High Modernism Architecture and Design Term Paper

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As the 1800s came to an end, a group of forward-looking artists, architects and designers broke away from the Victorian constraints and developed a new style that encouraged an interdisciplinary approach fostering a sharing of contemporary thought and ideology until the post-modern period in the 1970s. It was a means for the artists and artisans to express themselves about the world that was quickly becoming increasingly high tech and advanced. The object was to go beyond the status quo and emphasize freedom of expression, progressive concepts and nontraditional methodology. Some of the most influential modernist artists' work included the geometrics of Piet Mondrian, the striking furniture of Gerrit Rietveld and the architecture of Alvar Aalto.

In his book, The New Art -- The New Life, Mondrian, expressed that the world of nature has kept viewers from seeing reality as it exists. Instead, he said, reality lies behind the naturalistic environment. As a result, he refused to paint anything that appeared life-like, realistic, and representational. This led him into an entirely new form of abstraction, only allowing the essence to remain, that was revealed in either horizontal or vertical lines, primary colors of red, yellow, and blue, and the three different tones of white, gray, and black. The style was based, he explained, on a complete harmony of straight lines and pure colors underlying the visible world.

Pieter Cornelis Mondrian, Jr. was born on March 7, 1872, in the Netherlands. After studying art, his first work was naturalistic with landscapes, still-lifes, Dutch impressionism and symbolism. By 1910, after seeing work by Pablo Picasso and George Braque, he began experimenting considerably with the cubist modality. Within a few years, he had started to develop his own personal abstract style, neo-plastic, a translation of nieuwe beelding, which also means "new form" or "new image." To present times, this style makes his works distinct from others.

Some individuals are born with artistic technique. Without having to think about it or take lessons, they automatically have the innate ability to make the canvas come alive with their visual concept. Not so with Mondrian, explains Kutner. Breakthroughs do not always arrive like thunderbolts, even for brilliant artists. He showed few signs of exceptional talent in his youth. Rather he seemed something of a plodder, deeply rooted in the landscape tradition of his native Holland and tethered to the rural society in which he was raised. So, he kept at it. "Experience was my only teacher," Mondrian said. "The artist, born of the past, advances as far as his intuition permits" (Kutner).

According to the article "Painter's Canvas Was Limitless; Follow Your Vision: Mondrian's dedication to his art was no abstraction," much of his success was due to his continual desire to show the harmony of the universe to others. It was a daunting goal, but he never gave up. Instead, he toiled in poverty for decades until hitting on the perfect pictorial language for his vision. As a result, says Alejandro Anreus, an art history professor at William Paterson University in New Jersey, "Mondrian's impact on modern art is extraordinary. He opened up avenues of art that are still being explored today."

Not believing that the Cubists had gone far enough in their approach, Mondrian radically scaled back the colors and shapes in his work. He also rejected creating an illusion of space on the canvas, "as if viewers were looking through a window upon a 3-Dimensional scene," says Rochelle Newman, professor of fine arts at Merrimack College in Mass. Instead, he went the other way, playing up the flatness and opacity of the canvas. One of the reasons for this abstraction, adds Anreus, was as a process of purification from the horrors and devastation of World War I. Since the harmony he so desired was destroyed in the natural world, he wanted to create it on the canvas." His art was a way to transcend the cycle of birth and death.

Gerrit Rietveld, expanded horizons in the field of furniture as Mondrian did in the world of art. In fact, some of his furniture, as the Red Chair, nearly looks as if it were an abstract painting in 3-D practical and usable form. Artist John Berger wrote of this piece of furniture: "The Chair, hand-made, stands there like a chair waiting to be mass-produced: yet in certain ways it is as haunting as a painting by Van Gogh. Why should such an austere piece of furniture have acquired -- at least temporarily for us -- a kind of poignancy?" Today, people easily answer that is because of its ability to transform them back into the modernist times.

Rietveld and Mondrian joined other artists at this time to form the Dutch De Stijl, with a philosophy of 16 principles, a magazine to disseminate their views, and a group of adherents who were artists, architects, writers, and furniture designers. All were united against the excessive ornamentation of Art Nouveau.

The Dutch De Stijl movement envisioned that art and architecture could be reduced to art forms that were simultaneously universal to all, inexpensively made for the public, and yet arranged in a variety of ways to accommodate the desires and preferences of the individual. Philosophically, they hoped to uplift society from the recent past of World War I and improve conventional living through designs that were functional, highly attractive, and constructed with the modern person's lifestyle in mind. From an aesthetic standpoint, this meant that art was not just to be looked at, but instead utilized as an integral aspect of one's environment. Flat geometric planes, bold vertical and horizontal lines, and space coupled with the primary colors of red, blue, and yellow and the shades of grey, black and white transformed Rietveld's furniture as they did Mondrian's paintings.

Reitveld is best known as a furniture designer, but he was also an accomplished architect, notes Overty. The Schroder House, regarded as one of the earliest masterpieces of the modern movement in architecture, was his first building. However, many other residences, public institutions and housing projects followed. Toward the end of his life, he was awarded major public architectural commissions such as the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Rietveld was born in Utrecht and lived there all his life. The son of a cabinetmaker, he started working in his father's shop at the age of 12. He began having ambitions as an artist in his early 20s and attended evening classes in painting, anatomy, clay modeling and drawing. Although he could not be a professional artist due to raising his family, he is nonetheless widely known for his unique pieces of furniture that almost appeared as sculptures. Actually, most people who own his chairs today do not sit in them but display them in their homes as design objects or sculptures

Overty adds that even Rietveld himself sometimes wrote about his furniture as if it were sculpture, although more often he represented it as somewhere between function and symbol. He appeared to have considered his early furniture designs as "experiments" or efforts to invent a new type of form. The Red Blue Chair and others similar so-called "slat furniture," as well as the somewhat later asymmetrical, planar pieces, were clearly first created as exercises in form and then adapted to particular functions. Rietveld admitted, "To me, De Stijl represented a unit of construction and space-defining elements which I considered of prime importance. A practical realization was not always feasible. Function was for me a thing by itself which I never overlooked, it is true, but it did not come into play until the construction and spatial exercises in De Stijl had been completed" (Rietveld catalogue).

Writing at Rietveld in 1964 after his death, the British architect Colin St. John Wilson said that he made "the first chairs, the first light-fittings, table, cupboard, radio-set, desk, flexible walls -- in short the first house and the equipment in it to match the dream of a world in which only the New could be marvelous and desirable." According to Wilson, Rietveld created a "new canon" whose plastic rules "were few and formulated like a set of philosophical propositions about elements and their relations; their aim was to celebrate a faith as much as they were constructive means; they were tools of a positivism claiming mystical insight."

Alvar Aalto was born in 1898 in the village of Kuortane, situated in central Finland. He was the eldest of three children of a middle-class. His father was a surveyor. Over his lifetime, after getting his degree in architecture from the Helsinki University of Technology, he designed 70 buildings in his country. Aalto made his international breakthrough as a furniture designer. Aalto wished to learn "the language of wood fibres" and believed that there is a positive effect when our skin comes into contact with natural materials.

According to Gondo's article about this artist, Aalto as a young man knew he wanted to create something beautiful. However, he liked art and architecture equally. Which should…[continue]

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