Modern Era(20th Century) Kalene Kennedy


Political Influences:

  • Music, art, and literature were all influenced significantly by the political events that impacted Europe in the middle of the 20th century. For example, the Holocaust, Hiroshima, and World War Two influenced many post-war artists, composers, and writers to put the past in the past and to find more progressive methods.
  • Abstract Expressionism, a subjective emotional expression that emphasizes creative spontaneous acts, merged in America as a result of the chaos in World War Two.
  • Jackson Pollock, a major figure in abstract expressionism, is one artists who directly speaks to the significant events I described above. Pollock was living in New York after WWII and he was very aware of the human irrationality and vulnerability that was taking place.
  • Pollock would put a huge canvas on the floor and suspend cans of paint from the ceiling. The cans of paint would then drip onto the canvas. Pollock did not usually give paintings titles; he usually numbered them in order to separate them from human language and meaning. Below are some of his paintings that represent abstract expressionism.

Jackson Pollock's "No. 5," 1948

Jackson Pollock's "The She-Wolf," 1943

Jackson Pollock's "Portrait and a Dream," 1953

Jackson Pollock's "Number 14," 1951

  • Chance Music, or Aleatory Music, began in the 1950s. In chance music, composers choose pitches, tone colors, and rhythms by random methods. In this type of music, composers might also ask performers to choose the ordering of the musical material or to even choose the material itself. This style of music is the musical form of abstract expressionism.
  • The most famous creator of chance music was John Cage (1912-1992). John Cage also speaks directly to the post-war events that were happening at this time. His piece titled 4'33" requires the performer not to make a sound for 4 minutes and 33 seconds. The "music" in this piece consists of the unintentional sounds that the audience might create during the 4 minutes and 33 seconds.
  • Alfred Schnittke also composed chance music. He composed Concerto Grosso n.1. This piece uses aleatoric techniques, which represents the "chaos" of the 20th century.
  • Literature was also influenced by the war. One important writer of this period that spoke directly to the events mentioned in the beginning was F. Scott Fitzgerald.
  • Fitzgerald is considered to be one of the writers in "The Lost Generation." After the war, he chose to move away to find some creativity. Fitzgerald includes a lot of his own emotions and experiences into his writing. He writes a lot about alcoholism, mental illness and marital issues.
  • F. Scott's Fitzgerald first novel written was This Side of Paradise. It was published in 1920. It is about the story of Amory Blaine a Princeton student who gets involved in "liberal" student activities. He goes through a period of empty flirtations with young women. Blaine finally does fall in love, but the woman rejects him for another man. Below are some famous quotes from the story.
“You'll find another.' God! Banish the thought. Why don't you tell me that 'if the girl had been worth having she'd have waited for you'? No, sir, the girl really worth having won't wait for anybody.”
“It is not life that's complicated, it's the struggle to guide and control life.”
“You're a slave, a bound helpless slave to one thing in this world, your imagination.”
Fitzgerald's first novel. Published in 1920.

Cultural Influences:

  • The European culture was rejected by modern artists and thinkers because it became "too corrupt, complacent, and lethargic." Modern artists and thinkers were influenced by the corruption to explore different options.
  • The modern era was all about being different. Musicians were inspired by the composers that came before them, but they created their own unique sound. The unique sound was made up of a lot of different layers, which was a result of the different instruments and noisemakers of this era. Music changed drastically from the Middle Ages to the Romantic Period. For example, music in the Middle Ages was monophonic, and music in the Romantic Period used some forms from the Classical period, but was made more subjective. The changes made in prior eras all influenced the music of the 20th century in a significant way.
  • Arnold Schoenberg, the founder of musical modernism, was one composer of the 20th century that speaks directly to the cultural influences mentioned above.
  • Schoenberg's music was tonal, but also very chromatic. eventually, he moved away from tonality in order to emphasize the independence of each musical line better. He also moved away from tonality in order to show the importance of each set of intervals in his music. Although this was a new way of perceiving music, it still remained loyal to the fundamental principles of the Classical tradition. Below is his piece, Variations for Orchestra (1926).
  • In the mid-1960s, minimalist music developed. This was an artistic movement that was mainly a reaction against the complexity of serialism and the randomness of chance music.
  • Minimalist music is characterized by steady plus, clear tonality, and insistent repetition of short melodic patterns.
  • One minimalist composer that spoke to this event is Philip Glass. Like other minimalist composers, Glass was influenced by nonwestern thought.
  • Minimalist art is also characterized by its simple forms and clarity.
  • Minimalist composers were respected more by minimalist painters and sculptors than by other composers.
"I gravitated towards artists because they were always more open than musicians, and I liked looking at what they did." -Philip Glass
  • Below are examples of minimalistic art.

