Lesson 37: Modernism in Art and Architecture 

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What You Will Learn:

  • Explore All Art Movements and Periods

    You will learn about all the leading art movements and periods, such as primitive art, ancient Greek art, the Renaissance, Romanticism, Impressionism, Modernism, and contemporary art. There is also a lot of attention to non-Western art, such as Islamic Art, Hindu Art, Chinese Art, Oceanic Art and African Art, and the globalization of the art world.

  • All Famous Artists and Their Masterpieces

    The course covers important artists like Sultan Muhammad, Fan Kuan, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Utagawa Hiroshige, Vincent van Gogh, Ilya Repin, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Banksy and many more, and discusses their most influential works.

  • Cultural and Historical Context

    Our courses also focus on the study of the cultural, social, political, and economic contexts in which artworks are created.

  • Various Media and Techniques

    You will explore different art forms and techniques, such as painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, and digital art.

Introduction to this course:


In essence, it’s a bit strange that I am writing and placing a chapter with the title “Modernism in Art and Architecture” at this point because, in reality, almost all art movements from the first half of the 20th century fall under the umbrella term of modernism. The described art movements such as Impressionism, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism, Naïve Art, the Dada movement, Surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism all fall under the category of modernism. Even Conceptual Art, including Land Art, partly falls under modernism. In that sense, the title of this chapter functions as a summary of many different art movements, as you have read. So, where do the similarities lie, and why do I find it necessary to treat modernism separately?

Het Rietveld Schröderhuis  in Utrecht. Gerrit Rietveld ontwierp dit huis in 1924.
Image: The Rietveld Schröder House designed by Gerrit Rietveld (1888-1964) and built in 1924 in a modernist style. The influence of the De Stijl art movement, to which Piet Mondrian also belonged, is clearly visible in the building. It was designed in consultation with the future resident, Mrs. Truus Schröder-Schräder, who lived there until her death in 1985. Gerrit Rietveld and Truus Schröder-Schräder not only collaborated on the design of this house but also had a romantic relationship. ©Ronnie Rokebrand.
Het Rietveld Schröderhuis van de architect Gerrit Rietveld uit 1924
Image: The Rietveld Schröder House is built with clean and simple lines, a sequence of horizontal and vertical planes. The design prominently features many square shapes, with rectangles and sharp lines dominating both the exterior and interior of the building. The colors of the building are primarily white and various shades of gray. Only in a few window frames and vertical support beams do you find the primary colors of yellow, red, and blue. In the interior, Rietveld used primary colors more extensively, though it still maintains a minimalistic and open impression, just as Gerrit Rietveld and Truus Schröder-Schräder intended. Thanks to the use of the same shapes and colors, the exterior and interior form a cohesive whole. In the year 2000, the Rietveld Schröder House was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List as “an important and unique icon of Western architectural history and a masterpiece of human creative genius.” In Rietveld’s body of work, this building holds a key role.
Location: The Rietveld Schröder House by architect Gerrit Rietveld is located at Prins Hendriklaan 50 in the Dutch city of Utrecht. © Ronnie Rokebrand.

Architecture in Our Daily Lives

The reason for this is that painting, sculpture, and other forms of art can be effectively categorized into the mentioned divisions of various art movements. However, this doesn’t apply to architecture. While architecture is the art we encounter in our daily lives, at least when we move within the buildings we live in and the surrounding spaces, houses we live in, offices, factories, and farms where we work, and the stores where we shop are all constructed in accordance with a certain architectural philosophy. You only need to travel from the historic center of an old city to the new business district of a city to observe the differences. Just drive from the 17th-century Amsterdam canal houses to the Amsterdam Zuidas, characterized by modern high-rises. The stark contrast will be apparent to anyone. A more discerning eye will also notice differences between contrasting residential and work environments, differences originating from a specific architectural art movement, often characteristic of a certain period.

Modernism: Innovative and Functional

As previously described, modernism is a term that encompasses many different art movements that differ from each other. They share common ground in that they are innovative art movements that emerged at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, resisting the continuous pursuit and representation of the beauty of objects, as was customary in the first 80 years of the 19th century. The artists who came before them had only one goal: to promote the beauty of things, essentially a quest within art for the ideal of beauty. The new artists did not want to continue down the path of traditional artists but sought to renew the arts, whether in painting, sculpture, literature, music, or architecture. They wanted to represent the new life that emerged after World War I, characterized by industrialization, in their artworks. Architecture followed this line of thought but pursued its own path. Functionalism played a significant role in this. In the works of the modernists, you could sense optimism about a promising future alongside a lot of idealism. Artists sought “the truth” and aimed to improve society. All of this was coupled with the search for originality and authenticity in their artworks and buildings.

Functionalistische huizenblokken uit de periode 1930-1939 in Oslo in Noorwegen
Image: The image depicts several functionalist residential blocks from the period 1930-1939 in the Norwegian capital, Oslo. They are characterized by their functional use, absence of ornamentation, and the use of reinforced concrete. This reinforced concrete contains ribbed steel bars, especially designed to withstand tensile forces.
Location: These functionalist residential blocks are located in the Norwegian capital, Oslo.

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