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5.1: Introduction

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    Since the early 1500s, the countries of the world have pursued a path to globalize economic, cultural, and political interconnectivity beyond local territories or trading partners across oceans and continents. By the beginning of the 20th Century (5.1.1), globalization was the primary force as the scale and volume of interconnectivity through capital accumulation, industrial technologies, and governmental systems became part of local life throughout the globe. Globalization brought a system of rules and regulations used throughout the world, a system in its infancy at the beginning of the century. The concepts grew into a sophisticated, advanced system by the end of the century. At the start of 1900, within the system of globalization, some groups or countries amassed wealth and supremacy while others collapsed into financial and political deterioration. European countries had experienced exceptional industrial and military development, and by 1910, they controlled India, Africa, and Southeast Asia, while Japan governed Korea and Taiwan. The United States was expanding development across its vast geographical territory. During this period, China, Central, and South America, and the Ottoman Empire fell into economic decline or were under control by other nations. Along with physical and financial control by European countries, the ideals of their social cultures and sciences were also exported to other places bringing competition between nations to demonstrate advances in the industry, technology, architecture, and scientific concepts of people like Albert Einstein or Sigmund Freud. The declining countries did not develop sophisticated industrialization and were unable to compete successfully in the global world.

    In the early part of the 20th century, a rapid change occurred everywhere; powerful states competed with each other, and other states resisted European domination, leading to significant, later upheavals around the world. With rapid economic and industrial growth came the destruction of the natural environment. Rising economies in non-European parts of the globe and other nationalist movements brought uprisings weakening Europe's control, influence, and power. The United States, Russia, and Japan developed stronger economies. During the early part of the century, and despite the significant changes occurring, "the industrialized regions of Europe, North America, the USSR, and Japan accounted together for about 75 percent of the globe's Gross Domestic Product (GDP),"[1] dominating the financial system in the world. Two new conflicting blocs of power were the United States and the USSR. Populations increased with better technology to grow and harvest food, and control diseases through vaccinations and better medicine, leading to falling death rates. Population growth also expanded in the cities; people migrated from rural areas to the cities. "By 1950, more than 50 percent of people in the most industrialized countries lived in cities, about 40 percent in Latin America and the USSR, and less than 20 percent in the least industrialized regions, including China, South Asia, and much of Africa."[2]

    The first half of the 20th century included two world wars, a great depression, and a significant redistribution of global power. Through industrialization, countries stockpiled modern weapons, built alliances, and instituted financial tariffs and taxes in the competitive marketplace. In 1914, World War I started, a long and destructive war with France, Britain, and the United States against Germany, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman Turkish. Millions of people died, and the financial cost was high. During the war, the German incursion into Russia weakened the czar, and a civil war erupted, leading to the growth of communism in Russia. The war brought a breakdown in social norms, changing class structures, race relations, and a fragmented world. Nationalist movements and revolutions began in other countries. India revolted against the British, China's uprising brought the communists to power, multiple leaders in Africa fought for independence, and Mexico revolted against Spanish control. One of the most dangerous changes was Hitler's ideology of Nazism and fascism, Germany's rebellion against the restrictive sanctions from World War I, and support for the rise of authoritarian government. Unrest throughout the world brought the destruction of World War II as Germany invaded Poland in 1939 and Japan attacked mainland China in 1937.

    The fragmentation of world order also changed the art world; the disenchantment with previous academic styles led to artists' experimentation and innovation, developing new modes of expression based on their personal experiences. The chaos brought attitudes of antinationalism, and cynicism and created new ideas and genres of art, frequently based on cross-cultural ideas from multiple places in the world. They wanted to develop expressions based on the zeitgeist of the time. Previously, art was based on the reproduction of nature, recognizable elements, people, animals, the sky, or landscapes. With the advent of modernism, art became detached from reproduction, now consumed by the basic elements of line, color, dimension, and the experimental abstraction of those elements. Multiple styles and movements grew, some celebrating technology, fragmented images based on a dislocated life, or unusual pictures of the subconscious. Based on the writings of historian H. W. Janson, he believed the beginning of the 20th century brought three new courses of art; expression, fantasy, and abstraction. Expression was formulated on feelings about the human condition; fantasy explored the mind's inner workings, and abstraction emphasized the structure of a work. The work ranged from realistic to non-representational, primarily geometric abstraction.

    The best works have all three:   Without feeling, we are unmoved.

                                                     Without imagination, we are bored.

