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Dadaism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism

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DADAISM * Dadaism is a cultural movement that began in Zurich, Switzerland, during World War I and peaked from 1916 to 1922. It was shared by independent groups in New York, Berlin, Paris and elsewhere. * The movement was a protest against the barbarism of the War; works of anti-art that deliberately defied reason. * Dadaism primarily involved visual arts, literature, poetry, theatre, and graphic design. Its purpose was to ridicule what its participants considered to be the meaninglessness of the modern world. In addition to being anti-war, dada was also anti-bourgeois and anarchistic in nature. According to its proponents, Dada was not art; it was anti-art. For everything that art stood for, Dada was to represent the opposite. Where art was concerned with aesthetics, Dada ignored them. If art is to have at least an implicit or latent message, Dada strives to have no meaning. Interpretation of Dada is dependent entirely on the viewer. If art is to appeal to sensibilities, Dada offends. Perhaps it is then ironic that Dada is an influential movement in Modern art. Dada became a commentary on art and the world, thus becoming art itself.” * The Dadaists channelled their revulsion at World War I into an indictment of the nationalist and materialist values that had brought it about. They were united not by a common style but by a rejection of conventions in art and thought, seeking through their unorthodox techniques, performances and provocations to shock society into self-awareness. The name Dada itself was typical of the movement’s anti-rationalism. Various members of the Zurich group are credited with the invention of the name; according to one account it was selected by the insertion of a knife into a dictionary, and was retained for its multilingual, childish and nonsensical connotations. The Zurich group was formed around the poets Hugo Ball, Emil Jennings, Tristan Tzara and Richard Huelsenbeck, and the painters Hans Arp, Marcel Janco and Hans Richter. The term was subsequently adopted in New York by the group that had formed around Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, and Man Ray. The largest of several German groups was formed in Berlin by Huelsenbeck with John Heartfield, Raoul Hausmann, Hannah Höch and George Grosz. As well as important centres elsewhere (Barcelona, Cologne and Hanover), a prominent post-war Parisian group was promoted by Tzara, Picabia and André Breton. This disintegrated acrimoniously in 1922–3, although further Dada activities continued among those unwilling to join Surrealism in 1924.
Art Tecniques Developped by Dadaism * Collage * The dadaists imitated the techniques developed during the cubist movement through the pasting of cut pieces of paper items, but extended their art to encompass items such as transportation tickets, maps, plastic wrappers, etc. to portray aspects of life, rather than representing objects viewed as still life. Their goal was to be abstract like cubists but create something new. * Photomontage * The Berlin Dadaists - the "monteurs" (mechanics) - would use scissors and glue rather than paintbrushes and paints to express their views of modern life through images presented by the media. A variation on the collage technique, photomontage utilized actual or reproductions of real photographs printed in the press. In Cologne, Max Ernst used images from World War I to illustrate messages of the destruction of war * Assemblage * The assemblages were three-dimensional variations of the collage - the assembly of everyday objects to produce meaningful or meaningless (relative to the war) pieces of work including war objects and trash. Objects were nailed, screwed or fastened together in different fashions. Assemblages could be seen in the round or could be hung on a wall * Marcel Duchamp 
(1887-1968) * “French painter, sculptor and writer. The art and ideas of Duchamp, perhaps more than those of any other 20th-century artist, have served to exemplify the range of possibilities inherent in a more conceptual approach to the art-making process. Not only is his work of historical importance—from his early experiments with Cubism to his association with Dada and Surrealism—but his conception of the ready-made decisively altered our understanding of what constitutes an object of art. Duchamp refused to accept the standards and practices of an established art system, conventions that were considered essential to attain fame and financial success: he refused to repeat himself, to develop a recognizable style or to show his work regularly. It is the more theoretical aspects implicit to both his art and life that have had the most profound impact on artists later in the century, allowing us to identify Duchamp as one of the most influential artists of the modern era.” The Grove Dictionary of Art. * In 1912, under the influence of Cubism as well as chronophotography or photographic sequences, Duchamp created one of his best known works, “Nude Descending a Staircase”. * Duchamp’s Ready-mades * “A readymade is defined as a commonplace prefabricated object which - with or without alteration - is isolated from its functional context and elevated to the status of art by the mere act of an artist's selection. His first readymade, ‘The Bicycle Wheel’ (1913), consisted of nothing more than the rim of a bicycle wheel mounted on to the seat of an ordinary kitchen stool. This was followed a year later by his ‘Bottle Rack’ (1914), a metal stand with projecting prongs commonly used in France for the drying of wine bottles. His most controversial