Art has always been one of the most profound and direct mediums of expression, not only from the artist’s point of view but the societies they lived in, their experiences, the political and economic aspects and environments and above all else the expression of their people. Throughout the history, sometimes art has introduced a new way of thinking and a separation from old habits and traditions to define new ways and solutions like the Modern Movement and works of artists like Brancusi Constantin. Sometimes art simply exists because of its beauty and captivating essence like the Water Lilies Paintings by Monet and sometimes art exists as a tool for the artist to cope and sympathize with the emotions and feelings of his audience like one of the greatest art pieces of all time, Guernica by Pablo Picasso.
One of the most impactful periods in the history of art and humanity both in terms of innovation and techniques and impact on trends, taste and the way of living like "less is more” is Modern Movement of the 20th century. We will discuss the history and characteristics of the Modern Movement in more depth in another article but it is important to understand the temperature of the society in the 20th century that led to new concepts and definition of art and it’s then that we can really discuss and understand the work of the great artist, Brancusi Constantin, one of the most influential artists of the 20th century.
As you're reading this article or in fact most articles on blue + beige, you must keep in mind that the goal is not to give a biography of the artist’s life or historical data and information that can easily be found elsewhere on the internet. But the idea and the motive behind this article is to analyze and understand the way of thinking and the vision of Brancusi Constantin that can reveal a lot about the Modernism art but perhaps encourage us to think differently about art in general and the way we see things around us, just like the modern artists of the 20th century who took pride in telling stories of their expressions and experiences rather than providing elementary information about the objects of their affection.
Modernism & Modern Movement
Modern style is often analyzed and categorized as the movement of breaking free from the traditional styles and techniques of the past but Modern Movement was a lot more complex and impactful than just a new way of doing art. The change in taste and approach to art flourished during the time when art was defined and perceived as "fine art" that was only for a few and solely for the purpose of certain groups with certain goals and tasks requested of the artists. It’s fair to say that perhaps there were less chances or options for the artists to choose the objects and the stories they wanted to tell.
Form Follows Function
Modern Movement was a response to the pretentious ideals of what art and architecture used to be and the lack of practicality and functionality in design and architecture. In architecture, the new way of thinking of the Modern Movement was expressed by simple and unadorned buildings free of ornamentations and decorations led by great architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier among many other great pioneers of the Modernism. The Industrial Evolution made it possible to use materials for new methods like the new iron structural members for buildings and the mass production of furniture and architectural elements but also impacted the way art and technology interacted with each other. Principles like "form follows function" and "organic architecture" defined the way in which architecture and design expressed their structure with simple forms and shapes and broke free from ornamentations and the strict symmetry rules and traditions and principles of many centuries. Design became about function and practicality but surely welcoming taste- the perfect balance between these two; the design that “fits for its purpose but yet it is right for the eye” as Phaidon perfectly describes in his book, The Story of Art.
The rules and principles that were adorned for years and years like the perfect "order" from the days of Renaissance were ignored in Modernism styles and techniques in favor of simpler and more honest compositions and buildings which led to a naked and bare display of architecture and art in the eyes of the people against the “outrageous” taste of the modern design. We must note that this degree of change and freedom did not come at no expense as there were a lot of ridicule and hostility against the Modernism principles and the pioneering artists who practiced and led this movement.
Modernism & Art
Now let's see how Modernism developed and shaped a new era for art. The values and innovations that were applied in modern architecture were also found in modern art and sculpture. Modern artists no longer wanted to sit in front of the beautiful nature and paint it to their best abilities. Art was no longer about what the eyes see like the Renaissance days or what the artist knows with Impressionists but rather based on the idea that each person is unique and has a set of beliefs and knowledge that impact what and how they see the world around them, the colors, the shapes and the forms. Just like what we have discussed on blue + beige months ago in the articles like Form Follows Emotion (here) and the psychology of our brain (here). Modern art became neither the truth to nature nor the ideal beauty but a true expression of the artist and perhaps the POV and mindset of his audience.
Form Above Object
One of the most important characteristics of Modern Art is the expressions of objects and items with their true and simple essence. During this time, art was no longer about narrating a certain piece of information on the walls of certain chapels or using art to portray the actual renderings of nature and objects but rather a new era to allow the expression of the artist communicate the objects and their surroundings by showing the essential elements and forms in an abstract and expressional way. It was no longer about giving a true presentation of an object and we can say to some extent that the object did not matter as much to the artist anymore but rather playing with the forms to define the objects in new experiences was the key focus of the art.
Perhaps one of my favorite ways to describe Brancusi Constantin’s art is "extreme simplification" which truly captures the meaning and the simple forms of his sculptors and art pieces and his vision for simplicity and purity in art that was achieved to some extent by letting the materials of his sculptures like stone to be the art but still transforming the materials into something better and meaningful to deliver the message and the story the art had to say.
Playing with forms and defining objects with simple geometric shapes to communicate movement and the ideas and symbols of the objects are key characteristics of Constantin's art. The "peasant" and less impressive appearance of his art is a true representation of his way of living and how he grew up. Looking at his sculptors we can see the non-literal representations of objects with focus on the inner essence and beauty rather than the outer layer and physical appearance. Constantin pioneered a new way of thinking and looking at art and that was to tell a story by abstract concepts and simple forms that suggested the composition of an object rather than realistically rendering them as the eyes see with the exact forms and lines of the exterior physique. Perhaps the symbols and forms we perceive from his art based on our own knowledge and perspectives are the "real" and true representation of the objects in a sense that the forms portray the true sense and inner layouts of objects with enough similarities for the brain to make the connection rather than the surface level characteristics that are only available to the eyes.
Brancusi challenged what art meant to the eye by encouraging his audience to approach art differently and think different about what art meant. However, his principles and vision for art were controversial and at times considered "ridiculous" by the critics of his time. To these critics the craftsmanship and skills of an artist laid in the profound and accurate way of showing the muscles and the exact forms and shapes of an object to render as close as possible to the actual object in real life just like the great artists of the past Michelangelo so for an artist to introduce a new way of thinking and to suggest the body and characteristics of a fish by just a few simple forms and shapes was an innovative idea and concept that was not easily acceptable and understood by the short-vision people of the time.
"What is real is not the external form but the essence of things. It is impossible for anyone to express anything essentially real by imitating its exterior surface."
Editor: Aidin Belganeh
Sources: MoMA Library Online, Phaidon- The Story of Art