The Difference Between Modern and Contemporary Art

When discussing the difference between modern and contemporary art it is important to tell the story of Gustave Courbet, a French painter who spearheaded the Realist movement in 19th century French painting. By challenging the prevailing concepts and the Romanticism of the foregoing generation of artists of his time, and committing to painting only what his eyes can see, Courbet showcased an ‘independent mind’ that influenced many artists who blossomed later, most especially the Cubists and Impressionists. A story to be told to explain the difference between modern and contemporary art, so let’s understand

How Courbet Buried Romanticism, and Gave Birth to Modern Art?

gustav-courbet-burial
Gustav Courbet – A Burial At Ornans

A Burial at Ornans by Gustav Courbet, was a revolutionary painting, which opened the doors for the concept – Modernism

The painting above portrays the burial of Courbet’s great uncle in the small French town of Ornans. Unlike most painting of that period, this painting depicted the scene without any exaggerated visual components. It stayed true to Courbet’s realist technique of only painting what he can see. It is obvious that the painting lacks the romanticism of grief and mourning that can easily be found in all customary Romantic paintings.

When Courbet painted this during the years 1849–50, the art world still operates under traditional methods – the most famous of which is the Romanticism style. So, it was understandable that critics decried Courbet’s painting by pointing out his technique and realism of the image as well as its uncanny 10 feet by 22 feet size. Defying the conventional components present in all work of art during his time, by using real people present at the burial, as subjects instead of art models, Courbet essentially gave birth to Modern Art.

“The Burial at Ornans was, in reality, the burial of Romanticism” as Courbet said. Nobody among his circle and even himself would anticipate that his painting would signal the start of a revolution in the world of art.

By developing a distinct style, Gustave Courbet etched his place in the history of art when he as the ‘first modern artist’ thus officially beginning the Modern Art Period.

Difference between Modern and Contemporary Art

Modern art is a term that signifies the philosophy and style of the artworks produced during the 1890-1960 era. The main objective of Modern art was to set aside the traditions of the past and put more emphasis on experimentation with a new perspective of seeing the world. People often get confused with the word ‘modern’, as a term to describe something new and fashionable, but rather it refers to the artworks produced during the time period mentioned above

Contemporary art is the art produced by living artists, who produce the most up-to-date artworks. By definition, Contemporary Art refers to work of arts made since the aftermath of World War II and is used to describe the works of artists still living and creating artworks. Contemporary art took the main ingredients of Modern Art into greater heights by focusing more on social, economic and political matters, and also uses diverse materials and mediums to produce artwork.

How Modern Art ushered a new era in the world of art?

The Modernism movement introduced many fresh concepts in the world of art. All of a sudden many artists started exploring dreams, symbolism, and personal iconography as their signature. Modern artists also experimented with the expressive use of color, non-traditional materials and mediums.

Pablo Picasso for one devised a new style of painting called Cubism known for its geometric forms. The innovative invention of the film camera expanded the evolution of modern art – The introduction of the art photography in the 1830’s presented artists a new medium for illustrating the world.

Characteristics and Leading Figures of Modern Art

Modern Art is used to conveying the era of ‘Modernism’, a time where art is described with various terms ending with ‘ism’s’ such as; Fauvism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Dadaism, Cubism, Surrealism, Expressionism, Pop Art and many other art movements. All of it formed the foundation of Modernism Art. These art movements were influenced by a number of factors like; African and Asian Art, Light, Culture, History etc.

Some of the most well-known ‘Modernist Masters’ include; Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Georges Seurat, Paul Cézanne, Andre Derain, Henri Matisse, Henri de Toulouse, Piet Mondrian, Raoul Dufy, Maurice de Vlaminck, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Wassily Kandinsky, and Édouard Manet just to name a few.

The Birth of Contemporary Art

By definition, Contemporary Art refers to work of arts made since the aftermath of World War II and is used to describe the works of artists still living and creating artworks.

