Consider Purism, Dada and Constructivism as differing responses to the character of the modern world.

Essay by nitus March 2003

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That these three movements developed in a period of technical expansion during the political, social and economic crisis that followed the First World War and the Russian and German Revolutions is no coincidence. Meyer Schapiro says 'the older categories of art were translated into the language of modern technology' (Texts A, p.41) as artists across Europe believed in their ability to play an active role in improving society. To this end they employed diverse means to engage socially and sometimes politically with contemporary life. All three groups included theorists, architects, and poets so that paintings and constructions were only part of the range of productions. While some artists in this inter-war period had resumed, or continued, figurative painting these movements 'often looked upon their work as the aesthetic counterpart of the abstract calculations of the engineer and the scientist.' (Texts A, p.41)

I shall start by considering Purism and Charles Edouard Jeanneret and Amedee Ozenfant's quote 'The sensation of order is of a mathematical quality.'

(Art in Theory,p.240). This is taken from their manifesto 'Purism' which was published in March 1920 in the group's journal L'Esprit Nouveau. Purism originated in Paris and as their booklet Apres Le Cubisme makes clear developed from Cubism. Their aim was to purify cubism of its decorative features and its ambiguity and base their work on the 'primary elements' of the geometric forms of the circle, the triangle and the square. Jeanneret, initially an architect and draughtsman, adopted the pseudonym Le Corbusier when practicing architecture, and he continually cites Classical architecture as exemplifying this geometric sense of order.

An example of this 'purified' art is Jeanneret's Still Life with Pile of Plates (Plate18, p.22). Here the subject matter of plates includes the overtly Cubist violin, bottles and glass. However objects are stabilized and clarified, no...