Art During the Industrial Revolution

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  • 0:00 A Life-Changing Revolution
  • 1:35 Direct & Indirect…
  • 3:19 Romanticism
  • 4:20 Realism
  • 5:15 Impressionism
  • 5:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

Learn about how the Industrial Revolution impacted the art world. Explore the changes that took place in both practice and daily life as a consequence of the Industrial Revolution, and discover the art works and art movements of the 19th century.

A Life-Changing Revolution

Can you imagine what life must have been like before electricity, modern transportation, or manufactured goods? In a word, it was. . . different. People worked the land and made most of what they needed. For most people, the world was a lot simpler and a lot smaller. Today, we live in a big, big world, where one quick click or tap can instantly show us what it might be like to live on the other side of the planet. So how did we get from there to here? Well, the Industrial Revolution was a big piece of that puzzle.

The Industrial Revolution was a period between 1760-1840 in which society transitioned from agrarian (or mostly focused on farming and working the land) to industrial (or mostly focused around using machines to produce goods). New kinds of machines, steam engines in particular, facilitated the growth of factories. Weaving innovations made it easier to mass-produce clothing and textiles. New chemical processes brought about the invention of photography.

These advances in science and industry changed the way that people lived their daily lives. It became easier to travel long distances (thanks to railroads) and to communicate with people far away (thanks to telegraphs). The changes came in waves, and by the middle of the 19th century, a second industrial revolution was underway. Artists were affected by these changes and felt moved to respond by developing new ways of expressing and representing the world.

Direct and Indirect Impact on Art

Artists benefited both directly and indirectly from the effects of the Industrial Revolution. The new availability of manufactured products like tube paint made artists more mobile. Previously, artists usually worked in studios where they painted from memory or imagination. New materials, like collapsible metal paint tubes, gave them an alternative to mixing oil-based paint from scratch.

It's impossible to understate the impact that photography had on the role of the artist. When it was invented in the 1830s, photography gave people the unprecedented ability to instantly capture scenes. In a way, this made painters irrelevant. Imagine having trained for years to develop a practiced hand and style. And then, suddenly, your art is threatened by new technology that might just take over the market. For some artists, it was a wake-up call, forcing painters out of the studio and into the streets to find new subjects. And the expanding railroad network carried artists into the countryside to paint landscapes.

The Industrial Revolution also impacted the life and works of artists in several indirect ways. As railroads made long-distance travel more accessible, and cities became more and more overcrowded, the impact of technology and machines on everyday life became impossible to ignore. Life seemed to be moving at a faster pace, and artists sought to catch the fleeting moments that seemed to pass by too quickly.

Now that we know a little bit about the connections between the Industrial Revolution and art, let's look quickly at three artistic movements that reflected the massive changes that accompanied the Industrial Revolution: Romanticism, Realism, and Impressionism.


As its name suggest, Romanticism is a style of art characterized by ideas of beauty and reverence for nature. The rise of Romanticism coincided with the Industrial Revolution in Britain, lasting from 1780-1840. The painting here, 'Rain, Steam and Speed: The Great Western Railway' (1844), shows a characteristically Romantic style. British artist JMW Turner captures the sense of speed by blurring the lines of the train to suggest motion. The entire landscape is very soft and the colors seem to run together into one gorgeous swirl.

This painting by JMW Turner shows the Romantic style.

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