Explore the Definition of Contemporary Art
The definition of contemporary art is often elusive. When asked to describe how artists create, one responded, "We don’t simply think outside of the box. We don’t recognize the existence of the box. When we describe how we work or discuss a specific movement we work in, we limit our ability to create from passion and intuition. But critics try to elevate their roles by defining art movements."
That’s why I’m exploring and reporting about contemporary art trends, movements, developments and events, rather than defining them. Perhaps, in time, the definition of contemporary art will reveal itself in subjective ways – that suit each individual.
Skill and Imagination
It is more appropriate to describe the way something is done -- "the use of skill and imagination in the creation of aesthetic objects, environments, or experiences that can be shared with others" (Britannica Online) -- than to try to limit contemporary art to a specific definition.
Contemporary art is more about change than about a static style. As I explain in the home page, when an artist transforms materials, words, sounds, color, light and forms into artworks, that process and the completed works can help us understand ourselves better and connect us to the human spirit.
Ellen Dissanayake is also quoted in the home page, "We don't have a verb, 'to art,' but what are artists, dancers, poets doing? They're taking the ordinary and making it special. You create a bowl out of mud but you...make it special by engraving a pattern or figures on it. A poet takes ordinary words and makes them special. An artist places an activity or an artifact in a realm different from the everyday."
Modern vs. Contemporary
An art professor describes the definition of contemporary art as perplexing because "contemporary" and "modern" are often used interchangeably. "Modern" is frequently quoted when referring to contemporary aspects of society.
With art specifically, "modern" vs. "contemporary" describes movements from consecutive time periods and from different styles. Modern art, from around 1880 to 1960, was first created by Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cezanne and others. These artists broke away from strict representation, moving toward increased subjectivity. They concerned themselves with unique styles, such as post impressionism, cubism, surrealism and Dadaism.
Break From Older Standards
By 1960, artists were no longer concerned that much about the modern art ideal of purity or of historical succession of artworks. Contemporary art represented a clear break from those older standards, as the artists rapidly explored new artistic worlds.
Contemporary art is about hybrid styles and mediums. The defining line between painting and sculpture is blurred, technology has helped expand its tools and mediums, while the works explore conceptual, political and other cerebral ideas.
The so called definition of contemporary art, can be used interchangeably with that of postmodern art, which is often described as "after modern" or is a reaction against modern art.
Postmodern and contemporary artists often adopt, borrow, steal, recycle and/or sample from earlier modern and classical works. They combine or alter these images to create new, contemporary pieces. And many fill their works with a strong sense of self-awareness.
Robert Williams, founder of Juxtapoz Art & Culture Magazine, said, "The purest form of art is to give way to simple visual interest. To look at what you find yourself driven to see. Higher notions of art tend to confine art with lofty moral restrictions…Art that has to serve as the instrument of artistic revolution is limited by having to react to a greater force in a continual hope of some overthrow, hence becoming the tool of reaction. Even the great revolt is enslaving….Art is not the slave of decoration. Hail the voyeur, the only honest connoisseur!!!"
(Check out New York Armory Show page, commemorating the 100th anniversary of this groundbreaking modern art exhibition.)
(See Contemporary Art Dialogue Sitemap for complete listing of pages on contemporary and modern art movements, styles, trends and artists.)
Please enjoy my review of the exhibition "Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art," published in July/ August 2011 Art Ltd. magazine
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