Want to Get More Into Art? 5 Modern Paintings You Should Know


Art is all around us, whether it be through photography, paintings, or still life. Art has always been a passion of mine. Recently this past semester, I took an art history course that taught me the major art movements, famous paintings and their significance. I don't think there was ever a time where I wasn't interested in art or an art movement. Here are some modern paintings to help you get started on your art journey, if you have found an interest in it.

1. Starry Night

  • Title: Starry Night
  • Artist: Vincent Van Gogh
  • Time Period: 1889
  • Art Movement: Post-Impressionism
  • Medium: Oil on Canvas

Probably the most well-known painting in all of art history is Starry Night. This painting is famous for its swirling, almost moving sky and its grandeur. The significance of Starry Night is spiritual. Van Gogh was a religious man, especially because his father was a minister. Not only is his spirituality represented in the sky, but also in the foreground. In the town below the sky, the tallest structure is the church in the middle. The dark spires on the left of the painting are cypress trees. These trees are associated with death, a nod towards a memento mori.

This can also be a hint at what Van Gogh felt and thought while painting this. Van Gogh did have manic depression, which is a psychiatric illness. This illness affected what he painted, and in a way, painting made Van Gogh sane and at peace. If you want to learn more about Van Gogh and his psychiatric illness, I highly recommend watching the film, At Eternity's Gate, starring Williem Dafoe. I believe that great things came out of Van Gogh's illness. It made him create these wonderful paintings that we get to marvel at and stare in admiration and awe. Many of us are moved by Van Gogh's famous pieces, and I don't think that it would have been possible if he had not gone through what he went through.

"What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?"

-Vincent Van Gogh

2. Number 1, 1949

  • Title: Number 1, 1949
  • Artist: Jackson Pollock
  • Time Period: 1949
  • Art Movement: Action painting
  • Medium: Enamel and Metallic paint on canvas

I realize that this painting is chaotic, and that's kind of the point. This is one of Jackson Pollock's paintings titled, "Number 1, 1949. All of the paintings he created didn't have a specific title or topic, because many of his pieces were abstract expressionist paintings. Pollock is probably the most well-known artist during this art movement because of his process in creating his paintings. He would lay a big canvas on the floor, use enamels, and let the paint drip off of his brushes. Pollock also used other utensils like sticks, syringes, and hard brushes. There was no specific technique used to apply this unfamiliar consistency of paint.

Pollock would just dance and move around the canvas, letting the paint move until it landed on the canvas. During this new art movement, some questioned whether his paintings could even be considered as art. They thought how can this be considered art when all the artist is doing is dripping and splattering paint from a can onto a canvas on the floor? Pollock's paintings were messy and chaotic, yet expressed feeling through movement and color. It reminds me of life; it's abstract, can be viewed from different lights and perspectives, but still crazy and messy at times. If you want to learn more about Jackson Pollock and his art technique and process, I recommend watching the film, Pollock, starring Ed Harris.

"The modern artist... is working and expressing an inner world - in other words - expressing the energy, the motion, and other inner forces."

-Jackson Pollock

3. The Water-Lily Pond

  • Title: The Water-Lily Pond
  • Artist: Claude Monet
  • Time Period: 1899
  • Art Movement: Impressionism
  • Medium: Oil on canvas

Monet was most famously known for his water lilies. He actually painted The Water-Lily Pond in his garden in Giverny. The reason why many of Monet's paintings seem and look blurred is because of Impressionism. This art movement became very popular because artists started to only paint impressions of what they saw. However, this isn't why Impressionist paintings are blurred. The reason for this is because artists wanted to paint what they saw in the moment, and because daylight is always fleeting, they had to paint fast. This is why we see loose brushstrokes and dabs of greens, blues, and whites. It's meant to give the audience an "impression" or overall idea of what the painting looks like. It's not supposed to be really defined or detailed with hard edges and outlines. Artists didn't want to waste light working on the little details. This painting is probably one of my favorites simply because of the subject and beauty. I like that it's blurry and hazy, it's not meant to look super detailed. I like how you can separate different objects through strokes. The tree on the left looks like a willow tree because of the medium vertical strokes, the tree to the right is different, it has dabs instead of strokes.

"People discuss my art and pretend to understand as if it were necessary to understand, when it's simply necessary to love."

-Claude Monet

4. A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

  • Title: A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte
  • Artist: Georges Seurat
  • Time Period: 1884-1886
  • Art Movement: Post-Impressionism
  • Medium: Oil on canvas

Some of you may know this painting because it made an appearance in John Hughes' Ferris Bueller's Day Off. When the camera does a close up between Cameron and the little girl in the painting, you might have noticed that there's a ton of tiny splotches of paint that make up her face. This art technique, known as chromoluminarism or pointillism, was used by George Seurat. Pointillism, in the simplest of terms, is when you put two primary colors close together and from far away or a certain distance, your eyes and mind begin to blend those two colors together because they are so close. Seurat was able to get the perfect shade for skin, shadow, and clothing by using a variation of primary colors. Different primary colors put together create a variation of colors and hues. The significance behind this painting is that it's entirely in pointillism. Imagine having to fill a 6' 10" x 10' 1" canvas with only tiny dots of paint. It took over two years for Seurat to complete this painting.

"Some say they see poetry in my paintings; I see only science."

-Georges Seurat

5. Violin and Sheet Music on a Table: "Petit Oiseau"

  • Title: Violin and Sheet Music on a Table: "Petit Oiseau"
  • Artist: Georges Braque
  • Time Period: 1913
  • Art Movement: Cubism
  • Medium: Oil and Charcoal on canvas

Cubism involves looking at something three-dimensional and ignoring the different perspectives, and focusing on one point. Once you focus on that one point, you ignore all other edges and three-dimensional figures. Shapes, objects, and lines are supposed to overlap and curve. This is what creates cubism. Cubism subjects consist of architecture, people, music, and literature.

Samantha Ferrer
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Samantha Ferrer is a 19 year sophomore in college in California. She enjoys reading, writing, spending time with close friends, and binge watching her favorite shows and movies. Samantha also enjoys watching Rom-Coms and John Hughes movies. On her free time, you can find Samantha thrift shopping, and enjoying/looking at nature.