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What is Modern Art? Abstract, Expressionism and so much more!

Updated on February 28, 2014
Abstract art at its best
Abstract art at its best
Landscape abstract painting
Landscape abstract painting
A typical expressionism painting.
A typical expressionism painting. | Source
A surrealism painting
A surrealism painting

Modern Art, by definition, means “art of the present times or era.” In today’s art world, that may seem a bit puzzling; renaissance artists, no doubt labeled their own works “modern.” To tag the current period of time we are in as “modern art,” we can summarize the distinctiveness and outlook of today’s world and the significance that art plays within it. One could say that modern art is a swift and dynamic art style with many deep-seated disparities. Technological changes have also helped frame the way society looks at art. In earlier times, artists were producing custom-ordered art by churches and the elite; this would later transform into artists just doing what they loved – making art. War and political strife would give artists an escape from the world around them. In America especially, art would take on new meaning – with the rest of the world watching.

The art movement was now a society that dove into expressionism and color, whereby a splotch of yellow served as the sun or the grotesqueness of a spoiled piece of fruit was a work of art, leaving many to speculate how to classify art at all.

Styles of Modern Art

Expressionism Movement: A style of art that puts emphasis on the expression of the artist’s emotions and psychological traits that is usually conveyed with the use of daring colors and disfigured shapes. It was an art style, prevalent in the early 20th century, which lay the foundation for German artists. Expressionism sought to bring a poignant reaction to its embellished style of art. The artist would adopt the use of brilliant colors and over-stated figures to showcase their inner feelings. Throughout art’s history, this type of expression through art is most closely associated with modern Europe’s artworks.

At the conclusion of the 19th century, Expressionism would make a comeback in paintings via two remote and inept artists. Edvard Munch, from Norway and Vincent Van Gogh, from the Netherlands were both great vessels for expressionism. While many in the art world were admiring impressionistic art that highlighted natural beauty in color and landscapes; Munch and Van Gogh chose to take a fundamentally different position and voice their individuality through self-expressive paintings. They looked for a way to self-express themselves in a world that was, apparently, aggressive and timid in their eyes. It was this slanted point of view that led them on their search for “expressive” truths that catapulted them forward and cemented the path for 20th century Expressionist art forms to chime in and allow the exploration of the inner soul.

Noting that Vincent van Gogh’s art was not publicly recognized until his fatal demise, his approach towards art plainly anticipated Expressionism and was a key factor in the Fauvism movement. While his vibrant paintings seemed to pulsate with emotion, his mental illness would overcome him, leading to his suicide. Is it possible that if there was less shame associated with mental illness and more suitable treatment of such, that Van Gogh could have spared his life?

Impressionism: Made popular by Louis Leroy, a famous art critic, Impressionism was a term he coined while reviewing over 30 painters at an art show in 1874. The artists had been previously rejected by Paris Salon. Impressionism was a style that the artist used to capture glimpse of objects. Imagine seeing a peep of something out of the corner of your eye – the Impressionist artist could recreate this on canvas. Dabs of color would mimic the effects of light, usually in an outdoor natural setting. The paintings were more about the feeling of the moment and not necessarily all the minute details.

Impressionist art is vibrantly colorful and intense, with boldness in imagery minus the details. Some popular impressionists were Camille Pissaro, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, Edouard Manet, Berthe Morisot and Edgar Degas.

Cubism: Sounding off the start of 20th century art movements, Cubism would force artists to reassess their principles of art do’s and don’ts since the Renaissance times. Cubist art is characterized by the destruction of space concerning art dimensions, lighting techniques that are conflicting and the collapse of traditional foreground and background areas.

The credit to Cubism lies with Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, painters who looked away from traditional art styles and created the Cubist movement in 1907-1914 in Paris. Cubist style clearly rejected traditional art “rules” making pictures two-dimensional and flat-looking. Age-old art practices like modeling, chiaroscuro and foreshortening were out the window. Instead, cubism would depict drastically erratic and patchy objects that were viewable from several sides at the same time. No longer would texture, color, space and form be at the forefront of their technique.

The term “Cubism” was contributed by Louis Vauxelles, another art critic, who commented about Matisse’s observation concerning Braque’s painting that reminded him of tiny cubes. Artist Paul Cézanne’s work is also recognized as being a medium for Cubism.

Surrealism: A movement founded in creative and mythical styles, Surrealism expressed dream-like imagination and free-flowing subconscious reasoning. Anti-rationalist feelings from Dada were inherent in Surrealism from the start. Rising assumptions on reality perception, like Freud’s subconscious model, as well as a class of artists ready to unleash the power of the human mind can be attributed to surrealism.

The Surrealist movement got its beginnings in 1924 Paris, thanks to Andre Breton’s Manifesto of Surrealism. Its purpose was to disclose the sleeping subconscious mind and reunite it with normal life. It also served as an outlet for political and social uprisings and was even associated with the Communists for a short time.

Surrealism had two styles that were distinct. Earlier surrealists like Rene Magritte and Salvador Dali, the dreamers, and later, Joan Miro and Max Ernst’s styles of free-form artwork would be the most prominent. The Surrealist influence on art, prose and film would also impact social beliefs and actions.

Pop Art: A more contemporary art movement, Pop Art emerged in the 1950s and used pop culture, mass media and styles reflective of advertising almost concurrently in the US and the UK. Media celebrities and culture were the focal point of the Pop Art movement and was meant to blur the lines that separated art and culture, as art was seemingly more high-end than the present culture was.

Pop Art stood for the absence of “status” in the culture and proved that it could make use of any media form as a vessel – soda pop bottles, comic strips, even soup cans were representative of the times. A pop artist would illustrate ordinary objects and everyday people, looking to bump up the culture to fine art status.Pop art, still today is one of the more familiar modern art styles.

Abstract Expressionism: Abstract expressionism comes straight from the streets of 1940s New York and is best known for its opposition to the harsh impressionist-styles that came prior. Abstract expressionists wanted to illustrate the levels of the subconscious in a way that was more natural and took motivations from other surrealists like Salvador Dali and ancient drawings made in caves. There was also influence from the escalating abstract art movement in Europe.

Avant-garde tools like eating utensils, sticks, drips from paint cans and body parts formed a technique referred to as “action painting”, which treasured the painting act itself, just as much as the completed work. So, bold and vibrant color, hazy shapes and a grouping of random lines and forms are the basis for abstract expressionism and will either inspire you to new levels of consciousness or leave you absolutely bewildered.

Modern art, in particular abstract art has never been more popular than now. The beauty of the web allows us to buy beautiful paintings to enhance our décor and coordinate our interiors with any style we may chose. There is something for everyone, exclusive high end art can be found in online art galleries like the Bromfield Gallery, whereas the budget oriented shopper may want to visit a place for more reasonable art like Artemaximus.

No matter what you look for when it comes to art, there is something available for any taste and every budget!

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© 2014 Alex Fabelli

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