Posts Tagged ‘modern art’

Modern Art – not really ‘modern’

January 14, 2013
Modern Art

Picasso, Kadinsky, Derain

The nomenclature modern art is often misinterpreted. Believe it or not, the genre of painting called modern art (modernism) existed from the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th century. Often people interpret modern art to be the recent compositions of an artist. Alternatively, it is also common to hear people referring to any kind of abstract art as ‘modern art’.

In the late 1800s there was a movement from depicting the obvious, to more esoteric expressions by artists. Artists felt the need to move away from the figurative expression to a more abstract expression. As Picasso put it, “artist paints not what you see, but what you know is there”. This was a major shift in philosophy and ended up being the biggest deviation in western art. The artist’s impression of the colours were used in the paintings rather than what the actual colour of the subject was. In this philopsophy, art with a contemporary theme / subject were favoured over historical paintings and art, which was the main themes until then. The shift also liberated the form in painting compositions like Picasso’s Cubism.

Thus in art history this era of art was termed as Modernism, which quested for radical thought and freedom of expression in art. Around this time, the artists had the freedom to paint any subject listening to their creative energy, as there was no Patrons to please. In the modern era of painting art moved away from replicating reality to compositions that concentrated more on form, line, and colour, as the central theme. Picasso, Braque, Kandinsky were some of the pioneers of this philosophy.

So, the next time somebody is talking about modern art, be aware that the painting is quite old. Contemporary art is a better nomenclature to describe the art that been created in recent times.

The Scream by Edvard Munch

June 18, 2012
The scream by Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch – best of expressionism art

The Scream is a very interesting painting to discuss and mull about. The Scream gives the viewer infinite possibilities to interpret the painting and its subjects. Munch has juxtaposition various elements of despair and melancholy in this painting. The bright orange  fiery sky shows a high level of movement and confusion, with undulating waves like a swirling whirlpool. The figures on the bridge are as melancholic as the Screamer. They may be on the way back home from work; their posses show a depressed and anxious stature. The third element is an eerie ship in the distance, which looks like it is aimlessly floating in the dark blue whirlpool.  Lastly we come to the centre point of the painting a ‘being’ with a ghoulish face, screaming, and clutching a contorted face. The face depicts the despair the screamer is going through. It could be a sign of being left out and lonely in a fast moving world. It looks like the sound of the Scream is spreading through out the painting, enveloping everything in the same agony.

Munch’s Screamer tries to capture the anxiety of modern life, prevailing at the times. During the years at the end of the century the world was moving faster than one could realise. Society was being transformed politically, socially and technologically. Modern cities were growing rapidly, and with them a sense of isolation and alienation. New machines like the airplane, the automobile the telephone, and the radio were changing people’s lives. And advances in science and psychology were establishing the importance of emotions and the unconscious. Artists of the time like Munch, needed to express their feelings about these disturbing changes.

Thus the Scream was painted.

The Scream is one of the best known examples of a new kind of painting called Expressionism. In this work, Munch doesn’t just paint what a person in pain might look like. He sees the world through the eyes of this agonized person. In The Scream, the entire landscape is distorted by pain and despair. A ghostly figure clutches its skull-like head in agony. Blood-red lines vibrate around it like shrieks of terror.

The painting was stolen back in 1994 but recovered in the same year. The painting is cared for by the Museum of Oslo, Norway. Recently ‘The scream was declared on the highest paintings auction in western art, beating the price of Picasso’s ‘Nude, Green Leaves and Bust’. The painting was acquired by a telephone bidder for $119.9 million.

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Essay on soceital progress and its influence on Art

June 6, 2010
Courtesy Monsoon Canvas 

It is interesting to observe how societal progress or change has affected artists and art through the ages.

The industrial revolution in the mid 19th century was responsible for many innovations and inventions that influenced painting. One of the main influences was the improvement of quality and variety of paint itself.

Artists were previously restricted to painting in earthy colours, using minerals that were naturally available. However the advances in chemical pigments bought with it the ability to create varied colours and shades that were previously impossible. The new colors like cobalt blue, emerald green broadened the artist’s venue of expression.

Machinery also made it possible to grind minerals faster and in larger quantities, making life more convenient for the artists. Traditionally the artist had to grind the paint himself and then mix it with linseed oil. Paint making was part of every artist’s training. The commercialized version of paint used poppy oil as a binding agent which gave the painting a more textured look.

One of the biggest changes resulted from the invention of collapsible tin tube in 1840. This enabled the artists to move out of their studios and paint outdoors. The artist was able to recreate nature, without depending on vague impressions from his memory. The Impressionists took great advantage of this by introducing bright colors of the spectrum into their paintings and also depicting the effects of changing natural light. The impressionists like Manet, Monet started and ended their paintings outdoors, which was contrary to the then norm.