readymade, ‘Fountain’ (1917) – a simple white porcelain urinal – seems to have been selected with the intention of provoking a great deal of public attention. Duchamp purchased the prized artifact from a plumbing supply store, signed it with a false name (‘R. Mutt and, in an effort to further protect his identity, asked a female friend to submit it for display in the first exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists . It seems that the urinal was never shown, its display refused by an emergency meeting of the society’s board of directors.” * * Mona Lisa: LHOOQ" (1919) * The ideal of the modern art/contemporary art movement of Dadaism was to fight art with art. A great example is Marcel Duchamp's 'L.H.O.O.Q' which mocks the ‘Mona Lisa’ by installing a mustache on her face. * Another way of challenging art is to take a well known image, such as the Mona Lisa, and to give it a title which brings high art down to a very basic level. The letters LHOOQ, if read in French, come out something like this: “Elle a chaud au cul” which, literally, means “she is hot in the genital area”, a rather irreverent reading of a famous painting. * SURREALISM * At the end of the First War World, Tristan Tzara, leader of the Dada movement, wanted to attack society through scandal. He believed that a society that creates the monstrosity of war does not deserve art, so he decided to give it anti-art–not beauty but ugliness. With phrases like Dada destroys everything! Tzara wanted to offend the new industrial commercial world–the bourgeoisie. However, his intended victims were not insulted at all. Instead they thought that this rebellious new expression opposed, not them but the "old art" and the "old patrons" of feudalism and church dominion. In fact, the bourgeoisie embraced this "rebellious" new art so thoroughly that anti-art became Art, the anti-academy the Academy, the anti-conventionalism the Convention, and the rebellion through chaotic images, the status quo. * * One group of artists, however, did not embrace this new art that threw away all which centuries of artists had learned and passed on about the craft of art. Surrealism developed out of the Dada activities during World War I. * According to the major spokesman of the movement, the poet and critic André Breton, who published "The Surrealist Manifesto" in 1924, Surrealism was a means of reuniting conscious and unconscious realms of experience so completely that the world of dream and fantasy would be joined to the everyday rational world in "an absolute reality, surreality." * Surrealism attempts to express the workings of the subconscious by fantastic imagery and, unexpected juxtapositions of objects. * Drawing heavily on theories adapted from Sigmund Freud, Breton saw the unconscious as the wellspring of the imagination. The artists in the movement researched and studied the works of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Some of the artists in the group expressed themselves in the abstract tradition, while others, expressed themselves in the symbolic tradition. * These two forms of expression formed two distinct trends of surrealism with marked differences. One could be qualified as Automatism, the other, asVeristic Surrealism. "Automatism" is a form of abstraction. * Basically, two different interpretations of the works of Freud and Jung divided the two groups. For the purpose of personal analysis, Jung had talked about not judging the images of the subconscious, but simply accepting them as they came into consciousness so they could be analyzed. This was termed Automatism. * *  The Automatists: This group, being more focused on feeling and less analytical, understood Automatism to be the automatic way in which the images of the subconscious reach the conscience. They believed these images should not be burdened with "meaning." * Faithful to this interpretation, the Automatists saw the academic discipline of art as intolerant of the free expression of feeling, and felt form, which had dominated the history of art, was a culprit in that intolerance. They believed abstractionism was the only way to bring to life the images of the subconscious. Coming from the Dada tradition, these artists also linked scandal, insult and irreverence toward the elite's with freedom. They continued to believe that lack of form was a way to rebel against them. (Artists: Jean Arp, Joan Miró, Andre Masson,) * *  The Veristic Surrealists, on the other hand, interpreted Automatism to mean allowing the images of the subconscious to surface undisturbed so that their meaning could then be deciphered through analysis. They wanted to faithfully represent these images as a link between the abstract spiritual realities, and the real forms of the material world. To them, the object stood as a metaphor for an inner reality. Through metaphor the concrete world could be understood, not by looking at the objects, but by looking into them. (Artists: Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, and Yves Tanguy, Renee Magritte) * * Veristic Surrealists, saw academic discipline and form as the means to represent the images of the subconscious with veracity; as a way to freeze images that, if unrecorded, would easily dissolve once again into the unknown. They hoped to find a way to follow the images of the subconscious until the conscience could understand their meaning. The language of the subconscious is the image, and the consciousness had to learn to decode that language so it could translate it into its own language of words. * * SALVADOR DALI * Dali embraced all the science of painting as a way to study the psyche through subconscious images. He called this process the Paranoiac Critical Method. As any paranoiac, the artist should allow these images to reach the conscience, and then do what the paranoiac cannot do: Freeze them on canvas to give consciousness the opportunity to comprehend their meaning and analyzing them as well. As Freud said, "A dream that is not interpreted is like a letter that is not opened." * RENEE MAGRITTE
