Valery Zyuz

A brief history of Western art PART V

From Dadaism to Abstract Expressionism

At the beginning of the 20th century world was shaken by wars and artists continue to provoke art conceptions. There were a lot of different movements starting out simultaneously. Art took a more philosophical approach and the abstract expression became even more detached from reality.

           Dadaism was the first conceptual art movement that raised complicated questions about life and society. It was right after the war, artists felt angry and moved by radical left ideas. It was anti-war and anti-bourgeoisie. They tried to shock and show their disgust with the current situation. Similar to futurism, artists used different and ready-made. Dadaism was trying to provoke, but you can not provoke forever, so it faded away quickly and Surrealism came instead. 


 Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada through the Beer-Belly of the Weimar Republic by Hannah Höch, 1919


           The next movement was inspired by Theosophy. It was a philosophical view of the beginning of the 20th century. Theosophy played a significant role in bringing knowledge of South Asian religions to Western countries. The art movement, Neoplasticism was founded by Piet Mondrian who was deeply inspired by theosophical views. He used basic colors red, blue and yellow. His work was intuitively based on knowledge of balance and cosmic powers. He was looking for universal harmony and spiritual basics. 

“In past times when one lived in contact with nature, abstraction was easy; it was done unconsciously. 

Now in our denaturalized age abstraction becomes an effort.”


Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow by Piet Mondrian, 1930


             From the beginning of the 1920 Magical Realism developed. This style was concentrated in regular everyday moments and combined with fantasy elements to reflect the secret meaning. It was researching emotions but moved from the abstract. One of the most famous magic realists is Frida Kahlo. 

The Two Fridas by Frida Kahlo, 1939

              Organically after magic realism, surrealism developed. It came instead of dadaism and tried to express unconscious thoughts and feelings. It was inspired a lot by Freud and his methods of the free association of trance and dreams. Artists also used psychic automatism, to release the words and images out of the subconscious. It was a very deep and individual style for self-realization. This style left behind the real world and was based on dreams and fantasies alone. 

The Fireside Angel by Max Ernst, 1937


          After the end of WWII America became a new power not only in the political center of the world but also a cultural center. American artists were inspired by surrealism.  They believed in the importance of spontaneous expression and denied themes of modern life. They used an automated method, It is also known as the art of action. One of the most famous artists is Jackson Polak.  

Number 17A by Jackson Pollock, 1948