My fellow students’ isms (in brief) – Part Two


This ‘ism’ is all about the representation of an object or idea in symbolic form. It was a late nineteenth-century art movement of French, Belgium and Russian origin. In art symbolism is related to the gothic in Romanticism.

The key painting chosen was Jan Van Eyck‘s ‘Arnolfini Wedding Portrait’.

Arnolfini Wedding Portrait

The painting is of a man and a women standing together in front of a bed. The man has traditionally been identified as the Italian merchant, Giovanni Arnolfini and his wife, Giovanna Cenami, but this has not been confirmed. It is believed that the scene is a private wedding ceremony, and the painting acts as a marriage certificate; but it has also been suggested that the painting celebrates the continuity of their married life, or the close relationship between the couple.

The painting contains a lot of symbolism including:

  • The chandelier has one lit candle signifying matrimony and the unity of marriage.
  • The removed shoes suggest sanctity.
  • The small dog may simply be a pet, but it serves also as a symbol of fidelity.
  • Oranges on the windowsill indicates innocence before Adam and Eve’s fall from grace, and the couple’s wealth.
  • The spotless convex mirror on the back wall alludes to purity, and the reflection of two other individuals in the room (including the painter) infers that witnesses are present.


A Pre-Raphaelite was someone who belonged to a group of English 19th-century artists, including Holman Hunt, Millais, and D. G. Rossetti, who consciously sought to copy the simplicity and sincerity of the work of Italian artists from before the time of Raphael. The group came together as a reaction against the sentimentality and academic convention of Victorian art. Their work is characterized by strong line and colour, naturalistic detail, and often biblical or literary subjects.

The key work chosen is this Holman Hunt painting called ‘The Awakening Conscience’.

The Awakening Conscience


This was an early 20th-century art movement which aimed to mock current artistic conventions. It was anti-aesthetic in sentiment. It was a very short-lived movement but very important and hugely influential for modern art and the growth of conceptualism.

Tristan Tzara, one of the founders of the Dada movement, was a Romanian and French avant-garde poet, essayist and performance artists. He was also active as a journalist, playwright, literary and art critic, composer and film director.

George Melly famously managed to avoid getting beaten up by a gang of thugs by reciting Ursonate, Kurt Schwitters’ incomprehensible Dada poem.


Neo-Plasticism, an art movement of the early 20th century, is the belief that art should not be the reproduction of real objects, but the expression of the absolutes of life. This means that the only absolutes of life were vertical and horizontal lines and the primary colours. The Neo-Platicists only used planar elements and the colours red, yellow, and blue. The two main artists of this movement were Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg.

Composition with Yellow

This style of painting is one of the most recognised in the modern era. It has had a huge influence on modern design.

Fancy a neo-plasticist iPhone cover?


Constructivism was a philosophy in art and architecture that originated in Russia in the early 1920s, but it spread around  the world. It was a rejection of the idea of autonomous art. The movement was in favour of art as a practice for social purposes. Constructivism has impacted on modern art in the 20th century, having an influence on the Bauhaus and De Stijl movements. The sculpture of Constructivism was to have movement, or a sense of movement. It was a kind of kinetic art. Important Constructivists include Naum Gabo, Barbara Hepworth and Alexander Calder.

One of Alexander Calder’s mobiles


This post-World War II movement emphasised the concept of art made in action. Think Jackson Pollock. There was another strand to the movement, however, and that was art based on colour-field theory. This movement was about contemplation. Abstract-Expressionism in its entirety was based in New York and turned New York into a new international centre for art. The idea behind it was that art could depict universal emotions. Everyone feels emotions and they are the same, and they can be communicated through art. Abstract-Expressionism looked to the unconscious to find meaning in these universal emotions.

One of Rothko’s many colour experiments


Tutorial notes.

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1 Response to My fellow students’ isms (in brief) – Part Two

  1. Pingback: My fellow students’ isms (in brief) – Part Three | BeckyBendyLegs

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