Modern art can be defined by dates, from 1880s to 1970s and subject matter. The dates do vary according to which art historian you refer to, however there is little dispute about the sequence of events. As the industrial revolution consolidated its hold on commercial activity in Europe and North America in the late nineteenth century, artists moved away from mythological and religious subject matter, toward depicting more personal and interpretative subjects. These subjects required greater insight and so frequently what interested the artist was based upon firsthand observation.
Henry Moore was one of the first of his generation of British artists to set a pathway that was consistent with this progression. Artists turned from academic techniques, fixed historical subjects and authentication or recognition from official bodies in their handling and technical proficiency. They moved toward personal observation, experimentation with colour, optical innovation and use of new materials and development of reproductive mechanical media like printmaking and photography.
What is Modernism?
Modernism was an international art movement that has influenced art, architecture and most aspects of cultural output throughout the twentieth century in Europe and the United States from 1918 until the 1970s. Modernism was utopian in vision and brought an improved set of aesthetic values and ideas to our homes, our towns and cities based upon mass production and better social expectations to millions. The Bauhaus under the directorship of architect Walter Gropius in 1919 was the first dedicated art school to formulate modernist theories like ‘truth to materials’ and to embrace modern production techniques as well as making function and form an intrinsic value of ordinary household objects. Their thinking went like this: every household needs a kettle, so better make it a good one that will last as well as appeal to the user’s eye and sense of touch.
The modernist movement has been closely linked with socialist theory and today cultural commentators point to its failures, which were largely to do with the architectural monumentality of mass housing projects that have discredited an otherwise useful engine for cultural, societal and economic change. Modernism was so culturally dominant that what followed on from it in the 1970s was given the term post modernism, a movement that isn’t one, suspicious of theory, stylistically fragmented and still culturally undefined, described as a condition rather than an art movement.
What is Contemporary Art?
Contemporary art refers to art – that is painting, sculpture, photography, installation work, performance, video and film – produced within the last ten years. It is art made during and for our current time frame, whatever that is. It is intended as a rolling term, something that describes the new and the innovative, often experimental.
However the term does not end there. Contemporary art can also be defined as the period that coincides with the beginning of post modernism. It includes art that dates all the way back more than four decades to the end of modernism in 1970. This definition allows contemporary art to encompass two important art movements of the 1960s: Pop Art and the work of artists like Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol and Minimalism in the work by artists like Sol Lewitt, Donald Judd and Carl Andre.