Visual Art is a broad discipline and it spans across a rich variety of media forms applied to its processes and development. Visual art is a non-verbal form of communication and has been profoundly reflective of history, if only for the artist who had the motivation and the courage to create. Frequently, expressions in art reach a large audience, and whether the audience feels positive or negative towards the work, the art can work as an oracle to shape and provoke cultures, subcultures, and counter cultures and be taken and held as a symbol to simply convey perspective.
While developing the unit, it was helpful to break down the wide world of art into two subcultures, with one being Graphic Art and the other Fine Art. Usually, the distinction between the two is very clear. Graphic arts use imagery and text together in a highly stylistic and (seemingly) controlled and concrete fashion communicating blatant and subtle commands and information, in a layman’s style of visual language with purpose to persuade. Graphic arts serve capitalistic agendas and advertising is the leading and largest industry for graphic artists and designers. Students recognize graphic art for the purpose it serves and unless the product or message within the art is something they dislike or disagree with, they usually don’t react with negative criticism on the artistry of the work. To understand an artist like Andy Warhol and the Pop Art movement, it’s very helpful to present historical background with examples of consumerism that reflect samples of advertising and propaganda influences to help students make sense of Warhol’s artistic intentions.
Fine art is also a persuasive form of communication, although high school students seldom make this connection, generating more inspiration for this unit. The fine artist is typically independent, spending great amounts of time conceptualizing, processing and executing themes contained within their work. Fine art can hold and increase its value over time because of its unique and one of a kind quality. Master pieces can be worked on simultaneously in the studio and can take hours to years to complete. Clearly, teachers don’t have this kind of unlimited time for teaching anything, however, the unit poses the information for students to learn that art work is an evolution where progress is made over the course of time and ideas on subject and arrangement are open, evolve, and change. Students are (generally) very anxious to see results so the unit counters this and ingrained in the lessons are opportunities for developing the understanding from the past while conceptualizing their own final project over a span of time. The processes over time that execute the final piece will be learned through practical experience. Students will be given examples of painting and other 2D forms of expression made by American modern artists who reflected the times they were living in. The unit is designed with lessons that develop technical skills in art and help to assimilate the influences modern culture had on artist, subject and audience reaction. Fine art derives from very personal intention and quite often, can convey very deep and insightful perspective. Paul Cezanne was quoted as saying, “Paintings can be highly calculated, they are idea based.”
The final project will be an assessment for students to develop an idea and express personal perspective in painting.
A synopsis written by the Museum of Modern Art provides insight for ideas, medium and processes that artists practiced. Both quotes impact and explain an appreciation on how to begin to understand the works of art that reflected the many art movements during the 20th century.
“Modern art represents an evolving set of ideas among visual artists, seeking new approaches to art making. Approaches and styles of art were defined and redefined throughout the twentieth century and the development of visual language was original and representative of the time.”
“Modern art is the creative world’s response to the practices and perspectives of the new lives and ideas provided by technological advances of the industrial age that caused contemporary society to manifest itself in new ways compared to the past. Artists worked to represent their experience of the newness of modern life in appropriately innovative ways. Although modern art as a term applies to a vast number of artistic genres spanning more than a century, aesthetically speaking modern art is characterized by the artists intent to portray a subject as it exists in the world, according to his or her own unique perspective and is typified by a rejection of accepted or traditional styles and values.”
The following is a list of the Modern Art Paintings that have been selected to include in this unit.
Both Members of This Club
George Bellows, artist
American, 1882 - 1925 oil on canvas 45 ¼” x 63 3/16”
Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras
Joseph Stella, artist
Oil on canvas
77” x 84 ¾”
Gift of Collection Société Anonyme
Aaron Douglas, artist
Oil on canvas
60” x 60”
Freedom From Want
Norman Rockwell, artist
Oil on canvas
46” x 35 ½ “
Jackson Pollock, artist
Oil on canvas
95 ¼ x 157 1/8
Gift of Seymour H. Knox Jr., 1956
Campbell Soup Cans
Andy Warhol, artist
Oil on canvas
Synthetic polymer paint on 32 canvases, each canvas 20 x 16”
Although Norman Rockwell’s art is not abstract but representational, it was selected because of its contributions that influenced American cultures through its idealistic message, an indelible mark on the American art history time line causing reaction amongst artists, and (indirectly) helped to spark the abstract expressionist movement.
Cultural Influences in the 20
“New needs need new techniques and the modern artists have found new ways and new means of making their statements…the modern painter cannot express this age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the old forms of the Renaissance or of any other past culture.”-Jackson Pollock
To teach students to become (more) appreciative of art, students need to look at subject more deeply. Gathering supplemental references on historical culture from various media gives students information to think about art critically and reminds students to utilize the diverse selection of media they are exposed to enhancing the research process as they develop their ideas on subject and visual content for final projects.
Although there are a seemingly infinite amount of political, social, and economic reasons driving culture, influencing subjects in art, and motivating artists to express perspective, three specific influences are the focus of the unit including technology, mass media and industry and includes material to bridge modern art to artist’s intention.
The Influences that Technology had on George Bellows, Joseph Stella, and Jackson Pollock
As the Industrial Revolution from the previous century continued to grow and dominate, technological advances were being innovated at a rapid rate helping to sustain industry. Our students of the 21
century are so constantly connected to technology that including this influence in the unit is profoundly relevant. Comparing the impact that previous technologies had on people in history to the impact our technologies have on us today makes the content of information more meaningful keeping students engaged in the learning process. Selected examples of technological advances will be presented to students through artist statements, photographs and videos.
Photography, invented in the previous century, was an art form or medium that totally changed the ability to inform, communicate and persuade. Photographs could reveal actual subject by capturing a snap shot of pure realism. It was utilized for private art, for journalism and education purposes and for advertising. Although the photograph clearly represented its subject, it lacked the expressive quality that artists and painters could capture and convey using traditional medium. Painters like
, at the turn of the century, noticed that black and white film was restrictive and emotionally flat. Cameras weren’t capable of conveying the artist’s emotional perspective, about the subject being photographed. Painters could imply mood, tone and feeling through brushstroke technique and color variations, which was further interpreted by the viewer. Motion picture cameras came along at the onset of the 20
century and also held similar restrictions as still cameras and they too only revealed actual qualities of person, place or thing where artists could imply their subject more imaginatively. The inventions of airplanes had an affect on modern art as flying high above ground gave an aerial view to subject, changing an artists physical perspective in relation to the canvas like artist
was able to develop with Action Painting. Leisure and entertainment were enhanced by innovations in neon lights and structural materials like steel and thermite. Coney Island became an enormous draw for people including artist
. Suggested materials to supplement the American cultural component on technological advances include photographs showing aerial views of landscapes including Nagasaki before and after the atom bomb. These can be used to analyze elements within a visual composition like line, shape and space. Nagasaki incorporates another example of the tensions that people were feeling about war, post war and cold war threats precipitating the Abstract Expressionist movement. Photographs by Jacob Riis connect with the actual experience for thousands of immigrant children who lived near the turn of the century in the world that Bellows lived in and the way his style of painting figures captures an aggressively genuine perspective that defined new American Realism.
Two videos were found searching YouTube to surround the students in the intense psychological sensations that a place like Coney Island provided. I plan on projecting the videos accompanied by opposing styles of music that represent the duality of feelings that carnival type atmospheres instilled. Lastly, I found a pertinent quote from Jackson Pollock that speaks of his rationale for his art and his motivation for the style he founded to express his subject. The quote also ties in perfectly with the “need” for new, directly speaking on embracing modern advances in technology.