How I understand Modern Art

Modern Art period is long period and the content of modern art is very complicate because art in the modern period not only heritage from the classical art, but there were so many genres generated from the dynamic period, from impressionism to the Abstraction. However, what define “Modern Art” and why define an artwork as Impressionism, Realism, Post Impressionism, or other genres? Initially, I thought Modern Art must be “modern” and must be far different from classical art, however, after knowing more about the history of Modern Art and by using the method of semiotics, I found that Modern Art is not only defined by the skills, techniques, or materials of paintings, but also defined by the ideas and thoughts of a period that artists who begun embracing freedom, inherence, and feelings. The artworks and artists of the Modern Art period from a dialogic situation and differentiate the period with other periods of art history.

Before the impressionism, Realism in the 19th century is the mainstream of art and painting, and even though it reflected the reality of society and industrial life, what I found about Realism still heritage the skills and technique of classical art, while it adopted real life and depicted the original life of people and the Industrial Revolution. Photography was invented and assisted the classical art in many aspects, including learning on perspective and locomotion (Laurie Schneider Adams, 2011). However, if photography could do the same thing as the artist, what is the meaning of art in the context of history and real life?

Starting from Impressionism, the artist chose to depict moments by adding the understanding and feeling of artists themselves. During the visiting in the National Gallery of Art, I saw a series of picture draw by Manet. His early paintings were not realism, but it is also not the same as other paintings of Impressionism. Manet adopted both Realism and Impressionism style in his early painting life, the figures in his paintings are not romantic or ideal but show the normal shapes and moments, and at the same time, show the artist’s “individual freedom”. His later works showed more features of Impressionism by using blurring and depicting “slice of life”. I also found that his paintings have something common with Renoir’s paintings. Both of the artists created an environment of an endless surrounding within the limited canvas and showed the imagination of artists. Monet’s famous paintings depict more about the environment and create more about the feelings, the shift of lights and passing time. Manet combines realism with Impressionism, while Monet seems to adopt more elements of Impressionism in his artworks and his paintings developed the Impressionism and were used to represent the Impressionism as an individual genre.

Moreover, Monet also utilized the feature of brush and color to create abstraction. Explicit depiction of objects is a way to judge the skills of an artist, however, Monet did not want to show the skills of painting but showed his ideas and feelings within a painting. I read the introduction of the Birth of Abstraction in the National Gallery of Art, and it is said that “paintings that were no longer pictures of the visible world but just…paintings”. Even though Abstraction was thought to generate from the 20th century, Monet and other artists who lived in the earlier period might influence later artists and art genres by the idea of replacing objects, the idea of expressing the artists’ feelings, and the spirit of revolution in arts.

Art cannot be understood without its context and history. At first glance, some artworks might be considered as drafts or unskilled sketches because there was no painting skills or technique shown in the artworks. However, “Art is not a ‘profession'” (H. H. Arnason &Elizabeth C. Mansfield, 2012). If an artwork were put within the context of meaning, it could construct a dialogue between the audience and the artists and express the meaning of it.


Introduction of the Birth of Abstraction. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

H. H. Arnason and Elizabeth C. Mansfield. History of Modern Art. 7th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2012. Excerpts.

Laurie Schneider Adams, A History of Western Art. 5th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011. Excerpts.

Prof. Irvine, “Framing an Interface for Modern Art and Modernism”