Anne Truitt, Peke, 1974

Dan Flavin, White Around the Corner, 1965

Frank Stella, Hyena Stomp, 1962

Donald Judd, Untitled, 1972

Religious Influences:

  • The Modern Era rejected all religious and moral principles. So instead of being influenced by religion and morals, this era rejected them in order to achieve social progress.
  • The artists of this period believed that religion and moral principles hindered their ability to be free and create. Although this era rejected religious and moral principles, it does not mean that they did not believe in God, although some artists were atheists.
  • Although religion was not as prominent in this ear as it was in other eras, some artists, composers, and writers were still religious. One famous artist of the 20th Century is Andy Warhol. Warhol was considered to be a devout Catholic, even though he never expressed his faith in his works, which was always criticized by religious leaders and artists.
  • Andy Warhol is famous for Pop Art. Pop Art was a major movement of the early 1960s. It rejected established expectations about art's aesthetic qualities and need for originality. Pop art also took its subject matter from sources like comic books and advertisements. Its use of commercial techniques eliminated emotional content implied b the artist's individual approach, which had been important to the previous generation of modern painters.
  • Pop art forced people to reconsider art's place and purpose in the world.
  • Since pop art took away art's aesthetically pleasing qualities and originality, critics say that although the pieces may be funny in a way, they are ultimately trivial. Pop art is a sign of deeper cultural and spiritual poverty, according to Gene Edward Veith Jr. in the "State of the Arts."
  • Below are some of Andy Warhol's pieces.
Top Left: "Flowers" 1970. Top Right: "Campbell's Soup Cans" 1962. Bottom Left: "Sewing Machine" 1952. Bottom Right: "Mick Jagger" 1975

The Reaction

  • The Modern Era/20th Century artist and musicians reacted to the artistic styles and viewpoints of the eras that came before them in many ways. For the sake of this project, I will compare the Modern Era/20th Century to the Middle Ages that came before it.

Quick Facts: Middle Ages

  • 450-1450
  • Began around the disintegration of the Roman Empire
  • Time of migrations and wars
  • The later Middle Ages (until about 1450) were a period of cultural growth
  • Romaneque Churches and Monasteries (1000-1150) and Gothic Cathedrals (1150-1450) were constructed, towns grew, and universities were founded.
  • Between 1096 and 1291 a series of wars happened by European Christians to recover Jerusalem from the Muslims.
  • Sharp division of three main social classes: nobility, peasantry, and clergy
  • All segments of society felt the powerful influence of the Roman Catholic church.

How is the Modern Era Different?

  • Medieval lanscape and mind was at the center of musical life, as well as the cathedral. The Modern Era completely moved away from medieval characteristics.
  • The Roman Catholic church was very prominent to the people during this time period, unlike the Modern Era/20th Century.
  • One way to show devotion towards the Church during the Middle Ages was to build grand cathedrals. The Modern Era/20th Century moved away from showing devotion to religious figures, especially the Roman Catholic Church.
  • Most music of this time period was vocal, unlike the Modern Era/20th Century, which utilizes a lot of instruments.
  • For over 1,000 years, the music of the Roman Catholic church has been Gregorian chant, which consists of melody set to sacred Latin texts and sung without accompaniment. The chant is monophonic in texture. This is different from the Modern Era because Gregorian chant is no longer around, and the texture is now polyphonic.
  • Below is a video of Gregorian chant. It is very different than music from the Modern Era.

