Timeline of 20th c. Art and New Media. Click above for medium detail image. (2000 x 976 pix)
A very high resolution image suitable for large format posters can be downloaded here. (10291 x 5024 pix, 4 MB)


Rama Karl Hoetzlein, 2011

Most timelines of art, as found in classical texts, end at Pop art in the 1970s.
This Timeline of 20th c. Art and New Media was created to include relationships between art, new media art, science, technology, war and media theory.
Included in the timeline are:
– Major movements of 20th c. Art colored according to their degree of “subjectivity”, or rejection of logic/war, as indicated by writings. Purple = More subjective, avante-garde. Red = More structuralist, formal.
– New Media Art after the 1970s, with movements running in parallel
– Consumer Art, including comics, animation and video games
– A few key artists are shown for each movement.
– Rise of the avante-garde in Europe, and Rise of science in America, shown as increasing gray bars.
– Major wars shown in red, with thickness roughly indicating number of lives lost. (Eg. World War I = 16 million. World War II = 65 million)
– Major theories in other fields impacting art, including Saussure’s linguistics, Freud & Jung’s psychology, and Barthe, Strauss & Burnham’s semiotics.
– Media theorists (at top), including Walter Benjamin, Marshal McLuhan, Greenberg, Virilio and Manovich.
– Important moments in 20th. science (at bottom)
– World population increases for every 1 billion people.

How to cite this work

When citing as an image caption: Image by Rama Hoetzlein (c) 2011,
When used in a bibliography: 2011, R. Hoetzlein, Timeline of 20th c. Art and New Media, Retrieved from:

Permission is granted to use this timeline for educational purposes to students and teachers, including the printing of large posters
with copyright mark maintained. For use in commercial or print publications please contact me.

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34 thoughts on “Timeline of 20th c. Art and New Media

  1. hello,

    great timeline. Thanks!

    Two questions. What are the grey lines crossing the timeline? Mostly the big one in front of Post-modern art? What does it stand for? Second, where is Conceptual art starting (thats questionable) in 60s mostly with Joseph Kosuth. Its a major part of art history of 20th century and its development.

    1. Thanks Jan,
      The vertical grey lines were meant to represent major shifts in art, eg. post-modernism. I had considered adding Conceptual art, such as Duchamp and Kosuth to the early 1900s, but it became clear that conceptual art continued into develop into minimalism, etc. Its not clear where to draw the line with other movements. I see Conceptual art now more as an overall trend to the 21st c. and not sure how to depict that.

  2. Magnificent work!!!!!!!!! this is the more complete timeline I´ve ever see! I´m constantly looking for timelines of important Human events (in every kind)to relation it with music history (I teach music in schools & Highschools). Is there any timeline like this but about previous periods say X century to XIX)?
    I admire your work!

    Thanks for sharing
    Cheers from Buenos Aires, Argentina

  3. A practical timeline, esp. w pop cultural/media/theory inclusions. But why no “conceptual art?” 2 comments before mine alluded to the lack of including Duchamp & I concur: his readymades particularly paved the way for conceptual art: this is backed up by both artists (Joseph Kosuth) & theorists (De Duve).
    Much of current contemporary art is jammed with conceptualist theory, wrought straight from Duchampian tropes like process art, “found” objects, etc. Hence, what I & others have termed (and teach) as postconceptualism (1 word, please) is evidenced in your timeline as “postmodern sculpture.” Koons, Hirst, et al. would have no careers w/o Marcel.

  4. Art is always made of limitations and restrictions, and the most interesting of it, is to understand how true artists are able to work with them. These limitations can be of very different sorts: psychological, social, financial, censorship, media, technology, time, space, etc. etc. etc.

    Saying that someone is not producing art because he’s not talking about the subjects you, arbitrarily, identify as the true social important motifs, is not a limitation on the creator’s side, but on your definition of what art should be.

    1. The types of constraints are interesting. I once attended a talk by George Lucas for artists which worked for him, in which he said “I love you guys. I don’t understand what you do, but I love it because you implement the creative ideas I come up with.” This is the constraint of being a visual or technical artist at a studio. One gives up the right, at the job anyway, to decide many of the higher level narratives and symbols, and is constrained by them. Some artists enjoy this aspect (not myself obviously). On the other hand, the individual artist working alone may have more difficulty (constraints) bringing a larger idea into material form.

      Note that I never said that commerical art was not-art (in fact i said the opposite). Many of my colleagues would put this in the non-art category solely on the basis that the narrative or message is not decided by the visual artist (but by writers and producers). I agree with you that they are all art, just different kinds. I admit that I genuinely enjoy many of these works also (wall-e comes to mind).

