Modern Art vs. Contemporary Art

Posted by Jhan Dudley on

Modern Art - Art For A New World

Modern Art is the term used to describe artworks roughly dating from the mid 19th to the mid 20th century. It includes works from Manet and Van Gogh to Dali and Picasso. Artworks from this period are, arguably, the most popular and well-known works of art of all time. Prior to that, art was predominantly based on Classical or religious themes. Then, beginning with the Age of Enlightenment in the 17th century, new intellectual perspectives and scientific discoveries led to widespread changes in all aspects of society.

During the time of the Industrial Revolution, which began in the mid 18th century and lasted through the 19th century, the rapid changes in manufacturing and technology had a profound effect the social, economic, and cultural conditions of life throughout the Western world. In particular, new forms of transportation, including first the railroad, then the automobile, changed the way people lived and worked. As urban centers grew, people migrated to cities, in search of employment and new opportunities.

Art, which can be said to be the 'heartbeat' of society, was quick to explore and interpret the meaning of these rapid-fire social changes. Artists began to reject the traditional styles and themes, in an effort to create a purer, more personal and emotional artistic statement. Artists began exploring the symbolism of dreams and iconography as an underlying reality, challenging the notion that art must realistically depict the world. Although spanning little more than a century, Modern Art encompassed several styles, including Impressionism, Expressionism, Art Nouveau and Art Deco, Cubism, and Surrealism. All these styles came and went with alarming speed, reflecting the increasingly fast pace of modern society.

Contemporary Art - Anything Goes

Contemporary Art, however, is different, and marks a change in how art was to be defined. It's styles include Pop Art, Minimalism, Conceptual, and Postmodern Art. Certainly by the 1950's, artists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning were already stretching the boundaries of 'what is art'. But Andy Warhol is perhaps Contemporary Art's most celebrated figure. His art was the catalyst that really kicked down the doors, allowing art to be, essentially, 'whatever the artist says it is'.

Suddenly, the artist was at liberty to experiment with, not just paint, but ideas. The world of Contemporary Art (including Pop Art, Minimalism, and Conceptual Art), which would have been considered utterly ridiculous only a few years earlier, was granted legitimacy. Most art, from the 60's to the present is considered to be 'Contemporary Art'. It's not always pretty, oftentimes perplexing, and even downright aggravating. But, like most new art styles, it's always, if nothing else, provocative.

Among the most provocative of this new crop of Contemporary artists is Jean-Michel Basquiat. Learn more about his art here.

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