What is Contemporary Art?


via Piqsels

This simple yet intriguing image is an example of minimalistic art.

In theory, the definition of contemporary art is simple– it’s art made by currently living artists, reflecting on our growing social universe and raising complex questions in the process. It explores the perplexing global issues that shape our world, often redefining art itself- contemporary art is food for thought.

Contemporary art challenges traditional ideas of what art should be. Yet – curiously – in concept, it’s much like what art has always been about; expressing emotion, asking questions, and conveying thoughts. Every artwork was once contemporary, confronting the ideas that shaped society.

Although contemporary art is widely considered a modern artistic movement, its origins may stem from an art style that started in the 1950s – pop art. Defined by its bright colors, pop art was initially created by artists such as Andy Warhol and Roly Lichtenstien. The art style typically portrayed commercial items and mass culture.

Contemporary art encompasses two main branches: conceptualism and minimalism. Conceptualism highlights an idea larger and more important than the physical artwork itself. As said by Sol LeWitt, “the idea itself is a work of art.” Rejecting art as a mere item is often the branch of art traditionally considered “grotesque.” The style often uses humor or satire to convey the artist’s ideas. Conceptualism is made to evoke emotion or get people thinking and typically requires a large amount of imagination to understand. It ranges widely, taking form as a photograph, sculptures, or even a performance. Conceptual artist Sol LeWitt, for instance, would work on elaborate, detailed documents outlining what murals and large-scale drawings should look like instead of painting them himself. These long papers were sold and exhibited in galleries so that, by following the instructions, anyone could develop a Sol LeWitt artwork.

In nature, minimalism is much like conceptualism. Both art styles challenge what is typically considered art. Instead of making viewers think about what’s in front of them, however, minimalism’s simplistic style allows them to react to what they see. “All I want anyone to get out of my [works], and all I ever get out of them is the fact that you can see the whole idea without any confusion. What you see is what you see,” explained Frank Stella, a leading minimalist artist, and sculptor. Minimalism sets aside complex symbolism, embracing simplicity instead.

Contemporary art brings about emotion, whether it’s excitement, fear, or despair. The all-inclusive, broad movement gets us thinking about the complex principles that shape the world – and only powerful works can do that.