What is Contemporary Art? - Blog Post - Artlita

What is Contemporary Art?

Banksy's Girl with Balloon graffiti artwork.
Article by Rianna Last

Contemporary art, also known as the art of today, is simple at its core. 

Banksy's Girl with Balloon graffiti artwork.
Banksy, Girl with Balloon, 2002.

Often confused with modern art by the average buyer, contemporary art is any art form produced from about the 1960s/1970s through present day. Its era began where modernism ended, and while modern art praised the artist, contemporary art is more focused on the ideas and concepts behind the artwork itself. 

In other words: what does it inspire you, the observer, to think or feel?

The Art of Today

We call it ‘the art of today’ for a reason. In a word, it reflects our recent past and present through its expression of today’s values and issues. Oftentimes, contemporary art’s definition can seem muddy, as the term encompasses a variety of art forms and styles. Behind every different piece, however, lies a mutual goal. 

Takashi Murakami's famous contemporary art piece Flower Ball
Takashi Murakami, Flower Ball, 2002.

As Aaron Cezar, Director of the Delfina Foundation, defines it, ‘“contemporary art expresses an idea or concept that’s related to current thinking and concerns. It might reference history, aesthetics, politics, romance, or a range of subjects…through diverse mediums, from painting to performance.”’ 

Popular Contemporary Art

Indeed, some of the most famous contemporary artists and their works vary widely in flavor. The art form revels in its unusualness, and their artists take advantage of this. 

Take Keith Haring. His work—such as Radiant Baby—is widely recognized in society, with his symbolic figures representing certain political beliefs. An openly gay artist, his icons are his most famous pieces—where beneath the simplicity, his work reflects the struggles of the LGBTQ+ community. He’s loved for his colorful and fun work, and easily recognizable as contemporary.

Keith Haring's famous contemporary artwork Radiant Baby from 1990
Keith Haring, Radiant Baby, 1990.

On the other hand, contemporary artist Marina Abramović has no tangible artwork. Instead, she performs. She shot to fame in 2010 with her performance, “The Artist is Present,” where individuals could choose to sit silently across from the artist. In fact, Abramović did this every day for three months at the MoMA, with some moved to tears by the intensity of the contact. At the root of her performance is ‘concept.’ Her art transcends physical form, making her an excellent representation of contemporary art. 

Marina Abramovic's contemporary performance at the MoMA.
Marina Abramović, The Artist is Present, 2010.

Lastly, the list would not be complete without controversial artist Jeff Koons. It is widely debated as to whether his art qualifies as contemporary—or even as art itself. According to David W. Galenson in Conceptual Revolutions in Twentieth Century Art, “[Koons] stresses that his work has no hidden meanings,” yet he holds the title of most expensive living artist for his sculpture Rabbit. Depicted below, it sold for $91.1 million. Despite Koons’ claims and the ongoing debate over his art, Koons’ work can be qualified as contemporary art—for it is the observer who gets to decide its meaning and impact, and therefore its relevance.

Jeff Koons' contemporary art sculpture Rabbit, which is the most expensive artwork to be sold by a living artist.
Jeff Koons, Rabbit, 1986.

Artlita’s Contemporary Artists

Within Artlita’s artist roster, every one of our artists can be defined as contemporary. Yet, as we’ve learned, this does not mean that there is no diversity. Indeed, contemporary art styles are divergent by nature. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular styles in our gallery.

Mixed Media

For example, mixed media is an art style in which more than one medium or material has been utilized. This particular painting, Abejas I, of acrylic and oil by Alejandro Martinez-Pena isn’t just a swirl of striking colors and patterns. Inspired by the honeycomb of bees, Martinez-Pena created this work—and many of his others—with the thought of nature in mind. As he continuously works to express social and environmental concerns, this specific piece of his serves as an abstract reminder of the beauty and necessity of honeybees in our world.

Mixed Media contemporary painting by Mexican artist Alejandro Martinez-Pena
Alejandro Martinez-Pena, Abejas I (Bees I)

Fine Art Photography

Another artist, Michael James Slattery, is a contemporary fine art photographer. He goes beyond the surface-level with his captured perspectives of well-known landmarks. When it comes to contemporary art examples, Under Scripps Pier blends together the aesthetic of an image with its conceptual meaning. Depicting the point where man made creations meet nature, Slattery’s art celebrates both sides equally, revealing that there is beauty in both.

Contemporary fine art photography of Scripps Pier in San Diego by photographer Michael James Slattery
Michael James Slattery, Under Scripps Pier

Acrylic Paintings

Gretchen Weidner, who specializes in acrylic painting (and dabbles in surrealism), focuses on themes of intimacy and sexuality in her work. Personal experience comes to life in her work, as seen here in the acrylic on wood San Diego Skyline. Speaking to adventure and sensuality, her paintings are representative of the possibilities the future holds.

Contemporary acrylic painting of a woman with the San Diego skyline reflected in her glasses.
Gretchen Weidner, San Diego Skyline.

Interested in seeing more? Check out our list of contemporary artists here, and tell us your favorites in the comments below! 

The Takeaway

Remember, contemporary art does not have just one clear-cut definition. Rather, it is whatever society decides it to be. While this can seem confusing at first, this approach to art allows different concepts to flourish. Neither artist nor observer is restrained, leading to a multitude of thoughts and ideas. Hence, let your imagination do the talking, and discover more about the artwork and your own perspective on the world too.

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