Modernism: 30 Movements

In its broadest definition, Modernism is modern thought, character and practise and is used in Art history indicating a period of time- 100 years or so, around the 1850’s to after the first world war. This can be confused with Modernity. The only difference really is that Modernity is more general- something new/modern that changes your lifestyle. Whereas Modernism is more specific to the art history with distinct characteristics.

Modernism was a far reaching ideology applied more or less in all forms of creative expression. The general rule was that function should always dictate form. It acted as though a revolt against the values of realism which represented subject matter truthfully (realistically), basically portraying things very literate. The approach celebrated mankind’s intelligence, creativity and radical thinking.  This is because it introduced new movements within the Arts that effected these principles.

Modern art can not easily be identified unless you truly know your art, this is because there are numerous movements within modernism that each has a different approach on art and different conceptual thinking. A typical modernist view would be “less is more”, however this view does not reflect on all movements within modernism, but more so becomes apparent in comparison to post-modernism.

Below takes you through each movement within the Modernism period providing a short insight to each one.

Impressionism: 1870-1890

  • Was an important and radical development in modern art starting in France and marking the beginning of modern art styles.
  • It was given to be a colourful style of painting in France 19th century.
  • Impressionists searched for an exact analysis of the effects of colour, light and nature- capturing the atmosphere at different times of the day and in different conditions.
  • Therefore, impressionists often worked outdoors and applied paint in small colourful strokes.

Post-Impressionism: 1880-1905

  • These artists tended to be towards the end of the 19th century who rebelled against impressionism and its limitations to develop a range of personal styles that influenced art in the 20th century.
  • It still used vivid colours, thick paints, distinctive strokes and real life subject matter; however, was more inclined to emphasise geometric forms- to distort for expressive effect and use colours that are more unnatural.
  • A good example of this is Vincent Van Gogh.

Van Gogh

Symbolism: 1880- Early 1900’s

  • Was not so much a style of art
  • More an international ideological trend.
  • Symbolists believed art should apprehend more truths which could be only accessed indirectly.
  • They painted scenes from nature, human activities, and all over the world, but did so in a metaphorical and suggestive manner.
  • A good example of this is Viktor Vasnetsov

Viktor Vasnetsov

Pointillism: 1880’s- Late 1890’s

  •  Technique of painting small dots or pure colour in pattern to form the image.
  • Developed in 1886, branching from Impressionism.
  • Relies on eyes and mind to blend colour spots into a range of tones.
  • Focussed more on the specific style of brushwork to apply the paint.
  • A good example of this is George Seurat

George Seurat

Art Nouveau Late 1880’s- 1910

  • Originated in France and translates as “New Art”
  • Is a decorative art form
  • Described by subtle light, feminine figures, dresses, geometric details and colourful new shapes.
  • The turn of century led to new ideas, attempts and innovations
  • Was a new art form- original, artistic and decorative
  • A good example of this is Alphonse Mucha

Alphonse Mucha

Expressionism: 1890-1934

  • Originated in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century.
  • Presents the world solely from a subjective perspective- distorting it radically for emotional effect to evoke a mood or idea.
  • Sought to express meaning or emotional experience.
  • A good example of this is Franz Marc

Franz Marc

Fauvism: 1900-1920

  • First 20th century movement in Modern art
  • Began from a group of French allies
  • Emphasised use of Intense colour as a way of describing light and space.
  • Communicating the artists emotional state.
  • A good example of this is Henri Matisse.

Henri Matisse

Die Brucke: 1905-1913

  • Formed by a German group in Berlin.
  • The group had a major impact on evolution of modern art in the 20th century and the creation of expressionism.
  • Sometimes compared to the Fauves movement above.
  • Both movements share interest in primitivism art
  • Both shared the interest of extreme emotion through high colour- non naturalistic
  • A good example of this is Fritz Bleyl

Cubism: 1902-1915

  • Invented around 1907 in Paris by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque
  • Cubism paintings ignore traditions of perspective drawing and show numerous views of a subject at the same time.
  • Cubists believed that traditions of western art has become exhausted so they drew on expressive energy of art from other cultures, particularly African art.
  • A good example of this is Pablo Picasso.

Pablo Picasso

Futurism: 1909-1914

  • Originated in Italy in the early 20th century
  • Emphasised and glorified themes associated with contemporary concepts of the future- speed, technology, youth.
  • A good example of this is Giacomo Balla
  • Another futurist is F.T Marinetti. Click here to view his Futurist manifesto.


Orphism: 1910-1913

  • Rooted in Cubism but moved towards a pure lyrical abstraction seeing painting as a bringing together of sensational colours.
  • Began with recognisable subjects but radically absorbed by increasingly abstract structures.
  • Aimed to dispense with subject matter and rely on the form and colour the communicate the meaning.
  • A good example of this is Robert Delaunay

Robert Delaunay, Rythme n1, 1939

Suprematism: 1915-1935

  • Founded in Russia
  • Geometric style of abstract painting derived from elements of Cubism and Futurism.
  • Used non-representational forms of abstraction with a greater spiritual power and ability to open mind to “supremacy of pure feeling”.
  • A good example of this is Kasimir Malevich

Kasimir Malevich

Dada: 1916- 1922

  • Literary and artistic movement originated in Europe during World War 1
  • Dadaists aimed to create a form of art which would offend traditionalists everywhere
  • They created work which would provoke, shock or outrage among audiences of the time
  • They didn’t approve of war or anything to do with it
  • They were outraged that European society allowed war to happen.
  • A good example of this is Marcel Duchamp
  • Kurt Schwitters also worked in the dada genre but explored others such as constructivism and Surrealism.

