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What's "Modern" in Modern Abstract Art?

on May 06, 2024

Modern abstract art is a reflection of Western society's transformation through modernization.

Modernization theory posits that societies evolve from traditional to modern states through industrialization, urbanization, and technological advancement. From the Industrial Revolution into the early 20th century, Western societies urbanized and shifted to industrial economies. The changes led to new social structures and cultural norms. And out of this transformation came modern abstract art, and later abstract expressionism.

modern abstract art piet Mondrian artist
'Tableau III,' by Piet Mondrian, 1914.

Technological and Industrial Impact on Modern Abstract Art

The rapid technological advancements and industrial growth fundamentally altered everyday life. Innovations such as automobiles, airplanes, and new communication technologies reshaped perceptions of space and time. Artists like Hilma af Klint, Piet Mondrian, and Wassily Kandinsky responded to these changes by embracing abstraction, using geometric forms, grids, and bold colors to reflect the structured yet chaotic nature of modern life. 

modern abstract art hilm af klint artist

'The Swan No.17,' by Hilma af Klint, 1915.


Urbanization and Social Dynamics in Modern Abstract Art

Urbanization brought diverse people together, creating new social dynamics and cultural exchanges. By moving away from specific narratives about life and focusing instead on universal themes and emotions, modern abstract art managed to capture these changes and resonate with the diversity of experiences among modern city folk. 

modern abstract art Wassily Kandinsky artist

'Cossacks,' by Wassily Kandinsky, 1911.


Cultural Fragmentation and Modern Abstract Art

The existential crises and philosophical inquiries of the early 20th century also influenced abstract art. World War I challenged traditional values and artists used abstraction to explore deeper existential themes. The abstract art movement paralleled broader intellectual trends, like existentialism and psychoanalysis, that tried to understand the human condition in a rapidly modernizing world.

As expressions of the technological, social, and cultural shifts of the era, modern abstract art offers a mirror to this pivotal historical moment. More precisely, it's a compelling reflection of the tumult of living through Western society's transformations through modernization.


Pete Stein
Founder, Galerie Stein

Galerie Stein will be presenting several contemporary Abstract Expressionist artists both virtually at and in our gallery in Montreal in 2024.
Contact: Pete Stein at