What is Contemporary Art?

Alison Lapper Pregnant, 2005
Marc Quinn

Contemporary art refers to the art that has been and still continues to be created during our lifetime. Contemporary art is quite different from modern art, which was art created by the impressionists from around 1880 until the 1970s. There is some overlapping in terms of years when it comes to modern art and contemporary art as the museums of contemporary art commonly define their collections as consisting of art produced since World War II. But still, both forms of art are considered to be separate, and each occupies its own space in the history of art.

So, art that was created from the 1970s until present time is labeled as contemporary. The reason 1970 is used as the cutoff time for the two art forms is because terms like postmodern art and postmodernism became popular around that time. Also, the 1970s was the last time when the last easily classifiable artistic movement occurred. Basically we can say that contemporary artists work on art movements that cannot be classified as the number of artists in any movement is very low to be actually labeled as a movement.

However, it must also be added that when it comes to contemporary art, any emerging movement is very difficult to classify. Also, contemporary art is considered to be more socially conscious compared to any era in the past. In the last 40 years, the art that has been created has been connected to some issue. In fact, artists have used their artwork to raise awareness about major issues like multiculturalism, globalization, AIDS, bio-engineering and feminism.

Contemporary art is exhibited by commercial contemporary art galleries, private collectors, corporations, publicly funded arts organizations, contemporary art museums or by artists themselves in artist-run spaces. The institutions of art have been criticised for regulating what is designated as contemporary art. Outsider art, for instance, is literally contemporary art, in that it is produced in the present day. However, it is not considered so because the artists are self-taught and are assumed to be working outside of an art historical context. Craft activities, such as textile design, are also excluded from the realm of contemporary art, despite large audiences for exhibitions. Attention is drawn to the way that craft objects must subscribe to particular values in order to be admitted. "A ceramic object that is intended as a subversive comment on the nature of beauty is more likely to fit the definition of contemporary art than one that is simply beautiful." Which leads us to the question: "What is the purpose of contemporary art?".

Here is a list of art movements from the 1970s onward. It should not be assumed to be conclusive.

Arte Povera
Ascii Art
Bad Painting
Body art
Artist's book
Feminist art
Installation art
Land Art
Lowbrow (art movement)
Process Art
Video art
Funk art
Pattern and Decoration
Appropriation art
Electronic art
Figuration Libre
Graffiti Art
Live art
Mail art
Postmodern art
Neo-conceptual art
Sound art
Transgressive art
Transhumanist Art
Video installation
Institutional Critique
Bio art
Cynical Realism
Digital Art
Information art
Internet art
New media art
Software art
Young British Artists
Classical realism
Relational art
Street art
Videogame art
VJ art