The act of making a mark to communicate something to another human seems to have been etched into the very DNA of our species.
For example, helping establish cooperative successful working methods, in the gathering, hunting or trapping of other animals for food, which no doubt helped the survival and dominance of our species.
Imagery, it seems, became the de-facto communication medium before language or the written word evolved in sophistication.
This is an assumption of course, because we cannot be sure that imagery was the all important difference that elevated the human species to dominate this planet.
To date no one has proved otherwise and what positive evidence there was is scratched on the walls by our early ancestors.
The Lions of the Chauvet Caves
Venus of Willendorf, picture of statue, prehistoric art sculpture.
Whatever is the truth, imagery was and still is, the quickest form of communication and the most effective, as far as conveying deeper meanings concerning the complex psychological conditions of a human.
Adopting images to convey spiritual understanding and encourage religious fervour was the strategy embraced by the leaders of organised society, from the ancient civilisations through to our own time.
The legacy of Art is felt world wide and held in high esteem.
Today much of this art is almost worshipped as 'divine' having been 'touched by the hand of God,' as Picasso would have said more loudly than he did, had he not been too aware of the backlash this statement would have caused at the time (in the 20th century).
In the past centuries there was a general acceptance that Art was the cultural reflection of all humanities activities, its belief systems, the questioning of social morality and human interactions.
It is not surprising that Artists would adapt, change or develop their art to public opinion and be employed by almost every nation to instil on the mass population its own specific dogma's. It was not unreasonable for the artists to believe that conveying that dogma was their job.
In the past Art was also relied upon as the path finder for new ways of conveying philosophical 'thinking' about life, death, the after life and existence itself.
Sistine Chapel Ceiling by Michelangelo Buonarroti
Cartoony Mural Depicts Man Obsessing over Facebook Likes
In the 21st century, that is not really the case, as other mediums have superseded static visual art.
Film, videos, television and to some extent, even social media, now fulfils that roll.
By the beginning of the 20th century the Western world had progressed technologically to a point where the future seemed as if all the problems of the previous centuries would be solved.
Machines had mobilised society with efficient transportation systems.
Power (electric and gas) was available at the switch of a button, clean water was piped directly to all citizens homes, new sewage systems cleaned up the environment of the City, improved infrastructures led to vast company profits and the population followed behind it, albeit much slower perhaps, but nonetheless incrementally better off.
Most important, the state acquired a cultural superiority complex, one that they believed provided high global status, one which was the justification for empire building.
Art and artists reflected this complex society with advances in image making and celebrated them by producing work that looked and felt 'modern' as the industrial revolution sped towards its total dominance of the natural world and this incredible change was well before the famous 1900 Paris World fare.
One of the unsung pioneers of the 'post-modern' era was probably Ferdinand Hodler.
His realistic socially aware paintings had already paved the way for the public's acceptance of the 'glare' of colour of the impressionists before they were known outside of Paris.
By the turn of the century in Paris at the world Trade Fair (Paris by then was the art capital of the world) the impressionists were 'the stars of the show.'
They were very well established in the fashionable art galleries of the French capital city. By the 1900's, the camera became a must have accessory of the people, with many artists predicting the end of the need for painting.
Poster of the Exposition Universelle (1900)
Self-portrait of Maurice Denis (1916)
Paul Gauguin was creating his last masterpieces in Haiti, Vincent van Gogh had been dead ten years. Degas eyesight was in decline and Rodin was proving his status as the 'genius' of the new modern sculpture.
And Cezanne? He was just beginning to make his presence felt on the art market as a 'great modern painter' in posh galleries, when in truth he wanted to be in the old Art Museums, just like all the other dead painters.
The art world had witnessed the birth of post impressionism. And christened them 'Fauves' (wild beasts) and it's most intellectual member, of that group, Maurice Denis, had already made that challenging statement in an essay published in 1890...
“...remember that a picture, before being a battle horse, a nude woman or some anecdote, is essentially a flat surface covered with colours arranged in a certain order.”
It appears that many Artists, before 1900, were the cutting edge of a brave new century to come and therefore prepared the way for artists to go forward to open the minds of the population of Europe (or at least the corner of it that they occupied).
“when the means had become so refined, so weakened, that their power of expression had gone, we had to return to the essential principles on which human language was formed.” (wrote Matisse when talking about 'Fauvism' circa 1936).
The military inspired French phrase avant gardé could have been applied to any one of several artists at this early stage of modernism, and what we now could regard as early examples of contemporary painting.
Today, however, we regard Cubism as the real beginning of what typifies 20th century Modernism (Abstraction in painting).
For example, certain names spring to mind the minute the word Cubism is used, namely Cubism's innovators, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, even though neither of them ever referred to themselves as Cubists, nor took part in any of the Cubists exhibitions (before or even after 1911) ....
Guernica by Pablo Picasso