Contemporary Art: The Art of Today
Updated: May 22
Contemporary art is the art of today which provides an opportunity to reflect on contemporary society and the issues relevant to ourselves, and the world around us. The classification of "contemporary art" as a special type of art, rather than a general adjectival phrase, goes back to the beginnings of Modernism in the English-speaking world.
Broadly speaking, we see Modernism as looking at modernist principles—the focus of the work is self-referential, investigating its own materials (investigations of line, shape, color, form). Likewise, Impressionism looks at our perception of a moment through light and color as opposed to attempts at stark realism (Realism, too, is an artistic movement). Contemporary art, on the other hand, does not have one, single objective or point of view. Its view instead is unclear, perhaps reflective of the world today. It can be, therefore, contradictory, confusing, and open-ended.
This type of art was produced in the second half of the 20th century or in the 21st century. Contemporary artists work in a globally influenced, culturally diverse, and technologically advancing world. Their art is a dynamic combination of materials, methods, concepts, and subjects that continue the challenging of boundaries that was already well underway in the 20th century. Strictly speaking, the term "contemporary art" refers to art made and produced by artists living today" and "Art from the 1960s or 70s up until this very minute" and sometimes further, especially in museum contexts, as museums which form a permanent collection of contemporary art inevitably find this aging.
Some define contemporary art as art produced within "our lifetime," recognising that lifetimes and life spans vary. However, there is a recognition that this generic definition is subject to specialized limitations. Particular points that have been seen as marking a change in art styles include the end of World War II and the 1960s. There has perhaps been a lack of natural break points since the 1960s, and definitions of what constitutes "contemporary art" in the 2010s vary, and are mostly imprecise.
Sociologist Nathalie Heinich draws a distinction between modern and contemporary art, describing them as two different paradigms which partially overlap historically. She found that while "modern art" challenges the conventions of representation and "contemporary art" challenges the very notion of an artwork.
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