Oxford says- a style or movement in the arts that aims to break with classical and traditional forms.
The above definition is probably the only thing that is going to be technically right in this entire post. I have been taking an Art History class for about a year now (honestly too long for any class to last) and the teacher has decided to let us flounder in finding a way to define modern art.
So here is my floundering.
People started messing around with the idea of modern art in the late 1800s and it continued into the middle of the 1900s. A group of people apparently started to question the definition of art. For example: can an overturned urinal be art?
Regardless of whether or not the signature matches the 'artist's' name. DuChamp basically founded modern art on a number of levels. I believe that he turned his entire life into a practical joke. Occasionally making 'real' art to please the masses while occasionally flirting with the idea of post-modernism before it existed.
I can see him smiling after finishing Fountain. Which in my uneducated opinion is more post-modern than modern because it not only breaks from traditionalism, it breaks from the breaking of traditionalism. Pissed off a lot of people.
But that's for the next post.
I'd label/define modernism as "Art: Once Removed". As the definition above states, Modernism is anything in the art movement that breaks from the traditional rules of art. Which is strange because that kind of happened with every single new movement of art from Mannerism on.
Mannerism asked the question: Do we have to show things as they physically are, or can we change it to fit our purposes? And thusly, everyone started drawing strange versions of Mary.
After this drift from the rules, movements that broke the rules developed by the classical Renaissance era started up all over the place. Europe being the only place these advancements really happened. In other parts of the world, art stayed mostly the same because the only people figuring out the definition of art in the first place were the Europeans. Other civilizations (Aborigines, Chinese, Japanese, Zulu, All the Native American tribes, etc) simply accepted art as part of the rest of their life. They didn't see a distinction.
Personally, I think it's better that way.
But moving on.
After Mannerism, several movements broke away from the great and powerful Renaissance and moved into 'new' areas of art. All the while trying to find some vestige of originality that might still be left while still using the same paints on the same canvas to paint discernible subjects.
Then Modernism happened and changed the whole game.
Pollock used some paint. Sometimes he used other things. I saw a Pollock painting up close (not one above) once and walked up to it. I discovered nuts, bolts, and screws stuck into the paint.
Why? No clue. Probably had something to do with his image as a 'working man' artist. But it was certainly a different experience. Pollock had made as step in the direction of originality. Whether or not it's pretty is up to you. But it's certainly original.
All the while still being technically 'Art'.
Take it as you will.