Modern vs. Contemporary Art. What is the Difference?

Posted by Analytics Delante on

Is contemporary and modern art the same? No – Western modern art is dated roughly between 1860–1960, while contemporary art refers to art made in the present day. Therefore, though the dictionary definition of the two words may be deceptively similar, the two periods are decidedly not the same. Our discussion on modern vs. contemporary art will highlight exactly what makes them different. Interested? Then we invite you to read on!

Modern and Contemporary Art – Definitions

While modern art is a period stretching from the mid-nineteenth century to the 1960s, contemporary artists are those that live and create today. Most art historians are in agreement about this distinction, though the nomenclature does lend itself to plenty of confusion.

Modern art came about when artists decided to step off the beaten path and embrace more experimental ways of expression. This connects heavily to the historical and political contexts of the period. What’s particularly fascinating from the Western perspective is just how many differences there were between European and American modern artists.

When it comes to contemporary art, though some movements and institutions had already been active in the twentieth century, the term primarily refers to art created in our technologically advanced, interconnected world. Access to modern media and forms of expression tore down existing paradigms and paved the way for art forms that had previously never been possible.

Most Important Art Schools from the Modern Art Era

It’s impossible to exhaust the topic without creating a whole separate article about modern art. In lieu of that, here’s a collection of just some of the various subgenres that collectively defined the period:

  • Romanticism
  • Impressionism
  • Expressionism
  • Realism
  • Surrealism
  • Absurdism
  • Abstract Expressionism
  • Pop Art
  • Conceptual Art
  • Neoexpressionism

If you’re curious to know more about art from this period, deepening your knowledge of impressionism is a good starting point.

Without a doubt, some of these will definitely ring a bell for you. Artists who created in the heyday of these movements are responsible for some of the most famous works of art in the world and established themselves as timeless, household names.

World-Renowned Modern Art Representatives

Who are the most well-known artists from the modern art era? It’s not possible to honor them all due to the sheer breadth of the period, but the list below consists of names you absolutely have to know:

  • Vincent van Gogh
  • Pablo Picasso
  • Claude Monet
  • Gustav Klimt
  • Salvador Dali
  • Jackson Pollock
  • William Turner
  • Paul Cézanne
  • Salvador Dali
  • Georgia O’Keeffe
  • Frida Kahlo
  • Edvard Munch

The Contemporary Art Movement – A Brief Overview

As mentioned before, what we classify as contemporary art, broadly speaking, is any art that came after the modern art period and is being created today. In contrast to modern artists, contemporary creators employ the many techniques at their disposal to often question the meaning of art itself.

Truth be told, there is no uniform definition to accurately encapsulate the meaning of all contemporary art. The movement is constantly evolving, adapting to the reality of the world we live in, and taking on new forms. These have long been extending beyond traditional media like painting or sculpting.

Many consumers and critics question whether contemporary art is “real art” at all because of how nonconformist it can be. However, no matter the medium or how obtuse it gets, contemporary art still, at its core, is about the artist communicating something to the world.

In spite of the often hard-to-grasp meaning behind it, over the decades, many focused contemporary art movements have emerged. The most famous of these are:

  • Conceptual Art
  • Pop Art
  • Minimalism
  • Photorealism
  • Abstract Expressionism
  • Performance Art
  • Video Art
  • Installation Art
  • Postmodernism
  • Neo-expressionism

To understand the intricacies of contemporary art, we recommend reading up on abstract art, which forms one of its key movements.

Chocolate Cat - 16" x 20" oil on linen - Tiffany Sage

Famous Contemporary Artists – Names You Should Know

So, who are the people behind the famous contemporary art pieces?

  • Andy Warhol
  • Takashi Murakami
  • Jeff Koons
  • Anselm Kiefer
  • Jean-Michel Basquiat
  • Banksy
  • Marina Abramović
  • Louise Bourgeois
  • Cindy Sherman
  • Francis Bacon
  • Barbara Kruger

Another difference between modern vs contemporary art concerns authorship. In the past, artists would sign (almost) all of their work. Now, especially in the information age, lots of artists publishing online are anonymous Internet users, just like you and me. It’s thrilling to think that a new groundbreaking artist could already be out there, creating, expressing themselves, and waiting to be discovered.

The Takeaway

When discussing modern art vs. contemporary art, the primary difference lies in the historical timeline. Artists from the two periods lived in completely unrecognizable worlds, which is clearly reflected in their respective art landscapes. We hope this article helped you understand what separates modern and contemporary art!

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading: 6 Influential Art Movements & Their Timeline.

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