List of Modern Art Styles

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Modern art is an umbrella term for several art styles from the 19th and 20th centuries that broke away from traditional techniques practiced since the Renaissance. These styles were initially greeted with scorn as expressed in the dismissive, "My 6-year-old could paint better than that." Eventually, many modern works were praised as masterpieces and modern styles have since influenced generations of artists.


The Impressionists experimented with depictions of light.
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The French Impressionists, including Paul Cezanne, Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, were a loose community of 19th Century artists who worked together to exhibit their work after failing to get into France's official exhibit, the Salon. The Impressionists explored light with bright colors and quick brushstrokes that shocked traditionalists. Impressionism stayed in France. However, elements of Impressionism, such as lighter colors and looser brushwork, inspired American painters including Childe Hassam, Walter Sickert and Mary Cassatt.


Post-Impressionists such as Vincent van Gogh expressed strong emotion in their work.
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Lumped together as the Post-Impressionists, artists such as Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Georges Seurat expressed emotions in a variety of styles. Seurat created hybrid hues such as green by dabbing pure pigments next to each other. Gauguin favored solid blocks of color and clearly defined forms. Van Gogh's early paintings feature strong brushstrokes in earthy tones. Later work features bright colors and strong outlines. His work while a mental patient features brilliant colors, distorted perspectives and agitated lines. Artists inspired by the Post-Impressionists include Edouard Vuillard, Pablo Picasso and the German Expressionists.


The cubists emphasized the flatness of the canvas.
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Cubism was introduced by Pablo Picasso and George Braque between 1907 and 1914. The cubists rejected the idea that painters should imitate nature with techniques such as foreshortening, perspective and modeling. Instead, the cubists wanted to emphasize the two-dimensional nature of the canvas. Cubist artists reduced their subjects to geometric forms and depicted them from multiple or contrasting viewpoints. Other cubists include Fernand Leger, Juan Gris and Jean Metzinger.


Inspired by the psychological theories of Sigmund Freud, Surrealism was originally developed in the 1910s and 20s by psychiatrist and writer Andre Breton and the poets Louis Aragon and Paul Elard as a literary movement. Surrealist writers tapped into the imaginative powers of the subconscious with an experimental form of writing called automatic writing. Surrealist painters such as Max Ernst, Andre Masson, Man Ray, Rene Magritte and Salvador Dali employed refined painting techniques to create dreamlike visions rich with Freudian symbols.

Abstract Expressionism

The Abstract Expressionists emerged in 1940s New York. Although a loose community rather than a formal school of thought, the Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock, William de Kooning, Franz Kline and several others shared several ideas about art, such as the importance of improvisation and spontaneity to the creative process. The Abstract Expressionists created large-scale works that both expressed their own inner feelings and universal themes inspired by Jungian psychology and ancient mythology

Pop Art

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The Pop Art movement flourished from the mid-1950s to the late 1960s. It was created by a small but influential group of artists including Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. Some Pop artists mocked the seriousness of the art world by incorporating elements from mass media, such as comic strips, movie stars, famous photos and advertising. Others incorporated these elements as a commentary on modern life.