The Modern Era: Part II

How Art Shapes Our Life

Sal MaccaroneFebruary 1, 2012 

Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism and Surrealism; these were just some of the "isms" which went to define the Modern Era of art. More specifically, the modern era was the result of many cultural movements which each lead to far reaching changes. This was especially true after the turn-of-the-century when the automobile and airplane were beginning to accelerate the pace of human life.

During that time there was an explosion of innovation and creative energy that shook every field of artistic endeavor. Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso in painting, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein in literature, Isadora Duncan in dance, Igor Stravinsky in music, and Frank Lloyd Wright in architecture.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) created his first cubist paintings based on the idea that all things can be reduced down to three simple shapes; a cube, a sphere, and a cone. His painting "Harlequin," which was done in 1909, demonstrates clearly where art was headed at that time. Long term, Picasso devoted all of his energy to his work as he became more daring as time went on. His work also became more colorful and expressive.

While in his eighties he was still producing an incredible amount of artwork. His final works were a mixture of many different styles. Toward the end of his long life he was quoted as saying, "My childhood was spent learning to paint like an adult, and then the rest of my life was spent learning to paint like a child."

American modernists represented a wide range of personal vision. Painters such as Alfred Henry Maurer (1868-1932) used expressive color and muddled definition like many of his contemporaries in Europe. One of his most famous paintings, "An Arrangement," was said to have been completed in a matter of hours so as to impress his father who had sent him to art school. Maurer used the woman next door as a model for the painting which was done on a discarded piece of cardboard. The painting later received first prize at the prestigious 1901 Carnegie International Exhibition.

A little later in the movement, Georgia Totto O'Keeffe (1887-1986) sought inspiration in nature. Her abstract imagery is among the most innovative of any work produced during the modern period. Regarded as an American icon, she also helped to pave the way for women painters in an area of art that had previously been exclusive to men. In the 1920s she revolutionized the traditional way of painting [and looking at] flowers.

During that period her canvases focused on the image of a single blossom, close up, as if seen through a magnifying glass. In 1929 she began working in New Mexico where she focused on subjects that were specific to that area; such as, landscapes, adobe buildings, cultural objects, bones and rocks. She laid such claim to the area of New Mexico where she lived and worked that it is now affectionately known as "O'Keeffe Country."

To browse more of the work at the Georgia O'Keefe museum, visit

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