Although he is often grouped with Surrealists such as Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, and Yves Tanguy, Magritte took a somewhat different approach to painting. Rather than creating fantasy imagery, he evoked the strangeness and ambiguity latent in reality. "I don't paint visions," he once said. "I describe objects — and the mutual relationship of objects — in such a way that none of our habitual concepts or feelings is necessarily linked with them." * Below, the artist presents a room filled with familiar things, but he gives human proportions to these formerly unassuming props of everyday life, creating a sense of disorientation and incongruity. Inside and out are inverted by his rendering of a skyscraper on the interior walls of the room. The familiar becomes unfamiliar, the normal- strange; Magritte creates a paradoxical world. The objects have specifically lost their social character or functions. *
The comb (and the other objects as well) has specifically lost its 'social character,' it has become an object of useless luxury, which may, as you say, leave the spectator feeling helpless or even make him ill. Well, this is proof of the effectiveness of the picture."

ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM
A new vanguard emerged in the early 1940s, primarily in New York, where a small group of loosely affiliated artists created a stylistically diverse body of work that introduced radical new directions in art—and shifted the art world's focus. Never a formal association, the artists known as "Abstract Expressionists" or "The New York School" did, however, share some common assumptions. Political instability in Europe in the 1930s brought several leading Surrealists to New York, and many of the Abstract Expressionists were profoundly influenced by the style and by its interest in the unconscious. It encouraged their interest in myth and archetypal symbols and it shaped their understanding of painting itself as a struggle between self-expression and the chaos of the unconscious.
Artists such as Jackson Pollock (1912–1956), Willem de Kooning (1904–1997), Franz Kline (1910–1962), Lee Krasner (1908–1984), Robert Motherwell (1915–1991), William Baziotes (1912–1963), Mark Rothko (1903–1970), Barnett Newman (1905–1970), Adolph Gottlieb (1903–1974) and Clyfford Still (1904–1980) advanced audacious formal inventions in a search for significant content. Breaking away from accepted conventions in both technique and subject matter, the artists made monumentally scaled works that stood as reflections of their individual psyches—and in doing so, attempted to tap into universal inner sources. These artists valued spontaneity and improvisation, and they accorded the highest importance to process. Their work resists stylistic categorization, but it can be clustered around two basic inclinations: an emphasis on dynamic, energetic gesture, in contrast to a reflective, cerebral focus on more open fields of color. In either case, the imagery was primarily abstract. Even when depicting images based on visual realities, the Abstract Expressionists favored a highly abstracted mode.
The American painters were uneasy with the overt Freudian symbolism of the European movement, but they were inspired by its interests in the unconscious, as well as its strain of primitivism and preoccupation with mythology. Many were particularly interested in the ideas of the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, who believed that elements of a collective unconscious had been handed down through the ages by means of archetypal symbols - primordial images which had become recurrent motifs.
Many artists attempted to channel into art by means of what André Breton called 'pure psychic automatism', which in practice often meant the involvement of chance in the creation of art. Pollock considered his drip technique to be at least in part a means of harnessing his unconscious.

Mature Abstract Expressionism: Gesture
In 1947, Pollock developed a radical new technique, pouring and dripping thinned paint onto raw canvas laid on the ground (instead of traditional methods of painting in which pigment is applied by brush to primed, stretched canvas positioned on an easel). The paintings were entirely nonobjective. In their subject matter (or seeming lack of one), scale (huge), and technique (no brush, no stretcher bars, no easel), the works were shocking to many viewers. De Kooning, too, was developing his own version of a highly charged, gestural style, alternating between abstract work and powerful iconic figurative images. Other colleagues, including Krasner and Kline, were equally engaged in creating an art of dynamic gesture in which every inch of a picture is fully charged. For Abstract Expressionists, the authenticity or value of a work lay in its directness and immediacy of expression. A painting is meant to be a revelation of the artist's authentic identity. The gesture, the artist's "signature," is evidence of the actual process of the work's creation. It is in reference to this aspect of the work that critic Harold Rosenberg coined the term "action painting" in 1952: "At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act—rather than as a space in which to reproduce, re-design, analyze, or 'express' an object, actual or imagined. What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event."