      That said, because studios produce and distribute large volumes of art and distribute it to the public more readily (I believe the number of films created by industry globally per year is around 400 now), I feel that artworks whose narratives are decided by non-commercial interests are of greater importance simply to balance out what is produced and received by the public. The majority of visual ideas received by the public is a narrow range out of the whole space of creativity, due to a few companies with major distribution powers. This is why I emphasize arts created by other means, and shared in new ways, not because one or the other is not-art.

  5. Hello! I also study art/creativity in digital media. My focus is in studying programming as an expressive language in itself, as opposed to the use of the computer as metamedia (simulating other medias and languages).

    I like and understand your (updated) definition of “Consumer Art”, but I think differently.

    I think it’s more pratical do define art exactly for its non-comercial approach. Though artists can (and usually need to) earn money for their work, and this financial aspect certanly has influence on his creations, it is not the main motivation. The main motivation in art would be the art itself (that is – art only “owes to itself”).

    What you call “consumer art” I guess I’d just call “creations” (visual, musical etc). So even the best and most “artistic” animator in Pixar is not an artist (in that context), since his work has entertainment (and profit) as it’s main goal. He can, of course, be an artist when working in his own projects.

    In my research I deal with digital media in a very “low level”, as a language (such as “painting”, “music” or “dance”), with focus on how an artist can use it for expression. So I actually prefer not to talk about “art” at all, since it envolves lots of other (social, economic, political…) factors related to “the institution of art”. I end up using words like “creativity” and “expressiveness” (or even “artisticity”). (sorry if some of these words sound weird – I write in portuguese and I still don’t know the correct translation to some of these terms).

  6. I agree, the comment about Consumer art is somewhat dated (i wrote it several years ago), and needs much more context…

    I think it’s important to distinguish the artist from the curator or patron of works of art. At film studios and game companies, the “patrons” are the studio executives, and the publishing company. They have the ultimate, final say on the content and goals of the works created. In such a relationship, the artists are those who translate and give life, beauty, and meaning to these ideas. During the Renaissance, the patrons were wealthy families (e.g. Medici), whose politics and religion defined the iconic imagery — primarily religious — at the time, such as the Sistine Chapel. However, if you read the history of the commissioned artists, you find many of them had tenuous or conflicting personal relationships with their patrons (not all, some). Nearly all of the Renaissance master artists pursued other forms of art not allowed by their patrons. Michellagelo’s complained immensely of the Sistine Chapel, stating “I am a sculptor, not a painter.” Leonardo Da Vinci’s sketches of scientific machines, anatomy, are famous.. but where are the scientific machines, the flying machines, in his Last Supper? Or in any of Da Vinci’s paintings? The patron expects a particular product, which is often outside what the artist truly wishes to convey.

    Put in modern terms.. The artist at any production studio is limited. The studio may genuinely feel itself to drive for creativity, beauty and art — but where is the Pixar film dealing with school violence, or the Dreamworks film about pornography. There are subjects that will never be touched by these companies, because their product is “entertainment”.. One of the key purposes of art is to address social issues, and challenge them. Thus, the definition of Consumer art can be stated more clearly: It is art whose purpose is entertainment, that may upset some social norms, but ultimately reinforces public desires.

    It remains distinct from other art forms for that reason. I suggest watching “Exit Through the Gift Shop” as an example of artist working for societal goals without the influence of a patron. Your reference to Dali naively avoids the true surrealist goals. Dali himself was an outsider in surrealism, he was one of the youngest and last. He was even put on “trial” by the original surrealists (Masson, Breton, Tanguey, etc) as not upholding its true principles. Those principals were to *upset*, at any cost, the politics and consumer of art — Joan Miro himself spoke of the “assassination of painting”, to break the captivation of pictorial images, he made paintings that were mere shapes.

    Where are the big studio productions that have no dialog, no narrative, experimental arts?

    One might say that Pixar and Dreamworks make films for children (some feel for adults also); but my own view is that children do not need “entertainment” at all. They need education, which is deep, enjoyable, and also painful and difficult. I agree some films approach this, but always within limits. In the film Wall-E, where are the obese children and adults who are in pain, who have bed sores, who have dietary problems? Their presentation of obesity is ultimately a utopian one. These studios create art, I do not deny their place as art, but they would never be able to create films like “The Man Who Planted Trees”.

    Thus, I reserve the word Consumer art for that which is created by a business, whose patrons (studio execs) have the final say on content. An artist working independently can define goals without such constraints.

  7. I do research around film and video games, I work with game design and various kinds of interactive media and arts. What do you mean by “Consumer Art”? I searched your website and found your definition in your film recommendation list on the The Pixar Story:

    “Consumer art is what you thought was art in high school: video games, animated films, the Matrix. The defining feature of all of these is that their sole, crowning purpose is to make money. ”

    I was shocked with that appearing in you timeline to distinguish Comics, Animation and Video Games from the rest of the arts. Arts made with no self purpose?, Just for money?!!!

