When most people think of contemporary art, they immediately picture something abstract and ‘avant-garde’. But the truth is that contemporary art comes in many different forms. There are definitely a lot of abstract pieces of art that fall under the contemporary art category, but people don’t realize that contemporary art is just a name for art created after the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, and some contemporary art museums classify any art that was produced after the second world war as being contemporary.

If ‘modern art’ is not really your thing, and you never really got the point of all the geometric shapes and paint splatters, then you probably didn’t get a good sampling of what contemporary art has to offer. If you were to visit a contemporary art museum, you would find that there are hundreds of different styles of modern art, and while some are more conceptual and appealing to those who can think in abstracts, there are others that are more figurative and this type of art is often more accepted and relatable to the average person’s life.

While there are many forms of contemporary art, it is more enjoyable if you can see them as a whole and not embrace one form as ‘art’ and completely reject the others that are not as appealing to you. Although, at first, some types of art won’t be that interesting to you, you will find that if you try to understand what the artists was trying to get across through the piece you may be able to actually appreciate it for what it is. Most artists are trying to express a certain feeling through their art, and if you can pinpoint the feeling that they are trying to emote, you will have a better understanding of the piece, and of the artist who created it.

There are many places you can go to view and appreciate contemporary art. Most cities have numerous art museums, and some are dedicated solely to displaying contemporary art. There may also be art studios that you can go to, to see samples of your local artists work. Many art studios hold monthly or weekly shows, to help showcase the work of different artists. If you are interested in going to an art show, or purchasing some art for your self, you can check your local listings. There may even be and artists guild that you can get into contact with, which will help you to locate contemporary art in your area.

Although what constitutes contemporary art is quite subjective, most people would agree that it is not really about figuring out whether you like a certain piece of art or not; it is more important to think about why you like or dislike it. Art appreciation is something that is different for every one, and what you hate about a painting or sculpture could be just what someone else absolutely loves about it. Sometimes, understanding more about the artist, or the particular style of art, can completely change you view of the art, and help you to appreciate it, or at least accept it for what it is.

What is art? This is a question for which the answer is getting more and more blurry as time goes by. In the past, artists were sent to schools where they learned the strict guidelines and rules for making art, which they had to follow in order to make a living for them selves. If they wanted to be able to find work, or sell their paintings, they had to follow the rules of proportion, lighting, and perspective. As you can see from the classical period, the style was clearly defined, and what constituted ‘good’ art was easily discernible.

However, these rules and standards highly limited what an artist could do, and what methods he could use to produce the type of outcome that he wanted. This all changed around the time when French painter Edouard Manet decided to break the rules and paint figures that were outside of the accepted norms of his day. His loose brush strokes and ‘suggesting’ shapes without fully drawing them were only a few of the things that set him apart from his more classical contemporaries. He had a knack for painting controversial subjects. Unlike most artists, who painted mostly mythological, religious, and formal themes, Manet painted people in more casual settings and sought to capture the lighting on his subjects. His paintings were a far cry from what was expected of a classically trained artist, and many other artists decided to follow suit and break away from the old rules. This led to a number of new methods, including surrealism, expressionism, and cubism, and the age of modern art was born.

The styles of art during this time reflected the social and political climate of the day, with many artists giving their art a more ‘real’ feel by portraying life in all its imperfect glory. In the past, artists painted very idealistic figures, even omitting any imperfections on a person’s face when painting portraits. But modern artists often drew the nitty-gritty details of life that were often ignored and hidden. They sought to wake up a world that was in denial about the way things really were. In time, artists started going to the extreme and started creating art more for its shock value than for its aesthetic or emotional appeal.

This has gotten to the point where a dead sheep in formaldehyde isn’t just accepted as a work of art, but actually wins first place in a contemporary art contest. A lot of people are growing disgusted by this type of ‘art’ and the question ‘what is art?’ is something that now has to be answered on an individual basis. Art schools are having a very hard time teaching artists the skills they will need to be successful artists, when it seems that, in today’s world, just about anything that someone calls ‘art’ is indeed art. What many people find alarming is that so many people will go along with it and praise the artists for their innovation and graphic imagery, while in truth the ‘artist’ may just be pulling a big practical joke, trying to pass off a broken toilet as art. So, while it was clear in the past what constituted art and what was just rubbish, today art seems to be just about anything that ‘floats your boat’.

There are many different forms and styles of contemporary art, each with its own ideology and methodology. There are literally hundreds of different styles that fit under the contemporary art genre, but there are few that stand out, due to their influence on other forms of contemporary art, or because they are more widely disseminated.

- Conceptualism

Conceptual art is one of the most well known types of contemporary art. It stems from the idea that art doesn’t necessarily have to be a material object; instead it is the concept that is the real form of art. This movement has its origins in the early twentieth century and it really goes back to the Dada movement when the premises of art were really being challenged. It didn’t take off, however, until the ’60’s. It was then that it acquired the name of Conceptualism and was recognizable as a bona-fide movement. The proponents of conceptualism regard the form as a challenge to the tradition of art as a valuable object. To be a conceptual artist, one doesn’t need to have any painting or sculpting skills. One only needs to be able to portray a concept or idea in a tangible way.

- Performance

Performance is a form of experimental contemporary art which was inspired by the contemporary art movement, as well as Dada, which combined poetry with visual art, and the North Carolina Black Mountain College and the Bauhaus Design School, both of which combined studies in theatre with visual arts. Performance art is characterized by its being ‘live’. The artist interacts with the audience in a more personal way, and often the artists ARE the art. Body art is a form of performance art that has been gaining momentum in recent years.