Claude Monet, 1872, Impression, soleil levant,Musee Marmottan

Industrial development also indirectly contributed to the increase in creativity of the artists, as his patronage from nobility and the Church dwindled. The artist now had the freedom to experiment and move away from the restrictions of commission work. Thus the birth of the various ‘isms’: fauvism, cubism, impressionism etc.

Over the years the building architectural style and purpose changed from grandeur to more practical structures that could house assembly lines and the working class. These vertical structures changed the way man understood shapes and also influenced the artists.  Sculptors were equally influenced by the architecture and also the new materials that were used at the time like metal, new technology like welding and new forms and shapes.

With the advent of photography, mass media (print and television), motion pictures, the artist’s perception of image, time and space changed. The new mediums of capturing still and moving images compelled artists to use innovative techniques to attract an audience towards the fine-arts. There was no point in competing with technology, so they chose to innovate. This fact combined with increasing psychological awareness, helped artists to gradually move away from reproducing actual images to depicting a more abstract sense of the reality they experienced. Artists also started thinking in terms of mass and movement rather than a static likeness.

Pop-Artists in the 50s and 60s were inspired by the consumerism in society. Inspiration and themes were derived from everyday objects of commercialization like the new neon signs, television and hoarding advertisements. Andy Warhol’s “100 Campbell’s soup cans” is one of the best examples of this trend. Roy Lichtenstein another Pop artist preferred to create art works based on comic strip imagery subtlety mocking its influence on the American culture.

100 Campbells’ Soup Cans, 1962 By Andy Warhol

The later part of the 20th century saw artists racing to be unique and original and not merely novel. Major developments like moon landing, science fiction, women’s lib movement, etc played an important role in expanding people’s imagination and outlook. Since the public’s imagination was way beyond what it was years ago, the artist was forced to work harder to create a novel experience for the public. All these influences had a huge impact on the themes artists worked on.

With the advent of computer and electronic imagery, a new genre of art called electronic art, came into being, examples being new media art, interactive art, video art etc. Computers have enabled artists to create images and art works with lesser effort but with unimaginable levels of creativity. With the help of computers, graphic software and the internet, it has become possible to experiment with art more rapidly and imaginatively. The rule of this genre of art dictates novelty, innovation and extreme imagination.

There are surely many more influences that could be mentioned and in future, there is sure to be a lot more influences that determine trends, style and the course of art. But one thing is for sure, artists will never stop imbibing form the environment around them.

The Nude and Art

January 31, 2010
Nude Art Grace, by Sunitha Anand Rao, courtesy Monsoon Canvas  


What does nudity in art signify? Does it always allude to a sensual motive or do artists intend to convey something more? This article tries to delve into other principle reasons for the Nude in paintings.   

To understand the significance of nudity in art, we need to travel back in time when sculptures were the most prominent art form. Sculptures were created to depict various important aspects of social life, especially religion and government. These sculptures formed an integral part of society and adorned temples, court houses, palaces, gardens and other public places of importance. Sculptors therefore needed to have high levels of skill and imagination to make the sculptures seem more life-like. Sculptors experimented with the pose, the symmetry, placement and angle of body parts and various other details to bring out a perfect life statue. This meant the viewer needed to perceive emotions from the sculpture, leading artists to use more than just facial expressions to convey emotions. Sculptors began to use the whole expanse of the body for this purpose, which also meant they could not dress up their subjects, as clothing cannot convey the person’s emotions, but portray them nude. 

Nudity and emotions 

Laoccon and Group 

The bare body gave the artist more room to express emotions like tension, anger, power, desperation and also allowed the expression of movement. The taunt muscles, bulging veins, contorted torso, sinewy legs, ribbed stomach gave the sculptures a sense of movement. The exaggerations also displayed the mental state of the character portrayed. One of the most famous sculptures is the one depicting a Greek mythological character, Laocoon and his sons called the Laocoon Group. Here the sculptor uses the bare body to show the struggle of the father and the sons with a serpent. The sculptor uses the bare bodies to display the struggle, agony, fear and anger.     Sculptures like Laocoon inspired Renaissance painters like Michelangelo to use the same technique of the nude body, in his paintings, to inspire the viewer with the stories from religion and mythology. Eventually paintings borrowed the ‘nude technique ‘of sculptors to give life and emotion to a scene or story.  Soon the study of the nude (male nudes initially) became an indispensable part of an artist’s training. Art students not only studied nude male models but also classical sculptures which show them how an ideal nude body could be represented. It’s well known, that Da Vinci in his effort to perfect the human muscular and skeletal system dissected and studied cadavers.      

 Nudity and artistic skill    

 Mastering painting of the human body is seen as the truest artistic skill and the vehicle for a wide range of expression. Unlike painting a clothed figure, a nude image required perfect mastery of painting the skin tone, a good knowledge of the skeletal and muscle structure, proportionate alignment of various parts of the body along with alignment of the body to the surroundings and other characters.     

