A Modern Art Questionnaire



In 1926, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., a professor at Wellesley College, created the first art history course on modern art, it was not only the first in the U.S., but probably in the world. In order to assess the students’ knowledge for the course, he created a survey. This survey, a broad questionnaire on modern art, has become iconic.  In 1929, Barr went on to become the founding director of the Museum of Modern Art and was responsible for its institutional vision.  He attributed his knowledge of modern art to The Dial.


The following questions are based on Barr’s pioneering survey, which has been published many times in Barr’s books and in magazines such as Vanity Fair (August 1927). His questions were designed with essay-type responses in mind, so in order to simplify, the answers, with some helpful clues, were transformed into the questions. Keep in mind that this was written in the mid-1920s, so what is referred to as “current” was indeed so at the time. The artists, writers, sculptors, musicians and others featured in this survey all had a significant impact on developing Modernism in all its forms.



1. Among the manufacturers of Jazz, this “White Hope” reveals as a musician a decided talent which has received great approbation. Name the musician. 

2. Who is one of the foremost among German masters of the theatre arts? Known, unfortunately, in this country by The Miracle.

3. Who is considered very possibly the greatest living painter? Once one of Les Fauves, now accepted as a master by all critics save Mr. Cortissoz who rejects his work because of its “lack of suavity in the manipulation of painted surface.”

4. Name the playwright who wrote The Hairy Ape, a violent tragedy of maladjustment in the machine age.

5. Identify the Mexican draughtsman and caricaturist who penned The Prince of Wales and Other Famous Americans”.

6. Who is the Irish cosmopolite and author of Chamber Music, Ulysses, Dubliners, and master of prose in the “stream of consciousness” manner which sacrifices clarity and form for the illusion of exhaustive completeness? 

7. Which American artist is considered one of the leading watercolorists, a position trumpeted by the recent sale of one of his paintings to a magnanimous Washington collector for $6000? He was also among the first American artists to produce abstract paintings.

8. Which German film company is consistently lauded for its sacrifice of commercial for artistic values? The company released The Blue Angel, starring Marlene Dietrich and Emil Jannings, in 1930.

9. Name a Russian Sculptor now conducting a school in New York, who is famous for his masterly and highly sophisticated fusion of late Renaissance elegance with the cubistic formula. 

10. Who was the organizer of the first Post-Impressionist Exhibition in England as well as the most brilliant English art critic supporting the modern aesthetic attitude (ma non troppo)?

11. What ordinance in New York and other large cities governs the height of tall buildings in proportion to the width of the street, thus safeguarding light? This has resulted in the “step-back” design of the newer skyscrapers, and is of infinitely greater importance to American architecture than all the stillborn and sentimental archaism of the so-called revolutionary architects. 

12. Name the American photographer, pioneer and prophet of modern art in America, who is a founder of “291” and the Intimate Gallery, an impresario of the Seven Americans, husband of Georgia O’Keeffe, and the only New York art dealer who employs the Socratic method without destroying patronage.

13. Which landmark German film was the first to use expressionist settings and to attract popular attention in America? It tells the story of a mad hypnotist who uses a sleepwalker to commit murders.  

 14. Name the French artist who is considered one of the greatest living sculptors. He exhibited Bas Relief (terracotta) in the 1913 Armory Show in New York.

15. What term is used to describe the group of English and American poets who attempt to isolate and realize vivid sensations and emotions by a sparse and enameled imagery wrought in free verse? These poets are influenced by such diverse classical sources as the Chinese and Hellenic, and include John Gould Fletcher, Ezra Pound, Richard Aldington, Amy Lowell and the not quite anonymous H. D.

16. Who is the Parisian Modernist of incredible versatility – poet, novelist, dramatist, satirist, inventor of ballets, and staunch champion of all that is witty and adventurous in the arts?

17. What major department store, through its advertisements and show windows, has done more to popularize the modern mannerism in pictorial and decorative arts than any two proselytizing critics? 

18. Name the ballet, one of the most popular of the Ballets Russes, about the loves and jealousies of three puppets with music by Igor Stravinsky.

19. Who is the Editor of Poetry magazine, matriarch of the Chicago poets, and author of the poem, I love my life?

20. Who is the French poet, mystic, dramatist, now Ambassador to – of all places – the United States? His older sister was the lover and co-worker of Auguste Rodin.

21. Name this former editor of The Dial, who is also a well-known drama critic. In his landmark book about culture, The Seven Lively Arts, the relative qualities of Beethoven, George Gershwin, and Puccini are clearly discerned.

 22. Identify the noted German dramatist in the Expressionist manner who is most known for The Song of Bernadette and The Forty Days of Musa Dagh.

23. Name the versatile English actor, director and scenic designer known as the “Old master” of the modern theatre – and the modern woodcut.

24. Which art critic of The New York World and editor of The Arts was lauded for his ability to maintain a standard of criticism and scholarship which is both conscious of the past and sensitive to the present?

