preoccupation with color and form caused them to depart from the reality of what they actually saw. These artists were influenced by aspects of the work of Cezanne , Van Gogh, and Gauguin. For the Fauve painters, color was the primary subject matter, and the forms of landscape, figure, or portrait were merely a vehicle for their experimentation with vivid color relationships. "Fauve" is French for "Wild Beast," and was a term used by a critic to describe a group of paintings displayed at a Paris exhibiton in 1905. Color was applied to the canvas in ways that had little or no relation to the actual color of the objects as seen, the purpose being to experiment with color behavior. Among the artists who participated in this style were Matisse, Vlaminck, and Derain.

    Here is a link to additional Fauve images.

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