Chapter 11: Art in the Machine Age

The Cubist painters Pablo Picasso and George Braques pioneered a revolutionary new style in art.   Influenced by Cezanne’s shifting planes and ambiguous spatial relations, they wanted to break free from the old-fashioned, static way of painting visible reality, and invent a new way of representing experience as unfolding over time and through space.  Rather than representing things as fixed objects in space, the Cubists fragmented three dimensional forms into their two-dimensional components and rearranged them on the canvas.  Objects are no longer seen from a fixed position in time and space, but are rather seen from multiple viewpoints. In this way, Cubism destroyed once and for all the Renaissance conception of the painting as a “window.”

The Cubists also invented a new approach to art called “collage” (French for “paste-up”).  In 1912 Braque and Picasso began pasting bits of paper, news clippings, pieces of oil-cloth, and other elements to their pictures, challenging the distinction between “high art” and everyday life.  

For many 20th century artists, Cubism seemed to be the perfect pictorial language for expressing the essence of the machine age. In Paris, artists such as Robert Delaunay and Fernand Léger used Cubist from, combined with Fauve colors, to create pictures that evoked the fast pace of the modern city, and celebrated the beauty of industry and machines.

Futurism emerged in Italy in 1909 under the charismatic leadership of the poet F.T. Marinetti.  Italian.   The Futurist called for the destruction of all backward-looking institutions (including museums), and they embraced modern technology, war, and revolution as the key to a future revolutionary society.  In their art they embraced Cubism as a means of expressing what they called “dynamism” — the dynamic vitality and energetic speed of modern life.

A fascination with the modern world of industry, technology, and aviation was also the point of departure for the Suprematist and Constructivist movements in Russia. In Holland, the Dutch De Stijl movement was founded by Piet Mondrian, who used a Cubist-inspired vocabulary of simple geometric forms to create a new design aesthetic for the modern age.  Finally, the Bauhaus synethesized these idea in an arts curriculum that had international influence on architecture and design.

Wordpress Lectures
There are several lectures in this unit:

Learning Goals:

Upon completion of this module, you should be able to:

  1. Explain the basic concept of Cubism, and how it incorporates the 4th dimension (time)
  2. Explain how Cubism can be related to “modernization” and the advent of the “machine age”
  3. Explain how Cubist collage challenged accepted ideas of “fine art”
  4. Differentiate between “Analytic” and “Synthetic” Cubism
  5. Explain the basic ideas that informed the Futurist movement, and the principal concerns of Futurist art
  6. Summarize the ideas behind the Suprematist and Constructivist movements in Russia
  7. Describe the characteristic features of Piet Mondrian’s style of painting
  8. Explain what the Bauhaus was, and the ideas that informed Bauhaus architecture and design