Contextual Studies 12: Modernist Visions of Society

Write down one thing you remember about each of these artists/movements.

What is the explicit or implicit vision of society?

What is the role of art and the artist within that vision?

1. De Stijl – Theo van Doesburg, Creative Demands, (1922)

Main points from text:

Quotes – slides 12&13

Mondrian was from the De Stijl group and so was Theo Van Doesburg.

This is a diagram of an instillation in Hanover in 1927 by El Lissitsky, one of the De Stijl group and it’s called the ‘Abstract Cabinet’ with a person in it. It’s a room that is like a 3D abstract painting. This is what he means by demonstration rooms. The De Stijl group didn’t just have this, this was in a gallery but they also took these ideas into architecture.

The Schroder house is a house from the De Stijl group with Mondrian as the archetypal artist. It is similar to Mondrian’s work due to geometric shape, use of bold colour and a simple grid like look to it.

Here are some other views of it. In a way it is just like a Mondrian painting, very minimal, simple design of horizontal, vertical, black bold stripe and use of bold colour. The design also went into the interior. The windows opened outwards so that they didn’t break into the space of the room. The structure of the room was flexible, there were sliding walls and the structure could be altered. It was all very minimal and very geometric.


The chair is deigned by Rietveld and is just like a Mondrain painting. All interior is also very minimal and geometric, so all had the idea that art isn’t just about the paintings. The furniture could often be pulled out and put away again with very clean horizontal and vertical planes. These principles go into every aspect of De Stijl art, this pairing down and reducing to essential line of everything.

We have established the true place of colour in architecture and we declare that painting, without architectural construction (that is easel painting) has no further reason for existence. Theo van Doesburg (1924)

So they took it very far, they said if everything around us takes from these principles then why should we take the time to look at paintings. It’s not necessary as our life be a total work of art. This vision of art is something that reaches every aspect of ordinary living.         In the 1920’s the De Stijl group went abroad and really spead their ideas in Arerica and all over Europe. They also had a magazine that they published and was widely dispersed. Their idea was that it should be a universal idea, there is no reason why it shouldn’t be. There are the same principles that go from painting to architecture and to furniture design which is universal means for all aspects. Art becomes life, if your environment is built on those principles then then your actual life becomes an aspect of art because you are surrounded by art. Art becomes life and the artist is not separate from the world as everybody lived in this kind of vision. With the world becoming modernist with a separate kind of art, these are saying that this doesn’t necessary we don’t need that because in our utopian society everything will be art.

In the future, the tangible embodiment of pictorial values will supplant art. Then we shall no longer need paintings, for we shall live in the midst of realised art. As life acquires greater balance, art will disappear. Piet Mondrian, 1924

So they will take all these values of pictures and they will be in the world of art. A very utopian vision of society and of the role of art in peoples lives and well being. De Stijl ideas are modernist at its most utopian and extreme vision of utopia, of perfection and of paradise almost. Very fundamental, they talk about spirituality a lot. They are not talking about orthodox religious society, they are talking about a secular spirituality not to do with church but to do with the world around, the new age.


2 Moholy-Nagy, Constructivism and the Proletariat, (1922)

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy– is in favour of progress and technology, creative arts are the weapons of purpose of human reality and the move forward.

[The creative arts] …are the weapons in the struggle for a new and more purposive human reality

Main points from text:

The twentieth century brought more technology and the machine age, that is at the basis of his vision of society. He says that this machine age is democratic, he goes on to say to be a user of these machines is to be a used of the new century, it has replaced the spiritualism of past eras. So the machine is of this century, he says everyone is now equal, ,I can use it and so can you. There’s tradition in technology, no consciousness of class. He’s saying this new technology doesn’t bring with it a history of tradition of class, it is much more democratic and equal. He’s saying the machine is here we have got to have a consciousness of it as it’s reflecting in our society and in our art, we can’t ignore it it’s happening. He goes on to say that machine and technology isn’t enough on its own, because it is our task to fight for a new spirit which was stamped out by the machine. The well being does not depend on manufactured goods, look around the proletariat isn’t happy today despite of the machine. It is not the answer to all of life’s problems, the machine doesn’t make people happy because of the need for something else. He says material well being is caused by the spirit that is superior to the demand and is a socialism of the mind, very important in his vision of society, as the Bauhaus vision is a collective one of society. The proletariat can be happy in a collective society, which is not just about the machine but the mind as well that can give a feeling of community well being. He say’s who will teach them, words are heavy and obscure, their meaning is evasive to the untrained mind. So  just reading wouldn’t help them but art expresses the meaning of the times it is art that crystallised the art of an age, its mirror and its voice is constructivism. Constructivism was from Russia with the idea that art should be useful and equal, that art was for everybody.  He’s saying that art is crucial in helping people come to terms with this machine age. It’s art that will help them, not reading, not words but art. It can help to develop this new spirit or way of being. He’s saying the good thing about this is that is doesn’t depend on any historic idea of class. It’s without status and for everybody. He says that it is not defined to those traditional forms of art, it expands into industrial design, into houses, objects, forms and it’s the socialism and equality of vision. The common property of all men, being multi disciplinary. Constructivism was a communist movement because it was in Russia after the revolution. What Moholy Nagy is saying is that it’s not particularly communist, it’s more socialist. He’s saying it’s not about one or the other, he’s not extreme left or extreme right. He has very strong social ideals, art must be relevant to people. It s built on a very positive idea of technology, technology that has improved everybody’s life. And that technology is democratic as it doesn’t come from a history of class.

Links with the Bauhaus:

He was associated with the Bauhaus and the text was written in 1922 a year before he joined. The Bauhaus started in 1919 and Moholy joined in 1923. A lot of these ideas are the ones of the Bauhaus. He starts with the word proletariat which means working class person who works with their labour, with their hands for a living.


3. Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, (1911)

Quotes – slides 16&17

4. F.T.Marinetti, Imagination without Strings – Words in Freedom, (1913)

Quotes – slide 27

Critiques of Modernism: Areas of Criticism

  1. Attitude to nature:

Mondrian quote – slide 42

  1. Attitude to gender:

Bauhaus admissions policy – slide 47

Brandt quote – slide 49

Traditional attitude – quote – slide 53

  1. Attitude to technology:



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