Art 101 for the Young Professional: The Modern Period

After reading part one last week of Notable’s crash course in artistic periods, it’s time to move on to specific terms that will more than likely come up in any aesthetically-charged conversation. 

Modern art is probably the most sought after and recognized in today’s art market. Not only can it spice up a room, but it sparks a cultured debate around whether a painting’s lines mean happiness or despair. Chosen accordingly to hot topics, it is important to know the ins and outs of each term before adding each to your conversational arsenal. 

Abstract art refers to all of those works you may judge at first glance as a series of empty lines, circles, and squares. What the average person fails to realize, though, is that those nonfigurative shapes actually represent people, places, and things. Every Abstract artist has or had their reasoning for each work, whether they are thoughts, emotions, time, or current events. For example, Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) believed that different colours roused feeling, and often attributed hues with musical instruments. Each feature of abstract art represents patterns or images that make sense in the artist’s mind, manifested then in canvas or sculpture. The viewer’s role, then, is to experience pleasure through viewing the combination of these things. 


Often getting thrown around to describe the unconventional or bizarre, this term has historical importance from the turn of the 20th century. Derived from the rise of middle class, or the bourgeoisie, avant-garde critiques new world order by detaching itself from it. The bourgeoisie treated art as a means to improve their social status, thus prompting the artist to take a rebellious stance and develop a radical, confrontational aesthetic. Picasso and Braque are typical avant-garde artists, dedicated to their vision and making “art for art’s sake.” Though once rejected, these works are now bought for millions today. Each avant-garde piece is marked with artistic integrity that makes its master a hero in his or her own right. 


Installation is one of the hottest trends in the art world right now. Generally, it is a large interior or exterior space filled with a smorgasbord of materials and objects, each loaded with symbolism. Much of installation art is developed to influence how we experience a certain space, or even rethink our daily routines. The Weather Project by Olafur Eliasson, which debuted at the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2003, engaged its viewers in an optical illusion. The installation was complete with a gigantic illuminated orange disc to emulate the sun and humidifiers pumping a fine mist into the air. The vast space and orange glow made each visitor a mere shadow, indicating a person’s trivial place within the solar system. Many installations like this are humbling, allowing you to think beyond the typical hectic young professional schedule. 


Original Print
This phrase may seem like the biggest oxymoron, but printmaking is artistic production in its own right. There may be over 200 limited edition prints of the same image, but they are considered original due to the fact they are impressions of the first. Producing an original print takes great skill and a tremendous amount of time, as each colour, line, and tone needs to be manually input on singular prepared screens. Artists often collaborate with printers who manage technical aspects of this form. Andy Warhol made printmaking famous with his quirky pop works and the creation of The Factory, his print powerhouse. Warhol’s Eight Elvises, made possible by printmaking, sold privately for just over 100 million dollars, making it one of the world’s most expensive works. Considering the value of original prints, they are important to know about when encountering an art conversation. 


Now that you’re familiar with some key terms, don’t hesitate to try them on your boss or client who may have an abstract original print hanging above their granite fireplace. Next week, prepare to really wow them when you learn about the artists behind their choice absurd-yet-beautiful piece.