What Is Contemporary Art?

Contemporary Art sounds pretty easy as a phrase to describe an art movement, but is it as clear-cut as you would think? The modern day meaning of contemporary art is not straightforward, okay the word contemporary is easy to figure out, as it is something that is modern. But when it is used in conjunction with the word art and describes a movement, then things get a trifle more confusing.

Basically, contemporary art describes any form of art that is produced today, although people’s views of what defines today may vary. There has to be a pole in the ground to signify when today was, and the art world seemed to have defined it as the late 1960’s, so any art after this date is contemporary. Actually, contemporary art has quite a long history and to discover its influences and where it began we look at the artists and movements that helped to form this modern movement.

Pop Art

Contemporary Art is supposed to have followed pop art in chronological order. Pop Art had many famous exponents such as Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol and it mainly focused upon what was important to mass culture. Its duration was roughly the early 1950’s to the late 1970’s, but it carried on into the 1980’s as neo-pop art. 


Photorealism was similar to pop art in many respects in particular as the artists wanted to artistically reproduce objects. These paintings and sculptures were hyper realistic, and the artists often worked by photographs to give an accurate reproduction of what they were painting. Famous artists of this movement were Gerhard Richter and Chuck Close.


Pop Art was also important in forming conceptualism which fought against the ideals the art was actually a commodity. Conceptualism was very much an experimental movement at first then became accepted in the 1960’s and is still a recognized art movement today. The idea behind the sculpture or the painting is the main point of conceptualism and not the actual piece itself. Major artists in this movement are, Jenny Holzer, Damien Hirst and Ai Wei.


Minimalism also was born in the 1960’s and is very much alive and kicking today. The Tate Gallery described conceptualism and minimalism as “challenging the existing structures for making, disseminating and viewing art”. What differentiates the two movements is that minimalism is simple in its structure and format, and the abstract aesthetic challenges the viewer to think about what they are not seeing. The famous artists of the Minimalism movement are Dan Flavin, Donald Judd and Sol LeWitt.

These four major art movements all contribute to the work of contemporary art, they can be seen as branches of the movement. Some art experts believe that each movement can itself be classed generally as contemporary art and they are smaller pieces of one much bigger art movement. The leading contemporary artists of all time are: Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Keith Haring, Yoko Ono, Gerhard Richter, Bruce Nauman, Jenny Holzer, and Anish Kapoor.

You will notice that some of these artists have also been included as major exponents in the other art movements in this blog. Thus, you can see that all of the former art movements are part of one big movement called Contemporary Art.