If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources for Khan Academy.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Becoming modern

People use the term “modern” in a variety of ways, often very loosely, with a lot of implied associations of new, contemporary, up-to-date, and technological. We know the difference between a modern society and our less advanced past and it usually has less to do with art and more to do with technology and industrial progress, things like indoor plumbing, easy access to consumer goods, freedom of expression, and voting rights. In the nineteenth century, steam-powered machines and unskilled laborers in factories began to replace skilled artisans. London, Paris, and New York led the unprecedented population growth of cities during this period, as people moved from the countryside or emigrated to find a higher standard of living. Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker of Smarthistory together with leading art historians, and our museum partners have created hundreds of short engaging conversational videos and articles, making Khan Academy one of the most accessible and extensive resources for the study of the history of art.
Community Questions
A thumbnail for: Introduction—Becoming Modern

Introduction—Becoming Modern

A thumbnail for: Romanticism

Romanticism

As is fairly common with stylistic rubrics, the word "Romanticism" was not developed to describe the visual arts but was first used in relation to new literary and musical schools in the beginning of the 19th century. Art came under this heading only later. Think of the poetry of Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and William Wordsworth and the scores of Beethoven, Richard Strauss, and Chopin. Romantic music expressed the powerful drama of human emotion: anger and passion, but also quiet passages of pleasure and joy. So too, the French painter Eugene Delacroix and the Spanish artist Francisco Goya broke with the cool, cerebral idealism of David and Ingres’s Neoclassicism. They sought instead to respond to the cataclysmic upheavals that characterized their era with line, color, and brushwork that was more physically direct, more emotionally expressive.
A thumbnail for: Early photography

Early photography

By modern standards, nineteenth-century photography can appear rather primitive. While the stark black and white landscapes and unsmiling people have their own austere beauty, these images also challenge our notions of what defines a work of art. Photography is a controversial fine art medium, simply because it is difficult to classify—is it an art or a science? Nineteenth century photographers struggled with this distinction, trying to reconcile aesthetics with improvements in technology.
A thumbnail for: Victorian art and architecture

Victorian art and architecture

Victoria was eighteen years old when she was crowned Queen in 1837. She ruled for nearly 64 yeas over the vast, powerful, British Empire until she died in 1901. Although the monarchy can be seen as a constant of British tradition, her reign witnessed radical change brought about chiefly by industrialization and the want and reform that resulted. The was a period of contradiction when progress often meant idealizing a lost past.
A thumbnail for: The birth of the avant-garde in France

The birth of the avant-garde in France

In this topic you'll find tutorials on Realism, Impressionism, and Post-Impressionism (among others). Throughout the 19th century there were artists who produced pictures that we do not label “modern art” generally because the techniques or subjects were associated with the conservative academic styles, techniques and approaches. On the other hand, modern artists were often called the “avant garde.” This was originally a military term that described the point man (the first soldier out)—the one to take the most risk. The avant garde is also used to identify artists whose painting subjects and techniques were radical, marking them off from the more traditional or academic styles, but not with any particular political ideology. "Avant garde" became a generic term for a number of art movements centered on the idea of artistic autonomy and independence.
A thumbnail for: Symbolism & Art Nouveau

Symbolism & Art Nouveau

The 1880s saw a shift away from the modern-life focus of Impressionism, as artists turned toward the interior self, to dreams, and myth. There was a sense that Impressionism had been too tied up with the materialism of middle-class culture. In some ways, van Gogh and Gauguin can also be seen as Symbolists. Many Symbolist belonged to groups of artists who broke away (or seceded) from the art establishment in their respective countries, to hold their own exhibitions. For example, Klimt belonged to the Vienna Secession (he was its first president), Khnopff to a similar group in Belgium called Lex XX (The Twenty), and Stuck co-founded the Munich Secession.
A thumbnail for: America: Civil War to the Gilded Age

America: Civil War to the Gilded Age

Find here the art of Winslow Homer, the expat Mary Cassatt, and work by other American artists in the 2nd half of the 19th century.
The birth of the avant-garde in France
In this topic you'll find tutorials on Realism, Impressionism, and Post-Impressionism (among others). Throughout the 19th century there were artists who produced pictures that we do not label “modern art” generally because the techniques or subjects were associated with the conservative academic styles, techniques and approaches. On the other hand, modern artists were often called the “avant garde.” This was originally a military term that described the point man (the first soldier out)—the one to take the most risk. The avant garde is also used to identify artists whose painting subjects and techniques were radical, marking them off from the more traditional or academic styles, but not with any particular political ideology. "Avant garde" became a generic term for a number of art movements centered on the idea of artistic autonomy and independence.
All content in “The birth of the avant-garde in France”

Art and the French state

Despite the brief dismantling of the Royal Academy during the French Revolution, art remained an extension of the power of the French State which regularly purchased art that it favored (often art that supported its political objectives). Through the Royal Academy (originally been founded by Louis XIV), the state extended its reach to the official exhibitions (salons) and to matters of style and subject matter through the École des Beaux Arts (School of Fine Arts). These were not just the official institutions of art, they were, in essence, the only institutions available for living artists to train and to make their work known. This tutorial looks at a crucial moment for painting, on the eve of the Revolution of 1848. We also examine one of the great State commissions of the Second Empire, the Opera House.

Realism

In the mid-Nineteenth Century, great art was still defined as art that took it’s subjects from religion, history or mythology and its style from ancient Greece and Rome. Hardly what we would consider modern and appropriate for an industrial, commercial, urban culture! Courbet agreed, and so did his friend, the writer Charles Baudelaire who called for an art that would depict, as he called it, the beauty of modern life. Courbet painted the reality of life in the countryside—not the idealized peasants that were the usual fare at the exhibits in Paris. The revolution of 1848, in which both the working class and the middle class played a significant role, set the stage for Realism. Later, Manet and then Degas painted modern life in Paris, a city which was undergoing rapid modernization in the period after 1855 (the Second Empire).

Impressionism

Impressionism is both a style, and the name of a group of artists who did something radical—in 1874 they banded together and held their own independent exhibition. These artists described, in fleeting sensations of light, the new leisure pastimes of the city and its suburbs It’s hard to imagine, but at this time in France, the only place of consequence that artists could exhibit their work was the official government-sanctioned exhibitions (called salons), held just once a year, and controlled by a conservative jury. The Impressionists painted modern Paris and landscapes with a loose open brushstrokes, bright colors, and unconventional compositions—none of which was appreciated by the salon jury!

Post-Impressionism

The work of van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Seurat together constitute Post-Impressionism and yet their work is so varied and unrelated, we might never otherwise think of these four artists as a group. Certainly van Gogh and Gauguin were friends and they briefly painted together, but each of these artists was concerned with solving particular issues that had to do with their own individual sensibility. Ironically, if anything ties these artists together it is this focus on subjectivity. This tutorial explores the sketchy multiperspectival views of Cézanne, Seurat’s systematized critiques of upper middle-class Paris, Gauguin’s fascination with the primitive and exotic, and van Gogh’s unerring ability to convey deeply human experiences.

Sculpture

Sculpture, like painting, had its avant-garde though because marble statues of the human body were seen in direct comparison to the classical tradition, experimentation was often seen as even more radical.