What is Cubism? ARTnews Explains the Art Movement – ARTnews.com

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What Was Cubism? Image Credit: Museum of Modern Art, New York. Copyright © 2023 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Being able to make sense of what you were seeing was essential to the artistic template that came out of the Renaissance, and while subsequent developments (Mannerism, the Baroque, Rococo) tested its limits, none abandoned this core idea. This was the case even for 19th-century Impressionism: A Monet haystack, for instance, still resembled a haystack. But Cubism threw the baby out with the bathwater. It collapsed figure and ground into planar configurations occupying the same compositional strata, eliminating the perception of depth. Objects were depicted from different angles simultaneously, often in shifting patterns meant to suggest the movement of the eye over and around a subject. Rather than rendering something from a particular vantage point in static terms, Cubism evoked the kinesthetics of seeing. Post-Impressionism and Cézanne Image Credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Georges Seurat created what was arguably the most stunning innovation in this respect by breaking down color into its optically constituent parts, using small dabs of pigment. Labeled pointillism, Seurat’s technique had a decisive impact on how a painting is read. On close inspection, his subjects seemed to dissolve into a flurry of dots, only to resolve in full once the viewer stepped back, much the way that halftone screens do in mechanical reproduction. While overt evidence of brushwork was a hallmark of Impressionism, Seurat’s methods went much further in loosening the bonds between representation and paint application. Others in Seurat’s cohort followed suit in varying ways, none more radically than Paul Cézanne. If one could compare Seurat’s brush to an atomizer, Cezanne’s was more like a chisel chipping away at a flattened picture plane with sharp, faceted paint strokes veering off in multiple directions. The result was almost abstract, though Cézanne generally framed a scene within a single point of view. Still, one can see the seeds of Cubism in his jagged, overlapping marks. Les Demoiselles d’AvignonPicasso, Braque, and the birth of CubismSynthetic Cubism and BeyondCubism, Orphism, and PurismDe StijlItalian FuturismRussian Cubo-Futurism Image Credit: Tate, London. Copyright © Wyndham Lewis and the estate of Mrs G A Wyndham Lewis by kind permission of the Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust (a registered charity). Another movement that borrowed equally from Cubism and Futurism was Vorticism, which emerged in London at the start of World War I. Its chief instigator was the writer and artist Wyndham Lewis, as was the poet Ezra Pound. Vorticism was a much a literary phenomenon as it was an artistic one, and in both respects, had been formulated to shock the conservative sensibilities of Edwardian England; indeed, the short-lived Vorticist journal, Blast, pretty much laid out its intentions in its title. Aesthetically, Vorticism leaned into a kind of proto- hard-edged abstractionism characterized by centrifugal compositions that mirrored Europe’s descent into the madness of war. In addition to Lewis himself, other Vorticist artists included two foreign sculptors—the American Jacob Epstein and the Frenchman Henri Gaudier-Brzeska—as well as the British painter, David Bromberg. Cubism and Sculpture

Most people have heard of Cubism and probably even have a fair idea of what a Cubist painting looks like. But aside from understanding that it has something to do with modern art, the public has generally underappreciated the extent of Cubism’s revolutionary transformation of the Western tradition in art—which is to say the specific canon that evolved in Europe over a 500-year period starting in the 15th century.

Cubism’s emergence in the early 1900s signaled a seismic break with artistic tenets that had held sway since the revival of Greco-Roman art during the Renaissance. While those conventions had been under assault for much of the 19th century, Cubism delivered the final blow, paving the way for the avant-garde movements that followed.

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