Towards the late 1800s, two new technologies radically changed the world of painting.
The first photography. Images were primitive, expensive, and slow at first. However, by the late 1800s photography would eventually produce entirely realistic images in less time and at less cost than any painter could. Painting as a functional exercise, to preserve an image, had a limited lifespan.
The second advance is paint technology allowing artists to paint outdoors. Before then, sunlight would quickly dry paint and spoil the pigment. Outdoor scenes before this time were drawn from memory or made up.
However, these new paints were not perfect. They dried quickly. Therefore, artists at the time had to paint quickly. They brought their easels and paints to fields and buildings and quickly painted their impression, which looked similar to what the saw but not the photo-realistic imagery of traditional indoor painting.
Eventually, these fast paintings evolved into a style of their own, impressionism. Like the Polaroid people who came later, the impressionists were using new imaging technology to create a new art form.
The French village Auvers-sur-Oise, where van Gogh spent a large part of his life, has pictures of his paintings next to the buildings and fields that inspired them. You can all but feel the artist walking around, morphing the buildings and fields to this new style.
Over time, painting continued to change and a new generation of artists evolved the style. Picasso, Chagall, and Kandinsky purposefully distorted imagery, even when painting inside and there was no need to. They dreamed up new ways to imagine the world around them, literally morphing the visuals. We can still see people and animals, but their forms are interwoven into some kind of other.
After WWII, the forms continued to evolve. Realism sometimes returned albeit in a way that made the readers think. Warhol’s pop art is a good example. Many might see a simple can of soup whereas others question what message the artist is relaying about the modern world, where soup comes in a can and every can tastes identical.
Modern art still exists but continues to morph and change. Another technological change, the rise of inexpensive digital equipment for still and videos, enables artists ever more creative ways to express their work.