                                                     Without order, we see chaos. [3]


    Macerator map of the world according to American Navigators
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Map of the World 1900, Public Domain

    Color of Fauvism

    Fauvism rejected the pastel palette used by the Impressionists, exploiting a bold set of colors to display the distortion of their subject matter. The colors were unnatural, even assaulting one's mind with the bright color displayed in unexpected places. The colors were fragmented into blocks with little shading or subtleness as the artist started with a form or shape and applied color to express a meaning or movement, an unnatural color for the form; the grass did not have to be green or the sky blue. The paint roughly applied gave the images an energetic or celebratory feeling; the simplified forms developed with the saturated colors gave each element strength. Their raucous, unbalanced palette defied the standards of academic painting, offending the sensibilities of the viewers.  

    Shapes of Cubism

    Cubism developed a total reconstruction of a subject into geometric shapes or geometric abstraction, generally cube-like, arranged to bring a three-dimensional perspective to the viewer. The geometric abstraction used geometric forms positioned in non-illusionistic areas as the artists deconstructed and reformed shapes. The first representation of Cubism was based on the facets of the visual world, as seen in Cezanne's villages.  In Analytic Cubism, artists overlapped frontal surfaces placed in linear grids. Synthetic Cubism focused on flat, synthesized shapes arranged in an abstract space, experimenting with the spatial relationships of different materials. The early artists used traditional items, reinventing them in fragmented elements while maintaining identifiable clues to the original shape. Initially, the artists used a muted, limited palette, focusing on the geometric composition instead of color.    

    Materials of Dadaism

    Dada focused on the absurd and irrational, often known as an anti-establishment statement to demonstrate their disdain for this new century's societal, political, and cultural ethics. The artists challenged the very concepts of art and selected readymade or found objects they repurposed into another form. Artists also began to incorporate mundane, everyday objects; newspapers, letters, photographs, wallpaper, and scraps of paper into collages. Sometimes the collage elements were placed, and other times the artist just dropped them on paper and glued them wherever they fell. Wood was a common material, cut into a shape and adorned with different materials; pipe, beads, paper pieces, or other found materials. They used the mixed-media assemblages as a caricature or parody of the violence and corruption of society.  

    Design of Bauhaus

    After World War I, Germany was in disarray and financially broken. The concept of the Bauhaus, founded by Walter Gropius, was to create an academy for artists to help rebuild the ruined country. The ideas included all aspects of art based on the elementary structures, a back-to-basics thought, as simple as a triangle, circle, and square, leaving behind the decorative standards of the past. Mass production was part of the concepts for design resulting in furniture, textiles, and kitchenware, revolutionizing manufacturing and the assembly-line process and bringing artistically designed products to the middle-class masses. Gropius wanted to unify arts based on crafts, the motto of the school, "Art into Industry." The different education workshops included cabinetmaking (using alternative forms of chairs), textiles (weaving with unconventional materials), metalworking (sculptural home products, easy to use), typography (use of sans serif font and integrated photography), and architecture (streamlined style). The concepts of the Bauhaus were to bring those things considered crafts on a par with sculpture and painting in the world of fine arts.   

    Social Art of Harlem Renaissance

    The great migration of African Americans moving from the south to cities in the north and west, especially in New York City, created the opportunity for the Harlem Renaissance. The movement included music and the beginning of the jazz age, literature, and art, all based on the Black experience and their traditional, societal, intellectual, and artistic expressions. Artists, poets, musicians, and writers all came to Harlem, congregating, developing synergy, and producing works that first inspired racial pride and then became incorporated into the larger American psyche.

    Subconscious Art of Surrealism

    Highly influenced by the writings of Sigmund Freud, Surrealists expressed the subconscious through art with dreamlike and deformed images, unconstrained by the rational mind and societal rules. The artists believed creativity grew from the subconscious based on automatism, those actions not controlled by the conscious mind, for example, breathing or nervous tics. Automatism allowed the free and spontaneous creation of images. Surrealists also based work on their interpretation of dreams without preconceived ideas of a standard work of art instead of a subconscious arrangement of images and meanings. World War I generated hardships throughout the artistic community, and to escape the bleakness surrounding them, the artists wanted to reshape the perception of reality. Freud's works were instrumental in helping artists use their subconscious through dreams or trances, and Surrealism became the symbolic view of the subconscious through abstraction.



    [1] Retrieved from

    [2] Retrieved from

    [3] Retrieved from 

    This page titled 5.1: Introduction is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Deborah Gustlin & Zoe Gustlin (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .

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