- Contemporary Art, an introduction
- Representation and abstraction: Millais's Ophelia and Newman's Vir Heroicus Sublimis
- Art and context: Monet's Cliff Walk at Pourville and Malevich's White on White
- An Introduction to Photography in the Early 20th Century
By Virginia B. Spivey
"Getting" Contemporary Art
It's ironic that many people say they don't "get" contemporary art because, unlike Egyptian tomb painting or Greek sculpture, art made since 1960 reflects our own recent past. It speaks to the dramatic social, political, and technological changes of the last 50 years, and it questions many of society's values and assumptions—a tendency of postmodernism, a concept sometimes used to describe contemporary art. What makes today's art especially challenging is that, like the world around us, it has become more diverse and cannot be easily defined through a list of visual characteristics, artistic themes, or cultural concerns.
Minimalism and Pop Art, two major art movements of the early 1960s, offer clues to the different directions of art in the late 20th and 21st century. Both rejected established expectations about art's aesthetic qualities and need for originality. Minimalist objects are spare geometric forms, often made from industrial processes and materials, which lack surface details, expressive markings, and any discernible meaning. Pop Art took its subject matter from low-brow sources like comic books and advertising. Like Minimalism, its use of commercial techniques eliminated emotional content implied by the artist's individual approach, something that had been important to the previous generation of modern painters. The result was that both movements effectively blurred the line distinguishing fine art from more ordinary aspects of life, and forced us to reconsider art's place and purpose in the world.
Minimalism and Pop Art paved the way for later artists to explore questions about the conceptual nature of art, its form, its production, and its ability to communicate in different ways. In the late 1960s and 1970s, these ideas led to a "dematerialization of art," when artists turned away from painting and sculpture to experiment with new formats, including photography, film and video, performance art, large-scale installations, and earth works. Although some critics of the time foretold "the death of painting," art today encompasses a broad range of traditional and experimental media, including works that rely on Internet technology and other scientific innovations.
Contemporary artists continue to use a varied vocabulary of abstract and representational forms to convey their ideas. It is important to remember that the art of our time did not develop in a vacuum; rather, it reflects the social and political concerns of its cultural context. For example, artists like Judy Chicago, who were inspired by the feminist movement of the early 1970s, embraced imagery and art forms that had historical connections to women.
In the 1980s, artists appropriated the style and methods of mass media advertising to investigate issues of cultural authority and identity politics. More recently, artists like Maya Lin, who designed the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., and Richard Serra, who was loosely associated with Minimalism in the 1960s, have adapted characteristics of Minimalist art to create new abstract sculptures that encourage more personal interaction and emotional response among viewers.
These shifting strategies to engage the viewer show how contemporary art's significance exists beyond the object itself. Its meaning develops from cultural discourse, interpretation, and a range of individual understandings, in addition to the formal and conceptual problems that first motivated the artist. In this way, the art of our times may serve as a catalyst for an on-going process of open discussion and intellectual inquiry about the world today.
Essay by Virginia B. Spivey
Want to join the conversation?
- Are people insane? "Contemporary art" is a way for untalented con artists to get away with doing something awful and after the fact a lot of pretentious silly people will somehow impose meaning on it. and justify it as art. Modern art is disposable trash and surprisingly Andy Warhol is not the worst offender. These guys must be laughing their way to the bank. Thankfully the more untalented people "fine art" colleges churn out the less value will be placed on sheer rubbish. I know the post-modern response would be "you just don't get it," an argument always used to defend things lacking substance. No.. I do get it. But it doesn't make it any less awful. I once spilled a bucket of paint. Did I forge a Jackson Pollack? I used a shovel to dig a hole. Have I committed an unforgivable act of iconoclasm, defacing a Marcel Duchamp.(0 votes)
- I don't think it's rubbish. Yeah, it's easier and less time consuming to do what Andy Warhol did compared to let's say the A Sunday Afternoon by George Seurat, but modern art is all about getting away from tradition. It's about stretching the limits. Yes, this can seem ridiculous. When I go to art museums I joke with my friends to bring a ketchup bottle and set it on the floor and watch people admire it, but there's something to that idea that the world can be seen with wonder and awe. There's something to the ideas that just certain shapes, or contrasts in color, or random images in general can bring us emotion, cause inspiration and stretch our imaginations. In the end, I would not just check off all modern art as being from talentless hacks, even if it may be tempting. There are so many philosophical, political, religious, social, beautiful and ugly ideas portrayed through modern art with challenging techniques. Not all is just shock value, and I would seriously keep exploring all that this genre has to offer outside of "spilled paint".(137 votes)
- How do we get into these new art classes at small local schools? somewhere rather rural.(15 votes)
- Try one or more of these places: http://www.free-online-art-classes.com/
- I like art but i like movie and film type art(5 votes)
- Is it the way things are done in movies and on film, or the stories that are told in movies and on film that you are liking?(2 votes)
- 20th century art is honestly really interesting. It can have meaning and can be pointless all at the same time. I have always wondered what was going on through the artists brains as they make the art.(5 votes)
- List your favorite technique of art below.(4 votes)
- I really liked the way that art was formed in many ways that it was art is my favorite thing to do when i'm feeling down or i just like to color when i'm bored or hang out with my sister she loves art more than i do even though she knows more art than i do but i'm cool with.(3 votes)
- why is pop art so inportant?(1 vote)
- To borrow a meme from current social discourse in another field, "Pop Art Matters" and, beyond that, "All art matters"
But in terms of art, it is an expression of a particular sub-set of artists from a particular era in the history of western Art. So, it's important for understanding all of that.(3 votes)
- What was the writing at the end? Was it a school punishment?(1 vote)
- It appears that the artist, in 1971, was using the form of a traditional schoolroom punishment to say something about his future direction in art, repenting of what had gone before, and aiming at something new.(2 votes)
- this is such good are i want to do this oneday(1 vote)
- who is maya lin(1 vote)