- Installation

Installation art is a form of art where art is arranged to create a visually dramatic environment. While most normal art can be hung on a wall, installation art is more like to BE the wall, or more likely the whole room. Installation art typically fills a whole room, but it can also be constructed in an outdoor area. The point is to make the environment the art, so installation art is often very large or expansive. It can also make use of kinetic lights, as part of the art, or as the entirety of the art. An empty room, because of its visual impact, could also be classified as installation art.

- Minimalism

Minimalism is a form of contemporary art that is, in its fundamentals, is much like conceptualism, as it seeks to portray only the idea, or the concept, behind the art. Minimalism is characterized by extreme simplicity, and often the artist will only depict the bare forms, often making some sort of pattern or grid. This type of art is deliberately devoid of any expressiveness, and is meant to convey the intellectual idea of the art in its purest form.

The above mentioned forms of art are only a very few of the most popular styles of contemporary art. Since there is no limit to what an artist can do or what methods they can use, the variety and flexibility of modern art has increased and expanded and will continue to do so as artists branch out and find new ways to express their art.

Most people think of Picasso when they think of modern art. But, while his paintings definitely depict what it is often expected of modern art, and now contemporary art, the history of contemporary art goes back further still.

It might surprise some people to know that the paintings of artists like Claude Monet and Edouard Manet were once thought of as being very radical. Their paintings may seem quite tame compared to the contemporary art that we see today, but at that time it was pretty revolutionary. Up until the second half of the 19th century, artists were bound to a strict set of rules as to what they could paint and how they could paint it. These rigid guidelines caused many artists to feel limited in their creativity. So in the changing world of the mid to late 19th century, artists decided that they could change too. This was at the same time that the industrial revolution was in full swing, and this is reflected in the different styles of art that were born during the time period.

The movement that started it all was Impressionism. Impressionists didn’t hold to the same strict styles and themes that classical art schools were teaching, and thus their paintings were not readily accepted in art shows or museums. Manet is famous for his painting that he exhibited in the Salon des Refuses, which was organized by painters whose art had been rejected by the leading academy of art at the time. It depicted a nude woman sitting in the park with two fully clothed men, and a second scantily clad woman bathing in the background. Nudity wasn’t a big deal for most artists, but the fact that she was sitting with two fully clothed men made people feel like it was ‘indecent’. This scandalous painting is often thought of as the starting point of Impressionism.

After impressionism took off, a dozen other art movements followed. Fauvism, and its German Modern art doppelganger Expressionism, both used simplified design and vivid colors. Art Nouveau and its follow up Art Deco were both highly stylized forms of art. Both were dedicated to natural forms, often with plants as inspiration for highly intricate designs, and using curving lines and ‘whiplashes’. These styles of art were not limited to paintings, and the style can be seen in much of the architecture, jewelry, and furniture of the era. In Cubism forms were reduced to geometric shapes and fragmentations. Cubism was a forerunner of abstract art.

Surrealism emphasized the ‘unseen’ unconscious state, and the psychological aspect of art. Surrealism was displayed through paintings, films, and photography, and often displayed things that would seem dreamlike or nonsensical in the real world. Abstract art was like cubism, in that it simplified forms. Abstract paintings often had vibrant colors and seemingly randomly placed objects. Pop Art, in a way, came in response to Abstract Art, which was often un-relatable and too ‘elitist’ for the vast majority of the public. Pop art focused on every day, recognizable, objects, like soup cans and the like.

From these evolving art forms sprung the myriad of contemporary art styles that have developed, or that are being developed now. It is stunning to see how far art has come in just the last hundred years, and exciting to think about what new things will develop in the future.

Contemporary art is something that is always changing, evolving, and developing as new artists come up with new ideas and ways to express themselves. The great thing about contemporary art is that there is virtually no limit to what artists are able to do. With the advances in photographic and video technology, there are even more platforms from which to present innovative new styles of art.

The thing that sets modern and contemporary art apart from the previous forms and styles of art is that it really has no set of rules that must be strictly adhered to for it to be classified as art. For example, the idea that art must be beautiful and valuable is the thinking that dominated the art world for hundreds of years. However, contemporary artists are freed to express their concepts in ways that aren’t classically beautiful. This can be used for shock value, or to try to get the viewer to see things in a different way, perhaps asking them to see the beauty in something that is not deemed beautiful by the world’s standards. Or maybe they are trying to bring out the unique qualities of something that is thought of as common or mundane. Whatever the case may be, the freedom to express ones feelings or ideas in whatever way one chooses has made art a large influence in our modern society.

The influences of contemporary art can be seen anywhere you go; from the advertising on the cans in the grocery, to the cover art on your favorite band’s latest album. Because the means to make art are now widely available to all, as opposed to the past when art supplies were prohibitively expensive and only available to the upper classes, there are now more active artists than there have ever been in the history of the world. There are no strict guidelines for what type of media one can use to create art, so creative and imaginative artists can continue with their work even without the large inheritances, sponsors and benefactors that artists had to rely on in the past. Most artists work part time at another occupation, and devote the rest of their time to their craft. Others have been lucky enough to be noticed, and these artists are often paid very high prices for the artwork.

Many people don’t realize how surrounded they are with contemporary art. If you walk into any modern office building, and have a seat in the lobby, you will probably find contemporary art influences in the furniture you are sitting on, the art hanging on the walls or any sculpture in the area, the carpet under your feet, the lighting in the area, and even the style of the receptionist’s glasses. The speed at which contemporary art movements have evolved, and their influence on every day life, is really quite astounding. Next time you go out and about during your day, take a look around; you may find that you’ll appreciate your local artists just a little more once you realize how influential they could be in the next ten years or so.