Constructivism: 1917-1934

  • Started in Russia- Soviet Union
  • Wasn’t strictly an art movement but more a trend within the arts
  • Had a great effect on modern art movements of the 20th century, influencing main trends such as Bauhaus and the De Stijl moments
  • Its influence was persistent, impacting on architecture, graphic and industrial design, theatre, film, dance, fashion and some music.
  • A good example of this is El Lissitzky. This artist actually influenced my created typeface.  You can see this here.

De Stijl: 1917-1931

  • Was a Dutch artistic movement
  • To express a new ideal of spiritual harmony and order
  • Pure abstraction
  • Simplified visual compositions to vertical and horizontal directions
  • Used only the primary colours amongst black and white.
  • A good example of this is Theo Van Doesburg

Theo Van Doesburg

Bauhaus: 1919-1933

  • Was a school in Germany that combine crafts and arts rather than having them separately
  • Famous for its publication and approach to design
  • Profound influence in developments of art, architecture, graphic and industrial design and typography
  • A good example of this is Walter Gropius

Walter Gropius

Art Deco: 1920’s-1940’s

  • Influenced all areas of design as well as visual arts
  • At its best, represented elegance, glamour, functionality and modern design
  • Its purpose was to be decorative
  • A good example of this is Tamara De Lempicka

Tamara Lempicka

Surrealism: 1924-1950’s

  • A style in which fantastical visual imagery from the subconscious mind is used, with no intention of making the work logically comprehensible
  • A positive response to Dada negativity
  • Its aim was to liberate artists imagination by tapping into the unconscious mind to discover and “superior” reality
  • Surrealists drew upon the images of dreams, the effect of combining disassociated images and the technique of pure automatism, a spontaneous form of drawing without the conscious control of mind.
  • A good example of this is Max Ernst

Max Ernst

Abstract Expressionism: 1945-1960

  • Group of artists that fled from Europe during World War 2
  • Movement marked by its use of brush strokes and texture
  • Influenced by Surrealism, with its emphasis on spontaneous subconscious creation
  • Artist expressions and emotions in the form of abstract art.
  • A good example of this is Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock

Colour Field Painting: 1947-1960’s

  • Style of abstract painting emerged in New York City
  • Inspired by European Modernism and closely related to abstract expressionism
  • Characterised primarily by large fields of flat solid colour spread over a canvas creating areas of unbroken surface and a flat picture plane.
  • Its colour is freed from objective context and becomes the subject in itself
  • A good example of this is Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko

There is a lot of overlapping with what can be classed as post modern or not according to when you think Postmodernism began, therefore the list continued below can be arguably be classed as Post modern.

Pop Art: 1954-1970

  • Characterised a sense of optimism during the post war consumer boom of the 1950/60’s
  • Coincided with the globalisation of Pop music and youth culture- personified by Elvis and the Beatles
  • It was Brash, colourful, young, fun, and hostile to the artistic establishment
  • Different styles of painting and sculpture from various countries- what they all had in common however was popular culture
  • A good example of this is Andy Warhol

[no title] 1967 by Andy Warhol 1928-1987

Kinetic Art: 1955-1970’s

  • Contains motion for effect
  • Generally powered by wind, motor or the observer
  • Encompasses a wide variety of overlapping techniques and styles
  • A good example of this is Lyman Whitaker

Lyman Whitaker

Hard Edge Painting: 1959-1970’s

  • Abstract style that combines clear composition of geometric abstraction with the intense colour and bold unitary forms of colour field painting.
  • Known for economy of form, fullness of colour, impersonal execution and smooth surface planes
  • A good examples of this is Karl Benjamin

Karl Benjamin

Conceptual Art: 1960’s- 1980’s

  • Marcel Duchamp paved the way for conceptualists
  • Intended to convey a particular idea or concept to an audience
  • Rules of this movement are that the concept takes importance over the aesthetics and materials of the artwork
  • A good example of this is Sol Lewitt

Sol Lewitt

Minimalism: 1960-1975

  • Set out to explore the essence, essentials or identity of a subject through eliminating all non essential forms, features or concepts.
  • Attempt to discover the essence of art by reducing the elements of work to the basic considerations of shape, surface and materials
  • Colour was simply used to define the space or surface
  • A good example of this is either John McCracken or Frank Stella

Frank Stella

Op Art 1964- 1970

  • Optical art in  a abstract style
  • Based on illusion effects of line shape pattern and colour in association with space.
  • Plays with perception of the viewer by subverting the picture with shapes, shifting tones and dynamic relationships.
  • Although static, it generates an illusion of movement with perceptual tricks that create an unstable picture surface.
  • A good example of this is Bridget Riley

Bridget Riley

Land Art: Late 1960’s- Early 21st Century

  • Art movement creation in nature
  • Using materials such as soil, leaves, branches and introduced materials such as metal or concrete
  • A good example of this is Robert Smithson

Robert Smithson

Neo Expressionism: 1970’s-1990’s

  • Portraying recognisable objects such as the human body, in a rough and violent way using vivid colours and banal colour harmonies
  • A good example of this is Georg Baselitz

Georg Baselitz

Performance Art: 1970’s-1980’s- onwards

  • Presented to an audience, scripted, unscripted, random, structured, spontaneous
  • With or without audience participation
  • A good example of this is Alan Able
  • A way of visualising performance art is, when you are walking in town, or the streets and you see people dressed and acting as statues- in a way busking, but doing so through performance art.