Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Styles, Schools and Movements: The Essential Encyclopaedic Guide to Modern Art

Modernism, a movement that began during the closing decades of the 19th century, released artists from the academic and classical teachings in which art had been locked for centuries. The various “-isms” and styles that grew out of, or that went against earlier styles, can pose problems for students new to the avant-garde. Styles, Schools and Movements by Amy Dempsey serves to illuminate these different movements of modernism. The author describes the attitudes and mores that served to fuel these movements within the context of their times. The book includes the major proponents as well as the critical reaction to each movement.

The book is arranged according to five broad times periods:

1860-1900, Rise of the Avant-Gardes
1900-1918, Modernisms for a Modern World
1918-1945, Search for a New Order
1945-1965, A New Disorder
1965-Today, Beyond the Avant-Gardes

There are about 20 chapters within each of these sections and very chapter begins with a quotation. To introduce the chapter on Impressionism, the author chooses an 1874 quotation by the critic, Louis Leroy:

"Wall paper in its embryonic state is more finished than that seascape."

The text goes on to inform the reader that when asked for the title of one of his paintings, the artist Claude Monet called it an "Impression, Sunrise." Leroy coined the term Impressionism from this interchange.

The chapters vary in length with the majority being two to three pages. At the end of each entry, text in a shaded box lists key museum collections as well as a short bibliography.

The preface includes a timeline fold-out placing each movement within a bar alongside others of the day. Within the timeline the schools are divided into three categories: Art for the People, Art and Style, and Art and Mind. This overview provides another method of contextualizing the information.

The excellent scholarship and writing of this book make interesting reading, even for those familiar with the art world.

Styles, Schools and Movements: The Essential Encyclopaedic Guide to Modern Art
by Amy Dempsey (Thames & Hudson, 2010).

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