What Is Contemporary Art

What Is Contemporary Art? – A Dive Into the World of Modern Art

What is Contemporary art and is Contemporary art the same as Modern art? The words “contemporary” and “modern” are synonymous in the English language, but in the art world, these two phrases refer to two separate periods of artistic creation and two distinct ways of seeing art. To better understand the difference between Contemporary artworks and Modern art, we will be looking at the definition of Contemporary art, the characteristics of Contemporary art, and discussing what would be a typical example of Contemporary art. By doing so, we aim to uncover the Contemporary art meaning and desires of modern Contemporary artists.



What Is Contemporary Art?

As stated before, if we want to understand the definition of contemporary art, we first need to answer the question: is Contemporary art the same as Modern art? The phrase modern art is typically used to refer to artwork created in the period between the 1860s and the 1970s. The artwork created at this time promoted innovation and disregarded historical customs.

The practicality of art evolved as a result of experiments with various media and aesthetic perspectives as well as a shift away from the narrative-heavy traditional art forms more toward abstraction.

The greatest effect of modern art is its newly discovered independence and revolutionary reliance on and expression of inner conceptions. This demonstrated not just a shift away from figuration but also a change in how actual life, social concerns, and representations of contemporary life were viewed.


The Cut-Off Period

Many consider the 1970s to be the conclusion of the Modern art era and the creation of the word “Postmodern” to be the cut-off period. With the technological advancement at the end of the 20th century, we see the growth of Performance and Video art, as well as experimenting with and appropriation from other fields and sources. Simultaneously, we observe the emergence of theory and philosophical study into the term “Postmodern”, as well as the power of the present moment, where the emphasis is on what is in front of us, and that is what turns knowledge into the current tendencies.

This was the moment that everything came together and created these varied and unique Contemporary art forms.


Characteristics of Contemporary Art

The ruling spirit of the Contemporary art group is inspired by postmodern beliefs that all things are fractured while also being an organism on its own, questioning every label. Contemporary artworks, due to their diversity and challenging character, present works with a vibrant blend of materials, processes, concepts, and topics that go against the norm and resist easy description.

Contemporary artists investigate historical ideas, notions, concerns, and practices in order to comprehend the present and imagine the future.

Contemporary Art MeaningThe Spirits of the Pumpkins Descended into the Heavens (2015) by Yayoi Kusama, exhibited at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, Australia; Ncysea, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Because of the variability of these methods, contemporary artworks are frequently perceived as needing a unified organized doctrine, philosophy, or branding, and at times so simple that the audience is left starting to wonder if they missed something, and frequently questions the contemporary art meaning.


Contemporary Art Characteristics

  • Contemporary artists are renowned for introducing new art forms. New types of art are created when different art media are combined and varied concepts are extended or merged.
  • Another factor that fuels the development of contemporary art is the utilization of numerous products and materials. Ordinary materials are used or reworked to create one-of-a-kind pieces of art.
  • Colors are utilized in unconventional ways by contemporary artists to generate new concepts and textures, which they subsequently apply in their works.
  • The most noticeable trait of modern art is that it lacks a distinguishing trait or a singular attribute. The artist’s ability to evolve and create a new masterpiece is what ultimately characterizes them.


The Subjects of Contemporary Artworks

The notion that the artist is the only creator of the piece is long gone. The audience has become a vital part of the formation of the significance and perspectives of the creative works as Contemporary art has evolved. The method becomes crucial, and the range of techniques aids in the creation of multiple subcategories within a category.

This departure from the prevailing notion of contemporary artworks only serves to enhance the postmodern spirit.

In comparison to one of Abstract Expressionism’s most dominating and significant movements, Modern art, Contemporary art appears to lack that unifying concept and expression, because the time when Contemporary art is made is a time of ongoing questioning, re-evaluations, and experiments.


The Contemporary Art Meaning

In the end, what is modern art? If there is a sense that the dominating concept of what constitutes contemporary art is lacking, and the range of perspectives on art is limitless, how can we distinguish between Modern Art and its contemporary counterpart? What appears to be one of the most significant contrasts between the two groups is that Modern Art referenced and appropriated the past to comprehend the present.

Contemporary art strives to grasp the present as well, yet the present has become more fractured and shape-shifting.

Modern ArtRose sculpture by Isa Genzken, an example of contemporary art; Christoph Müller, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In this context, the Contemporary artworks produced can only speak to the immensity of the diversity on offer. Because the category requires one to be aware of the environment around them, the concerns raised are as fleeting as the wind. They are there and impact how we see and connect to the world, but then something new arises and the focus moves.

As a result, fresh and redefined contemporary artworks by new Contemporary artists emerge.



The Scope of Contemporary Art

Some describe contemporary art as work created in “our lifetime,” whereas others recognize that lifetimes and life durations vary. However, it is acknowledged that this broad concept is subject to particular limits. The use of the term “contemporary art” as a specific sort of art rather than a broad adjectival word dates back to the early days of Modernism.

