Contemporary art as the work of artists who are living in the late twentieth to the early twenty-first century. It is art produced by artists in our “life times”. Contemporary art mirrors contemporary culture and society, offering teachers, students, and general audiences a rich resource through which to consider current ideas and rethink the familiar.
The work of contemporary artists is a dynamic combination of materials, methods, concepts, and subjects that challenges traditional boundaries and defies easy definition. Diverse and eclectic, contemporary art is distinguished by the very lack of a uniform organizing principle, ideology, or -ism. In a globally influenced, culturally diverse, and technologically advancing world, contemporary artists give voice to the varied and changing cultural landscape of identity, values, and beliefs.
Contemporary art reflects a wide range of materials, media, and technologies, as well as opportunities to consider what art is and how it is defined. Artists today explore ideas, concepts, questions, and practices that examine the past, describe the present, and imagine the future. In light of such diversity, there is no simple or singular way to define contemporary art. Often recognized for the absence of a uniform organizing principle, ideology, or label, contemporary art can often seem overwhelming, difficult, or so simple that the viewer might wonder if they are missing something. Perhaps the most helpful defining characteristic is the most obvious: contemporary art is the art of today.
Contemporary artists, like many artists that preceded them, may acknowledge and find inspiration in art works from previous time periods in both subject matter and formal elements. Sometimes this inspiration takes the form of appropriation. Such artists seek to elevate the process of creating art and move beyond the notion that art should only be valued as an aesthetically pleasing product.
Contemporary audiences play an active role in the process of constructing meaning about works of art. Some artists often say that the viewer contributes to or even completes the artwork by contributing his or her personal reflections, experiences, opinions, and interpretations.
When we look at works of art, we inevitably think about things that we have seen, heard, or experienced before. Art is rarely created in a vacuum. Artists constantly reference the past—building on timeless themes, critiquing outmoded models, researching forgotten histories, or borrowing traditional methods and techniques to realize new ideas.
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