The Early 20th Century: The Age of Anxiety

Early modernism during the beginning of the 1900s was a time of extreme social reforms by means of pushing the norms of art. The Avant-garde, meaning “advance guard,” was a growing movement by artists that tested the waters of acceptability in art, culture, and politics. Avant-garde music seems to be controversial as the entire purpose of the avant-garde movement was to push boundaries and acceptability, many people speculate whether or not many music composers were filling the requirements. I believe visual artist carried the biggest influences of this time as well as film/theater. Three works by the Avant-garde artists that encapsulate this movement in my opinion would be: Helen Frankenthaler’s Mountains and Sea, 1952, El Lissitzky’s “Proun”s , and Alexander Rodchenko’s “Dobrolet,” 1923.

“Mountains and Sea” by Helen Frankenthaler, an American artist from 1928-2011, is so appealing to me because, for the last couple eras of art prior to early modernism, environment and nature has been significant in paintings. Although abstracts paintings such as this are just that, abstract, and open to individual interpretations, Helen Frankenthaler, by naming it “Mountains and Sea” has made it relevant to comparison.

El Lissitzky, a Russian artist from 1890-1941, had created his own sub genre of 3 dimensional arts on a single canvas, allowing a new way of interpreting art all together, which he called “Proun”. His work is appealing to me because it perfectly defines the goal of the avant-garde movement to break traditional art standards and to create new perspectives and opinions. I also think it is unique how his visual art of 3 dimensions carried over into his later life of architecture.

Alexander Rodchenko, also a Russian artist, from 1891-1956, who illustrated the most war related theme in art of the three artists in discussion. At first glance its easy to see how it would relate to war, as it has the Russian revolution propaganda appearance. At the top of his art piece “Dobrolet” reads “BCEM…BCEM…BCEM…” which is an abbreviation for the Board of Certification in Emergency Medicine.



Helen Frankenthaler’s Mountains and Sea, 1952




One of El Lissitzky’s “Proun”s




Alexander Rodchenko, “Dobrolet,” 1923


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