What is Contemporary Art? – What Modern Art Looks Like

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Contemporary art implies art produced by artists still in existence. Artists respond to the changes surrounding them through their artwork. Therefore, contemporary art reflects the advancement in technology and wide cultural diversity in the world. Although the influence of an artist’s perception cannot be discredited, contemporary art is, more often than not, shaped by the current trend, and the political happenings of the world today. At its most basic level, contemporary art might seem easy to describe, since the word “contemporary” means modern. On the contrary, contemporary art is complex, diverse and difficult to pin down to one definition.

What is Contemporary Art?

Contemporary Art can be broadly described as the artwork of the artists still living today. The dynamism and distinct way of thinking about history differentiate Contemporary art from its predecessor. The contemporary art is diverse and outside the box of what is traditionally considered artwork. Essentially, artworks made during this period identify one lingering issue or the other. For instance, the feminist art movement developed in the 1960s as a demonstration to eliminate stereotypes against women (among others) but they also paved the way for identity artists and activist artists. Understanding contemporary art requires a readiness to accept the unconventional. This is because there is a lack of uniformity about what is described as contemporary art. It is less of a museum art display and more of public spaces, biennale and online exhibition. Popular contemporary artworks include sculpture, installation, painting, and performance art but others like tattoos, embroidery, and origami are inventive ways contemporary arts are presented.

and Example of What is Contemporary Art contemporary art - what is contemporary art 2 1 - What is Contemporary Art? – What Modern Art Looks Like

Contemporary art is quite different from modern art despite the synonymous use of the two words in the English Language. Nevertheless, some artists like Andy Warhol serve as a bridge between modern and contemporary. Some of his works fall in modern art school while others are mainly contemporary. Therefore, contemporary art can be said to begin where modern art stops.

History of Contemporary Art

It has become increasingly difficult to ascertain the particular time or date that marks the beginning of contemporary art. Many people agreed that the tail end of the Second World War in 1945 and the 1960s are turning point for contemporary art. This is due to the change in art styles during these periods. Contemporary art developed side-by-side with modernism but the difference between the two is now clear-cut that what is defined as contemporary art is progressive and cannot be restricted to a particular time frame.

History of Contemporary Art contemporary art - history of contemporary art - What is Contemporary Art? – What Modern Art Looks Like

The history of contemporary art is traced to the Contemporary Art Society founded in the United Kingdom by Roger Fry in 1910. Even with this organization, what was in existence then was modern art. Modern Artists were known for their experimentation and the replacement of the old and traditional perception of art with a new one. Modernism is synonymous with impressionism. Modern art spans from the late 19th century and early 20th century. Modern art is not only characterized by experimentation but also abstraction and idealism. Artists like Alphonse Legros, Claude Monet, Salvador Dali, and Paul Gauguin deviated from the norm to create artworks that sought to reject established style.

By the 1950s, modernism has paved the way for postmodernism which conflicted against some of the values, ideas, and aspects of modernism. The perceived failure of modern art laid the foundation for postmodern art. Therefore, it is born out of suspicion of reason and skepticism. Roy Lichtenstein’s “whaam!” is a succinct depiction of postmodern art.

Many postmodern artists are also considered contemporary artists, however, the styles used in contemporary art widely vary and diverse more than that of postmodern art.

Present forms of Contemporary Art

Contemporary art can take different forms or styles. Since inception and up till today, Contemporary art has been depicted in various forms and this include;

Pop art

Pop art contemporary art - pop art - What is Contemporary Art? – What Modern Art Looks Like

Pop art encompasses popular culture and a way of reimagining commercial products. Some of the well-known contributors to pop art were Andy Warhol, Richard Hamilton, and Roy Lichtenstein. Crafting pieces of art from books and commercials which was characteristic of pop art started in Britain and America to contradict modern art movement.


Photorealism contemporary art - photorealism - What is Contemporary Art? – What Modern Art Looks Like

Also known as superrealism or hyperrealism, photorealism is similar to pop art. This is because it also re-present objects. However, photorealism is a way of reproducing landscape or portrait photographs as painting, sculpture or another medium without missing the detail in the photograph. Artists like Claudio Bravo, Ralph Goings, Richard Estes, and Chuck Close are linked with the development of Photorealism.


Conceptualism art contemporary art - conceptualism art - What is Contemporary Art? – What Modern Art Looks Like
Photo credits: Artsy.net

Started in the mid-1960s, the conceptualists focus more on ideas than the visual or physical form of art. Conceptualism is premised emphasizing the idea behind the work as more important than the physical work itself. Sol Lewitt, Robert Rauschenberg, Ai Wei Wei, Damien Hirst, and Walter de Maria produced conceptual art artworks that had a deeper meaning than meets the eye.


Minimalist art contemporary art - minimalist art - What is Contemporary Art? – What Modern Art Looks Like

Minimalist art is based on the depiction of an object with personal expression reduced to the barest minimum. There is a lack of additional explanation of its purpose or the idea behind it. The simplicity in its form and style differentiate minimalism from other forms of contemporary art. Frank Stella’s “the marriage of reason and squalor” is one of the popular minimalist artworks. However, minimalist art has given way to post-minimalism which is a reaction to the oversimplified form by the minimalists.

Performance art

Performance art - contemporary dance contemporary art - performance art - What is Contemporary Art? – What Modern Art Looks Like

By using action as art pieces, performance art as a form of contemporary art shares artistic expression with the audience. Performance art might include singing, dancing, acting, public speaking, and recitation. Marina Abramovic is a well-known performance artist, with others including, Joan Jonas and Yves Klein.

Installation art

Installation contemporary art contemporary art - installation art - What is Contemporary Art? – What Modern Art Looks Like

Installation arts are made using a particular site to showcase a three-dimensional artwork. Installation art can be temporary or permanent and can be shown both in public and private spaces.

Earth art

Earth art by Andrew Rogers contemporary art - earth art - What is Contemporary Art? – What Modern Art Looks Like
Earth art by Andrew Rogers

Similar to installation art, Earth art is also site-specific. However, earth artists transform the landscape into artworks. Sculpting a portion of land or molding a structure on a landscape are some of the ways of creating earth art. Earth art is also known as land art or environmental art. Andy Goldsworth, Robert Smithson and Richard Long are prominent Earth artists.

Street art

Street Art contemporary art - street art - What is Contemporary Art? – What Modern Art Looks Like

Graffiti, neo-graffiti, and independent public art are some of the concepts used to represent street art. Street can be found in many places and available spaces. It is not limited or constricted by the museum. While it may seem informal, street art is an essential part of contemporary art.


Contemporary Art may not be easily defined but the styles, forms, and presentation of the art differentiate from its predecessors. The way contemporary art has expanded beyond the limit of the museum to include online and public spaces and the representation of technological advancement and globalism in artworks, succinctly present contemporary art uniquely.

What is Contemporary Art? – What Modern Art Looks Like

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