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Relationship Between the Changes in Society and Art of the Early Twentieth-century

Title of Assignment: “On or about December 1910, human character changed.” Virginia Woolf’s quote from her essay ‘Character in Fiction’ has often been used to signify the arrival of modernism in art and literature. Using all that you have studied throughout the course, discuss the relationship between the changes in society and art of the early twentieth-century, with particular reference to the division of high and low art.

It is beyond question that the changes in society in the twentieth century had profound effects on art and literature. This relationship between the cutting edge and the innovative development period of modern art and literature brought about a cultural movement called modernism which changed art, literature, music, architecture and drama. Modernists radically rejected tradition of the twentieth century. Also, there was a belief that science and technology could change the world for the better. (Wikipedia, 2019) Alternatively, I will also be examining the relationship between the changes in society and art in relation to the dichotomy of high and low art in the twentieth-century which reflected Theodore Adorno’s theories on the Culture Industry and Virginia Woolf’s attitudes to the modern age.
On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the armistice of the Great War of 1918 marked a new age for all things new and modern. When previously the Russian Revolution of 1917 brought an anarchy in Russia with the royal monarchy crumbling at the feet of Tsar Nicholas II. In Russia, society seemed to change significantly as Karl Marx encouraged the spark of the political movements to overthrow the capitalist and autocratic government with the belief in a deity collapsing as the movement of modernism promised a utopian world for the lost souls of the past. Suggesting that ‘On or about December 1910. Human character changed’ as society became more fragmented with religious and moral ideologies breaking down. This quote seems to welcome the arrival of modernism as a tune ringing in the ears of the lost souls searching for something new, something modern. Social change may refer to the notion of sociocultural evolution such as social movements like the Women’s Suffrage or the Civil rights movement. The twentieth century witnessed drastic movements towards the changes in the sexes, to the changes in avant-garde art and literature. However the division between the highbrows and lowbrows caused for many to believe that class has become a euphemism race. (, 2019) Highbrows, middlebrows and lowbrows are not a social hierarchy but a framework in which culture is divided by its artistic merit. Highbrow is that of high artistic merit which is available only to be educated whilst lowbrow is mass culture such as Charlie Chaplin, Middlebrow culture formed when the middle-classes began to become better educated and wealthier and aspired to be highbrow. Therefore, the division of high and low art was evident in twentieth century society as there was a dichotomy amongst art and its consumers as modernism in art is considered to be ‘highbrow’ because these types of people were intellectually capable and artistically challenging but lowbrow art was produced for the masses for their entertainment. However, the high and low art had a grey area of middle brow art which was made for people who were seen to be fashionable and culturally literate. This shows that the relationship between the changes in art and in society was drastically different as art and culture was sectioned into a sociocultural hierarchy as not all forms of art was available to the masses such as high art.
Hence, Modernism was considered to be highbrow as it is an umbrella term retrospectively applied to art, literature, and philosophy of experimental and avant-garde nature of the early 20th century whereas modernity is the historical and technological changes at the start of the 20th century. Consequently, modernity was at the centre of all the changes in society and in art. This is because modernity brought about an modern era that focused on changing the social, technological, cultural and political evolution of society as well as paramount historical events such as The Great War from 1916-18, the 1928 female vote as well as the mass production of TV’s in 1926, Cinema Talkies in 1928 and the Penguin Paperbacks in 1935 which brought new technological advancements, economic prosperity and enabled entertainment for the masses with this modern era came an increase in urbanisation, literature and art as well as capitalism. This significant change in art and literature became rounded with a distinctive slogan well known as ‘Make It New!’ by Ezra Pond suggests that modernist artists wanted to create new, authentic art with meaning that reflected the drastic changes society and art was emerging through in the 20th century. The use of the word ‘New’ suggests that that modernism was all about using a new way to eradicate old traditions as the phrase ‘Make It New!’ alone becomes the driving force of replacing old cultures, old arts and old literature with new cultures, literature and arts. This means that the relationship between the changes in art was clearly reflected in society due to the exceptional works of many influential iconoclastic thinkers such as Virginia Woolf and Theodor Adorno questioned the dichotomies of art and society which influence the way we live. From the Adorno’s necessity for rethinking his theory of mass culture to Virginia Woolf’s psychodynamic approach to the stream of consciousness brought about a new era of social change that reflected the changes in nature, social institutions, social behaviours, or social relations. (, 2019)