25. Which German philosopher in his Der Untergang des Abendlandes (The Decline of the West) proves by cumulative analogy a cyclical theory of history and the decadence of our civilization?  If, however, decadence is the “inability to create new forms” the personalities and works of art included in this question are at least attempting a refutation.

26. Name the Italian dramatist who twines his audiences, his directors, his actors, and himself in a spider web of problems ontological end epistemological in works such as Six Characters in Search of an Author, Enrico Quattro, etc.

27. What is the name of the avant-garde group of youthful Parisian composers (Honegger, Auric, Taillefere, Milhaud, Paulenc, Wiéner and Satie)? 

28. Which siblings, all writers, formed the core of a highly sophisticated literary and artistic circle in London rivaling that of the Bloomsbury Group?

29. Name the French ironworker, known not only for his weapon designs, but also for his elegant Art Deco wrought iron decorative arts and building embellishments.

30. Identify the author: “Thou art come at length more beautiful than any cool god in a chamber under Lycia’s far coast than any high god who touches us not here in the seeded years; ay, than Argestes scattering the broken leaves.” She is associated with the early 20th century avant-garde Imagist group of poets, including Ezra Pound and Richard Aldington.

31. What type of music is composed in two or more keys and often played simultaneously?

32. Name the privately owned institution for education of the aesthetic appreciation of the fine arts in Pennsylvania. It possesses the finest collection of modern French pictures in America, including several hundred Cézannes and Renoirs, many great Picassos and Matisses, fine Daumiers and Van Goghs and a recently acquired masterpiece by Seurat.

33. Name the English painter, critic and novelist who is a founder of Vorticism and editor of Blast. As the author of The Art of Being Ruled he emerges as an English Mencken who thinks before he mocks, but not enough.

34. Who is the Modern Belgian artist known primarily for his woodcuts and for his wordless novel Passionate Journey (1919)?

35. Who is among the first American architects to become conscious of modern forms as expression of modern structure and whose name is a byword among progressive architects the world over? 

36. Which American composer and pupil of Stravinsky recently returned from Paris to direct his very remarkable Ballet Mécanique, played by one mechanical piano, ten pianos, four bass drums, two wind machines, eight xylophones, electric bells – and, we hope, an E-flat alarm clock and a contra-bass metronome?

37. Name the American Lawyer and bibliophile who, before his death, was the most emancipated among the great American collectors of modern art; pictures from his collection are now in the Louvre and the Art Institute of Chicago. He was also the co-organizer of the 1913 Armory Show.

38. Name the new and increasingly powerful art movement in Europe which to its ranks flock many who previously wrote or painted under the oriflamme of Dada or Expressionismus. Devoted to the exploration of the subconscious, believing in the artistic validity of dreams, it is an expression of faith in Twentieth Century psychology, just as Impressionism received the sanction of the Nineteenth Century physics. 

39. Name the Viennese composer, who discards any definite key or tonality and employs a musical form, algebraic, laconic, cerebral, in contrast to the predominant rhythms, Russian folk tunes and “back to Back” creed of Stravinsky, his chief rival for leadership among contemporary European musicians.

40. Who wrote the madcap morality play Aria da Capo, a writer also known for her poetry?

41. Who composed the American ballets Krazy Kat and Skyscrapers, and was one of the first to use jazz rhythms in orchestral music?

42. Which New York company is one of the very few firms exclusively devoted to the designing and manufacture of modern furniture which makes “no compromise with reminiscence.”

43. Name the most important figure in the contemporary Russian theatre opposing Constructivism to the super-Belasco realism of Stanislavsky and the Moscow Art Theatre. 

44. Which English pianist is famous for his magnificent performances of music by that greatest modern composer, Johann Sebastian Bach?

45. Name the French cubist whose forms are polished and cylindrical like steel, clangorous in red and black like new fire-engines. He is also considered the forerunner of Pop Art.

46. Identify the author: “Silence is not hurt by attending to taking more reflection than a whole sentence. And it is said and quotation is reasoning. It gives the whole preceding. If there is time enough then appearances are considerable. They are in a circle. They are tending a circle. They are a tender circle. They are tenderly a circle.”

47. Name the Russian ultra-cubism art movement in which painting is reduced by an almost scholastic dialetic to the just disposition of a black square in a white circle. Malevitch and Rodchenko are masters of this pictorial quintessence. 

48. What is the publicly supported institution for the study and creation of modern architecture, painting, ballet, cinema, decorative and industrial arts in Dessau? Among the professors are Kandinsky, the Expressionist, Paul Klee claimed by the super-realists, and Moholy-Nagy, the Constructivist.  

49. Who is the architect and leader of the Constructivists in France, and author of Urbanisme, Vers une Architecture, among others?

50. Name the Polish film director and actor, now director of the Laboratory Theatre in New York City, who counted among his students Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler?