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Artistic Modernism and Art Nouveau Essay

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Updated: May 9th, 2020

Artistic Modernism

It is a well-known fact that social interrelations, political ideologies, and conditions are deeply connected with artistic movements. This also can be applied to Artistic Modernism that emerged in the late 19th century and provoked the shift in the artistic perspectives of the following century. At those times, the technological progress and economic growth gathered momentum, and the rapid changes induced the increase in mass consumption. Modernism can be considered as an opposition to mass culture, and the emphasis of the modernist artwork is on its uniqueness and autonomy.

It was a shared opinion of all the modernists that industrialization contributes to the decline of the handicraft. Therefore, any work made with hands and out of industrial “machine-system” regarded as the superior form of production (Morris 148). Therefore, the development of handicraft and an attempt to move away from the industrialized production are the main features of the Modernist movement.

The anti-capitalist ideas are perfectly reflected in the art of William Morris. Although he admitted that technology and machinery production is, to some extent, important for the provision of better living conditions, they also negatively influence the human labor and cause “degradation of life” (Morris 151). The opposition of mass production to the handmade artistic work can also be regarded as the opposition of the inhuman and soulless to the infinite and spiritual that is comprised of beauty.

The ideological rejection of the industrial development made modernists return to nature and its forms. The artists expressed themselves with the dynamic and well-balanced lines; they refused the sharp and edgy figures in favor of more natural lines. The forms of art objects are flexible and flowing. The furniture made by modernist artists is simple yet functional. The artists strained after elegance and naturalness. The features of flora and fauna are the common subjects represented in the modernist artworks.

The resistance to the ugliness and vulgarity of the industrialization was the ground for the Modernism. The majority of the artists felt indignation in the face of the inevitable changes, social and political as well, and the fast pace of development. The modernists’ propensity to natural forms and colors is an attempt to bring more humanity to production and save something of the traditions that were at risk of vanishing. The modernist artworks are the manifestations of the beauty that is the highest value for all the artists of all times.

Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau is the phenomenon that appeared at the junction of the centuries. It was a long-going process of the creative movements’ transformation from the traditions of the past into an innovative form of art that spoke: “a new, autonomous, artistic language” (Muthesius 74). The plasticity of forms, the floral patterns, and symbolism was common for the majority of the Art Nouveau artists.

They were dedicated to nature and the spiritual origins that were most often expressed in the feminine images. The fact that the male images were almost completely eliminated from the artists’ works proves that the ideas linked to women figures were of the greatest significance for Art Nouveau.

One of the most prominent representatives of the Art Nouveau movement was Alfonse Mucha. The development of the cinema industry invoked the creation of the advertising posters, and those who were executed by Mucha always became a great success. Therefore, Alfonse Mucha was in the head of the Art Nouveau mass production. Nevertheless, even the works that were created for advertisement and a mere drawing public attention by the visual effects were endowed with meanings and references to spirituality and inherent feminine qualities of purity and beauty.

In his famous series “The Four Seasons,” created in 1896, Mucha depicts women as the embodiment of particular states of nature. The image of a woman, therefore, is full of allegoric meaning. In the artistic conception, the seasons of the year possess feminine qualities of lightness, sensuality, and inscrutability. The most feminine quality of nature is its fertility. Autumn is perceived as the time of the harvest that nature nurtures for months, just like a woman who gives birth to children.

The image of Mucha’s “Autumn” is deeply interrelated with the image of a pregnant woman, and the connection between those two is of great significance. According to Art Nouveau symbolism, a female is a medium between natural mysticism and the rational human world. In the shape of a woman, the artist depicts nature itself; therefore, the women in the Art Nouveau artistic works are exclusive of any mundane qualities and can be regarded rather as Orphic and mythological creatures.

The symbolism of the feminine images and their abundance in the Art Nouveau artistry proves that the concepts of nature and mysticism are significant for this artistic movement and constitute its original worldview, distinct from the other movements in art. The women are the embodiments of nature and its ever-changing qualities: softness or severity, warmness or coldness, benevolence or cruelty, etc. The contrast of women to nature, on the other hand, endows them with goddess-like qualities and transfers their human worldliness to the scale of mythology.

Works Cited

Morris, William. The Revival of Handicraft, 1888.

Muthesius, Hermann. The Significance of Applied Art, 1907.

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