Difference between Modern and Contemporary Art
Contemporary Art

Historically, the term ‘Contemporary’ can be traced back to the beginnings of Modernism but as a special type of art, and not one to describe a period in art. One of the earliest times the term was used was in 1910, when art critic Roger Fry founded the Contemporary Art Society in London. In the aftermath of World War II, the term started to be used to define the art movement, which critics point to as the era where ‘modern art’ ceased being ‘contemporary’ enough to cater to the taste of the younger art enthusiasts. This is one definite narrative while explaining the difference between modern and contemporary art

Characteristics of Contemporary Art

The Contemporary Art era is known to produce more experimental works and tackles a wider variety of social, economic and political issues. It made art as a whole to reflect the current issues that hound our world today, such as racism, globalization, third-world country oppression, feminism among many others. Over the last 30

It made art as a whole to reflect the current issues that hound our world today, such as racism, globalization, third-world country oppression, feminism among many others. Over the last 30 years, we have seen a growing list of artworks that bring awareness towards the most perplexing and important matters. Guided by the emerging mediums such as art salons, video art, object design, graphical arts and social media, Contemporary Art has broken down walls and looks headed to a limitless future, which is another important aspect while we explain the difference between Modern and Contemporary Art.

Guided by the emerging mediums such as art salons, video art, object design, graphical arts and social media, Contemporary Art has broken down walls and looks headed to a limitless future

One who loves to explore modern and contemporary art, New York is an art paradise with some of the awesome museums with many exhilarating works

What will the Future of Art be?

Thanks largely to new technologies; art has become available to a larger audience and artists. With all the great things, the future will also be besieged with unpleasant eventualities.

While we explore the difference between modern and contemporary art, it is also important to understand the momentum that the contemporary art has gained. Barbican’s Rain Room: it’s raining, but you won’t get wet is a classic example of how contemporary artists experimenting with art with new mediums

We will see too many art exhibitions participated by non-deserving artists and in an art world plagued by too many of them, it will take more than better judgment and art appreciation to crawl out of the curatorial jumble just to discover the great ones. Social media will further increase access to photography, video, graphic arts and art installations, attracting scores of trash art but those with amazing art quality and messages will still find a way to survive. The Contemporary art is alive than ever before and more eyes will be on the lookout for the next Banksy or any other fresh art sensation.

With emerging mediums and technologies, today is a great time to become an artist. Read about must-see art museums for contemporary art.

By being highly creative and guided with deep thinking, you can reach your dreams and create a series of artworks that would make even the most hardcore Modern Art connoisseur appreciate Contemporary Art more. What Gustave Courbat has done in the past can very well be replicated by none other than you.

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3 comments

  1. Jim 1 year ago

    Good article but throwing around terms like “non-deserving artist” and “trash art” is far too subjective to define the parameters of what contemporary art should or should not depict or do. Gone are the days when contemporary art had to adhere to ground rules. Today anything goes. There are no more isms to react to and artists no longer have to depict the ills or mores of the world around them. While modern art mirrored the skin of the world, contemporary art has and continues to show what’s underneath by being overtly message oriented, by being ambiguous and allusive, and sometimes revealing intrinsic qualities felt and seen only by the artist and/or viewer. My point is that obviously you have certain standards and expectations of contemporary art as well as what you think the role of a contemporary artist should be and why. Bare in mind that you make up a segment of critics whose concerns are small in comparison to millions of other artists, curators, gallerists, art critics, and patrons. In short you can pigeon-hole contemporary art and turn it into your own personal manifesto but expect only a few followerstoherald your viewspoint.

    Bottom line: at the end of the day any and all visual art has to be worth looking at. Anything additional the viewer experiences is icing on the cake.

  2. James Findle 12 months ago

    Nice article, truly enjoyed reading that.

    I’m interested in getting to know more about
    “it will take more than better judgment and art appreciation to crawl out of the curatorial jumble just to discover the great ones”

    Could you tell us more on how to find a way in that?
    Many thanks

  3. namrah rafiq 6 months ago

    good collection of history