Furthermore, Theodor Adorno’s theories on the culture industry reflected the immense changes in art, culture and society. Adorno argues that the modern world has fallen into the hands of an omnipresent and deeply malevolent entertainment machine which he called The Culture Industry as the modern films, TV, radio magazines replaced the void of religion to keep society distracted from understanding themselves and the political reality. This means that through the new developments of technology, art were now widely accessible to the masses. For example, In Russia in 1960-1964 Soviet televisions was widely successful in supporting the regime as in 1961 million of viewers watched a five-hour programme celebrating Yuri Gagarin’s space flight. This shows that all forms of arts changed during the twentieth-century as innovative movements of science and technology welcomed a new modern era across all nations. Theodor Adorno highlights that the period of The Culture Industry was the change that society and art needed to go through. This is because the new innovative developments helped to liberate the masses in society to gain access to the movements in art and culture and were previously unavailable to many in the past.
Consequently, the relationship between art and society eventually did change as during the time period of December 1910, a modernist writer named Virginia Woolf saw the arrival of modernism as ‘that a rose had flowered or a hen had laid an egg. Suggesting that the birth of modernism or the modern age was inevitable as society need to change and must adopt the new era of extraordinary developments in urbanism, technology, warfare, consumerism, and family life. (YouTube, 2019)Virginia Woolf used her literature to capture the extraordinary movement’s society and literature in the twentieth century. Virginia Woolf observed the changes in society and argued that ‘the charm of modern London is that it isn’t built to last—it is built to pass’ (YouTube, 2019) This implies that the modern era was like a fantasy and that which if society did not value this sociocultural change then society will go back to the ways things were in the past. This is because Virginia Woolf took a different approach to her own interpretation of modernism in society. As Virginia Woolf indulged herself into thinking beyond the reality but she dwelled on a character’s thought process in many of her inspiring essays and books. This is evident in one of her essays called Mrs Dalloway when she uses the stream of consciousness to portray Mrs Dalloway’s thought process as she writes in first person with ‘I am this, and I am that’. This shows that Virginia Woolf wanted to modernise literature and shift the reader’s thought process as the stream of consciousness is a narrative device that allows the reader to step into the shoes and minds of the characters. This unique and modern style of writing marked a new age for literature and changed the way society viewed literature from Charles Dickens in the ninetieth-century who often fantasied over food, clothes and welfare to Virginia Woolf in the twentieth-century focusing the reader’s attention on the psychological aspect of our minds and the way people think and interpret the world.
Therefore, to conclude the relationship between the changes in society and art of the early twentieth-century changed drastically. This is because in early twentieth century the belief that ‘God is Dead’ by Nietzsche allowed society to look towards a new form of hope and inspiration which allowed the roots of modernism grow out of moral, religious and philosophical traditions that seemed to trap modern ideas and movements. With the influential works of Virginia Woolf, Theodor Adorno, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell all helped to shape society and art to a new era of modernism. Therefore, it can be argued that the relationship between the changes in society and art and the division of high and low art was a stepping stone to the departure of modernism (, 2019) and the arrival of post-modernism which is seen in the twentieth century to fill the void between high and low art but as society has changed many forms of art as it is characterized by the self-conscious use of earlier styles and conventions, a mixing of different artistic styles and media, and a general distrust of theories.(, 2019)
Bibliography: (2019). Modernism – Literature Periods

