Twentieth Century Artists

Art has seen and will continue too see many changes in its style, influences, and limits. Many artists are responsible for the changes that occurred in the art world in the twentieth century. Poets such as Ezra Pound, and Robert Frost; painters such as Picasso and choreographers such as Martha Graham were great influences on other artists of the era.

The twentieth century brought many things including a noticeable change in poetry. The move from romantic to somber was clearly evident. Twentieth century poets were neither optimistic nor self-indulgent (Fiero,1992). Poets no longer relied solely on rhyme and meter and instead wrote free verses and referred to themselves as imagists.

Ezra Pound was one the most influential poets of the twentieth century. An avid student he studied many styles of prose including Greek, Roman, Chinese and Japanese. Ezra Pound discovered and loved the Japanese style of poetry called the haiku. The haiku genre was Japans most popular light verse from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. The haiku is a seventeen syllable poem containing 3 lines of verse with five, seven and five syllables each. (Fiero,1992). Ezra Pound wrote many poems including two Haikus: In a station Metro, and The Bathtub.

While Ezra Pound was very influential and found passion in his new styles of writing, not every writer followed suit. Best known for the “Road Not Taken” Robert Frost held onto the nineteenth century style of writing still using metered verse but he did not share in their romantic notions. He used straightforward language and was known for his mature style of writing.

Painters, Artists

Each artist created for different reasons. Picasso believed art was a weapon; a painting was a creation to ignite the senses. Matisse believed art was a sensuous pleasure and sought balance in his artwork. (Fiero,1992). While each painter had a different style and reason for creating his art twentieth century painters were focused on abstract art rather than artists of the nineteenth centuries whose main focus was physical properties in art. With the invention of the camera came freedom to explore.


Living out most of his life in Paris and a native of Barcelona, Spain; Picasso is one of the most well known artists today. Most everyone is familiar with this artist, a person need simply step into a gift shop and copies of his paintings have been printed on coffee mugs, t-shirts, and many other items. Picasso had a natural talent and he used it to indulge in the new styles that emerged. He studied with Georges Braque and the two of them worked together developing new techniques and styles of painting. They used random materials that they had at their disposal such as wrappers or playing cards to work meaning into their paintings. Picassos work was not typical of most artists as it was disjointed and a new term evolved known as cubism.

“The most influential style of the twentieth century, developed in Paris by Picasso and Braque, beginning in 1907. The early mature phase of the style, called Analytical Cubism, lasted from 1909 through 1911. Cubism is based on the simultaneous presentation of multiple views, disintegration, and the geometric reconstruction of objects in flattened, ambiguous pictorial so space; figure and ground merge into one interwoven surface of shifting planes. Color is limited to neutrals. …” (


Martha Graham. You may not be familiar with this person but perhaps you heard her mentioned once in song in the movie Birdcage? Martha Graham was a choreographer in the twentieth century who pushed the power of natural movements of the body. She did not embrace the traditional roles of classical ballet. She encouraged angularity and abruptness which was the general style of twentieth century modern dance. Her techniques and methods were highly influential, even winning her a mention in a film a century later.

Sigmund Freud (1865-1939) was a driving force in the liberation of sexual ideas, was a challenger in the field of science, and a great aid to the mentally ill with his research. Freud’s research and discoveries brought an era of new ideas and openness about sexuality that had not existed a century earlier. Salvador Dali was one of my many artists influenced by Freud’s ideas. Dali’s art, much of which is displayed at the St Petersburg Museum in Florida, created images that were shocking to his audience.

The Hallucinogenic Toreador (1969-70), my favorite of Dali’s paintings, is a painting filled with illusion from Dali’s classical period (1940-1989) (The Dali Museum, 2002). The original painting is several feet tall as well as wide and took a year to create. His use of color and lack of romantic ideas fully embrace the twentieth century movement. Picasso was a defining artist with his use of disjointed images and Dali’s paintings are full of such images.

This particular painting at first glance is a repeating image of Venus with other floating images integrated into the background. Upon examination of the painting the image of the Toreador becomes clear in the center of the painting. Dali himself is painted into the lower left corner of the painting as a child in his sailor suit. Dali created this painting as a full celebration of his love of illusion and Spanish culture. (The Salvador Dali Museum 2002). This image is a perfect image of twentieth century art. The bright colors in Venus’s robes as well as inspired image itself remind us that the straight forward depictions of nature so popular in the nineteenth century are no longer considered the standard for art. Dali himself said, this is “all of Dali in one painting.”

The twentieth century artists not did not simply move away but instead ran from the straight forward images and romantic ideas the previous generation of artists so richly created. The twentieth century brought about a new openness to sexuality, the use of bright colors, creation that deviated from the simple duplication of real life, and a more somber, less optimistic outlook. There were many influential artists throughout the twentieth century; however, any person that explored and displayed his artistic passions was a positive influence for the next generation of artists.

Fiero, Gloria K., J. (1992) The Humanistic Tradition, Second edition: Brown & Benchmark Publishers

The Salvador Dali Museum, Retirement Plans, Benefits & Savings, Retrieved December 10, 2005 from

Google, Retrieved December 11th, 2005,

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