The mutability of movements is an inevitability. It’s the constantly self-renewing process within art that ensures it can continue to fulfil its purpose of appealing to an audience. As people and societies change, art must change with them. To remain static and without innovation is to go against the basic principles of art as we view them today.

Whilst in the medieval era our strong conservative outlook tended to lead to stability and consistency within artistic trends, by the late Renaissance artists defined their worth within their profession by their difference and unique flair. The decline of the classical Renaissance style led to the rise of Mannerism, where the perfect proportions that we have all seen in Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man were thrown out of the window in favour of painting a Madonna with an outrageously long neck. To be different meant that you stood apart from the crowd. When the height of perfection had already been perceived to have been reached, there was little option but to break new ground if an artist was to make their own mark. Entire movements can therefore be born out of the desire for renown.

The Cubist movement, for example, prioritised different visual clues that all act in conflict with each other in order to prevent the formation of a coherent image of reality. It was therefore not just an experiment in a new style of art but a different way of seeing and approaching the world. In a world of confusion and change in the immediate run-up to the First World War the Cubists sought to encourage individuals to find their own patterns and meanings in what they saw before them, and to not take everything at face value.

Yet it should not be believed that artistic movements arise only as a passive response to their surroundings; many have been a vehicle of the desires of individuals for change to occur. The Italian Futurist Movement of the early twentieth century actively sought to change the mentality of their society, as they believed that it was outdated. By emphasising the power and thrill of modern technology, they aimed to change people’s outlook on life in a radical way, from reminiscing about the past to pushing for the new and improved. In the Renaissance, art looked to the ancients for guidance and as a standard to be reached. Now, the Futurists were pushing us to look at modern humanity and how it has the power to change. An artistic voice alone could cause ripples, but when combined with many others in a movement it has the power to send shockwaves. The Realist movement of the mid-nineteenth century grew from this desire of the artists to voice their political opinions through the medium of painting, if they were not able to do it in reality.

But the political power of such movements is not always well received by broader society. Backlash can be triggered which threatens the breadth of the audience that artists can appeal to. When artists aren’t given access to an audience, their very ability to survive as part of a coherent movement is called into question. The Realist work of Manet on pieces such as the Execution of the Emperor Maximilian allows the horror of the event to speak for itself and passes no moral judgement on the actions which are unfolding. Yet the work was still censored by the police. The identity of a movement can therefore continuously evolve. From a simple objective statement to an act of rebellion, the reaction to movements can define them almost as much as the works within them.

Artistic movements therefore possess the power to develop in order to appeal to a basic belief or concept of a society and can become a symbol and a rallying point around which identities and aims can be formed. The artistic movement in the Netherlands in the seventeenth century, which focused on the depiction of landscapes, often in a way analogous to historical or biblical events, helped in creating one of the things which humanity longs for the most: a sense of home and a sense of belonging. References to ancient Israel and the ‘chosen people’ celebrated the Dutch landscape and the courage of its people, leading to a sense of pride in the heritage and identity of their people. In response to threat and fear of persecution, an artistic movement arose to alleviate fears and to strengthen a community into a nation. In this way, movements have responded to their context and have aimed to resolve an issue in a way that only art can.

Artistic movements therefore rise, they evolve, and they fall. Their lifecycle is not only a passive reflection of the context in which they are present but can be viewed as a conscious and active response to aspects of society. Even if the coherence of a movement fails and it shatters, the legacy which it has left on our outlook and perceptions remains and will continue to shape future artistic development