The growing influence of machinery; faster means of travel; new discoveries; new inventions; science; and greater freedoms; these were just some of the ingredients that went into the development of what is called modern.
Now for the record, the "Modern Era," as it pertains to art, includes artistic works which were produced during the period extending roughly from 1860 through the 1970's. This sweeping term encompasses both the style and philosophy of certain art produced during that era. In addition to painting and sculpture, "modernism" also extends to many of the other arts such as: architecture, literature, music, and dance. Art work produced after the 1970's until the present is referred to as Contemporary or Postmodern.
Even though the roots can be traced back even further, modern art really began with the heritage of some unique post-impressionist painters. Neither Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) or Georges Seurat (1859-1891) lived long lives, but their work turned out to be timeless and very essential to those that followed.
Seurat is noted for his innovative use of media and for devising a painting technique known as "pointillism." His most famous painting, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte," altered the direction of modern art and is one of the icons of the 19th century.
Where the work of van Gogh was appreciated by very few during his own lifetime, it is now viewed as pivotal to the modern movement and is among the most valuable art in the world. One of his paintings, "Self-portrait without Beard," sold for $71.5 million in the late 1990's, setting a record at that time. This particular painting was originally given to his mother on her birthday and was to be his last self-portrait.
Because the traditions of the past were thrown aside in a new spirit of experimentation, by nature, modern art is typically associated with the abstract. Those earliest daring painters were really experimenting with new ways of perceiving. They also had interesting ideas regarding the nature of materials and the many functions of art. By abandoning intellect in favor of intuition, they began depicting their world in an all together different way. Old rules that pertained to composition, perspective and color were suddenly tossed aside. Interestingly, their attitudes regarding art were further reinforced by the many scientific discoveries of the day which seemed to question just about everything.
As things progressed and one thing lead to another, modern art was well on its way as the world entered the 20th century. This was also a time when early modern architecture began to emerge. Technology [and society] were advancing exponentially and all of the arts were pushing the boundaries of what was accepted as "normal."
For a look at some good examples, the Museum of Modern Art has a good web site with a good archive at: www.moma.org). Please join me for part two and a look at the real "hay-day" of the Modern Era.