How to Fake it: What to say about Modern Art

In our How to Fake it series, we seek to simplify art topics into bite-sized nuggets to enable you with the tools to be an art conversationalist.

For this ‘How to Fake it’, we explore the world of Modern Art and how people tend to confuse it with Contemporary Art.

With the words “modern” and “contemporary” being so easily interchangeable, it is quite easy to confuse Modern and Contemporary Art as the same type of art. However, art historians generally refer to art created from the 1860s to 1960s and 1970s as Modern Art. Whereas, Contemporary Art usually refers to works created from the 1960s and 1970s,up till today. There is a vast period of overlapping as Modern Art transitioned to Contemporary Art and it is very easy to be confused by the two terms. Let’s dive in and give you some tips on what to say when talking about Modern Art:


What is Modern Art?

Modern Art began approximately during the 1860s. This continued till the creation of Contemporary Art in the 1970s. There isn’t an exact date that Modern Art was first created, with ongoing debates amongst art historians and critics about who the first contemporary artist is. As the art historian H. Havard Arnason had once said, Modern Art was “a gradual metamorphosis that took place in the course of a hundred years.”

Modern Art was created largely out of a spirit of experimentation, creating new ways of seeing and understanding of what art is. Having grown tired of how traditional art always portrayed stories, Modern Art includes movements such as Impressionism, Cubism and Expressionism, and pioneering artists like Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse and Paul Cézanne.


What defines Modern Art?

With the experimental nature of Modern Art, it inspired multiple art movements ranging from pure abstraction to hyperrealism. It was based on the belief that art mattered and had high value, contrary to their successors, the post-modernists who rejected that art had any value and was merely created for art’s sake.


What did Modern Art do for the art world?

It created plenty of new, experimental ways to create art – many of which are still used today by various artists.


Types of Art

Modern artists were the first few to use collage art, assemblage art, kinetic art, photography, animation, land art and performance art.


New materials

Collage art saw the use of newspapers and cloth stuck onto canvases. Assemblages had artists scouring the junk yard for materials to create works from ordinary, everyday items. Perhaps one of the most iconic was Marcel Duchamp’s “Readymades”.


Use of colour

Painters like Henri Matisse revolutionised the Parisian art world with expressive, multi-coloured figure paintings and landscapes.


What are some famous Modern Art movements ?


Impressionist artists place a large emphasis on accurate descriptions of changing light at various times through the use of small, thin, visible brush strokes. Close-ups of artworks produced are usually unrecognisable. This style was highly favoured by artists like Claude Monet and Edgar Degas.


Led by Henri Matisse, Fauvism was known for its use of vivid, garish colours over the realistic colours kept by Impressionism. Although known for their wild brush works and vivid colours, the subject matter in Fauvism was highly simplified and abstracted.


Pioneered by Pablo Picasso, this austere and challenging style brought a compositional system of flat splintered planes as an alternative to Renaissance-inspired linear perspective and rounded volumes. It continued to influence abstract art for the next 50 years, offering an alternative view on conventional perspective.

Pop Art

First emerging in New York and London in the late 1950s, it quickly became the dominant style till the late 1960s. Popularized by Andy Warhol, Pop Art utilized images that reflected the mass consumerism and popular culture of America in the 1960s. The bold and vibrant block colours, combined with the iconography of popular celebrities, it showed that good art did not have to be high art and could be made of anything.

We hope these pointers have helped you to better understand and engage in conversation about Modern Art.


Check out the modern works we have up on our site, and see if you can spot the various styles we’ve mentioned above!


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