The 20th and 21st centuries are times of massive change, on a scale never before witnessed. Technology advances to places past where people could dream of in previous years, destruction reaches unprecedented volumes, and the blending of cultures and movements of peoples brings massive changes to cultures around the world. This is the hallmark of the modern era.
Modern art is strongly influenced by the massive changes in the world. Different mediums allows for new types of art, mass media allows for the propagation of art to new places, and the immensity of events created new influences and themes. The most fascinating modern art movement to me is the creation and rise of absurdism.
Absurdism is a blanket term more or less describing things that don’t follow the rules of realism. In painting, this can be seen in a use of weird colors, shapes, or even a distortion of reality. Here are some early asburdist paintings I found at the Tate Britain:
The timing of the beginning of absurdism corresponds to the industrial revolution. Massive changes in technology allowed for a huge population boost in urban centers. Urban life distorted a lot of people’s sense of reality, and the continuation of technological advancements got people to explore the boundaries of the mediums they were working with. This is really obvious when looking at architecture.
The ability to work with curved glass, along with new understandings of metal and engineering allowed architects to come up with new shapes and sizes for new buildings. Early 20th century architects generally built upward, trying to achieve new feats in man-made monuments. Skyscrapers were popular and continue to be popular as functional icons. London has relatively few and shorter skyscrapers compared to other large cities. This view from the Millennium Bridge shows most of the skyscrapers in London right now:
London’s skyscrapers also are noticeably not classically shaped. From the shard and it’s conical shape, to the wedge of the building on the left of the image, London’s large modern buildings are pushing the realms of possibility.
Modern architecture is a strange combination of rationalism and absurdism. Strange shapes combine with the cold efficiency of modern office spaces both provide the resources needed with a massive population and give skylines that are unique to each massive city. Other modern buildings I’ve come across show this combination:
The fourth picture showing several different modern styles of construction.
The history of currency during this time reflects the rationalism and globalization of the modern era. However, tradition reigned supreme up until the Decimalization in 1971. A few changes were made: new bank notes were made and included the face of the monarch, coins featuring the portrait of non-monarchs were being made (notably of Winston Churchill), and bank notes became a much more official tender. However, the big change really came with the Decimalization.
Decimalization was under consideration for nearly ten years before being enacted. Pounds were still the standard, but pence were now worth one one-hundreth of a pound. Shillings, which had been around for several hundred years, were no more. Metals within the coins no longer mattered, so the different types of gold and silver coins ceased to exist. Since then inflation caused the demise of the half-pence and the one-pound bank note, and the introduction of the 20 pence coin and the 2 pound coin.
The art of coins and notes were much less traditional as we get more recent. Coins with different backs commemorated different events, such as the 50th anniversary of D-Day and the commonwealth games. Here are the coins with the new backs:
Collectors sets of coins were and continue to be common. These sets of coins are uncirculated and do no intend to become circulated, but are legal currency.
One pound coins became brass in 1983, and each year they had a different back representing one of the nations that made up Britain. Like this coin from 2000, for example:
Since then, the pound coin has again changed, to make forgery more difficult.
When I went to the Bank of England, I got pictures in lower quality of all these examples. From late pre-decimal all the way to a modern proof set, all the coins are shown here in poor quality:
Bank notes have appreciated the expansion of art on the notes. The art serves a dual purpose: to celebrate icons and events in British culture, and to make counterfeiting incredibly difficult. An example of this is on the 5 pound note depicting Churchill and the houses of parliament:
Currency has long been a source of art within British culture, and changes in coinage reflect the changes in government in different eras. Currency is unique to other arts in its specific use in the economy. Because of this, changes in coinage change not only because of art preferences, but also because of political and economic concerns. However, period styles still managed to find their way into this foundation of economics. I’ve had a lot of fun exploring the history of currency in Britain, and how various people utilized currency in their times. I also had fun exploring architecture around London and England, exploring how different styles affect different types of art. So this about concludes the last of my extensive history posts. I’m excited to know how future art styles will continue to affect art across the board.