Modernism is a period in history that implies a new standard of thinking and producing art, literature, and mainly philosophy. Every existing element of our present culture is a product of Modernism. This period began primarily because of a drastic change in philosophy. The art critic Clement Greenberg considers Immanuel Kant to be the first true modernist, for the philosopher was the first to show an intensification of self-criticism, by criticizing the form philosophers used to criticize. This is inherited from Enlightenment thoughts, but differs since phModernism’s self-criticism comes from the inside and not the other way around.
The Enlightenment had brought an idea of art as purely entertainment or a simple hobby, meaning it needed to defend itself by make an independent statement, proving its quality standards with a strong sense of self-definition. The primary goal was to create pure art, by having a uniqueness to each particular area. An example of this is how painting is always approaching and distancing itself from sculpture during the history of art. Throughout the Neo-Classicism, David aims to portray a sculptural painting, for he felt that his art should not be two-dimensional.
The Classic Roman culture and all of the art movements that were inspired by it – like the Renaissance, Neo-Classicism and Academic Classicism – would use art to hide art. In other words, the artists used illusionist painting techniques to hide that the work being seen is art and not just a realistic representation of life. The Classic painters would try to cover up the limitations of the technique, as they thought of it as a negative aspect. As an opposition, the Modern artists positively see these restrictions and explore their pictorial possibilities and use art to draw attention to art, no longer worried about achieving a three-dimensional illusion. Jackson Pollock was a Modern painter from the Abstract Expressionism and highlights the aspects of the material being used when he splatters paint on the canvas that lays on the floor.
The development of Modern art changes the way the public sees and receives art, as well as the art critics themselves. A realistic style painting, for example, is primarily regarded as the image it portrays, even before it is seen as a painting. The illusion used in these works references to a sculptural language that the Modernists thrived to separate painting. The self-analysis provoked by philosophers helped artists to find the true essence of their media, thus arising abstract painting. As painters start to abstract their figures, they distance their work from sculpture, but still were able to represent images in a literary way. The abstract painters are now representing the two-dimensionality that is natural to painting, that the canvas is a flat surface. Wassily Kandinsky is famous for being the first artists to work with abstract painting, but the title of Pioneer was recently given to Hilma af Klint, after finding out she had done works similar to Kandinsky’s about five years before him.
No date in history marks the beginning of Modern Art, as its influences start to affect the works of artists gradually. Many art critics do not see this as a rupture with the Classic past, but a consequence of it. The Classic views on art were imposed for centuries and during history, art either denies or embraces it. The Modernism is simply a period where there is a drastic denial to Classic standards. In painting, this meant a rupture with the literal representation of what was being seen, like in the fashion of the Tromp L’oeil paintings that deceive the viewer's eyes. The emergence of photography also affects the Modern painting, as there is a way to represent realistic images with technology, there is no need to use painting to do so – freeing artists to approach and create different techniques and styles.
Piet Mondrian was an abstract painter who took the view on the dimensions in painting to another level. He mostly worked with pure, primary colors and basic lines and shapes. Like other Modern painters of the time, he no longer used frames on his canvases, as it represents a separation from the artwork and the real world. The progress Mondrian made in his painting process suggests a separation from the canvas, and as a projection of painting in space. Many art critics theorize how, if the artist lived longer and continued working, this would be a natural sequence to his art, just like many post-modern artists did at the beginning of the XIX century.