Written by the UniSA Art Club
Illustrations by Nikki Sztolc
Members, Eliza Abejo and Tony Cheung, from the UniSA Art Club look back on the art sphere to highlight some iconic art trends and how they progressed through the decades: right down to their origins, motivations, and most influential art figures!
During the postwar era of the 50s, abstract expressionism was the prevailing art trend that encouraged artists to express emotions through abstract art. For Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, this was through action painting and colour field painting, respectively. Action painting involved large, sweeping strokes that may also be described as “attacking” the canvas. For Pollock, this involved laying his canvas on the ground and walking across it, holding a stick dripping with paint in hand. Action painting allowed artists to work intuitively and impulsively by freeing them from the usual delicate brush strokes, encouraging them to think less about the finished results and leave everything up to chance.
On the other hand, colour field painting worked with more restrictions by using only large fields of colours and abstaining from making recognisable figures. Unlike conventional artworks that would usually illustrate a central figure with a supporting background, these paintings’ main protagonists would be the colours themselves. Visually, audiences were impacted by how they were made to stare deep into the emotion conveyed through the space of colours.
In our opinion, both are fun and therapeutic ways to create something new without overthinking… just be prepared to make a mess.
Pop art was a revolution to the traditional “artsy” style of art. With bold and colourful designs, art no longer appealed to the fine ladies and gentleman in art galleries but instead found its way to the ordinary folks too. Pop art drew heavily from popular American culture and was used mainly for commercial advertising purposes with a rise in mass production. Rather than drawing prestigious architectures or gloomy portraits, pop art incorporated everyday objects into the story: soup cans, cola bottles, chocolate bars, and comic strips… you name it!
Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans is one of the most iconic works in pop art stemming from consumer culture; the man mimicked those mass-producing machines through a repetitive silk-screening process (say that one five times fast).
Conceptual art was an exciting theme in the 70s. It certainly opened up the channels of art and welcomed various art forms to take place. The special thing about conceptual art is that… well… anything can be special. The focus is shifted from conveying one’s emotion through painting on a canvas to using whatever medium one desires to show the ideas and thoughts involved with creating the art pieces.
Take Mary Kelly’s Post-Partum Document, for example, a series of documentation detailing Mary’s life as a working mother with her child. It featured up to 139 artefacts, including diary pages, her child’s drawing and even faecal stains on a diaper – all of which Mary considered important milestones in a mother’s journey. Art is no longer about aesthetics but is now a tool for expressing one’s ideas. This goes to show how conceptual art paved the way for many modern arts and designs.
Quickly shifting into a world of personal computers, MTV and cocaine, most artists of the 80s were real quick – according to critic Frederic Jameson – to throw out “grand historical narratives” to make that profit and keep up with the demand (whoo, capitalism!). Needless to say, the art world got real political in response to how everyone’s ideals seemed to change in this postmodern world.
On the one hand, we had neo-conceptualists like Barbara Kruger and Cindy Sherman armed and ready to expose the BS in consumer culture (e.g. using sex to sell) with altered media pieces, taken straight from their experiences in graphic design and film. On the other hand, neo-expressionists Georg Baselitz and Anselm Kiefer were painting distorted versions of iconic people and places to criticise society’s faulty understanding – or ignorance – of the past.
Also, who said art had to be confined to bland canvases and hung up in old galleries for the rich to enjoy? With Americans Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, street art was on the rise, charged by high and low art with colourful graffiti! People could also appreciate art from the streets that paid homage to the everyday people, past and present.
Now with cable TV, mobile phones, and the excellent World Wide Web (*cue Bo Burnham’s Welcome to the Internet*), the 90s started to embrace many art practices and movements from all over the globe! In a way, this time also marked the “end” of art history because art became too complex to exclude anything. They wanted it all, from your traditionally drawn and painted artworks to live performances, films, and interactive installations.
British artist, Damien Hirst, set up a drugstore complete with empty pill bottles in a gallery space, blurring mundane and visual art boundaries. Daniel J. Martinez printed ‘I Can’t Imagine Ever Wanting to Be White’ on admission buttons and had them hung up on a wall. Felix Gonzales-Torres piled candies in a corner to reflect his partner’s struggle with AIDS.
As you can see, despite having an extensive range of mediums, subjects and themes, all of them have an aim to create either a unique, tangible experience for the public, explore a part of their identity, or spark conversations for social change.
Until now, art continuously evolves and adapts to represent new ideas, people, and cultures. However, if we have tried everything, what do you think art movements will look like in the future? A collage of memes? Projected Tik Toks? Framed tweets? In any case, whatever tomorrow has to bring is sure to be something… exciting.
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