Part Four – Exercise 4.5: Barr’s Dialectic

Apply the Dialectic diagram to Barr’s. What would count as a thesis, an antithesis and a synthesis. You will need to refer to images of art works for a persuasive answer.

I am glad that I took more time and with a deeper look at art movements in the previous exercise on Extended Barr.

This exericise is quite a challenge. On the ond hand it asks to apply a ‘Hegelian’ dialectic on Barr’s chart (see my remarks below) assuming a correctness (?) of that dialectic. On the other hand, I am wondering whether the purpose of this exercise is to keep my thinking moving or just to apply a system for pedagogical reasons.

I will try to apply the ‘thesis-antithesis-synthesis’ task and reflect on what works and not. The challenge still to start with a ‘true’ assumption and only later to reflect on it. Kind of Devil’s advocate. I can sense that this is exactly what critical thinking and dialectic is all about. First to embrace one standpoint, argue with an opposite and come up with a new statement and assumption.

Chart of modernist art history by Alfred H. Barr

Fig. 1: Chart of modernist art history by Alfred H. Barr


Examples of dialectic synthesis:

What makes a synthesis is according to Hegel the discovery ‘in opposites the respect in which they are alike’. In that sense a question of compare (alike) and contrast (opposites). What are common denominators in art movements and how do the synthesis of them annul the opposites? For that I am looking at a few examples from Barr’s chart to show the principle.

  1. Synthetism + Neo-Impressionism => Fauvism
  2. Fauvism + Near Eastern Art (primitivism) => Expressionism
  3. Neo-Impressionism + Cubism => Futurism
  4. Expressionism + Futurism => Dadaism
  5. Expressionism + Dadaism => Surrealism
  6. Cubism + Suprematism => Constructivism

[all online images accessed 26-27 Sep 2017, main sources:; metmuseum. org,]


Synthetism + Neo-Impressionism => Fauvism

Stefan513593 - part 4 - exercise 5 - log #1

Fig.2: Stefan513593 – part 4 – exercise 5 – log #1

Synthetism (1888 – ): It was opposed to Impressionism that was based on a rejection of defined forms and compositional elements. For Gauguin, the study of light by the Impressionists was rather superficial and confined. Synthetism was more a synthesis of natural forms combined with the idea and feeling of the subject depicted and based on areas of pure colour and bold outlines.  Due the flat application without shading had a rather decorative and flat aspect in it.  Especially driven by the French artists Paul Gauguin, Emile Bernard, and Paul Sérusier

Example:  Louis Anquetin (1890) Girl Reading a Newspaper. Available from:

Neo-Impressionism / Pointillism (1886 – ): Inspired by optical theory by Chevreul, characterised by flat patches of colour, bold contours and simplified drawing. It was a further development of the optical effect of light on perception. Artists were Félix Fénéon, Georges Seurat, Paul Signac, Anna Boch, and Théo van Rysselberghe.

Example: Paul Signac (1893) Femme à l’ombrelle (Woman with Umbrella). Available from: 1024px-Paul_Signac,_1893,_Femme_à_l’ombrelle,_oil_on_canvas,_81_x_65_cm,_Musée_d’Orsay.jpg

Fauvism (1905 – 10): Characterised by strong, pure colours and loose brushwork with paint applied straight from the tubes. Fauvists worked as the Impressionists from nature, but more like the Synthetists worked on expressive and emotional reaction to the subject. The artists embraced the expressive function of the paint. As the Pointillists, they were interested in colour theories, especially complementary colors alongside its optical enhancing effect on brightness. One of the first avant-garde modernist movements of the twentieth century and one of the first styles to make a move towards abstraction. Examples are Henri Matisse, André Derain, Maurice Vlaminck, Georges Braque, Raoul Dufy, Georges Rouault, Maurice de Vlaminck and others.

Example: André Derain(1905) Henri Matisse Available from:

Thesis: Synthetism idea and feeling of subject matter, pure colors, from inner view
Antithesis: Neo-Impressionism / Pointillism optical perception of color for enhance brightness, working from nature
Synthesis: Fauvism pure colors, expressive function of paint, working from nature

Fauvism + Near Eastern Art (primitivism) => Expressionism

Stefan513593 - part 4 - exercise 5 - log #3

Fig.3: Stefan513593 – part 4 – exercise 5 – log #3

Fauvism (1905 – 10):

Example: Henri Matisse (1905) Portrait of Madame Matisse. The Green Line. Available from:

Primitivism (around 1890 – 1909): borrowing visual elements from Near-East and African Tribal art in a sense of raw and more authentic. See also my blog post on Primitivism.

