During the last few decades of the 19th Century and first decade the world had changed more than it had during the previous 100 years or more. The rapid industrialization of the Western world had changed nearly every aspect of most peoples lives. The camera, less than 50 years old, had already begun to develop and the movie camera would not be far behind. Telephone and telegraph lines were beginning to dominate the landscape and with the invention of the electric motor, diesel engine and automobile had begun to shrink the world and these changes had to change the art world as well. The engineers, from civil to construction to eventually software engineers, were changing the way we viewed the world and even the way we viewed reality. Until this period the world had never really gotten over the Greeks obsession with depicting real life images, viewing the real world. While they might have blurred images or painted them slightly out of proportion, we always saw life.
The rapid mechanism of the world led to an artistic fascination with shapes developed into the Modernist period. Modernism is actually a group of related but visually different styles, such as Fauvism, German Expressionism, Constructivism, Cubism, Dadaism and Surrealism. The first Modernist was the French master,Edouard Manet, and the first American Modernist was Theodore Robinson. This period was one of the longest in recent art history, lasting in all more than a century. The style had actually begun to develop, although slowly in the mid 1860′s, or the beginning of the Industrial Age, and did not finally expire until the 1970´s. As new inventions abounded and science delved deeper and deeper into the very nature of reality, the art world developed new experimental forms and media to express some of these new ideas and to suggest even more possibilities. They used the ideas of Darwin, Freud, Watson and Crick, quantum physics, chemistry, all are explored by modernist art. Modernists felt that depicting what you saw was easy. Mere mimicry. But to use intuition instead of intellect when you were trying to understand reality was a different proposition.
The multiplicity of “isms” such as Cubism, Surrealism, Dadaism, Futurism, Fauvism and all the rest was mostly an American phenomenon. Artists from Theodore Robinson (1852-1896) to Abraham Walkowitz (1878-1965), used the porous boundaries between the styles and developed a new era of experimentation. Basically these artists blended philosophy with modern art in an effort to literally get them to explain each other. One American, Alfred Henry Maurer (1868-1932) was responsible for introducing the modernist ideas of Matisse and Picasso to American painters and sculptors. Maurer´s father was an artist as well, a Currier & Ives illustrator, and Maurer committed suicide after his death, guilt wracked over his fathers hatred of the the art that he loved so much.