Realism vs Modern Art

Van Gogh modern art
Vincent van Gogh, Country Road in Provence by Night, 1889, May 1890, Kröller-Müller Museum


Realism vs Modern Art Characteristics
Realism Modern Art
In Realistic art the tone is pessimistic. In modern art  the focus is on the abstraction.
Realism portrays life's reality, with no romance or great optimism, like in Victorian and Romantic literature. Injects speculative fiction and supernatural elements.
Attempt to represent subject matter truthfully. Promotes stylization.
Focus is precise, detailed and accurate representations of everyday life. Conveys the feelings of emotional liberation and hedonism.
Represents accurate depiction of the anatomy of humans and animals, of perspective and effects of distance, and of detailed effects of light and colors. Traditions cast by the wayside in a spirit of experimentation.
A style meaning the honest, un-idealizing depiction of subjects. About new ways of seeing and with fresh ideas about the nature of materials and functions of art.


Let's talk about modern art vs. realism. This is a topic that is controversial or can create a lot of controversies. There are many people that are in the realism camp, and that is what they remember as far back as their childhood. They remember seeing paintings their father hung on the walls. These were all realism works of art, paintings, and drawings that were moving and were captured from authentic life. These were examples of daily routines, basic things all about capturing the moment.  

I remember as a child my grandmother had a giant painting above the sofa of a brilliant plow horse coming straight at you while pulling a plow. It was midday when the sun was at its peak. You could see the horse's muscular body working in the mid-day sun. A perfect example of what it was like to plow the fields. The painting did a perfect job of capturing the moment.  

Another example is Rembrandt, the self-portrait of the Apostle Paul. The first Rembrandt masterpiece. His self-portrait and one of over forty painted during his lifetime. The Apostle Paul, known most commonly as Saint Paul and known as Saul of Tarsus by the Hebrew name, was an Apostle, who in the world of the first century spread the teachings of Jesus. Paul is considered as one of the most important figures of the Apostolic Age, and he has founded several Christian communities in Minor Asia and Europe between the mid-30s and the mid-50s.  

The real foundation of art is when something moves you in a certain way. And that can be in a good way or a bad way. It can also be shocking. And everyone has their own personal taste in which art can move them. There is no wrong or right way. And many people cannot put into words what moves them. It may be just a feeling that they can not express.  

There are many examples of real-life scenes depicted in tapestry, drawings, sculptures, and paintings. And then there are works of art that are patterns and purely abstract. And one is not necessarily better than the other. Both types of art can be appreciated equally well. But there are some folks who are consumed by a particular type of art. And for these people, there is no way you or anyone else is going to be able to convince them to like another type of art. For example, there are folks who love a particular style of art like Mark Rothko. 

Modern art by Mark Rothko Magenta Black Green on Orange
Mark Rothko Magenta Black Green on Orange oil on canvas painting

I personally am not a big fan of his style, but many people are and I can respect that. His works just do not move me in ways in which other folks are moved by his paintings. But I will say I am fascinated by his use of colors and how well they are composed, color harmony mainly. Rothko did not subscribe to any school in person, but he is linked to the movement of modern art, American Abstract.

Expressionist, Rothko moved to New York City, where his youthful artistic creations dealt mainly with urban scenery. Rothko was originally an immigrant to Portland, Oregon, from Russia with his family. Rothko's art entered a period of transition in the 1940s as a reaction to World War II and experimented with mythological themes and surrealism to express tragedy. Rothko painted pure color regions around the end of the decade which he further abstracted into rectangular color shapes, the language he would use for the rest of his life.  

But for me personally, to admire any of Rothko's works, I first had to become an artist myself. Only then did I appreciate his artwork. Now that being said, I still don't like his artwork, but I can appreciate them. 

Realism art by Gustave Courbet, A Burial At Ornans
Gustave Courbet, A Burial At Ornans, 1849–50, oil on canvas

Now, contrast Rothko's style with Gustave Courbet in which Gustave was a proponent that art should represent real things. Jean Désiré Gustave Courbet was a French painter who, in 19th-century French art, led the Movement of Realism. He rejected academic convention and the romanticism of the previous generation of visual artists and committed himself to paint only what he could see. His independence set an important example for later artists, like the Cubists and the Impressionists. Courbet plays a major role in French painting as an innovator of the 19th century and as an artist who wants to make courageous social statements through his work. He was the driving force behind Realism. I will say that in the end artwork is very personal.  

Mark Rothko image, Fair use,
By Vincent van Gogh - Own work in the Kröller-Müller Museum, Public Domain,
By Gustave Courbet - Google Art Project: Home - pic Maximum resolution., Public Domain,
A video about Realism vs Modern Art
Realism - Overview from Phil Hansen