The word “modern” is defined “pertaining to present or recent times”. But what happens when Modern Art is no longer “present” or “recent”? To label the current period of art as Modern Art you should look to the forms and appearances of our modern realm and what art means to artist and the audiences in present time. Modern Art should be and is viewed as a swift and drastic art style with countless deviations.
A different attitude towards art is arising from technology and society’s view of what is even considered art. In times past, artists were hired by only the wealthy and it was used as more of a status symbol by most. Now, art is art. It is acceptable to use art to express ourselves and show our inner feelings. What once might have been considered Abstract or Cubism is now being called Modern. Artists are constantly looking for ways to provide an escape from reality. Abstract, Modern, Pop Art are all nothing new to the art world of course, but it has become more accepted in today’s world.
Paul Klee began a career as a musician, but his soul yearned to let out the painter hiding within. Paul Klee is an artist that did not neglect his artistic calling, and worked hard for many years to find his style.
Paul Klees’s path to artistic recognition was quite a difficult one. His parents prepared him to become an accomplished violinist. Some people made connections between Klee’s musicality and his painting. In fact, as a musician Klee worked reproductively and traditionally, but as a painter he was radical. Legend has it that his grandmother Frick introduced him to pencils and paints. However, he had to pass the age of 25 years old in order to acquire his own style. Until then he maintained himself through music, which was the only job he knew best at that time.
“I only liked what I was not allowed to do, drawing and writing,” wrote Klee in his diaries. At first, his parents were skeptical about his new passion, that of a painter. Moreover, because of uncertainty, Klee joined the art field only by drawing, painting was quite unfamiliar to him. For this reason, he studied assiduously colors and their power over the viewer. Moreover, his lack of exprience contributed to the fact that he was refused to enter the Munich Academy in 1888. The director at the time advised him to get more practice in drawing figures at a private school. This was his next plan to achieve his goal. However, in order to do that he had to overcome the considerable opposition from his parents. In the end, he decided to attend the Knirr’s private school.
During his three years in Munich, he became professiant in the drawing art field and had also taken an interest in the techniques of etching. However, he had no skill in painting. What helped him most in his career was his ability to laern on his own, and studying the Old Masters.
By 1910 he hadn’t had any great success. One or two pictures had been displayed in big exhibitions, and one exhibition in Switzerland with fifty-six pictures. At that moment, Klee could not sustain himself, financially speaking, only by painting. For this reason, he began to study the impressionist’s colors. Tones are those which took his attention. The representation of light helped him in the attempts of understanding the connection between light and darkness.
This resulted in him developing his black watercolors. After working at these problems, he started spending more time on oil painting. He wanted to learn a natural way in terms of colors, though he often turned back to drawing. Moreover, his aim was not the representation of outer reality, but for imagination to give rise to the emergence of the picture from the first laser of the paint applied on canvas. As Klee said: “Art does not reproduce the visible, but makes visibile.” The artist was also inspired in his art by the customs he had in his childhood. When he was nine, he would trace with his fingers the patterns on the marble tables in his uncle’s restaurant until he could recognize shapes and figures. The 1911 earned Klee many acquaintances in the field, including the artist Wassily Kandinsky.
In the same year, after an exhibition with the modern artists, in which he didn’t participate, Klee expressed his support to ‘primitive art’: “There are indeed very early form of art around more likely to be found in ethnological museums and at home in the nursery, for children can paint this as well. The more helpless these children are, the more educative their art is, for even at this stage, there is corruption – when children start to absorb, or even imitate, developed works of art.” Thus, supporting the idea that a true artist is the one who settles on canvas what he feels in his soul and not after he succumbs to the ideas proposed by artists past and that the pure art is that of children, who are not yet corrupted by studying art.
În 1912, Klee found his way to the abstract paining, and started studying the problem of simultaneous contrast. He was also inspirited by Robert Delaunay’s essay “On Light.” However, at this time, Klee failed in creating what he thought naturally and spontaneously were in art. We may say that although in 1912, he already had several exhibitions, Klee was still not proud of the level that had he been achieved, and he was his own worst critic. Only in 1914, Klee could reveal on canvas what he already had in his mind, but could not explain through colors.
The trip to Tunisia was a turning point, and the moment when Klee could express freely as he wanted. It was as if he had a picture image in his mind but wouldn’t be unable to spread it on canvas. He himself felt this to be so when he wrote in his diary: “Color possesses me. It will always possess me. This is the meaning of this happy hour: color and I are one. I am a painter.” The painting “Mazzaro” was the success of his struggles that he was talking about. Now at last, he was convinced that his experiments with colors had led the way to true art form he always wanted to create.
Now in its fourth season, the hit ad agency drama Mad Men has us going gaga over more than clean typography and innovative plot. Set in the 1960s, the drama focuses on issues not only realistic to the period but also mad modernists and stylish furniture. The 1960s mark Kennedy’s assassination, Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights activism, second-wave feminism, and the Vietnam War. However, the decade foretold more than political upheaval—a dynamic change in the art world.
Modernism in the 1960s
From New Realism, Conceptual, Post-Minimalism to the beginnings of Postmodernism, experimental art forms (such as Pop Art) drew greater public attention to artistic expression. Challenged by Pop Art, abstract expressionism underwent expansion in terms of possibilities artists had available to create art. Such artists as Frank Stella, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, and Jackson Pollock. These innovative artists probably never imagined that four decades later their artwork would star on Mad Men, with some pieces being central to the plot. A Rothko piece seemed to have its own debut character role in season two.
Rothko: “Smudgy squares, huh. Interesting.”
In episode seven of season two, we are introduced to Rothko inside Cooper’s office. See for yourself.
Looking back, we would think that $10,000 is a deal for a Rothko when collector David Rockefeller purchased White Center in 1960 for less than that and sold the painting at Sotheby’s for $72.8 million. This sale still holds the auction record as the highest purchase for a contemporary painting. Was this part of the inspiration for the plot? Maybe.
Regardless of what influenced the plot, Mad Men has certainly inspired modern popular culture. Though Rothko has been a popular choice in the past, those “smudgy squares” of his are seeing an even greater surge of popularity across the world. Television today has an action-packed, sex sells quota to fill every month. An episode with a Rothko as a central “character,” wherein our characters engage in a brief aesthetic conversation about whether art should be decorative (“smudgy squares”) or mean something, does not hurt the general audience to see, especially when done in style. What do you think those “smudgy squares” mean? What was Rothko thinking?
Rothko, in part, was thinking about his children—his works of art. When Jean Kennedy (the President’s younger sister) tried to “take home” just one or two of those paintings, Rothko refused. To Rothko, art did not mean where something fit in on the wall. Cooper’s Rothko of choice, with a haunting red hue, is meant to do more than fit in. Every person who walks in that office must stop and get lost in it. It’s not about fashion, is it?
Turning the Wheels of Fashion
If you take a look at Don Draper’s office and flip through a few furniture catalogs, you could theorize that it is still about fashion. Ikea released a furniture piece in 2009 (top) by Bauhaus designer Franz Ehrlich. Where functionality meets form, the piece was designed in 1956 and released by its original manufacturer in 1963. Don Draper’s office (bottom) also underwent a charity auction on eBay last August. The public is going mad over the sixties thanks in major part to the drama.
In an age where our culture of consumerism is dealing with equality and freedom in gender, going green, love, and wars on terrorism and genocide, it’s no wonder a sixties drama featuring characters who work an ad agency has become a hit TV series. Mad Men runs the gamut of popular culture, from issues to style by turning the wheels of fashion and defining art as something more than “smudgy squares.” What do you get out of Mad Men?