The nomenclature modern art is often misinterpreted. Believe it or not, the genre of painting called modern art (modernism) existed from the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th century. Often people interpret modern art to be the recent compositions of an artist. Alternatively, it is also common to hear people referring to any kind of abstract art as ‘modern art’.
In the late 1800s there was a movement from depicting the obvious, to more esoteric expressions by artists. Artists felt the need to move away from the figurative expression to a more abstract expression. As Picasso put it, “artist paints not what you see, but what you know is there”. This was a major shift in philosophy and ended up being the biggest deviation in western art. The artist’s impression of the colours were used in the paintings rather than what the actual colour of the subject was. In this philopsophy, art with a contemporary theme / subject were favoured over historical paintings and art, which was the main themes until then. The shift also liberated the form in painting compositions like Picasso’s Cubism.
Thus in art history this era of art was termed as Modernism, which quested for radical thought and freedom of expression in art. Around this time, the artists had the freedom to paint any subject listening to their creative energy, as there was no Patrons to please. In the modern era of painting art moved away from replicating reality to compositions that concentrated more on form, line, and colour, as the central theme. Picasso, Braque, Kandinsky were some of the pioneers of this philosophy.
So, the next time somebody is talking about modern art, be aware that the painting is quite old. Contemporary art is a better nomenclature to describe the art that been created in recent times.