    What do you mean by this? This purpose you’re referring as being different wasn’t always the purpose of art in our history? Do you remember Picasso or Dali? Or do you think Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel by any kind of divine commandment?

    by the way congratulations for the great work with the timeline.


  8. Hi,

    IMPRESSIVE… I have been looking for a timeline like this for some time. Thank you creating it. I teach Art And Film, TV & New Media and wanted to suggest some additions to the Media Theory part of the timeline.
    Perhaps significant directors (ie. D. Vertov, S. Eisenstein, A. Hitchcock, G. Lucas, J. Cameron), genre films and filmic movements (ie. Cinematographe, Weepies, Hollywood Musicals “Golden Era” Australian Cinema, Film Noir, German Expressionist Film, French New Wave Cinema, Surrealist Film, Soviet Montage Theory, Kuleshov Effect, Jaws, Gone With The Wind, Wizard Of Oz, Sound Of Music, Psycho, Nosferatu, Metropolis, 2001 A Space Odyssey, Terminator, Matrix, Avatar etc.). Just an idea, and I would be happy to provide you with any assistance.

    Keep up the awesome work and thanks a million.

    This list is not exhaustive

  9. Thanks! The timeline will be shown as a 2 meter poster at “Technology Requested”, an exhibit at the Netherlands Media Art Institute in Amsterdam.

    If anyone (including yourself) is interested in a printed poster, I can arrange to have posters made with payment via PayPal. Anyone interested can email me at with a requested size: 24″x18″ or 36″x24″, and I will get back to you with a quote.

  10. Hello! This is an amazing and beautiful timeline, thank you for creating it! I wonder if you’ve thought of making it into a poster and selling it? It would be nice to have this in smooth poster format. I will likely post it on my blog sometime soon:

  11. very nice. could go on the “information is beautiful” blog.

    BTW you miss to reference people for hacking and hacktivist art.

    maybe forkbomb’s author Jaromil is a good candidate, geeks are now even tattooing his art.

    “forkbomb jaromil” on google and google books gives plenty of references.

  12. thank you very much i will use your timeline for my thesis work its is really amazing n nicely presented and also very rhetorical really nice work thank u again

  13. I just saw your thesis page. Very interesting work! (forget my Tufte comment, you are obviously familiar.) I completed my last year of Masters study in fine arts at UCSB back in the 80’s. Currently in New Zealand.

  14. I’m happy to find this! You have undertaken an excellent endeavor! I agree with someone up there who said to look at Edward Tufte, just in case you haven’t already. He has written several books on information graphics.

    What I was looking for when I found this was a quick view of the historical relationship of linguistics, semiotics, structuralism, deconstructivism etc. and to find out if there really was something called “post-mediumism”.

    Keep up the good work.


  15. This is an incredible timeline – visually exciting and I find it clever how you map contemporary art within the context of popular culture and political events – You have taken the tool of ‘timeline’ to extraordinary limits – the complexity of this time period woven neatly into bar sizes, colors and connections.

    I teach art and have been thinking about creating my own art time-lines lately, just for my own personal research. I also find that the only way to create a good timeline with all the complexities of subtle variance, graphic design tools are the best. I’ve been using Adobe Photoshop, I am not as well versed in Illustrator.

    Thank you for posting this!

  16. I saw your very interesting multi-timeline of 20th Century Art and New Media. I myself am preparing
    a complex timeline of work in Artificial Intelligence, Cognitive Science, etc. I have been looking for
    good software to assist me in this. Did you use a software package to do your timeline work? If so, which one, and were you happy with it?

    Edward Feigenbaum
    Prof. of Computer Science, Stanford University

    1. Thanks for the interest. The timeline was done with Adobe Illustrator. I am a fan of very dense, manually designed timelines that are carefully laid out to pack as much meaning into one space as possible. I have worked with timeline generation software, but find they ultimately fall short because there are simply too many things one wants to visualize simultaneously, and timeline software is not sensitive to the many other things I intend to include. Thus, I take a graphic design approach instead.

  17. If you have Edward Tufte on your chart, then you know the very act of trying to put this chart together with the important movements, books, artists, authors, historical events, movies, etc. is flawed from the start.

    Aside from that, well done, and interesting, though there are probably many more key figures, books and movements that you wanted to put in but would have made the chart unreadable.

  18. Very interesting! I still feel that new media is not quite yet respected as traditionnal art is (what should replace “new” now that’s is not so new? is the term “digital” wide enough? is it a term too technical? (that technique that is often too proeminent in digital work? )).
    May I suggest an addition to your mapping? Marcel Duchamp! Many art theorists agree that he is one of – or the most important artist of the 20th century (Thierry de Duve).