Art makes the world ponder, and so the world ponders. When it comes to thinking, man knows how to do it best when he compares. It is this need or ability to compare that brings us the various forms of art, including modern and contemporary.
If you look at the words alone, it’s easy to get confused between them. ‘Modern’ means something that belongs to this age, the modern age, something new that excites us. The word ‘contemporary’ shows us things that are related to this time and date, or the present age. In the art world, however, there is a thick brick wall that stands between the two. The words are used to describe two distinct and yet, intertwined things through the category of time. ‘Modern’, to an artist, means a work that dates to a specific era. So does ‘contemporary’. Although modern art can’t directly be compared to contemporary art, there does exist, a link between the two. It is something that binds them together across time, but still manages to separate them as completely different entities.
Two Words, Two Worlds
The difference can actually be whichever you want it to be, something as technical and astute as a one-line definition, or something deeper, where you can attempt to figure the real differences between them. Know that although the difference between them might be the same, what really changes is the perception of the people regarding the difference.
❖ Modern art, as history sees it, is a collection of all the works of art that fall between the late 1800s (around 1860) to the mid 1900s (around 1970). For the realm of modern art, we have painters like Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Paul Cezanne and Henri Matisse.
❖ Modern art is represented by works like Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Picasso and Spirit of the Dead Watching by Gauguin.
❖ It includes all the technical molds that were created in this period, or all the ‘isms’- Expressionism, Impressionism, Post-impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Dadaism, Surrealism and Pop Art.
❖ Contemporary art is defined by the time it was created rather than the type it falls under. And the time is what the type itself defines – now. What you see in the present created around you is nothing but contemporary art.
❖If history is anything to go by, then contemporary art is said to start out around the 1950s and continues to this day.
❖ Of course, that’s not the only reason to separate modern from contemporary. When you say ‘this piece is contemporary’, you mean it is created in the present. You also mean that the piece is something that does not reply to the conformity of traditional art or modern art.
❖ Contemporary art is what an artist creates if he/she makes something that, even if it is inspired by modern art, follows none of its boundaries. If modern art is a mold, then contemporary art is what breaks that mold to become something else.
Relating the Two Forms
The Birth of Modern Art
Let’s take a look at how we created modern art. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, you have artists like Van Gogh and Manet, who didn’t really adhere to the current art scene. The people and their surroundings changed, and so did their thoughts. What all modern artists have (or had; most of them are now dead) in common is an aversion to realism and the formalities that tie an artist to it. They preferred seeing the world in a different light, and so they chose to describe that image in their own manner. The result was then known as ‘Modern Art’. In an effort to express their individuality, artists came up with their own style; unique and often bold. What we describe today as Fauvism and Dadaism are nothing but methods used by artists at that time to portray their art in the most unusual way possible.
The Creation of Contemporary Art
Moving on to the last 20 years from now, we have artists that faced the harsh reality, like the war (WW II, The Cold War), feminism and globalization. They grew up with ideals and thoughts different from what artists in the modern era did. So now you have a number of artists who consider the old methods of modernism as too conformist or vague. They now decide to make their own works or art according to their style. This gave rise to what we now call ‘Contemporary Art’.
The Differences Today
❖ Of course it isn’t that simple; there are always more than one ways to describe art. Contemporary art pays more attention to the society, while modern art tends to be self-expressive at times. The former is also a lot more receptive to changes in society.
❖ Another difference is the advancement in technology. Artists today, have the camera, the computer and custom software. They will use these to their advantage as they see fit. This makes a huge difference in the works between the two types of art.
❖ Contemporary art often spreads to places outside a canvas or a gallery. This art is found everywhere, from comics in newspapers to the videos on TV, from the freedom on the Internet to the graffiti on the streets.
There are also the views of people who matter; collective or otherwise. Apart from the precision of reductionist definitions, modern art and contemporary art are still different from each other, and yet locked together in the two frames of time. I believe that art, is art; make it or view it, regardless of how much effort you put into either, you will always have opinions. Whether they concur with the rest of the world or not, they do exist and are always noted, which adds to the definition of art. Modern art is not just about being the biggest nonconformist and contemporary art is not about the struggling painter trying to get noticed on the Internet. There is a lot more to it, and this, you can only see if you keep your eyes open.