Contemporary and Modern Art: Kinships and Contrasts

Despite the terms being used interchangeably, and having some similarities, there is a stark difference between modern and contemporary art. Notably, there is a temporal shift between the two eras in the art world. So, what is it that defines modern and contemporary art?

What is modern art?

Beginning in the late 19th century, modern art started as a way to break the rules. Coinciding with the rise in industry and technology, modern art took on these concepts and made the shift of dehumanising art to coincide with industrial progression.

Technology, science and experimentation all play a significant part in modern art. While the modern art era ended around the 1970s with the emergence of contemporary art era, modern art is still an art form that remains relevant today. This is thanks to its focus on hot topics such as international corporations (Campbell’s Soup Cans by Andy Warhol), power of industry (The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali) and progressions in society (The Two Fridas by Frida Kahlo).

Due to its encompassing and inspiring nature based on shaping the environment, the modern art movement spanned far and wide including surrealism, cubism and art nouveau.

What is contemporary art?

The contemporary art movement followed on from the modern art era stemming from the 1970s. While modern art was made to break the rules, contemporary art simply defines newness. Put simply, a concept not done before could be interpreted as contemporary art.

The industrial preciseness of modern art is removed in contemporary art which has no rigidity or commercialisation. Instead of drawing on the focus of a commercially driven society, contemporary art shifts the attention towards social consciousness.

Non-traditional media is a significant focus in contemporary art. As a result, contemporary art may take forms of installation art such as Yuken Teruya who uses paper bags, Erika Iris Simmons who uses cassette tapes and Giulia Bernardelli who transforms spilt food and drink into artwork.

Modern and contemporary: the kinships

  • Experimentation and innovation
  • Focus on presentness, futurism and new
  • Makes way for art trends (modern gave way to abstract impressionism, for example, and contemporary to post-minimalism).

Modern and contemporary: the contrasts

  • The difference in mediums and resources
  • The human element (modern dehumanises, and contemporary creates relationships)
  • Subject matters relevant to their specific eras.