When Looking At Modern Art What Should The Viewer Understand

Modern art can be a daunting and perplexing world for many people. It is often seen as enigmatic, abstract, and sometimes even nonsensical. However, by understanding some key concepts and approaches, the viewer can gain a deeper appreciation and enjoyment of modern art. In this article, we will explore what the viewer should understand when looking at modern art.

Understanding the Context

One of the most important aspects to consider when looking at modern art is the context in which it was created. Modern art encompasses a wide range of movements and styles that emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and each movement was a response to the cultural, social, and political climate of the time. For example, Cubism emerged as a reaction to the upheaval of traditional forms in the early 20th century, while Surrealism was a response to the trauma of World War I. Understanding the historical and cultural context in which a piece of modern art was created can provide valuable insights into its meaning and significance.

Embracing Subjectivity

Unlike traditional art, which often aimed to depict the world in a realistic and literal manner, modern art frequently embraces subjective and abstract representations. It is important for the viewer to let go of traditional expectations and be open to interpreting modern art in their own unique way. The artist’s intention may not always be obvious, and this ambiguity allows for a multitude of interpretations. It is this open-endedness that often makes modern art so dynamic and thought-provoking.

Exploring the Concept

Modern art is often driven by conceptual ideas rather than technical skill or craftsmanship. When looking at modern art, it is essential to consider the concept behind the work. This may involve understanding the artist’s intentions, the underlying ideas or themes, and the ways in which the artwork challenges traditional notions of art. By delving into the concepts behind modern art, the viewer can gain a deeper understanding of the work and appreciate its intellectual and philosophical dimensions.

Engaging with the Process

Many modern artists are interested in the process of creation and the materiality of their medium. When looking at modern art, take the time to consider the techniques and materials used by the artist. This may involve exploring the texture, form, color, and composition of the artwork. Engaging with the process of creation can provide insight into the artist’s creative decisions and the ways in which the artwork communicates its message.

Considering the Influence

Modern art is often influenced by a wide range of sources, including other art movements, literature, philosophy, and global cultures. When looking at modern art, consider the various influences that have shaped the work. This may involve exploring the artist’s connections to other artists, movements, or cultural traditions. By considering the influences on modern art, the viewer can gain a richer understanding of the artwork’s eclectic and diverse roots.

Appreciating the Value

Modern art has the potential to challenge the status quo, provoke thought, and evoke strong emotions. When looking at modern art, it is important to appreciate the value of art that encourages critical thinking, emotional response, and cultural dialogue. While some modern artworks may be difficult or perplexing at first glance, they often have the power to spark meaningful conversations and offer new perspectives on the world.


Modern art is a vibrant and complex field that rewards those who engage with it in an open and thoughtful manner. By understanding the context, embracing subjectivity, exploring the concept, engaging with the process, considering the influence, and appreciating the value of modern art, the viewer can gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of this dynamic and diverse form of artistic expression.

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