“Strictly speaking, the term ‘contemporary art’ refers to art made and produced by artists living today,” according to The J. Paul Getty Museum education site.
The exact dates which constitute contemporary art are argued, but generally, the beginning of contemporary art is considered the 1970’s (sometimes the 1960’s and rarely the 1950’s).
Beyond the Basics
However, the definition nor the period of contemporary art induces the most confusion; it is often the work itself. Those accustomed to art being beautiful may look at contemporary art and wonder, “Why is this considered art?”
Throughout much of history, art had two functions: to record the likeness of the world as best as possible and to be aesthetically pleasing.
Breaking from those fundamentals is one of the reasons that contemporary art can baffle viewers. As a result of this change, the questions surrounding art have changed as well. The question of whether or not something is a good work is no longer related solely to quality or beauty. It is related to ideas.
Typically, contemporary art must challenge the ideas of the viewer, provoke thought, or invite discussion to be considered good.
The Getty explains this best by stating, “Instead of asking, ‘Do I like how this looks?’ viewers might ask, ‘Do I like the idea this artist presents?’ Having an open mind goes a long way towards understanding, and even appreciating, the art of our own era.”
This concept is further explored in the documentary Blurred Lines:
“The question of who’s determining what constitutes contemporary art is actually a hard question to answer because there are many different people who are doing that. I don’t think anyone worries any longer whether something is a painting or a photograph or a video or some digital manifestation. What we think about is, “Is it meaningful?” Does it convey some kind of impact and so all those lines that clearly defined whether something was a print or a drawing or a painting have long since been blurred.” - Glenn Lowry, Director, MOMA, NY, Blurred Lines.
Where does this leave the artists of the contemporary period that are creating beautiful work for the sake of beauty? What about those that are able to produce realism with talent, but prefer to leave their opinion out?
Will there be a movement within contemporary art that will encompass masterful works that say nothing or will those creators be left out of history?
In reality, while contemporary art does challenge us more significantly than other periods, has there ever been a time in history where art didn’t provoke thought or discussion?