Have you ever wondered if there even is a difference between modern and contemporary art? First of all, the two terms are not exchangeable. There is a difference between the two. It is based on rough date ranges given by art historians, critics, curators, and art institutions. They recognized the distinct shift which took place, marking the beginning of the contemporary age and the end of Modernism. Modern art is one which was created between the 1860’s or the 1880’s) and the late 1960’s or 1950’s. Art made thereafter like conceptual, minimalist, postmodern; feminist is considered contemporary.
There are conceptual and aesthetic differences beyond the time frames between the two phases. Art was called “modern” because it did not rely on the teachings of the art academies and did not build on what came before it. Many art historians especially art critic Clement Greenberg think that Édouard Manet must have been the first modern artist. The reason was that he broke with tradition when he didn’t attempt to mimic the real world by using perspective tricks and also depicted scenes of modern life. He drew attention to the fact that his art was painting on a flat canvas and it was made by using a paint brush. A brush which sometimes left its mark on the surface of the art. This shocked audiences and critics but inspired his peers and the next several generations of artists. Each of them whether in representational or abstract works, experimented on how to draw more attention to their medium even nearly a century later to Mark Rothko. Modern art holds numerous movements such as Cubism, Surrealism, Impressionism, and Abstract Expressionism to name a few.
Contemporary art means the art of the moment, but defining it more than that and its open-ended date range is challenging. This is because the task of defining art became a personal quest in the hands of contemporary artists which resulted in ever-expanding possibilities. A key difference between modern and contemporary art was the shift in focus from aesthetic beauty to the core concept of the work. Conceptual art and performance art are good examples. The final result of a work of contemporary art became less important than the process by which contemporary artists arrived there, a process which now sometimes required participation on the part of the audience. So if someone starts talking to you about modern art the next time you are at a cocktail party, you will know not to go on and on about your favorite Jeff Koons inflated dog sculpture. You now know the difference between modern and contemporary art!
Ian Tan Art Gallery Vancouver
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