In 1910, the Contemporary Art Society was established in London by Roger Fry and other individuals as a private society for purchasing artworks for public institutions.

Other organizations that used the title were established in the 1930s, such as the Contemporary Art Society of Adelaide, in 1938, and a subsequent growing number after the year 1945. Many institutions, including the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, altered their titles from “Modern” to “Contemporary” during this period, as Modernism became established as an art movement and most modern artworks were no longer regarded as contemporary.

Example of Contemporary ArtAn Infinity Room installation by Yayoi Kusama; Pablo Trincado from Santiago de Chile, Chile, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The notion of what is contemporary is continually changing, grounded in the present with a forward-moving start date, therefore the works purchased in, say 1919, by the Contemporary Art Society can no longer be classified as modern contemporary art. Work from the last 20 years is almost certainly included, and definitions frequently include art dating back to around 1970; art from the end of the 20th century to the beginning of this century; both an offshoot and a critique of modern art.

Strictly speaking, the term “contemporary art” refers to work created and produced by live artists now; art from the 1970s to the present; and occasionally even longer, especially in museum contexts, since museums with a permanent collection of contemporary art unavoidably find this aging.

Many people use the phrase “Modern and Contemporary art” to sidestep this issue. Smaller commercial galleries, publications, and other outlets may employ stricter criteria, sometimes limiting the term “contemporary” to art created after 2000. Artists who are still producing after a lengthy career, as well as continuous art movements, may provide a special challenge; galleries and critics are sometimes hesitant to separate their work into contemporary and non-contemporary categories.


Contemporary Art Institutions

The activities of individual Contemporary artists, writers, curators, collectors, and benefactors as well as private galleries, large museums, non-profit venues, art colleges, and publishers are all essential to the operation of the art world. The nonprofit and for-profit sectors represent a significant distinction in the art world, while in recent years there has been a blurring of the lines between the two types of organizations.

The majority of popular contemporary art is displayed by working artists in professional galleries, by individual collectors, businesses, publicly sponsored arts groups, museums, or by the creators themselves in artist-run venues.

Grants, prizes, and honors are used to assist contemporary artists in addition to the direct sales of their creations. Corporations have also assimilated themselves into the contemporary art scene by hosting exhibitions on their property, planning and supporting prizes for contemporary art, and developing sizable corporate collections. Corporate advertisements regularly leverage the cachet attached to modern art and coolhunting to entice customers to buy expensive items.

Art organizations have been chastised for dictating what constitutes modern art. Outsider art, for example, is contemporary art in the sense that it is being created now.

Nevertheless, one critic has suggested that this is not the case since the artists are self-taught and so operate outside of an art historical framework. Despite significant exhibition audiences, craft practices such as textile design are also excluded from the sphere of contemporary art. According to art critic Peter Timms, handmade products must conform to specific criteria to be accepted into the world of contemporary art.


Public and Critical Reception of Contemporary Art

Contemporary art might appear at odds with a population that does not believe art and its organizations reflect their ideals. In the 1990s, contemporary art had become a component of popular culture in the United Kingdom, with many Contemporary artists becoming celebrities, but this did not result in the hoped-for “cultural paradise”.

Some critics, such as Donald Kuspit and Julain Spalding, have argued that skepticism, if not outright rejection, is a valid and fair reaction to much modern art.

Definition of Contemporary ArtPhoto installation in the Tate Modern in London, United Kingdom; InSapphoWeTrust from Los Angeles, California, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In his article Art Bollocks (1999), Brian Ashbee critiques “much photography, installation art, video, conceptual art, and other techniques typically referred to be post-modern” for being overly reliant on linguistic explanations in the guise of theorizing. Nevertheless, due to shifting ideas on what makes an art piece, museums’ appreciation of nontraditional art has grown.


Appropriation in Contemporary Art

Contemporary artists, like so many artists before them, may recognize and be inspired by artworks from prior historical periods in terms of both subject material and stylistic characteristics. This inspiration could often take the shape of appropriation. Artist John Baldessari appropriated an artwork by Albrecht Dürer named Stag Beetle (1505), the famous German artist, and transformed it into his own, calling it Specimen (After Dürer) (2000).

Using contemporary materials, Baldessari paired the original picture with a sculpture in the shape of a massive steel pin. Baldessari blends mediums in a highly modern way by placing the steel pin into the canvas.



Types of Contemporary Art Mediums and Artists

Video art is an example of Contemporary art. Yet another example of Contemporary art is site-specific artworks. Let us take a look at the various types of Contemporary art and the artists who create them.


Contemporary Video Artworks

In the 1960s, individuals started to use video as a medium to reinvent fine art. Many artists have used video art to challenge established views of art as expensive, high-brow, and only understandable by the most affluent segments of society. Video art is not always something that people want to possess, instead, it is an experience. In keeping with the tendency of redefining past values and beliefs about art, several modern video artists are attempting to eliminate the concept of art as a commodity.

