Art, Modern.

In the WIP, someone writing catalogue copy makes a wee, minor error in placing the artist Paul Klee as post-Expressionist. No, I have no idea why my mind went there, other than this is the semester in the class I teach where art goes from “at worst, not too bad” to “arrrrgh get it away, get it away!”

I’m not a fan of what follows the Impressionists, in case you hadn’t guessed. There are exceptions, but I’d wager that 80% of 20th century art will never find a place on my walls or as computer wallpaper.

The short version is to say that paintings that come after the Impressionists are all modern art. Some lump Impressionism into modern art, others leave it alone. I’m sort of on the fence, being a firm believer in the “I know it when I see it” school of classification. Yes, I hear art historians and others weeping quietly into their beers.


Expressionism is about depicting what the artist feels, not what she sees.

Usually I think of expressionism as abstract expressionism, because that’s what is more common in the US. While Expressionism was getting going in Europe prior to WWI, late Impressionism and then Regionalism were favored in the US. It wasn’t until after WWII that a lot of Expressionist works appeared, and those tended toward abstraction. The movement also overlapped and blurred into other modernist movements like Dada and Surrealism.

Paul Klee was in the middle of the Swiss Expressionists.

“Zwitchermaschine” by Paul Klee, 1922.

Perhaps unfairly, if I can’t tell what the heck something is supposed to be, I assume “Modern Art” and go from there. Surrealism I can generally sort out, but most of the other sub-categories overlap and blur.

“Ancient Sound,” one of Klee’s African inspired works.

Like other artists, Klee’s art went through several stages between when he became active in the 1910s and his death in 1940. I’m not especially fond of Klee, but he doesn’t burn my eyes like some other painters.

Mark Rothko also gets a mention in the WIP.

“Untitled” by Mark Rothko. He’s not one of my favorites.

I confess, when paintings are involved, I much prefer pictures I can recognize. They might not make sense, but I want to be able to identify what I’m looking at. Yes, that makes me a poor appreciator of a lot of abstract works.

No idea what it’s supposed to mean, but I really like it!

Surrealism. Fantasia 2000, the artist in Hawaii who did all those whales-in-space murals, someone’s cool dream after eating anchovy pizza? It’s modern, it’s Surrealist, it’s cool.

21 thoughts on “Art, Modern.

  1. I believe I am with you with the modern art thing. I have seen some pieces that make me go, “WTF? Seriously?” Some impressionist art is interesting when you start examining the details. I believe some of the earlier ones were more paining light then just scenes if you think about it.

    • Turner was very much about light. He’s not officially an Impressionist, but that’s the sense I get from his sea paintings.

  2. Personally I like paintings that look like a photograph. Even if they are surrealistic or simply of something you would never see, they should look real.
    There are a limited number of paintings done with broad brush strokes (all western themed, that come to mind) that I like, but otherwise I am an art critic/expressionists nightmare. I want to have to stop and examine the picture to answer the question, “is that a painting or a photograph?” The best of those up above (excluding the surrealist, which is kinda cool) looks like something a second grader would bring home to show mom, if handed it by an adult I would crumple it up and toss in the garbage without a second thought.

  3. Don’t care what “Whale In The Sky” means. I LIKE IT. 😀

  4. You’ve summed up my view of art after the Impressionists quite well. I enjoy some Surrealist paintings and some of 3D pieces that are either just cool looking, or are visual puns. Some of the American Realists produced art I like well into the 20th Century, but after that I find I often have to look to commercial art for work I enjoy. (Which I incidentally reminds me I need to talk to some local friends about visiting the American Sign Museum over the weekend.)

  5. er…WIP? Work in Progress? World in Phlames? I’m feeling ignorant here…

    Modern expression in general — that is, not just painting, but literature, politics — seems dedicated to rending, destroying, making you feel awful about even good things, if any one feature or item is bad then all must burn. And be replaced with a gray, tightly regimented life where no free expression is not tolerated at all.

    • WIP: Work In Progress. A catch-all term used to refer to a story or piece of art post-conceptualization, pre-completion. Because there are so many different styles and stages to all sorts of art, so “I finally got the rough in on the wax, but now I have to figure out where to put all the fill channels” may not mean much when a sculptor talks to a writer, whose “The alpha readers want all sorts of changes!” is equally opaque.

      But “My WIP is making me tear my hair out!” “Oh, Ghu, mine too!” translates perfectly well across specialties.

  6. I wonder if the camera is what killed modern art. When any idiot can “create” a realistic image by pushing a button, do painters have to invest their egos in something other than, oh, accurate drawing, rendering of color and light effects, understanding of anatomy, use of perspective, all the other skills that used to go into creating a great painting? And once you decide that what makes a work Art is Feeling, or Message, or some other ill-defined term, it’s easy to devalue those old-fashioned skills, and just a short step to raising a generation of “artists” who lack them entirely.

    Mind you, I do rather like Klee, if only because he gives me the feeling that I too could create great art if only I could find the crayons.

    • I like anime and manga, I like fan art inspired by anime and manga, I like art created for videogames that comes from that tradition. I no more take the product of modern American art schools as representative of modern artists than I do the product of modern American film schools as representative of all modern story telling with moving pictures.

    • I think you’re onto something. Impatience now probably plays a role. Why spend years learning how to be a master craftsman and drafter when you can toss paint or something on a canvas and call it post-modern expressionism and sell it to someone for $35,000?

    • I have to disagree with that assessment, because cameras are limited to capturing only what is actually there, within the frame of the shot, without perspective, over a small fraction of a second.

      Mountains are an excellent example. There’s no sense of scale. A mountain range can dominate an entire horizon and shred the sky with talons of granite. But a photo will drive home that the relative height of the mountains is only 3° (out of ~27° vertical space in the shot), and good luck catching more than a couple in the same shot.

      • Oh, certainly cameras are limited in many ways, and just because you point and click doesn’t guarantee you’ll create Art; I have an extensive collection of lousy snapshots to back that up! But look at it from the point of view of an average, not particularly artistic person who just wants a picture that looks like his kid. Pre-camera: hire a portrait painter and tie the kid down long enough to get at least a preliminary sketch. Post- camera: click click click and tie your acquaintances down long enough to show them all 99 snapshots of your two week old granddaughter (and I have videos too!) Result: fewer portrait painters. Those who can’t convince people that their product is worth much, much more than a snapshot have to find some other line of work, whether it’s stacking cans of soup or painting them.

    • Yeah. About the time I find something I like, I discover they’ve been “discovered.” So much for buying one.

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