Example: Paul Gauguin (1898) Faa Iheihe. Available from:

Expressionism (1900 – ): Art in which the image of reality is distorted in order to make it expressive of the artist’s inner feelings or ideas. colour in particular can be highly intense and non-naturalistic, brushwork is typically free and paint application tends to be generous and highly textured. Artists e.g. Edvard Munch, fauvism and Henri Matisse, Georges Rouault, the Brücke and Blaue Reiter groups, Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka, Paul Klee, Max Beckmann, most of Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore, Graham Sutherland, Francis Bacon, Alberto Giacometti, Jean Dubuffet, Georg Baselitz, Anselm Kiefer and the neo-expressionism of the 1980s.

Later elements moved into Abstract Expressionism (1947- 57): America: Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Gorky, Jasper Johns and others. The Abstract Expressionists were committed to expressing profound emotion and universal themes. Indebted to Surrealism’s exploration of painting as a struggle between self-expression and the unconscious they created a new art for the post World War II world. Their art was championed for being emphatically American in spirit – monumental in scale, romantic in mood, and expressive of individual freedom

Example: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1909-26) Bathers at Moritzburg. Available from:

Thesis: Fauvism pure colors, expressive function of paint, working from nature
Antithesis: Primitivism seeking for raw and authentic visual articulation, symbolic forms
Synthesis: Expressionism intense use and expressive function of color, symbolic ‘natural’ but distorted forms


Neo-Impressionism + Cubism => Futurism

Stefan513593 - part 4 - exercise 5 - log #4

Fig.4: Stefan513593 – part 4 – exercise 5 – log #4

Neo-Impressionism / Pointillism (1886 – ):

Example: Georges Seurat (1885) Le Bec du Hoc, Grandchamp Available from:

Cubism (1908 – 1914):

Analytical Cubism (1908-12):  It is termed analytical cubism because of its structured breakdown and disintegration of the subject resulting in a fragmented image with multiple viewpoints and overlapping planes. Analytical cubism is also characterized by a simplified palette of colours to avoid the viewer’s  distraction from the structure of the form.

Synthetic Cubism (1912-14):  Synthetic cubism is characterized by the addition of textures and patterns to the paintings, experimenting with collage (newspaper print and patterned paper). Against analytical cubism, synthetic cubism was about a flattening of the picture plane and avoiding any illusion of sculptural depth and three dimensionality.

Main artists: Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Juan Gris and others.

Example: Georges Braque (1909-10) Glass on a Table. Available from:

Futurism (1909-14) :  Italian art movement of the early twentieth century that aimed to capture in art the dynamism and energy of the modern world, rejecting the old and looking out for a future Italy. It was based on elements from Cubism and Neo-Impressionism and celebrated the beauty of speed. Initiated by F. T. Marinetti ‘Manifesto of Futurism’, Giacomo Balla, Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, Gino Severini and others  -> see Vorticism in UK

Example:  Umberto Boccioni (1910) The City Rises. Available from:  W1siZiIsIjE1MTM1NSJdLFsicCIsImNvbnZlcnQiLCItcmVzaXplIDIwMDB4MjAwMFx1MDAzZSJdXQ.jpg

Thesis: Neo-Impressionism / Pointillism optical perception of color for enhance brightness, working from nature
Antithesis: Cubism breakdown and distortion of forms and perspective, flattening picture plane
Synthesis: Futurism depicting dynamic forms of modern world, expression through abstraction

Expressionism + Futurism => Dadaism

Stefan513593 - part 4 - exercise 5 - log #5

Fig.5: Stefan513593 – part 4 – exercise 5 – log #5

Expressionism (1900 – ):

Example: Ernst Barlach (1914) The Avenger, later cast.  Available from:

Futurism (1909-14) :

Example:  Umberto Boccioni (1913) Unique Forms of Continuity in Space. Available from:

Dadaism (1915-24): Dada was a negative reaction to the horrors and WWI. The anti-war art, poetry and performance produced by dada artists was often satirical and nonsensical in nature. Their aim was to destroy traditional values in art and to create a new art to replace the old. Main artists: Hugo Ball (Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich); Marcel Duchamp, Kurt Schwitters, Max Ernst, Hannah Höch, Hans Arp, Francis Picabia and others.

Example:  Marcel Duchamp (1951) Bicycle-Wheel. Available from:×395.jpg

Here one need to consider as well the influence of Cubism on Dadaism!

Thesis: Expressionism intense use and expressive function of color, symbolic ‘natural’ but distorted forms
Antithesis: Futurism depicting dynamic forms of modern world, expression through abstraction
Synthesis: Dadaism reaction of modern WWI horror, destruction of values, juxtaposition of elements

Expressionism + Dadaism => Surrealism

Stefan513593 - part 4 - exercise 5 - log #6

Fig.6: Stefan513593 – part 4 – exercise 5 – log #6

Expressionism (1900 – ):

Example:   Edvard Munch (1907) Cupid and Psyche. Available from:

Dadaism (1915-24):

Example:  Raoul Hausmann (1919–20) The Art Critic . Available from:

Surrealism (1924-39): Term coined by Guillaume Appolinaire, and expressed as a movement by Andre Breton in his ‘Surrealist Manifesto’, 1924. A psychic automatism and exploring the mind, the irrational, the poetic and the revolutionary. The movement’s poets and artists found magic and strange beauty in the unexpected and the uncanny, the defamiliar, the disregarded and the unconventional. Rejection of conventional artistic and moral values. Main artists:  André Breton, Max Ernst, Salvador Dali, Joan Miró, Man Ray and others.

