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Art History: Expressionism and Modern Pop Art

This post is part of a series called A Beginner's Guide to Art History.
Art History: Surrealism
The Influence of Women on Graphic Design Over the Last 100 Years
The Scream by Edward Munch
The Scream by Edvard Munch

In this final edition of our Art History series, we bring you the origin of modern art. Discover the artists behind today's great design.

Expressionism and Modern Pop Art

There is closure in expression. Laughter in expression. Love and misery in expression. And we need it all.

We have collected colorful reflections of people's thoughts throughout time, all the while learning to do better—well, at least sometimes. Art shows us that we still can.

The industrial world rapidly grew, and so did the cities of Western society during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A modernist movement, as it was called, swept through with varying styles that rebelled against the romanticism of earlier art.

In turn, artists used simplified shapes and created new mediums to express their innermost reflections. These expressions would become some of the greatest contributions to our modern design world today.

Let's take a look at a few of the influential artists from this period.

Edvard Munch

Walking through the streets with his friends one night, Edvard Munch panicked as he saw the sky turn red. His accounts of that night, later noted as possibly the eruption of Krakatoa, inspired one of the most famous works of modern expressionism.

But perhaps The Scream was just about love.

Anxiety by Edvard Munch
Anxiety by Edvard Munch

Edvard said,

"You know my picture, 'The Scream?' I was stretched to the limit—nature was screaming in my blood… After that I gave up hope of ever being able to love again."

What we call modern art was a brother expressing sorrow after the death of his sister. Like many artists, Edvard used his creativity as a cathartic way to deal with some of the harsh realities of life. Edvard would continue to mourn his loss with The Sick Child and other work.

The Sick Child by Edvard Munich
The Sick Child by Edvard Munch

Always incredibly personal, his style used simple lines and textural brush strokes to translate the emotions of that moment.

"I do not believe in the art which is not the compulsive result of Man's urge to open his heart."

Edvard explored many more topics throughout his work, including anxiety and the different stages of life. He continued to open his heart in his later years, as he painted while living in solitude in Norway.

Munch Museum Oslo
Munch Museum, Oslo

Piet Mondrian

One of the pioneers of abstract art, Piet Mondrian changed the direction of traditional art. While most artists still specialized in figurative painting, Mondrian's taste for bold shapes and simplified lines set him apart from others.

When describing his work, he said:

"I construct lines and color combinations on a flat surface, in order to express general beauty with the utmost awareness."
Composition II in Red Blue and Yellow 1930 by Piet Mondrian
Composition II in Red Blue and Yellow 1930 by Piet Mondrian

Piet loved shape and form so much so that he became incredibly influenced by other art movements like Impressionism, Cubism, and Fauvism. These styles showed him that he could isolate certain moments in nature and represent them with abstracted colors.

And after relocating to Paris during the early 20th century, Piet just did that. His paintings grew to large compositions of intersecting lines and colors.

Composition 10 by PIet Mondrian
Composition 10 by PIet Mondrian

Piet worked diligently on his colorful creations, often until his hands bled or until he cried from exhaustion. During the later years of his work, he explored depth of perception by layering blocks of color on top of one another.

A change from his usual black linear style, these lively paintings allowed Piet to express his love of music. His work would go on to inspire artists in all mediums, from fashion to graphic design.

Victory Boogie Woogie by Piet Mondrian
Victory Boogie Woogie by Piet Mondrian

Eduardo Paolozzi

Eduardo Paolozzi was one of the first artists to write the word "pop" in his work. Now it's a favored description for many modern designers.

He made his innovative work pop with abstract sculptures and unique compositions of collages and more. Inspired by his love of Surrealism, Eduardo wanted to explore the many ways that humans have been affected by uncontrollable forces.

Head of Invention by Eduardo Paolozzi
Head of Invention by Eduardo Paolozzi

Paolozzi's fascination for the way things work, particularly the human body and machinery, crossed over into his art. In an effort to learn as much as he possibly could about the world, he filled his workshop with objects of all kinds, including toys and mosaic pieces.

"I like to make use of everything. Sometimes I feel like a wizard in Toytown, transforming a bunch of carrots into pomegranates."
Mosaic by Eduardo Paolozzi
Mosaic by Eduardo Paolozzi

He continued his work with a drive for exploring new mediums and modes of expression. Among some of his most famous pieces is a statue of Isaac Newton, which explores how important mathematics have become to modern life.

Statue of Newton by Eduardo Paolozzi
Statue of Newton by Eduardo Paolozzi

Andy Warhol

When you think of pop art, you think of Andy Warhol. An American artist, director and producer, Warhol's work became a cultural phenomenon during the 1960s for his incredible commercial and advertisement pieces.

Though he worked with many styles and media, some of his most famous pieces include the iconic silkscreen paintings of Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn Diptych by Andy Warhold
Marilyn Diptych by Andy Warhol

The Marilyn Diptych, as it was called, contains 50 images of Marilyn's face. Twenty-five images on the left side are brightly colored, while the other 25 remain in black and white.

All of the images of the iconic actress were based on a single publicity photo from the movie Niagara. This piece alone would not only inspire many but also become a point of reference for many artists for years to come.

Campbell Soup Cans by Andy Warhol
Campbell's Soup Cans by Andy Warhol

Also among his famous pieces are Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans. This collection of 32 canvases consists of all the flavor varieties available at that time.

Warhol openly embraced consumerism. Some of his work included a collection of paintings dedicated to iconic American objects. From Coca Cola bottles to dollar bills, Warhol unleashed his creativity despite the criticism of naysayers.

Campbell Soup Cans by Andy Warhol
Campbell's Soup Cans by Andy Warhol

Warhol continued to develop various techniques for creating and manipulating art. He later transitioned into film-making as a director of films like Sleep and more.


Are you ready to help us change the next 100 years of art and design? These modern times show us that it is possible to create change, especially when creativity is our best asset. And I hope you continue to learn more about these amazing timelines on your own.

For more stories about Expressionism and Modern Pop Art, dive into the links below for further reading.

All of the images used are for educational purposes. The following sources were also included in this article:

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