THE FOUNDATIONS OF TWENTIETH CENTURY ART: 1.- THE ORIGIN OF THE AVANT-GARDS
In order to understand Twentieth Century Art today, it is necessary to consider two issues: the subject who develops it and the definition of art.
Regarding the creative works, we can consider the subject of that time in two aspects: firstly, because of the need for more accurate definitions, that is to say, an increasing faith in science and reason, and secondly, because it considers formal issues before its content.
As for art, we can provide the following definition: in its external aspect, it is the transformation of matter through the use of a technique in order to represent something, and in its internal aspect, it is the aspiration of presenting us with an idea.
When Maurice Denis established that a picture, before being a depiction of a scene, was a flat surface covered with colors, he was not referring to a definition of a work of art, but to the necessity of studying the work of art according to the principles of his contemporaries, namely based upon rational and ideological principles.
Abstract painting appeared during the same period as cubism and fauvism, but it caused more commotion than these other styles in which one could observe representation, and it was possible to see a certain continuity with the history of figurative painting. This is why expressionism and cubism seemed to have been historically justified. Abstract art did not make reference to any object from reality, and it was not possible to understand a type of art that did not consider the world surrounding us.
But in reality, these three new styles had nothing to do with the history of painting, which had just made a break in the evolution of art, in which the original interest of painting – that of representing reality surrounding us – was abandoned in order to study how that representation was produced through the work of art.
Abstract painting deals with the first of the aspects we included in the definition of a work of art: the matter, and particularly with one of its qualities, the color. Just as its name indicates, it is an abstraction of painting, which does not take into account the other aspects of art: object and technique. Abstract painting focuses on just one aspect, and as any science, it has to focus on one aspect in order to be analyzed without the influence of other qualities, which would alter it, thus making it difficult to identify the particular properties of the color.
We have mentioned that cubism, in some way, seemed to be part of tradition due to its slightly figurative content. But the foundation of this style is still a mystery, until now that we will discover that it deals with the second condition of a work of art: the technique of representation. Representation had been for many years the mere grouping of figures until perspective was discovered during the Renaissance. But at the beginning of the Twentieth Century representation was not a technical difficulty, it was possible to represent anything in any style. Now it was a scientific issue, because now the problem was not how to carry out the representation but to know the elements that make a representation possible: form, elements, and the relative positions of the bodies. Therefore cubism is the study of the techniques of representation.
We include fauvism as part of the expressionist movement because they are closely related (it is not other than the French interpretation of expressionism), and it is necessary to do so because this style, along with The Bridge and The Blue Rider constitute the ways to represent the overcoming of the drama of life through the application of social issues to problematic situations, thus showing us that society provides the answers we are looking for. As it is understood, we are faced with the analysis carried out by the artists from the beginning of the last century of the attitude put forth by the figure depicted in the work of art.
In addition to Hegel’s definition of work of art (idea, matter and figure), we have added the technique, and to the three material conditions needed for the existence of a work of art (matter, technique and representation), it corresponds them precisely three different studies that the artists unconsciously carried out methodically according to the needs of their time: science and society.
The study to achieve this conclusion was carried out by the artists by unconsciously applying the most evident philosophical principles, those principles of reason put forth by Schopenhauer in his work “On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason”. From all of this, what is more evident and simple to understand is that nothing occurs without a cause, and thus we have come to realize the causes of the artistic trends that developed the first avant-gardes, demonstrating that they conform a whole, and explaining the need to develop all of these trends almost simultaneously, since they were analysing the creation of a work of art from a scientific perspective.