Example: Man Ray (1930) Jacqueline Goddard. Available from:

Thesis: Expressionism intense use and expressive function of color, symbolic ‘natural’ but distorted forms
Antithesis: Dadadism reaction of modern WWI horror, destruction of values, juxtaposition of elements
Synthesis: Surrealism psychic automatism, symobolic juxtapostion of element, uncanny effects

Cubism + Machine Aesthetic => Constructivism

Stefan513593 - part 4 - exercise 5 - log #7

Fig.7: Stefan513593 – part 4 – exercise 5 – log #7

Cubism (1908 – 1914):

Example: Fernand Léger (1918) The Bargeman. Available from:

Suprematism (1913 – 1919): A main art movement in Russia with close relationshop to the Russian Revolution. First coined by Kasimir Malevich, 1913 (book The Non-Objective World, 1927) for abstract art characterised by basic geometric forms (circles, squares, lines and rectangles) with a limited range of colors.  Focus on pure feeling in art. The geometric forms floating over the ground and color in space is one key aspect of Suprematism. Main artists: Kasimir Malevich, El Lissitsky and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy.

Example: El Lissitsky (1923) 5. Globetrotter (in Time). Available from:

Constructivism (1915-22): Constructivism was founded in Russia 1915 by Vladimir Tatlin and Alexander Rodchenko. They borrowed ideas from Cubism, Suprematism and Futurism, but bent them into a new approach to making objects, one which sought to replace traditional artistic concerns of composition with ‘construction.’ It stressed the inherent physical characteristics of materials, and not a symbolic association. While seeking to express the dynamism and rapidly changing modern world, the Constructivists hoped to develop ideas that could be put to use in mass production. Art should directly reflect the modern industrial world. Examples in Russia are Vladimir Tatlin, Naum Gabo, Alexander Rodchenko, Liubov Popova, Antoine Pevsner and others.

Example: Naum Gabo (1941) Spiral Theme. Available from:

Thesis: Cubism breakdown and distortion of forms and perspective, flattening picture plane
Antithesis: Suprematism abstraction with geometric shapes, pure feeling in art
Synthesis: Constructivism abstraction, replacing composition with construction, non-symbolic, idea of mass production


This exericise shows that it is rather difficult to assign one movement to two opposing concepts alone, e.g. Dadaism is built on several movements from the past incl Cubism. Social and political context are wider and more complex than one could just reduce this to a logic of binaries. Also, art movements are embodied with a group of individual artists, each artist also has her/his own personal and subjective context in articulation through art.

The shown ‘dialectic’ art movements are more often established based on similarities, as alikes as Hegel said, rather on differences. Common denominators e.g. Cubism + Suprematism => Constructivism are very much built on the common aspect of abstract geometric shapes. The annulling effect is related to the move from two dimensions into three dimensions.

Looking back at the first exercise on Compare & Contrast I can see that this kind of exercise can help to have a wider perspective on movements as the other exercise was more looking at single art works for comparision.

Overall, a dialectic approach in art movements as done by Alfred Barr can be quite persuavise and educational. However, one should consider the simplicity of the approach into account. One also need to be careful in classifactions and judgements merely built on the simple dialectic approach.


The dialectic ‘thesis-antithesis-synthesis’ is based on J.G. Fichte (1762 – 1814) and not G.W.F. Hegel (1770 – 1831).  According to Fichte the analytical reasoning would lead towards  ‘a contradiction or opposition between the self and the not-self’. He argued that the opposition of contradictions can only be resolved by applying a third concept as the synthesis of the two oppisites. A third concept of divisibility, a kind of reasoning to discover  ‘in opposites the respect in which they are alike’ (Maybee,  2016). A concept clearly built on the Platonic notion of sameness of the idea and the like of the copy.

Hegel opposed a triadic Kantian conceptual thinking embraced by Fichte as a mere reduction to ‘a lifeless schema and an actual semblance [eigentlichen Scheinen]’ (ibid).

Hegel’s dialectic conception as a unifying concept was a critique of Kant as well as Fichte. It is based on three dialectic moments:

  • Abstract or reasonable moment: finite mind of being residing in the determined and difference to others. Close to a conception of self and identity.
  • Dialectic or negative reasoned moment:  negation and contradiction of the one-sided, resulting on annulation and sublation. The other as challenging the self.
  • Concrete or positive speculative moment: synthesis as unity and annulling the previous moments. Creation of a difference.




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