Modern Art

Most art historians tend to say the shift to modernism started in the mid to late nineteenth century. This was an era of rethinking the old rules, breaking free from the established traditions and experimenting with new ways of working. There is not one specific artwork that ushered in the modern era. It was not birthed on one specific day. It was an evolution, but if I were to look for a dividing line I would say that the modern era started around the time that Daguerre gave us his photographic method. Photography becoming more accessible changed the way artists worked. Painters were liberated in a way because they no longer needed to focus on capturing an accurate likeness. Those who wanted realistic pictures could simply take a photograph. Of course, the new technology could also threaten their livelihood as patrons could now choose between a painting and a photograph for their portraits. Regardless of whether artists considered the new technology as an opportunity or a threat, the end result was artists experimenting and becoming more abstract. They focused on things the camera could not capture. At first, the Impressionists looked at color, then Post-Impressionists moved on to the expressive qualities. As I said the work became increasingly abstract until artists like Jackson Pollock were simply dripping paint onto the canvas. So what is the connection between Impressionists focusing on what they saw and Jackson Pollock’s action painting? Why do all of these movements fall under the modern umbrella? I would say the through line with modernism is a philosophy rooted in the idea that artists could capture some objective truth that would make the work timeless and universal. The impressionists were focused on optics and how the human eye perceives color. The abstract expressionists ran with the modernist quest to distill art down to a fundamental essence and took it to its logical conclusion. They broke art down to the basic elements like line, color, and texture to create a sense of movement and an expressive composition that was free of specific subject matters which would have tied it to a time and culture.

Extra Credit: Check out these artists to gain a better understanding of modern art