Cubism was an avant garde art movement that swept through Europe, revolutionizing painting and sculpture as we know it. Popular in the early Twentieth Century, Cubism is considered by many to be the most influential art movement that occurred during these one hundred years.
Cubist creations broke away from the typical artistic vision of the time that strove to render interpretations of nature and beauty exactly as they were perceived from one viewpoint. Instead, the Cubists analyzed objects, breaking these subjects down into pieces and refashioning them into an abstracted form, thereby depicting the object from a number of viewpoints which granted the subject matter a greater context.
Rather than imitate nature, Cubists created a new reality. Emphasizing a two-dimensional surface of the picture plane they rejected the conventional techniques of modeling, perspective and foreshortening. In this new reality that the Cubists explored, they fragmented objects radically, allowing the audience to see several sides of the subject all at once.
Where Did Cubism Begin?
When Cubism was born, science and technology were exponentially growing, changing lives and revolutionizing the way that people completed tasks throughout the world. Science and technology were creating a new reality for the people of the Twentieth Century, and just as life was no longer reflecting nature as much as it used to, the Cubists reacted accordingly and explored this new universe that was opening up.
This new universe was an ambiguous one for people at the time, and felt complex and uncertain as new inventions were introduced, culture grew more diverse and philosophical speculation began to grow. People used to live static lives, and the art of the time reflected this by imitating nature as it was perceived, but this was not the case anymore. Science and technology were opening the minds of humans, causing them to experience the concepts of space, time and motion in a dynamic manner.
As humans began to open their minds to perspectives that fluctuated, the Cubist movement began. This new concept of shifting perspectives was underscored by the new mathematics of the era and the theory of relativity, both which suggested that we are living in a world of changing perspectives, where objects did in fact appear differently depending on the point of view from which they were seen.
Cubism also arose as cultural interactions between the East and West were beginning to increase, the so-called primitive hemisphere and an industrialized hemisphere. The exchanges between cultures introduced both the East and the West with an incredibly new way of looking at things. What people had taken for granted to be truth was now in flux.
What were the Cubist Artists Trying to Accomplish?
Now the artists of the time were presented with a problem. How shall this new perception of reality be depicted? How will we represent the dynamic nature of time, space and motion? The Cubists sought to address this problem. Rather than defining art as an imitation, the Cubists wanted to change the definition of art to creation. Replacing harmonious proportion and a fixed point of view with distortion and multiple perspectives, the Cubists incorporated references to primitive art into their paintings, defying the adulation of so-called more sophisticated Western art.
This new perspective in art challenged art viewers. Many thought the Cubist paintings had desecrated what they found to be venerable, sacred. However, new perspectives in art tend to clear the path for what will inevitably come. In the case of the rebellious Cubists, what was on its way was the freedom and desire to create, instead of the need to imitate.
“Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2,” by Marcel Duchamp, 1912. In the Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This image is included here under Fair Use practices for the purposes of information and instruction.
“Musical Instruments” by Georges Braque, 1908, Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel, Switzerland. This image is included here under Fair Use practices for the purposes of information and instruction.
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