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Art for Everyone: Impressionism Versus Other 20th-century Art Styles

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Table of contents

  1. Impressionism
  2. Expressionism
  3. Conclusion
  4. References

To understand how modern styles of the late 19th to early 20th century derived from and reacted against Impressionism, we must first look at the characteristics that defined this style.


Impressionism is an artistic style that began in the 1860s in France. The method is recognizable by its depiction of the ‘impression’ of the moment utilizing the shifting of light and color to portray thoughts and emotions. What was thought of as traditional subject matter by the Academies was reduced in importance considering the use of color, tone, and texture. They developed the subject of the painting through the balancing or contrasting of colors which helped to showcase the vast and broken hues caused by sunlight on their subject matter. The content was no longer explicit, but an indistinct, lustrous, and thought-provoking fabrication of their environment.


Fauvism was one of the first artistic styles to emerge at the turn of the century. It’s portrayed using vibrant colors and confident well-defined brushwork. In this manner, fauvism turned away from impressionism. This artistic style, while utilizing the brushwork of Impressionism, attempts to enhance the painting through emotional power and not through the effects of light and color on their subjects. As with Impressionism, the subjects were usually landscapes, pleasant, and enjoyable. Primitivism was explored with direct expression, natural allure, and control of the envisioned theme. Taking inspiration from non-European cultures allowed such exploration of what human nature meant.


Fauvism is linked to Expressionism due to the similarities in brushwork and the use of vibrant colors to shock their viewers. This style veered away from Impressionism in that regard, but also subject matter. They included additions of a ‘primitive’ nature from African, Asian, and Medieval folk art because referencing these styles in their artwork provided a more realistic compulsion. The only similarity between expressionism and impressionism is the artist’s desire to create emotion, either negative or positive, in their viewers.


As with Impressionism, Cubism was not readily accepted in the art world. Cubism was started in the early 20th century and wanted to offer a new perspective that broke even further away from Renaissance artwork. These artists, like Braque and Picasso, wanted to showcase every angle of the whole subject at the same time in a single dimension. They used abstract shapes and angles to compose their pieces, while Impressionism seems to have merely blurred the lines. Cubists challenged the perspective of depth for the viewer to see the canvas as a flat vertical curtain instead of as a window.


Dada started as a protest of art during the First World War because there was no splendor to be found in a violent war. Dadaists used ‘ready-made’ items from illustrations and advertisements to piece together a montage similar to Cubism. Some of these collages were dissident due to what was used to make them. Litter, tickets, candy wrappers, snow shovels, and urinals are a few of the things Dada artists used to piece together their artworks. Similarities between This style and Impressionism include their need to break free of the standards that high society had tried to impose upon them. However, because of the radical nature of the pieces created, they are considered as far removed from Impressionism as it is possible to get.


Surrealism is not a style of reason and balance but draws from fantasy, symbology, and dreams. Where Impressionists brought ideas from the world as they saw it, Surrealists conveyed that true reality was not structured or rational and could only be found in our unconscious minds. Also, unlike Impressionism, Surrealism did not have any single technique that expresses this artwork. Frottage, grattage, and fumage are some of the methods used by some Surrealist artists. Another platform used was the typical oil on canvas, though the subject mattered was always depicting in exact detail a world that corresponds to a hallucinogenic dreamworld.


Art in the 20th century became common for everyone to enjoy and was not meant for only the elite in society. It started to portray deeper meanings and provoke thought. As art is deciphered according to each person’s feelings and personality, various styles will offer various meanings to everyone.


  1. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2019).
  2. Impressionism. In Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from
  3. Harden, M. (n.d.). Mark Harden’s Artchive: ‘Dada and Surrealism. Retrieved March 16, 2019, from
  4. Harris, B., & Zucker, S. (2018). Expressionism, an introduction. Retrieved March 16, 2019, from
  5. Harris, B., & Zucker, S. (2015). Inventing Cubism. Retrieved March 16, 2019, from
  6. Spivey, V. (2015). A beginner’s guide to Fauvism. Retrieved March 15, 2019, from

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