The labels “modern art” and “contemporary art” don’t easily pull apart from one another. In a strictly historical sense, the former refers to art produced in the era we call modernity, beginning in the mid-19th century. And according to its etymology, the latter refers to art produced at the same time as something else: there is art “contemporary” with, say, the Italian Renaissance, but also art “contemporary” with our own lives. You’ll have a much clearer idea of this distinction — and of what people mean when they use the relevant terms today — if you take the Modern and Contemporary Art and Design Specialization, a set of courses from the Museum of Modern Art (aka MoMA) in New York.
Offered on the online education platform Coursera, the Modern and Contemporary Art and Design Specialization promises to “introduce you to the art of our time.” In its first course, Modern Art & Ideas, you’ll learn “how artists have taken inspiration from their environment and responded to social issues over the past 150 years.”
In the second, Seeing through Photographs (whose trailer appears above), you’ll explore photography “from its origins in the mid-1800s through the present.” The third, What Is Contemporary Art?, introduces works of the past four decades “ranging from 3-D-printed glass and fiber sculptures to performances in a factory.” The final course, Fashion as Design, affords the opportunity to “learn from makers working with clothing every day — and, in some cases, reinventing it for the future.”
You can view the entire Contemporary Art and Design Specialization for free, by “auditing” its courses. Alternatively, you can join the paid track, which costs $39 USD per month, which at Coursera’s suggested pace of seven months to complete (including a “hands-on project” for each course) comes out to $273 overall. Then, when you finish the specialization, you’ll “earn a Certificate that you can share with prospective employers and your professional network.” Whether you go the audit or certificate route, you’ll earn an understanding of “modern art” and “contemporary art” as they’re created and regarded here in the 21st century: the era deep into modernity in which we live, and one in which the boundaries of art itself — not just the adjectives preceding it — show no sign of ceasing to expand.
Note: Open Culture has a partnership with Coursera. If readers enroll in certain Coursera courses and programs, it helps support Open Culture.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.