 An interesting quote by an American artist Jacob Collins* sums up the complexity of painting nudes; “I wanted to pour all of my energy into the greatest challenge a painter can face. There is nothing more difficult to paint. To paint a figure clearly and simply, with beauty and strength, to paint the humanity inside the person through their outer body is the hardest and greatest goal. To paint with the skills of past masters while still feeling fresh, to paint anatomical forms that feel alive, to paint a head that feels like it is full of thoughts, is to jump into the world of the great figure painters of times past.”    

 Nudity and virtues  

 It was also common to use nudity when portraying God and Goddess from mythology to bring out the virtues of valor, bravery, courage in case of male nudes and the qualities of beauty, coyness and fertility in case of female nudes. Artists at times, used these depictions to evoke a sense of divinity and innocence in the viewers mind. Although, after the rise of Christianity in the west, nudity primarily depicted shame and humiliation; this was thankfully eliminated by the revival of the renaissance. The Rocco and Baroque periods brought with it nudes that portrayed frivolous or playful eroticism. Rubens’ voluptuous female nudes were sensual and carefree. Paintings of Degas, Manet and the others also depicted this theme. The nude females in these painting provided the scenary with a flippant mood, like a group bathing scene, or enjoying a picnic. It signified the joie de vivre attitude of whole setting.   

 There could be other reasons for depicting nudity in art, than the ones mentioned above; one of the most common reasons is the shock value. Shock value acts as a medium to convey an important message or to increase the artist’s publicity. 

 The above explanation will hopefully help in understanding Nudes and the intentions behind them.  Send me your comments; if you feel there are other aspects to nudity in art, I would be glad to include them as an annex to this article. 



*Jacob Collins paintings   








Appreciating abstract art

November 21, 2009

Composition VII, Kandinsky (1913) - Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

On one of my regular gallery visits, I noticed a man staring at a painting and tilting his head from side to side to make sure he was seeing the painting the right way. He then looked at me, smirked, shrugged and moved on to the next piece, as if wishing me luck understanding the painting. 

I admit comprehending abstract art does pose some difficulties to the viewer in appreciating it. The main lament on abstracts is that there is no discernable subject and therefore fails to communicate with the viewer. But this does not mean that abstract art is meaningless doodle, it’s just that one has to move away from the conventional idea of a painting – an image of something or somebody; an imitation of the real world. Understanding the idea behind abstract artworks helps one appreciate a painting for what it actually is – colour, surface, shapes and emotions on canvas.

Everyone can learn to appreciate abstract art if one knows the general objective of abstract art. Let’s start with defining abstract art: Abstract paintings primarily emphasize lines, colours, forms and surfaces in relationship to one another. This means, abstract artists believe that one does not need a definite conventional subject to create art but the colours, lines, geometrical shapes are in themselves the subject.

The general opinion that, there is more to abstract art than meets the eye is true from the perspective of an artist. Every artist’s work is influenced by his immediate surroundings, his experiences and his emotions. The complexity for the artist comes from the fact that he needs to reflect this situation onto the canvas effectively so that the final artwork stirs emotions in the viewer.

On the other hand the viewer is not expected to understand the artist’s intentions. This is practically impossible, unless one talks to the artist (which by the way is true for all kinds of art). The viewer fundamentally needs to stop trying to figure out ‘What’ it is and concentrate on ‘How’ it makes you feel. It is however critical is to switch off the right brain (logic thinking) and let the mind wander; you will see the painting talking to you. It may take sometime but keep staring.

The first abstract art was created by the modern Russian artist, Kandinsky in 1910. The creation of abstract art was accidental. The story goes that Kandinsky returned to his studio one evening and in the twilight he saw his unfinished painting propped up on an easel. From the angle he was standing at, combined with the twilight; he saw an arrangement of bright colour patches, which he thought was extremely beautiful. This realization that colours can bring out emotions irrespective of content was the beginning of Abstract Art.

This was a radical turn of events in Art History. Till then colour was just a medium to portray a subject but with the invention of Abstract art, artists began to use ‘colour’ as the ‘subject’ itself. Theo van Doesburg said ‘his art has no significance other than itself’ and stated that “nothing is more real than a line, a colour, a surface.”

To sum up, do not try to find figurative objects or meanings in abstract art. There maybe none, as the subject is the ‘colourful paint, the crooked line or the triangular shape’ arranged aesthetically to provide viewing pleasure.

Here’s an example of Abstract Art:

RB Murari, 2009, Monsoon Canvas Gallery

The painting is nothing but the glorious and harmonious intermingling of yellow, green and red. The red, yellow and green are the protagonists on a stage of somber brown. The artist has also introduced a measure of rivalry among the colours, at certain parts of the painting the yellow is dominant and at others the red. The layers of paint also bring out the tussle between the colours. This is a good example of how “the colour” is the main and only subject of the painting.