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Modern Vs Contemporary Art

Modern Vs Contemporary Art: Key Differences

Different art movements represent different times, values, and perspectives. Two significant art movements – Modern and Contemporary, also represent sharp contrast between the two eras.

Modern art and contemporary art are sometimes mistakenly considered the same. Whereas, in fact, these two movements are quite different from each other. 

In this article, we will discuss the key differences between modern art and contemporary art.

Contemporary Art Vs Modern Art

Modern art:


Art from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, from 1880 to the 1960s, is included in the Modern Art era. It is the era that came after the Romantic period and before the contemporary period.

 A direct contrast to romanticism, modernism came into existence after French painter Gustav Courbet started the movement of “realistic” art. He wanted to present art in a way that was real, instead of exaggerating anything. 

Whereas romanticism is all about naturalism, modern art is about what the eyes see. 

Contemporary art: Contemporary or the current art period started roughly around 1946 and still continues to the present day. In other words, artworks made by living artists are considered contemporary works.


Modern art was heavily influenced by individualism. It represented the perspective of the artist rather than rule-bound academic art. The movement was a sharp challenge to the previous Romantic period. 

The modern art period encompassed various art movements including impressionism, post-impressionism, fauvism, expressionism, cubism, surrealism, and abstract expressionism.

Famous modern art paintings:

  • The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh (1889)
  • Las Dos Fridas (The Two Fridas) by Frida Kahlo (1939)
  • The Water Lilies Series by Claude Monet (1896-1926)
  • The Scream by Edvard Munch (1893)
  • Les Demoiselles D’Avignon by Pablo Picasso (1907)

Contemporary art:

whereas modern art represented individualism, contemporary art is heavily influenced by cultural impact, social changes, economic and political issues, etc. The contemporary art period includes major movements such as conceptual, minimalism, post-modern, feminism, etc. 

Famous contemporary artworks:

  • Maman by Louise Bourgeois (1990)
  • Campbell’s Soup Cans by Andy Warhol (1962)
  • Untitled by Jean-Michel Basquiat (1981)
  • Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) by David Hockney (1972)
  • Girl with Balloon by Banksy (2002)

  1. Medium 

Another aspect that separates modern art and contemporary art is the medium of art.

The medium of modern art was always the canvas. Modern Artists used paints and brushes to express their beliefs and values.

On the other hand, contemporary art is not bound by any single medium. You can find contemporary art on various platforms including canvas, video, images, and so on. Since contemporary art has been associated with the latest technologies, we can see how its medium is influenced by our current period.

Why do we need to understand the differences between modern and contemporary arts?

At the end of the day, art is art. 

However, in order to understand and study history, we must understand the differences between different art movements. 

Because art is not only about the artist, art represents the history, culture, values, and even the future. So, be it historians, or art enthusiasts, it is important to understand the similarities and differences between modern and contemporary art movements.

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