If I’m going to look at modern art, there has to be a point in front of the Modernist movement from which I have to start. If I were so motivated, I could go back to the beginning of art history, and we could trace the routes that led to the above picture. But I am not so motivated. I’m going to presume some measure of understanding of art history, and only refer specific artists or works if it’s relevant to the point I’m trying to make. The time between Rembrandt and Hans Hofmann is close to 100 generations. I’m looking for a history that’s more immediate to the result.
To that end, I’m picking a date almost at random to begin this journey – 1850. I could have just as easily chosen 1848 or 1862, or several other dates that are far more relevant for specific moments that occurred in those years, but have chosen 1850 because it lacks such a specific event. I can instead focus on the era in a far more broad context, and then focus on the moments when the world changed with far more precision (when it’s appropriate to do so).
My first order of business? I need to understand what the Western art world looked like in 1850, and figure out why that world was so ready for a change.