Art of specific styles or tendencies can be grouped into “movements,” spanning months, years, or decades. Some art movements have obvious names, such as surrealism or minimalism. Others feature more obscure titles, like Europe’s short-lived Bauhaus movement or the Dada movement of the First World War. Uncovering the history behind a movement’s name can provide a more complete picture of its artwork and artists, forming a deeper understanding of the style.
Art nouveau translates from French to “new art.” This brief art movement was around from 1880 to 1910 in the United States and Europe. The style features sinuous (curving or winding) lines and organic forms, a major break from earlier forms of painting. Austrian painter Gustav Klimt is widely celebrated in this movement. One of his most famous paintings, “The Kiss,” showcases classic art nouveau characteristics, including asymmetrical line work and botanical elements.
The Dada movement, or Dadaism, began in Zurich in the early 20th century and quickly spread throughout other Western cities, from Berlin to New York. It was a direct response to the horrors of World War I, in which artists dismantled their views of traditional art to create satirical or nonsensical works. The term “Dada” was likely coined by writer Hugo Ball at a Zurich nightclub during a meeting for young artists. Legend says that a knife was stuck into a French-German dictionary to choose a name for their artistic experiments. The knife landed on the French word dada, meaning “hobby horse” in English. In this case, they took the term “hobby horse” to mean “a preoccupation or favorite topic.” The unusual word felt like an appropriate choice for their new creations.
If Baroque art and architecture could be summed up in one word, it would probably be “drama.” This highly decorative Western art style spans from the late 16th century through the 18th century. To the untrained eye, it looks very much like Renaissance art, but there’s an overblown theatricality to it. Look at “The Night Watch,” by Rembrandt, or ornate architecture such as Versailles and the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. Baroque is a 15th-century French term that originally meant “irregular,” stemming from the earlier Portuguese word barroco, meaning “imperfect pearl.” There is speculation that barroco came from berruca — a Spanish word for "a wart" — but this unflattering comparison has yet to be proved.
Along with a myriad of other art terms, avant-garde comes from French. Its English translation is “advanced guard,” which was used in a literal, military sense until the 18th century. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the phrase was given a new life, used to describe pioneers and innovators in the arts. Andy Warhol’s pop art and Jackson Pollock’s abstract “drip technique” are some examples of this movement. Today, the term “avant-garde” is often used to describe new, controversial, or experimental ideas in the arts.
Bauhaus was an important fixture of the modern art movement throughout Europe in the 1920s and ‘30s. As a movement within a movement, this style of art originated in Germany. The term Bauhaus translates to “construction house” in English. The German art school, founded by Walter Gropius, garnered so much attention, it eventually transformed into its own distinct movement. This style of art features modern, no-frills designs with bold typography and blocks of color.
Fauvism began in the early 20th century with Henri Matisse and Andre Derain. At an art show in Paris, the duo’s vibrant paintings were displayed together, causing art critic Louis Vauxcelles to exclaim that they must have been created by fauves, meaning “wild beasts” in French. The artists in this movement were subsequently called Fauves. The works are characterized by unnatural colors and bold, abstract tendencies.
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