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Art Movements That Changed the World

In almost every period of history, art has reflected society’s values, beliefs, and aesthetic sensibilities. Apart from this, art has also mirrored the desires of people or rules and norms they broke away from. Several art movements across the world have emerged as a reaction to classical art forms which were characterised by their rigid rules and their extravagance. Newer art movements flouted every convention known to mankind and artistic freedom knew no bounds. These movements have changed the way the world perceives art and is a testament to how beauty is manifest even in the simplest things if one has the eye to spot it. Some of the most popular art movements that shaped the way we perceive and appreciate art are:


Realism: Originating in France in the 1850s, the art created during this period had simple and ‘real’ subjects like goats grazing on pastures, people going about their lives, and so on. There was no extravagance and the colours were often bleak and limited. Realism emerged as a reaction against the Romantic movement which sought to paint exotic and mythological creatures and settings. The French artist Gustave Courbet is considered to be the pioneer of this movement who laid the groundwork a few years before the movement began.

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Impressionism: This movement began in the 1860s in France as a rejection of using history, mythology, and royal figures but rather create ‘impressions’ of images and picturesque settings. These paintings were characterised by looser brushwork to achieve the desired effect of making impressions of the actual person or landscape. The French artists Claude Monet is said to have initiated this movement with his painting ‘Sunrise’ which is featured below.

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Cubism: Popularised after Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, this movement is said to reflect the three-dimensional paintings of Paul Cezanne. Images painted in Cubist style were often fractured into geometric shapes and rearranged to create the actual painting. There is no distinction between the background and the foreground. Cubism emerged as a challenge to the pre-existing ideas of space and beauty.

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Surrealism: Founded between the first and the second World Wars, this movement featured paintings that were ‘anti-art’ and portrayed subjects that were unrealistic and other-worldly. This movement was considered to be a reaction against the principles of rationalism that was the guiding philosophy of European politics and the artists were said to use the imagination in one’s unconscious mind while painting.

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Abstract Art: Also called ‘non-object’ art, this movement is still a popular choice among artists today. Abstract paintings contain all the visual elements normal paintings do but they do not have a recognisable subject or landscape. There are no defined characteristics or aesthetic sense that artists follow while creating abstract paintings. This movement is said to have liberated artists who felt restrained while following all the rules of creating a conventionally beautiful painting as they were given the freedom to express themselves without any inhibitions.

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Pop Art: This movement was founded in the USA around the 1950s and was pioneered by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Keith Haring, among others. The defining characteristics of this movement were that the artwork consisted of identifiable imagery from mass media and popular culture. The subjects of these paintings consisted of everyday utilitarian products like canned soup and characters with dialogues in comic-book fashion. The Pop Art movement was a rejection of the idea the art must feature serious and ‘significant’ subjects like historical figures and events, mythology, among other things.


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Art Nouveau: Popularised across various countries in Europe between 1890 and 1910, this movement was not restricted to paintings alone but extended to architecture as well. Works of the Art Nouveau movement were characterised by the use of organic lines and ‘whiplash’ curves inspired by botany and deep-sea organisms. This movement was also born as a result of artists breaking free of artistic conventions.

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Art Deco: Originated in Paris, this movement was also applied to a variety of visual arts including architecture and jewellery. Art Deco consists of art and craft that consist of geometrical shapes, are streamlined, and are minimal without any extravagance. This movement originated with the idea that art must not be associated only with luxury and opulence but in mass-manufactured products as well.


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Popular art movements have risen out of the need to stray away from the grandeur and extravagance that was associated with art. It tried to make art available and appreciable to people from all walks of life. Art has always been the testament to the wonders that can be created when people collectively choose to reject norms and ideals that have been in place for centuries. And this is precisely why people turn to art during trying times because it has the potential to change the world.

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