Art Foundation of Desert Hot Springs


Definition: “Modernism”

Modernism is a term referencing a wide range of cultural developments from philosophical concepts and social morays to aesthetic styles and artistic movements. The cultural era of Modernism, particularly in the literary forms that it took, are considered to have begun in the late 19th century.

National Congress of Brazil, by Oscar Niemeyer, in the modernist-designed city of Brasília.

The Modernist movements of architecture and music were largely between the turn of the century and World War II.  Much of the most notable Modernist work in the visual arts and some genres of literature and performing arts were actually produced post World War II, although some believe the modernist era ended in 1939. It all depends on who you talk to and what exactly you are talking about.

Luncheon on the Grass (Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe), 1863, characteristically regarded as the beginning of Modern Art. Oil on canvas 82 × 104 in 208.3 × 264.2 cm Source: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain Musée d’Orsay, Paris

There is a great deal of debate over the dates of when the Modernist era began and when it gave way to Post-Modernism, or indeed if it did at all. Depending on the discipline you are  talking about, the timelines may range anywhere from the late 1800’s to the 1960’s and beyond.

For a local, desert timeline of Modernist historical events, see PSModCom’s Desert Modernism Timeline.

Modernist architecture is still as prevalent as ever.  Interior and industrial design, graphic design, and fashion all have heavy modernist influences still coursing through their veins today. On the other hand, modernist literature and music didn’t really catch on so much and had kind of drifted to the fringes by mid century, although the sixties saw a revival of some of that work.

In the academic music world, contemporary styles still reflect much of the sentiment of early modernist composers, as far as the idea of music being free from definition or distinction by would be critics. The actual content of contemporary music compositions are more or less unbound to any particular style or instrumentation, tonal system or standard of notation. It could be said that modernism actually made it’s greatest impact in this field as it managed to open it completely to all forms of experimentation with the generation and processing of sound, and music scholars have probably the most freedom of any of the arts in the academic realm.

Modernism Week Graphic with image of Visitors Center and

Palm Springs “Modernism Week” Event

There are a great number of genres, movements, and scenes that are considered part of the modernist era. To this day stylistically modernist design remains highly popular in many fields and disciplines, such as architecture and interior design. Events like Palm Springs’s Modernism Week are a testament to the enduring popularity of the style and the great efforts now being made to preserve and restore historic modernist  style structures.

Organizations such as LA’s ModCom (Modernism Committee) and it’s Palm Springs offshoot, PSModCom, have been established to campaign for preservation efforts.


Modernist Movements
Die Brücke
Der Blaue Reiter
Die Neue Sachlichkeit
Art Deco
The Harlem Renaissance
Abstract Expressionism
Pop Art
Op Art
Arte Povera
The Sensation Show
You will notice there is an enormously broad range of stylistic variation across all of these movements and scenes. For instance, Art Deco has very little in common with Photorealism, the former being mostly abstract or abstracted forms simplified to a geometric ideal, and the latter being an attempt mimic the function of photographic equipment, capturing every detail exactly as it would in photo, but with paint and canvas.

And take the comparison of Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art for example. The two genres could not be more different. The former being an attempt to capture raw emotion or a momentary mental state by turning the processes of creation into an athletic and raucous activity using large scale canvases and throwing, dripping, or smearing the medium onto it. The latter, on the other hand, is a mimic of mass produced, printed images such as comic books, magazine ads, or product packaging.

How is it such conceptually and technically diverse artistic movements share the umbrella of Modernism? Well, this is because the concept of modernism goes far beyond its mere expression through the arts. Modernism was a breakthrough of cultural evolution brought on by technological advances. It was about leaving the assumptions and standards of the past and forging into new, unexplored territory in every aspect of human existence.

It was different from almost any other cultural movement in that it was not driven by or centered around any particular place, or people, or ideology, or form, or technique, or aesthetic. It was all about doing what had not been done before, or doing things in new and novel ways that disregarded tradition and established measures of quality or value. Modernism was about redefining the bounds of humanity, going beyond what is safe and familiar and seizing the endless potential and possibility that the modern world had to offer.

So, it fits that the movements spawned by the Modernist mindset would be diverse, wildly variant, and even contradictory to one another. They reflect interpretations, reactions and commentaries of various aspects of the modern world, which are also diverse, wildly variant, and often contradictory of each other.



Definition: “Abstract Expressionism”


Also known as the New York School, or “action painting”, Abstract Expressionism is usually characterized by large abstract painted canvases, although the movement also includes sculpture and other media. Abstract Expressionism originated in the 1940s, and became popular in the 1950s.

Artists typically applied paint rapidly, and with force to huge canvases attempting to visualize feelings and emotions. They painted gesturally, non-geometrically, using large brushes or dripping or even throwing paint onto the canvas. The works depend heavily on what appears to be accidental but is actually highly planned. In most works there was no attempt to represent subject matter.

Although some work within this movement was not abstract, and some was not expressive, it overall idea that the spontaneity of the artists’ process would draw from their unconscious creativity. The process and method of expressive painting was considered by some as important as the resulting product.

Artists who painted in this style include:

  • Hans Hoffman (German-American, 1880-1966)
  • Adolph Gottlieb (American, 1903-1974)
  • Mark Rothko (American, 1903-1970)
  • Willem De Kooning (Dutch-American, 1904-1997)
  • Clyfford Still (American, 1904-1980)
  • Barnett Newman (American, 1905-1970)
  • ranz Kline (American, 1910-1962)
  • William Baziotes (American, 1912-1963)
  • Jackson Pollock (American, 1912-1956)
  • Philip Guston (American, 1913-1980)
  • Ad Reinhardt (American, 1913-1967)
  • Robert Motherwell (American, 1915-1991)
  • Sam Francis (American, 1923-1994)
  • Helen Frankenthaler (American, 1928-)






Definition: “Artist Statement”

An Artist Statement is a portion of text, between one paragraph and one page long, that is written by the artist, usually in the the first person.

An artist will have many statements like these for a wide variety purposes.

These are some of the aspects of artist statements and the ways in which they may differ:

  • Scope – the focus of the statement may be

    • the artist’s entire career
    • the artist’s current and recent projects
    • the artist’s past projects or early career
    • a future project for which the artist is seeking funding
    • one particular completed project, piece, or exhibition
    • an organization of which the artist is a part
    • an event in which the artist is involved
    • a campaign or a cause that the artist is supporting
  • Audience – the readers of the statement may be

    • potential buyers, gallery customers
    • gallery owners or curators
    • review boards or show juries
    • public art selection panelist
    • the press, media, marketing, or public relations
    • admissions or other review boards of educational institutions
    • grantmakers or potential sponsors
    • reviewers and critics
    • the general public
  • Context – the statement may be read as

    • the first page of a press kit
    • an attachment to a press release
    • a handout or posted sign at an exhibition
    • as part of a brochure, catalog, ecommerce site, or event program
    • as part of a grant application or project proposal
    • as part of a scholarship or school admission application
    • as part of a donor card or sponsorship deck
  • Length – statements may be

    • just a line or two
    • a full paragraph
    • three short paragraphs
    • a full page


Help Writing  Artist Statements

These are some excellent sources of information on artist statement:

GYST, Artist Statement Guidelines

WikiHow, How to Write an Artist Statement