Masaccio, Botticelli, and Lippi

Masaccio, Botticelli, and Lippi
The Italian Renaissance was a time when great changes occurred in art in all areas. Architects, sculptors, and painters began changing their artistic styles from Gothic to a style that showed more interest in the beauty of nature and the human body. Many painters changed the whole art world by switching from Gothic style religious paintings where symbols were used to represent objects to using a natural style to make things look real and human. Three of the most influential and innovative painters of the time were Masaccio, Botticelli, and Filippo Lippi. All three of these Italian artists painted during the Quattrocento and began using linear perspective to make their work look more natural. Masaccio is considered by many to be the first great painter of the Italian Renaissance. He was influenced by the sculptor Donatello and the architect Brunelleschi. Botticelli was an apprentice under Filippo Lippi and was also influenced by Masaccio’s style of painting. Botticelli is best known for a painting that depicts a mythological scene called The Birth of Venus. Filippo Lippi’s early style is based on that of Masaccio but he later used more richly decorative effects in his paintings. A major accomplishment of Lippi’s development is the Vision of St Bernard, which is one of the best lyric pictures of the Renaissance.
Masaccio was the first painter to use linear perspective in his artwork. Masaccio’s fresco of the Holy Trinity in the church of Santa Maria Novella, in Florence, was also the first artwork that was spatially correct. He used mathematically correct proportions to make three dimensional subjects look real with linear perspective. All of Masaccio’s art was religious in nature and was based on Classical techniques. Masaccio also made his paintings look real by using light and shading and natural color. Before Masaccio used color and other techniques to make his paintings look real, all the religious artwork was of the Gothic style where the religious figures were painted by using symbolic figures that often had nothing to do with reality.
The Holy Trinity shows three figures in the painting; a dove, Christ, and God. The Trinity symbolizes God as the Father, Christ as the Son and the white dove as the Holy Ghost. Masaccio used single point perspective and a vanishing point, and he was the first to use these in his paintings. The vanishing point ends as the painting points down to the tomb of Adam. The perspective that Masaccio used had three rectangle shapes, one above the other. The rectangle on the bottom is Adam’s coffin, and the top rectangle goes all the way to the top of the vaulted roof.
The painting, The Holy Trinity, shows a chapel with classical columns holding up a ceiling that is a barrel vault. In the painting, Christ is crucified, and God is looking down on the scene. John and the Virgin Mary are also in the painting. The figures, for the first time ever, look real and natural. Masaccio was so talented that he was able made the viewer feel like they were in the painting because of the depth created. Looking at the painting makes people feel like they are looking into the chapel and up at the figure of Christ. The use of geometry and perspective in The Holy Trinity shows how Masaccio mixed religion with his knowledge of mathematics and science to create a beautiful work of art filled with symbolic meanings.
Botticelli’s painting of The Birth of Venus is a perfect choice of paintings to represent the Early Renaissance; because it is an excellent example of the combining of classical ideas with Renaissance art. The painting shows the goddess, Venus, a classical character, blended with the emerging themes of the Renaissance. The nude form of Venus showed the beauty of the human female body for the first time during this period. There is also beauty in the details of this painting. The shell that holds the goddess, the figures around her and the background surrounding them are all full of soft light, and bright colors.
This is an almost life size painting of a female nude that is pagan in that it is Venus, the Goddess of love. Venus floats on a seashell since she’s born from the sea; and because the painting is classical mythology, she can be born fully grown. Venus floats on a seashell since she’s born from the sea; and because the painting is classical mythology, she can be born fully grown. Venus is blown to shore by the west wind, Zephyr, whose body is wrapped around the body of Chloris. On the right is a maid waiting to wrap up the newborn goddess. The painting shows that Botticelli has an advanced understanding of the human form and how to make it come alive in his art. He is able to show depth and makes it almost look like Venus is moving. The way Botticelli uses light and dark creates the feel of movement and depth and dimension.
Filipino Lippi
Filipino Lippi was trained as a painter by his father, Filippo Lippi, and he later apprenticed with Botticelli. One of Lippi’s most famous paintings is The Vision of Saint Bernard, which now hangs in the Badia Fiorentina, a church in Florence. In The Vision of Saint Bernard, the artist combines a reflective and poetic interpretation of his subjects with warm colors, a new subtlety of chiaroscuro, and a Netherlandish interest in genre detail and landscape (Goldner 2004).
Filipino constructs an elaborate setting of rocks, foliage, and architecture. Bernard is seated at a makeshift lectern supported by a tree stump with vines, an allusion to the wood of the Cross and Christ’s statement, “I am the vine.” Numerous books are arranged on the rocky ledge, a metaphor for the Church as the Rock of Ages and its foundation in Scripture (Adams. 2013).
Lippi portrays Saint Bernard as the intercessor with the Virgin Mary. The Vision of Saint Bernard by Lippi is filled with many complex images in the humanist style. The story told by the painting is of Mary with angels meeting with Saint Bernard of Clairvaux to offer him encouragement when he was struggling and ill and didn’t think he could keep writing and working. There is a Bible near Mary; and it is open to the Annunciation from the book of Saint Luke. There are rocks in the landscape in the background with a devil in chains and an owl that can be seen hiding. The devil with chains is said to represent Bernard’s defeat of heresy, and the owl symbolizes Satan as the Prince of Darkness because of the owl’s nocturnal nature (Adams. 2013).

Art Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Birth of Venus. Retrieved from
Birth of Venus. (n.d.). Retrieved from masters/botticelli.htm
Botticelli The Birth of Venus – What is the meaning of this painting? (n.d.). Retrieved
February 9, 2019, from
Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index. (2014). Apparition of the Virgin to St. Bernard.
Retrieved Apparition of The Vision of Saint Bernard by Filipino Lippi, an Italian Renaissance painter, is an article written for Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index in 2014. The painting was a large panel oil painting commissioned for a chapel around 1486. Filipino Lippi was taught by his father, Filippo Lippi, and apprenticed and worked with Botticelli after his father’s death; therefore, he learned from some of the best of the new Renaissance painters. In The Vision of Saint Bernard, Lippi shows Saint Bernard with the Virgin Mary in a scene where Mary is offering encouragement at a time when he was having problems with his writing and teaching. The painting is filled with people and rocky landscapes and many hidden details. Other than our textbook, this is about the only source I could locate that actually discussed the painting and the meanings and techniques Lippi used to make it so amazing. Most articles about Lippi are about his father, Filippo, and his very colorful life. The few resources on Filipino are mostly biographical; however, this source talks about the reality and humanity of the painting and praises Filipino Lippi for being an artist who had a major role in promoting paintings that looked real instead of flat and without dimension.
Filippino Lippi (ca. 1457–1504). (2004, October). Retrieved from
Goldner, G. (2014, October). Filippino Lippi. Retrieved from
Harris, B., Dr.,