11 simple ways to understand modern art you’ll wish you had always known

Inspiration | Dec. 11, 2017

There’s something fascinating about modern art. Although we often struggle to understand what it’s all about, many of us can’t help but feel the urge to at least comprehend the basic ideas which underly the unusual and sometimes striking compositions we see.

We at Bright Side have put together this unique introduction to modern art for you, using some of the most interesting examples by famous artists and sculptors. Once you recognise what the different kinds of modern art are, you can investigate further if you wish. We hope the real connoisseurs out there will forgive us if it’s not quite to their liking, but for the rest of us it will surely come in handy next time you find yourself in a gallery.

1. If you see lots of different coloured squiggles overlapping with blotches of paint which the give the impression that the artist made lots of mistakes, this is quite likely to be .

Jackson Pollock’s ’No. 5′. This is in fact the most expensive painting in the world — it was sold for $140 million. There has been a tendency for abstract paintings to be given a number or named after the first word that pops into the head of the artist.

Pollock working. You can see more of his work here.

2. If it’s a toilet seat, some bricks, some trash or any other everyday objects which have been placed in a glass case with an explanation which makes no sense, then you’re looking at a work of .

Damian Hirst, ’For the Love of God’ (a diamond-encrusted skull); Joseph Beuys, ’Fat Chair’.

3. If you see an inanimate object without any explanation or modification to its appearance, then this is a . Artists in this case take an everyday object as it is as a way to express their ideas.

Marcel Duchamp apparently bought this urinal in a shop (according a different version, he found it on a rubbish heap), and turned it into an art composition with the title of ’Fountain’. It ended up being sold for $1 million...

4. If what you see in the picture looks like something out of a nightmare (that is, it’s either bizarre or frightening, or both), then it’s quite possibly a work of .

Salvador Dalí, ’The Persistence of Memory’

Jacek Yerka, ’The City is Landing’

5. If it seems like an artist has got lazy and tried to just claim that a photo is a painting, this is called . Often the figure in the painting will be either completely soaked, or naked.

6. If someone appears to have taken an advert from a glossy magazine and gone over every line and space with surreal, bright-coloured paint to make it look like a cartoon, then this is .

Some famous works by Andy Warhol.

Roy Lichtenstein, ’In the Car’; Jeff Koons, ’Balloon Dog’

7. If you find you’re asking yourself whether the painting you’re seeing has magical properties, or if you’re simply drunk and can’t see straight, you can be sure that this is  (short for ’Optical art’).

8. If you see any number of neat blocks of colour arranged into nothing in particular,you can be sure that this is a work of .

Josef Albers, ’Homage to the Square’; El Lissitzky, ’The New Man’.

A poster by Alexander Rodchenko

9. If you see an artist dancing in front of onlookers in a costume that looks like a cake, wrapping a snake around themselves, or any number of other weird and wonderful things, then this is .

Tilda Swinton performing ’The Impossible Wardrobe’, Joseph Beuys performing ’Coyote: I Like America and America Likes Me’.

10. A  is almost the same thing as Performance Art, but in this case involves the participation of the audience. In this case, no one knows what’s going to happen next.

Yves Klein has naked models pull each other across paper covered in blue paint accompanied by an orchestra.

11. You might walk into an exhibition hall where there are manequins nailed to seats with pained expressions on their faces. There’s no need to worry though — this is : the kind of art which you can walk around and even touch.

The ’In Orbit’ Installation in a museum in Düsseldorf.

Ilya Kabakov, ’The Man Who Flew into Space’; the ’Mirror Maze’ in Sydney’s Hyde Park.

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