The Early 20th Century: The Age of Anxiety

The Early 20th Century: The Age of Anxiety

The early twentieth century saw many changes taking place. Is it any wonder that it is known as the age of anxiety? The world started to get smaller and smaller as progression was made in technology with the invention of the airplane, television, and radio broadcasting. People and news started to move faster and farther. Within a thirty-nine-year span, the world experienced great technological advances and a major war felt around the globe.

Paramount to these changes was the first modern war. World War I was tagged as the first “modern” war, known as the “Great War.” War at this time moved from the primitive rifles, sabers, and cannons to machine guns, poison gas, and tanks. This modernization brought unprecedented carnage; bringing the death toll to more than 9 million soldiers in four years.

War supporter boasted the war that would end quickly and gloriously. As it dragged on, sentiment gave way to disillusionment. Disillusion bred cynicism. As the artists, poets, and musicians returned from the front they tried to make sense of this new reality.

As Friedrich Nietzsche announced God’s death in the late 19th century, the world started to lose its spiritual center. Without this foundation, there seemed to be no meaning to life. Traditions were in flux and were questioned. In Europe, artists and writers started a protest against everything. They named the protest Dada. In Dadaism, everything was nonsense and absurd.

The Chinese Nightingale
Max Ernst, The Chinese Nightingale, 1920

Take Max Ernst’s The Chinese Nightingale. Ernst, an artillery soldier during the war, created collages of illustrations of artillery with human limbs and various accessories to create nonsensical hybrid creatures. A British bomb comprises the body of the nightingale, while the limbs are composed of the arms of an oriental dancer and her fan acts as a headdress. An eye was added above the bracket to create a bird-like creature. The collage exemplifies the mixed emotions and heightened anxiety that war creates. It conveys a feeling of a loss of reality with everything, as we know it.

Dadaism laid the groundwork for surrealism. Surrealism borrowed from the psychotherapists of the times, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, that in our unconscious state our minds are free from reason. Many artists used fantasy and symbolism as a theme to understand their works within a dreamlike state. Salvador Dali is one of the most well-known of this art form.

Salvador Dali, Shirley Temple, The Youngest, Most Sacred Monster of the Cinema in Her Time, 1939

Dali’s “Shirley Temple, The Youngest, Most Sacred Monster of the Cinema in Her Time” is a sartorial piece on the sexualization of child stars in Hollywood. The use of paint and pictures creates a collage that tells an unflattering story of how children with power can be perceived. There is such destruction surrounding her with the bones of her victims and the bones of the shipwreck in the background.

The use of mixed media creates an air of anxiety and confusion. I am sure that not everyone viewed these pieces as pleasing pieces as they may have of Francois Boucher. Artists were not the only ones feeling and expressing their anxiety during this time. Musicians were pushing the limit to try to define their feelings of anxiety within musical notes. Igor Stravinsky was quite noted for pushing the limit from the tame traditional music for the stage to one that conveyed one’s angst.

His The Rite of Spring was a new piece of music that was unusual for a ballet piece. The accompanying dance was more violent in nature than ballets previous. The emotions with in the audience were divided between traditionalists and modernists. The modernists wanted their theater experience to mimic how they viewed the world. Unconstructed. Violent. Tension filled. These differing views caused a near riot in the premier of The Rite of Spring.

The artists and musicians of the early twentieth century, through the abandonment of tradition, displayed their discontentment with western civilization. They dared to innovate new art that exposed everything that was wrong in society. Exposing things that aren’t so pretty to look at can cause a bit of anxiety.

Sources Cited:

Unknown. History Channel. World War I. Accessed March 24, 2016.

Unknown. The History Guide: Lectures on Twentieth Century Europe. Lecture 8, The Age of Anxiety: Europe in the 1920s (1). Accessed on March 21, 2016.

John MacTaggart. Artyfactory. Dada – Art and Anti Art. Accessed on March 24, 2016.

Amar Toor. 100 years ago today, ‘The Rite of Spring’ incited a riot in a Paris theater. The Verge. May 29, 2013. Accessed on March 24, 2016.

A Shift in Class Brings a Shift in Art

A Shift in Class Brings a Shift in Art

Although we saw a rise in the middle class during the Baroque era, in the beginning of the 18th century monarchies ruled Europe. Their influence shaped the architecture and the art of the Rococo period. Architecture became light and feminine, with curved lines. The art of the period highlighted the frivolous lifestyle of the aristocrats. Many aristocrats pursued leisure as a lifestyle and created a culture of luxury.

Girl Reclining (Louise O’Murphy), Francois Boucher, 1750, France

This was evident in French art of that time. Francois Boucher, a prolific artist of the time, honed his art in Italy before returning to Paris in 1731. Upon his return, his art had tones of mythological influences. The setting of Girl Reclining was a favorite of his. Girl Reclining (Louise O’Murphy) is one of three that I found with different models. The showing of skin was tantalizing, heightening the sense of romantic intrigue. In this piece, one can practically feel the fluffiness of the pillow, the caress of the silk and velvet against the skin.
As the middle classes started to rise in numbers, there began a shift in the middle class. They became more and more aware that the taxes that they paid supported the expensive aristocracy, whom did nothing to contribute to society except to lead a frolicsome life. The middle class soon started to question the rule of monarchy and the dogma of the Catholic Church. They felt that their voice and opinion was equally as important. Individualism started to rear its head. Anything that smelled of aristocracy started to be ridiculed.

John Gay wrote The Beggar’s Opera as a satire to the lifestyle of royal courts. By creating a musical, he ridiculed Italian opera, which was very popular with the royal court. With popular tunes of the times, lyrics were changed to convey his message within the piece. He dramatized the common man without judging their moral lapses. The show was an instant hit, the equivalent of a rock opera today.

Across the Atlantic, the colonist of America started to notice the shift, now known as the Enlightenment, toward individualism and the common man. Art shifted from one of frolicking play and romantic intrigue, to pieces that conveyed moral virtues, patriotism, and Roman ideals.

Who better to convey these newfound principles than the “Father” of the United States of America? Gilbert Stuart, the most prestigious portraitist of his day, painted many portraits of George Washington. The Lansdowne portrait is one of the most iconic of all.

Landsowne portrait
George Washington (Lansdowne portrait), Gilbert Stuart, oil on canvas, 1796

Stuart surrounds Washington with items that convey a Roman setting – red velvet draped on the golden table, the Grecian columns outside the window. While the setting shows wealth, it is not luxurious as in the Rocco period. It is more subdued. Washington’s outstretched hand welcomes one to want to be in his presence.










Works cited:

Stein, Perrin . “François Boucher (1703–1770).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2003) Accessed February 25, 2016.

Harris, Beth and Zucker, Steven. “A Beginners Guide to Rococo Art.” In Monarchy Enlightenment. Khan Academy. Accessed February 22, 2016.

Zucker, E.. Cedars, S.R. ed. “The Beggar’s Opera Study Guide”. GradeSaver, 21 July 2013 Accessed February 25, 2016.

Unknown. “George Washington (Lansdowne portrait) by Gilbert Stuart.” Accessed February 22, 2016