Will Gompertz, a director at the Tate Gallery, is putting on a one hour show at the Edinburgh Fringe festival where he gives the entire history of modern art in an hour. With humor, of course, lest anyone in the audience want to slit their wrists with memories of trying to stay awake through endless slide carousels in the dark room of Art History 101.
He published a taste of the show this weekend in the Times; here's a fantastic three paragraph romp through modern art.
Impressionism — painting outside of a studio with quick, loose brushstrokes to capture an evocative impression of their subject. Van Gogh was an Impressionist but wanted to express how he felt about what he saw so he distorted the subject. This helped to lead to Expressionism practised by artists from Edvard Munch through to Francis Bacon. The Fauves (wild beasts) expressed themselves by painting with bright colours. Jackson Pollock did it by throwing or dripping paint on a canvas. His paintings were abstract — Abstract Expressionism.
Cézanne was very important. He began as an Impressionist but then started to look at a subject from two different perspectives to represent how we see. Picasso and his friend Georges Braque were very impressed and started to paint subjects from lots of different views. This is Cubism. Marcel Duchamp was a Cubist but then changed art for ever. He said the idea is more important than the medium and refused to stick with the limited choice of canvas or stone. So he chose everyday objects and called them art because he had altered their context. This led to Conceptual Art where the idea becomes the medium.
The Dadaists were very cross. They blamed the horrors of the First World War on the Establishment’s reliance on rational and reasoned thought. They radically opposed rational thought and became nihilistic — the punk rock of modern art movements. Dada plus Sigmund Freud equals Surrealism. The Surrealists were fascinated by the unconscious mind, as that’s where they thought truth resided. Piet Mondrian thought he could paint everything he knew, felt and saw by using two lines placed at rectangles and three primary colours. This was called Neo-Plasticism and was inspired by Cubism. So was Futurism, which is Cubism with motion added. Vorticism is the same as Futurism, but British. The Minimalists might represent the real truth because they weren’t trying to represent anything. Performance Art is Dada live.
Of course the jokes are better if you stayed awake through Art History 201.