What Is Modern Art?

The modern art movement produced some of the world’s most recognizable and beloved artworks. In just over a hundred years, modern artists completely transformed what critics and the public knew art to be. 

Eden Gallery - Modern art vs contemporary art

Modern art is artists’ response to the radically new lives, technologies, and ideas that came out of the 20th century. 

The modern art period coincided with significant cultural, societal, and political change and upheaval, resulting in radical changes in artistic styles. 


Modern Art Definition

Modern art is defined as artworks produced between the 1860s to the 1970s in modern styles. Modern art denotes one or more of the styles and philosophies prevalent in the art produced during that era. 

Some artwork produced during this period followed more traditional or classical styles. But the term “modern art” is associated with art that challenged the traditions and techniques that came before it. 

Modern art - Eden Gallery

Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, and Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans are all examples of well-known modern artworks. Modern art is specific to a period and should not be confused with contemporary art which is being produced today. 


Is Modern Art Real Art?

Modern art is now well established as “real art” and was responsible for redefining what art was. Artists who preceded the modern art era focused on realistic art, created as a means for storytelling. 

what is painting - david kracov Eden Gallery

Traditionally, art had been used to document, tell a narrative, or capture a moment in time and space. By contrast, modern art is not always true to reality. Modern artists distorted reality to different extents through the use of radical new painting techniques and styles. 



Who Is the Father of Modern Art?

Many art historians consider Paul Cézanne to be the inventor, or “the Father” of Modern art. Paul Cézanne was a French oil painter working in the late 19th century. His work broke away from the impressionist style and became a catalyst for the modern art styles that followed it.


When Did Modern Art Begin?

Modern art began roughly during the late nineteenth century and spanned from the 1860s to the 1970s. 

Artists of the period sought to rebel against the traditional constraints of realistic art that were technically correct. Artists sought to capture on canvas, or through sculpture, the modernism they saw around them in society and technology. 

Following the Industrial Revolution, the world saw rapid changes in politics, transportation, society, manufacturing, and technology. It was a period that would become a crucial turning point in world history. 

Train travel and industrialization allowed more people a freedom of movement that expanded their horizons. Populations shifted en masse from the countryside to rapidly growing urban metropolises.

The invention of photography art created an accurate means to depict the world, a role previously held by paintings

Painters then turned away from realism and accurate depictions of scenes. They began to look to their dreams, feelings, personal iconography, and symbolism as inspiration instead of reality.

Before the 19th century, artists had traditionally worked on commission, often for the church or wealthy patrons. This meant that much of the artwork created in the earlier centuries had a religious theme. 

But in the late 1800s, artists began to make more artwork using their own choice of subject matters. This allowed artists to depict a wider view of the world and society, to take a political or social stance, and make their own commentary through artwork.

Artists took inspiration from their personal experiences and the modern advancements and inventions of the time. 

The urbanization of the period also allowed artists to assemble more easily and interact, allowing artists to create schools with like-minded contemporaries.

Impressionism was the catalyst for the modern art movement. It was the first modern painting style that introduced an emphasis on light and abandoned technical painting techniques to introduce blurred brushstrokes.


Why Is Modern Art Important?

Modern art plays an essential role as a stimulus that can provoke independent thoughts and even emotions. Modern art gives the audience an opportunity to embrace new ideas and reflect on changes in the world and our lives differently.


What Makes Modern Art Modern?

Modern art is often mistaken for contemporary art. Both “modern” and “contemporary” are terms to describe something current, but modern art came from a period where modernism in itself was a new concept, and new ideas flourished and changed the world at a rapid pace. 

Although there are many different styles and movements within the modern art period, there are underlying principles that unite and define modernist art. 

These include the rejection of conservative values and tradition, innovation, a tendency to abstraction, an emphasis on ideas and feelings, experimentation with materials, techniques, processes, and a shift towards social and political agendas.


What Is the Meaning of Modern Art?

Modern art aims to reject traditional aesthetic values through the reimagining or reinterpretation of scenes and ideas. Modern artists were determined to move with the times and stay current. 


Modern Art Movements

Each modern art movement developed a visual language that was determined to be both original and representative of the times. 

Therefore modern art styles can be grouped as movements or schools. Similar working styles were seen amongst groups of artists for short periods before they moved on and reinvented themselves. 

There was a tremendous amount of change in the styles and techniques used by artists over the century that modern art flourished.

There are countless styles of modern art, which include:

  • Impressionism
  • Post-Impressionism
  • Fauvism
  • Cubism
  • Expressionism
  • Surrealism
  • Abstraction
  • De Stijl
  • Die Brucke
  • De Blaue Reiter
  • Bauhaus
  • Art Deco
  • Art Nouveau
  • Neo-Impressionism
  • Futurism
  • Art Brut
  • Dada
  • Pop Art
  • Abstract Expressionism
  • Mexican Muralism
  • Japonism
  • Brutalism
  • Harlem Renaissance


Famous Modern Artists

There are far too many famous artists from the modern art movements to name them all. Here are just a few of the many well-known modern artists whose artwork fits into the definition of modern art.

  • Pablo Picasso
  • Wassily Kandinsky
  • Jackson Pollock
  • Mark Rothko
  • Frida Kahlo
  • Salvador Dali
  • Claude Monet
  • Vincent Van Gogh
  • Jasper Johns
  • Edvard Munch
  • Rene Magritte
  • Paul Gauguin
  • Henri Matisse
  • Lucian Freud


Enjoying Modern Art

Modern artists were challenging the notion that art must depict the world realistically. 

The avant-garde artists of the last century changed the art world forever, and their works are still cherished, studied, and appreciated today. Modern art styles produced by contemporary artists remain popular choices for collectors and to display in private homes.

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