What are contemporary art and its different forms?

Cover: Picasso’s Three Dancers (left) and Miró’s Head of a Catalan Peasant (right) Photograph: Guy Bell/Rex/Shutterstock

There are different forms of art, among these, one is contemporary art. Now you must be wondering what’s this contemporary art form? In a simple sense, the term contemporary art refers to any modern art i.e painting, sculpture, photography, installation, performance, and video art that is produced today. Even though the term may be simple, the details surrounding this definition are often a bit unclear because these days each individual’s interpretation of today differs and varies.  One person’s interpretation of art may be different in another person’s eyes. According to art historians, this form of art may have evolved in the late 1960s or early 1970s.

The integral part of contemporary art is Experimentation. Artists mainly experiment with their ideas, thought processes, visions, or even dreams in the development of contemporary art. This is a challenging and provocative art form as the contemporary artists combine everything from the new and the old, to the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional. They use the past as a way to understand the present, contemporary artists create art that takes us into the future.

In the modern era, contemporary artists work in a dominating, multicultural, and technologically advancing world and mediums and hence their art is also a dynamic combination of materials, concepts, methods, and subjects that continue challenging boundaries of the modern world. This art style as a whole is well known for its lack of uniformity, organizing principle, or ideology because it is too diverse and broad. So it’s very difficult for a non-artist to interpret contemporary art and its forms. Contemporary art is inspiring and visually pleasing. This specific art style sometimes inspires and understands the artist’s vision to become a better version of themselves. These artists through working with a wide range of mediums try hard to reflect the complex issues that significantly impact today’s rapidly changing world. 

There are different contemporary art styles that will help you quickly understand the artwork and some of those are mentioned below.

1. Abstract Art

Jackson Pollock, Convergence, 1952
Jackson Pollock, Convergence, 1952. Image courtesy of jackson-pollock.org.

Art formed from unnatural objects, such as shapes, formats, and geometric patterns are called abstract art. Mainly based on figures and landscapes, this type of art depicts purity, spirituality, and simplicity. This type of art is all about patterns, colors,  compositions, lines, processes, and textures. Abstract art is also called non-objective art or concrete art that usually holds a non-representational work. It has been more than a century since abstract art is here to inspire viewers. One of the best things about abstract art is that it is open to interpretation; all you need to have an open, curious mind that is willing to explore the artwork.

2. Figurative Art

Oath of the Horatii, by Jacques-Louis David (1784, Louvre, Paris)
Oath of the Horatii, by Jacques-Louis David (1784, Louvre, Paris) Image courtesy Wikimedia

Modern art that genuinely depicts real-world issues through human figures is called figurative art and thus realistic representation of life is represented here with the help of imaginary characters. This art style can be used together with other art types like abstract, cubist, and minimalist art forms to create masterpieces. In today’s world by using figurative art representing human figures or animals we can differentiate between representational work and abstract art. For centuries back, famous artists used figurative art in their artworks to depict intellectual concepts. Some artists used to represent a real-world subject, while other artists used to highlight the cultural values in the form of paintings, sculptures, and portraits.

3. Surrealist Art

The Persistence of Memory – Salvador Dali
The Persistence of Memory – Salvador Dali

An artistic and philosophical movement that flourished in Europe between World War I and II are called Surrealism. Surrealist art mainly focuses on exploring unreasonable and subconscious ideas. Surrealist artists enjoy experimenting with different forms and objects to convey their internalized thoughts. Surrealist art usually portrays breathtaking graphics and farseeing imagery.

4. Minimalist Art

Frank Stella, Whitney Museum, Gansevoort Street, New York City. Image courtesy of John St John.
Frank Stella, Whitney Museum, Gansevoort Street, New York City. Image courtesy of John St John. 

Minimalism is a type of abstract art that uses minimal elements. There was a Minimalist movement itself when this form of art evolved. Minimalist artists sought to move away from the expressive characteristics of Abstract Expressionism because they felt those works to be too extravagant and emotional, and that they deviated from the true essence of art itself. Minimalist artists, in complete contrast to abstract artists, used only simple lines and forms. Hence all the elements of expression, biography, complex subjects, and social agendas are removed, leaving viewers to interpret their works for what purpose they stood for i.e a purified form of beauty and truth. The main purpose of using this type of art is to depict reality without any imitation. Minimalist Art represents the different aspects of the real world, such as persons, feelings, emotions, experiences, and landscapes.

 5. Still Life Art

Vanitas with Violin and Glass Ball (1628) – Pieter Claesz
Vanitas with Violin and Glass Ball (1628) – Pieter Claesz

Art that depicts still life paintings and dead sculptures is called Still Life art and it is one of the essential types of Western art. Still, life art focuses mainly on still objects. This type of artwork includes nearly all types of games, human-made or natural objects, such as vegetables, fruits, food, and other inanimate objects. In contemporary art, the purpose of Still life art is to depict the celebration of material pleasures and remind viewers that human life is short-lived.

6.  Pop Art

Andy Warhol - Marilyn Monroe, 1962
Andy Warhol – Marilyn Monroe, 1962

One of the most famous art movements that unfolded as a result of consumerism, commercial cultures, and mass media is Pop Art. This type of artwork utilizes commonplace objects like newspapers, road signs, bottle cans, comic strips, and other popular commercial world items to convey their message. In Pop Art, artists are allowed to use images of celebrities, names, even logo designs in their artworks. Artists enjoy the complete freedom to take inspiration from any source or object. The major highlight of this form of art is that they use vibrant, bright colors and viewers can very easily recognize pop art due to its unique characteristics which are present in many iconic art movements. Here artists can even use the element of irony and humor and convey their message. a variety of materials and different types of media are used to represent their work by modern-day artists.

7. Geometric Art

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, oil on canvas by Pablo Picasso, 1907 at Museum of Modern Art patrons.
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, oil on canvas by Pablo Picasso, 1907 at Museum of Modern Art patrons. Image Phil Roeder

Geometric Art is like the name suggests, represents different shapes, lines, angles, elements and points, and it is totally inspired by geometry. This contemporary art style itself uses a wide formation of geometric shapes, such as triangles, squares, circles, and rectangles to make complex shapes and objects. Geometric art designs can come in different shapes, sizes, and types. Geometric art is being said to have evolved during the Greek period of 900 BC, because of the concentric circles and other shapes found on their vases and paintings.

8. Typography Art

A contemporary style of art that uses existing and modern typography to arrange text and appropriately conveys the message. This art is made with letters of the alphabets that express specific feelings, techniques and brand identity is called Typography Art. In short, it is the art of arranging letters. One of the most important aspects of contemporary art design used in the print and web design industry can be called Typography art.

9. Sculpture Art

Art which is three-dimensional and made by four basic processes: carving, modeling, casting, and constructing is called a Sculpture art. A sculptural technique that uses different tools to create a shape by cutting a solid material such as wood or stone is called carving. The process of casting involves a mold and then pouring a liquid material into it.In the modeling phase, artists make shapes by using soft materials, such as clay or wax. The last step of constructing and assembling consists of stitching, folding, weaving, bending, welding and other techniques to build sculptures. 

So these are some of the Contemporary Art forms found today.

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