Video artists have utilized the media as a vehicle for change and as a platform for ideas. Some video art openly embraces the power of television and the Internet, so bringing the art world to the public.

Such artists strive to enhance the art-making process and move beyond the idea that art can only be regarded as an aesthetically beautiful outcome. Video art exhibits this because the spectator observes the piece as it is created; they watch as the process unfolds.

Video installations use music, sound, or other interactive elements.

Please Be Seated (2009) by Nicole Cohen asks spectators to be active contributors. Visitors can sit in copies of 18th-century French chairs and view tv screens where they are digitally placed in historic reenactments of 18th-century French places using modern video technology. While typical pieces of art are displayed in galleries with “Do not touch” warnings, Cohen wants you to physically engage. As a result, the spectator becomes a part of the piece of art.


Site-Specific Contemporary Artworks

A well-known Contemporary artist who wants to engage the audience is Robert Irwin, as shown in his landscape at the Getty Center. Visitors could encounter a maze-like structure of stones, plants, and water in the Central Garden (1997), which the artist has jokingly referred to as a sculpture in the shape of a garden wanting to be an artwork.

Visitors are entirely absorbed in the impression of being inside the piece of art here.

Characteristics of Contemporary ArtSpiral Jetty (1970) by Robert Smithson, located at Rozel Point in the Great Salt Lake, Utah, United States; Sculpture: Robert Smithson 1938-1973Image: Soren.Harward at en.wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The senses of touch, smell, and sound are contrasted with the garden’s hues and textures. The garden’s greenery and materials were chosen to emphasize the interplay of color, light, and reflections. In this approach, Irwin challenges the notion that a piece of art must be painted on a canvas. Nature, on the other hand, may be regarded as art. Irwin works in site-specific art by designing a garden exclusively for the Getty Center.


Famous Contemporary Artists

Cindy Sherman’s work addresses women’s positions throughout history and in the present culture, and it is similar to the work of other modern painters who create abstract paintings of faces. Liu Xiaodong, considered one of the finest painters of all time, is recognized for his bold brushwork, precise shapes, and vibrant colors.

Cecily Brown, a London-born painter, is frequently linked to prominent contemporary painters such as Francis Bacon and Willem de Kooning, and analogies are also drawn between her massive modern Contemporary artworks of faces and aggressive brushstrokes and the creations of Abstract Expressionists.

One of the most well-known contemporary artists of all time, Jean-Michel Basquiat, originated from the early 1980s American Punk movement in New York and quickly rose to prominence in the worldwide art circuit with works such as his artistic works of faces.


So, what is Contemporary art to you? Although the exact date cannot be defined, many would say that Contemporary art is characterized by the fact that it was created in our lifetime. But whose life is that, exactly? One’s grandfather and son can both be alive at the same time, but their generations, cultures, and art would be vastly different. Most people agree that the time span from the 1970s onwards is generally regarded as Contemporary art.




Frequently Asked Questions


What Are the Common Themes and Characteristics of Contemporary Art?

The diversity of contemporary artwork is characterized by material, shape, topic matter, and even time periods. It is defined by the absence of a consistent organizing concept, and ideology, as evident in many other art eras and movements. Modernism’s emphasis is self-referential. In contrast to Realism’s endeavor to depict harsh facts, Impressionism examines our impression of a moment via light and color. Contemporary artworks lack a particular aim or point of view, and as a result, can be paradoxical and open-ended. Nonetheless, the body, identity politics, migration, globalization technology, current culture and society, memory, time, and political and institutional critique have all surfaced as themes in contemporary artworks.


Is Contemporary Art the Same As Modern Art?

If you had to look at dictionary definitions of both words, you would see that they are regarded as interchangeable. However, in the art world, they are considered to be two distinct time periods, and each of these periods is defined by its own styles, artists, and beliefs. Whereas Modern art used to refer to art made in the present, that time is now decades in the past, and therefore, no longer truly modern. These days, Modern art refers to the style of art that was created from some time in the 1860s to the 1960s – a period of around 100 years.


Cite this Article

Jordan, Anthony, “What Is Contemporary Art? – A Dive Into the World of Modern Art.” artfilemagazine – Your Online Art Source. November 25, 2022. URL: https://artfilemagazine.com/what-is-contemporary-art/

Anthony, J. (2022, 25 November). What Is Contemporary Art? – A Dive Into the World of Modern Art. artfilemagazine – Your Online Art Source. https://artfilemagazine.com/what-is-contemporary-art/

Anthony, Jordan. “What Is Contemporary Art? – A Dive Into the World of Modern Art.” artfilemagazine – Your Online Art Source, November 25, 2022. https://artfilemagazine.com/what-is-contemporary-art/.

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