This essay will briefly discuss the three major periods of American art and architecture design. The most popular and recognized periods are: Art Nouveau, Art Deco and 20th Century Modernism. I will point out major influences and give a timeline; this will cover a majority of the 20th century. It should be noted that these styles are not exclusive to American culture, but, are a part of Western culture as a whole. We will begin with Art Nouveau 1900-1915; which has its roots in the mid-nineteenth century and ended before the First World War.

Art Nouveau applied art to everyday life, using floral motifs and other organic designs. The industrial age also heavily influenced this “new art” form of the early 20th century; materials included forged iron, ceramics, stone and wood. The sharp curvature of lines, are a distinct characteristic of Art Nouveau, as Duncan (1994) points out: A description published in Pan magazine of Hermann Obrist’s wall-hanging Cyclamen(1894) described it as “sudden violent curves generated by the crack of a whip,”, which became well-known during the early spread of Art Nouveau.

Subsequently, not only did the work itself become better-known as The Whiplash, but the term “whiplash” is frequently applied to the characteristic curves employed by Art Nouveau artists. (27-28) These curvitures were used in everything from wall construction to poster designs and paintings. Early 20th century “new art” design was very ornate, sometimes gothic or organic and very flamboyant. Next, was the Art Deco period from about 1920-1945. Art Deco was influenced partially by Art Nouveau, Cubism and Italian Futurism.

Deco designs are influenced by sweeping curves and the geometric shapes. The technology of the time period such as aviation and the automobile employed a “streamlined” effect in almost ever design. Art Deco seems to draw from a variety of sources which include primitive art forms from Africa and Acient Egypt all the way to the Industrial and Machine Age of the Western world. Artists utilized aluminum, stainless steel, laquer and inlaid wood. While some pieces are somewhat quite ornate the Art Deco movement began to employ a “minimalist” style.

Mid 20th century Modern Art began during the post war period from about 1945-1970. Also known as the “space-age”; modernism reached its height during the 1950’s thru the 1960’s and is rooted in the “streamline modern” of the Art Deco period. This period was in no doubt influenced by space travel and futuristic concepts of the time. Modern art employed a “minimalist” approach leaving out ornamentation mostly due to the practicality of mass production. New materials of the time include plastics, concrete and teak.

Abstract designs, geometric forms and vibrant color schemes are also characteristic of the period. To summarize, these are the three most well known movements in 20th century American art and architecture. It is debateable as to when exactly these periods began and ended. However, it is widely understood that while there may be many variations and derivatives; the three main periods of the last century are: Art Nouveau, Art Deco and 20th Century Modern.

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