Modernist project  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The modernist project is a term for the artistic and cultural innovations by avant-garde artists, writers and religious thinkers beginning in the 19th century in Europe. See modernism.

In painting, Gustave Courbet began to paint scenes of modern life and autobiography rather than historical narratives. In music Debussy, Ravel and Fauré created Impressionistic, expressive melodies that reflected basic forces of nature and urban life. Several later innovations included such phases as Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, and Cubism, in painting, Serial music, the highly symbolic Modern dance of Martha Graham, and the theatrical spectacles staged by Stravinsky, Diaghilev and Nijinsky. Many of these art works were subversive quasi-political rebellions against the bourgeoisie. Intellectuals took recourse to the burgeoning field of psychology into such movements as Dada and Surrealism, commenting on the insanity of World War I among other crises.

American fine art culture was relatively quiet between World War I and World War II, but with the rise of the Nazis many European modernists fled to the United States, bringing the ideas of the Bauhaus and a dedication to Formalism and abstraction to American campuses and artists. Economic pressures and aspirations also fueled this shift of the art world center from Paris to New York, leading to the American dominance of the field for some decades. However, even as America produced its first generation of art world stars, the increasingly formal and universal aspirations of the modernist avant-garde were showing exhaustion. Pop and Minimal Art critiqued and repudiated certain modernist ideals with an assertion of a new and different aesthetic.

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