So, What About the 21st Century?

The art, music, and literature of the Modern Era/20th Century laid the foundation for the 21st Century in many ways.

  • The first years of the 21st century were marked by the rise of a global economy, Third World consumerism, mistrust in government, deepening global concern over terrorism and an increase in the power of private enterprise.
  • In the 20th Century, mass media, telecommunications, and information technology made the world's knowledge more widely available, which laid the foundation for the 21st Century. The 21st Century built off of what the Modern Era/20th Century had started and made further advancements.
  • In 1963, the touch-tone telephone was introduced (The Western Electric 1500 model). It featured 10 push buttons that replace the standard rotary dial. A 12-button model featuring the * and # keys came out soon afterward and replaces the 10-button model. By 2013, Wikipedia believes that about 80% of the world's population used mobile phones.
Left: Western Electric 1500 Model. Right: First iPhone released on June 29, 2007
  • Art, music, and literature in the 21st Century also made further improvements off of the foundation that was built during the Modern Era/20th Century.
  • Art topics that were happening in the late 20th century remain important for the analysis of 21st-century art and visual culture, especially semiotics, post-modernism, and feminism.
  • The main characteristic of music during the 21st Century has been diversity so far. Musicians have also been breaking a lot of "norms" during the 21st Century. Diversity and "breaking the norm" has been built off of the Modern Era/20th Century.
  • In the 20th Century, new techniques of organizing pitch were accompanied by new ways of organizing rhythm. In the 20th Century, there was an increased emphasis on irregularity and unpredictability. Rhythm is one of the most vital elements of 20th Century music. It was used to generate power, drive and excitement. Not much has changed about the power, drive and excitement that rhythm generates in the 21st Century; rhythm is a very important element of the music in the 21st Century.
  • Below is a song from the 20th Century that represents the new technique of using rhythm.
  • Below is an example of a song from the 21st Century that represents the important use of rhythm.
  • Like I mentioned before, writers during the 20th Century included a lot of his or her own personal experiences into the novels he/she wrote. F. Scott Fitzgerald was a good example of a writer who wrote about his personal experiences in his novels in the 20th Century. In the 21st Century, a lot of writers still base his/her work off of personal experiences or hot topics in the world today that seem to impact one person or another.
  • Jodi Picoult, an American author, writes fiction and it often includes some personal experiences or issues that are happening in today's world.
“Isn't it amazing how, when you strip away everything, people are so much alike?”- Jodi Picoult, Nineteen Minutes

Time To Share

Finally, I will share three of the most compelling things I have learned about the modes of artistic expression that took place during the Modern Era/20th Century. I will also include any of the artists, musicians, and/or authors that played a significant development of those arts.

  1. First, I learned that the Modern Era/20th Century was very chaotic and different than the ones that came before it. Artists during this time like Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol were trying to express themselves and their artwork differently than anyone had ever done before. After WWII, people were feeling very lost and vulnerable, Pollock's artwork did a good job at representing the chaos that was happening at that point in time. I really liked Warhol's work because of how different it was. Art has never been a huge interest of mine, so complex art is really hard for me to analyze and appreciate. I like art that is simple and easy to understand. Warhol's art is simple and easy to understand, which is pleasing to me. I know is art might not have much (if any) religious aspect to it, but I still enjoy viewing it.
  2. I learned that music "took a step out of the box" during this time period. Composers during this era did things a lot differently than previous eras.I also learned that some music during this era was simple (minimalist music). I enjoyed how every artist sounded different.
  3. Finally, I learned that the writers during this period "poured their heart and soul into their work." Writers stepped away from just writing about religious things. For example, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote novels about mental illness, alcoholism, and marriage problems, which were all a huge part of his life. I liked how writers during this period included personal experiences in the characters in his/her stories.

Credits & Acknowledgements

Below is a list of all of the resources used for the creation of this page.

  • Moodle resources from HUMA-2003-GN070 Survey of the Arts
  • Kamien, R. (2007). Music: An appreciation, brief edition (6th ed.). Boston: McGraw- Hill.

The End

Thanks for reading :)

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