Mature Abstract Expressionism: Color Field
Another path lay in the expressive potential of color. Rothko, Newman, and Still, for instance, created art based on simplified, large-format, color-dominated fields. The impulse was, in general, reflective and cerebral, with pictorial means simplified in order to create a kind of elemental impact. Rothko and Newman, among others, spoke of a goal to achieve the "sublime" rather than the "beautiful," harkening back to Edmund Burke in a drive for the grand, heroic vision in opposition to a calming or comforting effect. Newman described his reductivism as one means of "… freeing ourselves of the obsolete props of an outmoded and antiquated legend … freeing ourselves from the impediments of memory, association, nostalgia, legend, and myth that have been the devices of Western European painting." For Rothko, his glowing, soft-edged rectangles of luminescent color should provoke in viewers a quasi-religious experience, even eliciting tears. As with Pollock and the others, scale contributed to the meaning. For the time, the works were vast in scale. And they were meant to be seen in relatively close environments, so that the viewer was virtually enveloped by the experience of confronting the work. Rothko said, "I paint big to be intimate." The notion is toward the personal (authentic expression of the individual) rather than the grandiose.

READINGS
Man’s first expression, like his first dream, was an aesthetic one. Speech was a poetic outcry rather than a demand for communication. Original man, shouting his consonants, did so in yells of awe and anger at his tragic state, at his own self-awareness, and at his own helplessness before the void. Philologists and semioticians are beginning to accept the concept that, if language is to be defined as the ability to communicate by means of signs, be they sounds or gestures, then language is an animal power. Anyone who has watched the common pigeon circle his female knows that she knows what he wants.
The human in language is literature, not communication. Man’s first cry was a song. Man’s first address to a neighbor was a cry of power and solemn weakness, not a request for a drink of water. Even the animal makes a futile attempt at poetry. Ornithologists explain the cock’s crow as an ecstatic outburst of his power. The loon gliding lonesome over the lake, with whom is he communicating? The dog, alone, howls at the moon. Are we to say that the first man called the sun and the stars God as an act of communication and only after he had finished his day’s labor? The myth came before the hunt. The purpose of man’s first speech was an address to the unknowable. His behavior had its origin in his artistic nature.
—Barnett Newman, The First Man Was An Artist
#1947
“The failure of European art to achieve the sublime is due to this blind desire to exist inside the reality of sensation (the objective world, whether distorted or pure) and to build art within a framework of pure plasticity (the Greek ideal of beauty, whether that plasticity be a romantic active surface or a classic stable one). In other words, modern art, caught without a sublime content, was incapable of creating a new sublime image and, unable to move away from the Renaissance imagery of figures and objects except by distortion or by denying it completely for an empty world of geometric formalisms - a pure rhetoric of abstract mathematical relationships - became enmeshed in a struggle over the nature of beauty: whether beauty was in nature or could be found without nature. I believe that here in America, some of us, free from the weight of European culture, are finding the answer, by completely denying that art has any concern with the problem of beauty and where to find it. The question that now arises is how, if we are living in a time without a legend or mythos that can be called sublime, if we reuse to admit any exaltation in pure relations, if we refuse to live in the abstract, how can we be creating a sublime art?
We are reasserting man’s natural desire for the exalted, for a concern with our relationship to the absolute emotions. We do not need the obsolete props of an outmoded antiquated legend. We are creating images whose reality is self-evident and which are devoid of the props and crutches that evoke associations with outmoded images, both sublime and beautiful. We are freeing ourselves of the impediments of memory, association, nostalgia, legend, myth, or what have you, that have been devices of Western European painting. Instead of making cathedral out of Christ, man, or ‘life’, we are making them out of ourselves, out of our own feelings. The image we produce is the self-evident one of revelation, real and concrete, that can be understood by anyone who will look at it without the nostalgic glasses of history.” — | Barnett Newman, The Sublime is Now. 1948 |
#Sublime #Abstract Expressionism…...

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