Why Is Modern Art Very Difficult To Understand?

Why Is It So Difficult To Understand Modern Art?

Modern Art is difficult to understand because it involves two elements of “seeing” Modern Art. Modern Art elements are visual and verbal. All art involves your mind attempting to translate the “visual” to the “verbal”. With Modern Art, the task becomes more daunting because of the abandonment of traditional styles. Modern Art forces your mind to put into words lines on a plane or elements of abstraction.

For example, it is very complex for the spectator to understand elements of space in a Modern Art painting. A painting is a two-dimensional surface. Paint is applied, but it’s hard to distinguish bulk. Except for impasto paintings. Paintings traditionally project no mass. So the artist draws a line on a canvas and creates a suggestion of depth. The Modern artist creates an illusion of depth by technical means on the canvas.

1. Modern Art Illusions Are Not Easy To Understand

In Modern Art, this illusion is now enhanced by introducing overlapping and spacing of colors and shapes. Using reds, yellows, blues, black and white color creates a new visual impact. Different intensities are also used. The illusion on canvas is now difficult to put into words. The visual becomes incompatible with the verbal. Therefore, Modern Art is hard to understand.

In traditional art, paintings and sculptures are imitations of nature or actual objects we are familiar with. These are visual illusions for the spectator to be easily interpreted. You know you are looking at a man, lady, or landscape. It’s easy for the mind to put into words a landscape painting, right? The spectator knows they are looking at a canvas covered in paint representing a landscape, for example.

2. Modern Art Became Reality Itself Making It Complicated

Now take this a step further and in Modern Art throw away the illusion and perspective technique and, as a result, the painting or object now turns into reality. The painting or sculpture is not an illusion of anything or an imitation. It now has its reasons for existence. Now your mind has to focus and put into words an object that has its own reasons for existence. No wonder Modern Art is difficult to understand, right?

3. Modern Art Transcends The Traditional Therefore Is Difficult

Modern art, often known as conceptual art, is an art that transcends traditional aesthetics. Modern Art has been heavily criticized for being the catch-all category for work that no one can understand. It conveniently fell into the category of Modern Art if it did not satisfy the usual genres or classifications of art and posed hard interpretations. Now take this a step further and add a strong following of those who say Modern Art is meant to be philosophical, and it does not have to be appealing, categorized, or even follow a prescribed technique. Now I can nail a piece of string to the wall and call it art. It may be met with disdain or maybe even confusion. But the one sure thing is that it will create controversy and a reaction from the spectator. Therefore, as a Modern Artist, I have accomplished what I set out to do, right?

My favorite example is the toilet created by Marcel Duchamp in 1917. Along with Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, Duchamp is widely considered as one of the three artists who helped define the revolutionary breakthroughs in the plastic arts in the early decades of the twentieth century. Duchamp is responsible for significant developments in painting and sculpture. His entitled work called “fountain” is nothing more than a porcelain urinal in which he signed.

In 1917, he entered a urinal in the Society of Independent Artists exhibition. The artwork in the Independent Artists exhibits was chosen by a jury, and all submissions were presented. The show committee, who said that it was not art rejected “fountain“ from the display. The Dadaists were outraged, and Duchamp resigned from the board of the Independent Artists.

So was Duchamp’s “fountain” really a practical joke or meant to be a slap in the face of people who took Modern Art seriously?

4. Modern Art Dismiss Long-Held Traditions

It’s a reasonable human reaction to dismiss new ideas that go against long-held beliefs and traditions. A story comes to mind regarding this very fact regarding a man named Ignaz Semmelweis. He was a Hungarian physician and scientist who is today credited with being one of the first to use antiseptic treatments. He discovered an astoundingly easy life-saving discovery while working in the maternity unit of a major Viennese hospital. He discovered that if doctors followed his recommendation to wash their hands with a chlorine solution before inspecting women in labor, the high fatality rate caused by child-bed fever could be dramatically decreased. Years passed before his simple practice was effectively implemented after the medical establishment rejected his proposal. As a result, countless women died unnecessarily.

Just like Ignaz’s simple practice to save women, Modern Art can appear so far removed from our everyday lives that it’s difficult to comprehend. Modern art, as well as art from cultures other than our own, can be particularly challenging.

Painting and sculpting in the traditional sense encompass a wide range of styles and subject matter. However, the visuals always resembled real-world objects to some extent. Most importantly, they were intelligible because people had encountered similar situations before.

5. Modern Art Understanding

In this article, I use the words, Modern Art, very loosely. So let me explain further. I feel it’s important to understand what the phrase “Modern Art” means. It is most commonly defined as work created after World War II. However, it only refers to art that is considered cutting-edge when it is utilized by critics, curators, and teachers. In addition, it refers to abstract work as well as postmodernist genres such as “Pop art,” and “performance art.”

6. Modern Art Fails In Understanding

Modern Art Fails In Understanding
Modern Art Fails In Understanding – Black Square, 1915, oil on linen, 79.5 × 79.5 cm, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Where Modern Art fails is when the artist cannot convey their intentions to the spectator. Modern Art severs the easy connection between everyday life and intelligible images, thus making the artist’s job even harder to convey their thoughts. Throw in some avant-garde art and now you have a situation where Modern Art becomes hard to understand.

For example, let’s take the artist Kazimir Malevich. In 1915, Kazimir Malevich painted a medium-sized canvas with a heavy black painted square in the center square. And as a result, of this and, of course, his other works, Malevich became one of the most influential artists at the time. The black square represented seemingly insignificant effort. He reduces everything to a form zero.

What does an ordinary person make of this art? How can you put his creation into words? In your wildest imagination, did you know that the black square represents feeling? And the white border represents a void beyond feeling? Now you can easily see Modern Art can be difficult to understand. Malevich and others believe they could represent emotions through abstract shapes. Here we can plainly see how such paintings failed to communicate the artists’ intentions.

So this therefore strongly suggests that the spectator’s understanding and appreciation of art is strongly connected to their real-life experiences. Seemly random shapes and lines do not activate the same part of the brain as do comparable real-life images. Again, making Modern Art much more difficult to comprehend.

“The world doesn’t make sense, so why should I paint pictures that do?”

Pablo Picasso

When compared to other types of art, modern art is sometimes difficult to understand and is considered garbage. So is Modern Art Trash? Contemporary Art gets more difficult to comprehend when it deviates from traditional forms. When looking at abstract items or lines on a plane, it might be difficult to understand what the artist intended. Furthermore, several contemporary artists frequently engage in pranks.


Adler, A. M. (1990). Post-modern art and the death of obscenity law. The Yale Law Journal, 99(6), 1359-1378. jstor.org/stable/796739

Saunders, F. S. (1995). Modern art was CIA’weapon’. The Independent, 22. https://jfzuluaga.com/wp-content/uploads/Modern-art-was-CIA.pdf

Whiteley, G. (2010). Junk: art and the politics of trash. Bloomsbury Publishing. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=KBCMDwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PR5&dq=Modern+Art+trash&ots=OtBQuWG2RU&sig=rWg7Kcnz7J_xm9rnkSw8NAqJjas#v=onepage&q=Modern%20Art%20trash&f=false

Boldrick, S. (2015). Trash as Trash as Art: Reflections on the Preservation and Destruction of Waste in Artistic Practice. NANO: New American Notes Online, (7). https://www.proquest.com/openview/427cda5ddeada1f91a79c62dd41a14b5/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=4476954

By Kazimir Malevich – Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31011870

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