The Role of the Visual Artist in Society – Modernism

The role of the artist has changed significantly throughout time. Once upon a time, art was used primarily to entertain and decorate; to make a living as an artist was at the hands of a patron, as they would have the control about what was depicted and what was fashionable.

Now, however, in a post modern art world which includes anything from landscape art to still life paintings to installations, sculptures, drawings, and, any other form of art – the role of the artist isn’t set in stone and varies regularly.

George Weissbort – In the Studio: a Break for Pepsi

The Modernist Movement:

But how did we get from a time when art was reserved for only the highest members of society to today when art can be made, appreciated by us all?

In this blog we’re going to take a look at the role of the artist in the Modernist Movement; which of course what incredibly varied.

Social Commentators

Artists throughout time have created paintings that act as a social commentary and can even be a inciter of social change. Many Modernist artists were in fact members of political groups and were inspired by the radical social movements of 1968 – especially in France. Art is a fantastic medium to bring issues to light in society encouraging discussion and conversations – even cross-cultural understanding.

Art for Change


Frida kahlo – Self Portrait 

Pre-modernism, art was more exclusive to the upper classes; it was certainly a luxury to have pieces of art in your home. Modernism was when this began to change; art was created as a revolution; to challenge society and its norm. The art world had been dominated wholly by males; female art was seen more as a past-time and a hobby, until the feminist movement took hold. Female artists such as Mexican Surrealist, Frida Kahlo (above) paved the way to make art more equal.

Entertain, Please & Explore Emotion

Despite the revolution of the Modernist era, art created in that time was not wholly to inspire social change. Art was also created to entertain, please, and, of course, explore emotion – this is particularly the case when looking towards to the Abstract Expressionists. This movement included the experimentation of paint, colour and its emotional properties.

Mark Rothko – Light Red Over BlackThe Tate Gallery

Documenting History

Art has and will always be a way to document history. The modernist movement was full of sub-genres and collectives, because of this, our modern history has been well documented. The beauty of art is that is not only provides realistic representations of what the world looks like, but feelings, emotions and opinions too – it has a power that science certainly does not. Art is a way to explore past cultures.

Conclusion: The Ever-Expanding Role of the Artist

The role of the artist continues to change, grow and expand. It remains an incredibly important part of society. The word ‘artist’ can refer to so many different things from social activist, commentator to graphic designer, illustrator and of course, the traditional painter. Art means many different things to different people; therefore, an artist’s role is just as versatile as the definition of art itself.

About Mark Mitchell

Dealers in 19th-20th Century British and Continental Works of Art
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