Gösta Diehl, Bombed Village, 1950, oil on canvas, 190cm x 260cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Janne Tuominen

Encounters between Art, Humanity and the Modern

Riitta Ojanperä, PhD, Director, Collections Management, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

Also published in Anu Utriainen (ed.), Urban Encounters. Finnish Art in the Twentieth Century. Ateneum Publications Vol. 105. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum 2018, 10–30. Transl. Mike Garner

Without the concepts of modernity, modernism and modernisation, it would be hard to talk about the arts of the 20th century and about their relationship with the reality of their own time. Modernisation, as a societal and social phenomenon from the first decades of the 19th century onwards, meant rapid technological development, industrialisation and urbanisation. As the means of livelihood and the norms regulating communities changed, individual people’s lives and living environments changed, too. Art also changed and particularly rapidly in the early years of the 20th century, when the old societal structures of western countries with monarchies were creaking at the seams.[1]

From the 19th century onwards one of the major ideological and political shifts in European modernisation was the strengthening of the ideal of the nation and the founding of nation states. Technological development went hand in hand with innovations in the sciences and created the potential for unprecedented economic growth. The spiritual and practical ascendancy of ecclesiastical institutions was called into question and rational information offered itself as a basis for modern world views. Individuals appeared to have a new potential to shape their own lives and surroundings through education and new channels of social influence. The option of calling into question and breaking down trade, class and gender boundaries that predetermined people’s lives, if and when they were experienced as a threat to self-determination, has contributed to the modern conception of what it is to be human.

[1] See Hobsbawm, Eric. Äärimmäisyyksien aika. Lyhyt 1900-luku (19141991). Tampere: Osuuskunta Vastapaino 1999 [original English The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914–1991, 1994]. In his brief history of the 20th century Hobsbawm ties the modern and especially the history of avant-garde art into being a fixed part of the century’s historical development.

Featured image: Gösta Diehl, Bombed Village, 1950, oil on canvas, 190cm x 260cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Janne Tuominen

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