Art History Chapters

  1. Introduction to Western Art History
  2. Art in the Ancient Middle East to 400 B.C.
  3. Art of the Hebrews and Jews, 2000 B.C. to A.D. 135
  4. Art of the Ancient Greeks, 1200 B.C. to A.D. 146
  5. Art of the Romans, 753 B.C. to A.D. 300
  6. Christian Art in the Roman Empire, 4 B.C. to A.D. 1453
  7. Art in the Early Middle Ages, A.D. 500 to 1000
  8. Art in the High and Later Middle Ages, 1000 to 1500
  9. Art of the Renaissance, 1400 to 1648
  10. Art in Early Modern Europe, 1543 to 1815
  11. Art during the Industrial Revolution, 1764 to 1914
  12. Art in the Age of Imperialism and Nationalism, 1810 to 1918
  13. Art during the InterWar Years and World War II, 1917 to 1945
  14. Art during the Early Cold War, 1945 to 1980
  15. Art during the Contemporary Era, 1980 to the Present
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Art History for Chapter 13:

Rejections of Democracy: The InterWar Years and World War II, 1917 to 1945

World War I buried much of traditional art along with millions of human dead. Art at its extreme fringe became incomprehensible to the average viewer, who was thus deprived of perceiving and enjoying world about him. Some felt that art degenerated to mannerism, using stylistic exaggerations as an end in itself. Artists and writers broke up into small cliques, schools, and trends, whose ideas were often too esoteric to strike a responsive chord with the broad population. High literature contained odd punctuation and stream of consciousness style; music became atonal and discordant; and painting and sculpture became abstract and nonobjective. New high art increasingly became confined to those interested in art for art’s sake.
Most normal citizens were mystified or offended. They thought their six-year-old kid could do better than some of the self-proclaimed geniuses of art.
On the one hand, art became freed from the constraints of realism and naturalism, or from subject and tradition. Artists were free as never before to experiment. Artists explored new modes of work unlike any before in human history.
On the other hand, a reaction came from the totalitarian and authoritarians states, who tried to make art relevant to the masses.



As cities continued to grow more crowded more skyscrapers replaced old structures. New York’s skyline became the archetype that other cities would follow in the second half of the century. Headquarters of international business conglomerates shaped the view. ART DECO offered stylistic elements in clean lines and forms suggesting speed and modernity, such as in the Chrysler Building.


A. SURREALISM (1924-1975)

One last small movement “dada” (1916-1924) sprung up in Switzerland during World War One. Despairing about civilization as the war raged around them, the created “anti-art art” which mocked what they saw as the pretentions of High Art. They often used everyday objects and graphics combined in new ways with odd titles which mocked any attempt at serious interpretation.
Marcel Duchamps, whose Nude Descending a Staircase had already scandalized many, shocked more with his “ready-made” objects, such as a urinal called “Fountain” or a Mona Lisa with a mustache.

Surrealists went further into combining images in strange, bizarre, or shocking ways. They often strove for a dream atmosphere or incorporated Freudian symbolism.
The work of Salvador Dali (1904-1989) was full of humor, jesting, and shock effects. The melting clocks of his tiny The Persistance of Memory (1931), suggests the bending of space and time.
In sculpture, Henry Moore’s (1898-1986) smooth forms and contours leaned toward the abstract.



As an artist, the Spaniard Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) almost defies classification. In his early phases he aligned with Cubism (see above), but later created his own style.
His Guernica (1937) is often cited as one of the greatest paintings of the Twentieth Century. It portrays on a huge canvas in black, gray, and white the bombing of the Basque capital during the Spanish Civil War. For long it stayed in New York, until the fascist regime of Franco had ended in Spain.



Socialist Realism portrayed scenes of workers and patriots, working or sacrificing for the good of the community. Most Westerners then, and modern critics today, despise the stuff, seeing it as hollow. Yet many average people can at least connect with the story-telling, naturalistic style. After a brief flowering of avant-garde art after the Russian Revolution, the Soviet regime under Stalin ordered artists to use the style of socialist realism, so art could be propaganda for the worker’s paradise.
While bolding using their version of art as propaganda, the Nazis famously attacked most modern art with their infamous “Exhibit of Degenerate Art” (1937). What modern Western critics liked, they insulted as elitist and “Jewish” opposing it with the Führer’s preferred own socialist realist styles.

Only Diego Rivera (1886-1957) and his art of fresco painting for the Mexican socialist government gained some positive critical opinion in the West. But when he put Lenin’s face in a mural in Rockefeller center, the capitalist had it destroyed. His sometime lover Frida Kahlo's dreamlike images, often capturing her pain and despair, have gained a popular following.


Last Updated: 17 January 2017