Tag Archives: Art

1850 CE – My Modern Art Line In The Sand


The Golden Wall - Hans Hofmann

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.

What is Art?

It is the height of either arrogance, hubris, or ignorance that allows for me to ask this question. I may as well have asked “What is truth?” or “What is beauty?”. It is of even greater arrogance that I intend on answering this question. Although, in my defence, this activity is more to help me define the boundaries in which I hope to work in order to gain at least a passing appreciation of some of the weirder aspects of modern art.  I don’t need for my answer to be correct, only adaptable as new evidence comes in. However, as arrogant as the question may be, it should be asked by anyone looking to understand art.

Note that I don’t use a “shall” here. It’s not a requirement to ask this question in order to enjoy art. It is perfectly acceptable to go into a museum with no knowledge of the various philosophies of art and walk away being satisfied by the experience.

Let me use Édith Piaf as an example (Flash Needed) -


I’m a fan (obviously, as I wouldn’t use her as an example if I didn’t), but I speak French very poorly, to the point that I’ve frustrated several French folks in my attempts to use their beautiful language.  Would me learning French properly allow me to appreciate Mdme. Piaf’s work on a greater scale? Sure.

Is it necessary for me to do so?  No. Sometimes the aesthetics of any given work transcends language, either spoken or painted.

My point is this – I’m choosing to approach art this way. You don’t have to. Neither approach is incorrect.

All of this rationalization is so I can state the following -  Art is a form of communication*. This idea of communication is the most minimal definition of art I can be satisfied with.  Much like Mdme. Piaf’s declarations that she regrets nothing, artists and their works have something to say. This communication has to occur through a medium of some sort or another. Something that message is clear, other times not so much. Sometimes the idea being conveyed is complex, other times simple.

For these series of posts, I will focus on the medium of the painted canvas primarily, although others will be mentioned from time to time, as they did have their influences upon the canvas.  And I expect my definition of what art is will likely change during these exercises.

*Note: Yeah, sure – art is communication. Before you send me a comment or e-mail stating that the dadaists or the surrealists would have scoffed at the definition, note that this is simply my starting point. And by bringing in the Dadaist movement so early in my studies means that your far ahead of where I’m at. Allow me to catch up before critiquing this definition too much.

New Topic: Modern Art

Full Fathom Five - Jackson Pollock

It is time to move off of New York City as a topic for this blog, at least for the time being.  We went, we saw, we drank. It was good. It was very good. But if I’m going to set aside discussions on what makes New York City interesting for me, I need to replace it with something else. The question was what?

The answer came after visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and walking into the Modern and Contemporary Art exhibit. We left feeling as if something was being said, and yet we were unable to understand what was being conveyed. This lead to visible frustration on the part of my friends and myself, and in talking afterwards, it became clear that we simply didn’t have the skill set to even begin to comprehend what was going on. And much like anyone who wants to know, but is continually frustrated in that  goal, we responded with anger.

This is a bias, pure and simple. We hate modern art, because we cannot comprehend it. Because we cannot comprehend it, we dismiss it as childish, with the phrase “my child could do that!” being uttered so often that it has become a cliché.

It was over drinks that we recognized this bias. We admitted that the fault in mis-comprehension may not be with the artist, but with us. As such, it was up to us to learn the “language” enough to come to an educated opinion, rather than a reactionary one. Thus, the new topic for Accidental Hedonist – Modern Art.

This is a big topic, one which may last longer than nine months. A good dollop of art history needs to be covered in order to set up the modernist movement. This is going to require time.

But it sounds like something we need to do. Anyone else want to come along?