Modern art paintings are 20th-century art. Although scholars disagree as to precisely when the modern period began, they mostly use the term modern art to refer to art of the 20th century in Europe and the Americas.
Modern art comprises a remarkable diversity of styles, movements, and techniques. Yet even if we could easily divide modern art into representational works and abstract works we would still find astonishing variety within these two categories.
In view of this diversity, it is difficult to define modern art in a way that includes all of 20th-century Western art. For some critics, the most important characteristic of modern art is its attempt to make painting and sculpture ends in themselves, thus distinguishing modernism from earlier forms of art that had conveyed the ideas of powerful religious or political institutions.
Because modern artists were no longer funded primarily by these institutions, they were freer to suggest more personal meanings. This attitude is often expressed as art for art's sake, a point of view that is often interpreted as meaning art without political or religious motives.
Yet another view holds that the basic motivation of modern art is to engage in a dialogue with popular culture. But although breaking down the boundary between high art and popular culture is typical of artists like Picasso, Haring, and Warhol, it is not of Mondrian, Pollock, or most other abstract artists.