The Era of modernism and modern art has begun with Industrial Revolution, a period that lasted from the 18th to the 19th century, in which rapid update in manufacturing, transportation, and technology enormously influenced the social, cultural, and economic conditions of life in Western Europe, North America, and eventually the world. New forms of transportation and communication, including the telegraph, railroad, the steam engine, and the subway transformed the way people lived, worked, and traveled, both at home and abroad or overseas, expanding their point of view and access to new values. As cities or urban centers prospered, workers flooded to cities for technical and industrial jobs, and urban populations rapidly growth.

Prior to the 19th century, artists were most often commissioned to make artwork by wealthy patrons, or institutions like the church. Much of this art depicted religious or mythological scenes that told stories and were intended to instruct the viewer. During the 19th century, many artists started to make art about people, places, or ideas that interested them, and of which they had direct experience. With the publication of psychologist Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams (1899) and the popularization of the idea of a subconscious mind, many artists began exploring dreams, symbolism, and personal iconography as avenues for the depiction of their subjective experiences.

Challenging the notion that art must realistically depict the world, some artists experimented with the expressive use of color, non-traditional materials, and new techniques and mediums. One of these was photography, whose invention in the 1830s introduced a new method for depicting and reinterpreting the world. The Museum of Modern Art collects work made after 1880, when the atmosphere was ripe for avant-garde artists to take their work in new, unexpected, and “modern” directions.