top of page

What is contemporary art?

Representative painting of contemporary art on

Definition of contemporary art

Contemporary art encompasses all works created from 1945 to the present day, according to the generally accepted definition. Regardless of style, medium (sculpture, painting, photography, drawing, or printmaking), or artistic movement they belong to, contemporary art includes all works produced during this period. Contemporary art follows modern art, which encompasses the years 1850 to 1945. However, some argue that contemporary art truly begins in the 1960s with the emergence of Pop Art, a movement radically different from modern art.

Another definition of contemporary art is that it includes only aesthetic practices and achievements that convey ideas or concepts (such as conceptual art), transgress traditional boundaries of art (such as performance art), or challenge the conceptions of modern and classical art. There is no single definition universally adopted for contemporary art, but rather multiple definitions that ultimately complement each other.

The emergence of contemporary art

The emergence of photography had a significant influence on numerous artists from the 19th century onwards, including Degas, and gave birth to modern art. Art is no longer limited to faithfully representing reality, as photography excels in that domain. Art can now explore new forms, break conventions of beauty, and offer conceptual experiments.

Contemporary art finds its foundations in the experiments of early 20th-century modern art, particularly in the desire to break away from traditional and institutional art spaces. As a result, art gradually loses its representational function. Contemporary creation remains a reflection of a reality marked by conflicts and power struggles that challenge rationality. Art reflects societal crises and continues to be a space for expressing values. The relationship between art and history is not measured qualitatively or quantitatively, but leads to a more institutional conception of art, with collectors, headquarters, galleries, museums, etc., opening up to a wider audience. However, actors in modern art, in their pursuit of artistic expression outside institutional frameworks, are still connected to these institutions. Their approach involved opposing an ideology (such as Heartfield's stance against Nazism) or, conversely, participating in the dissemination of a political thought.

Despite the end of ideologies imposed by modern art, contemporary artists appropriate this heritage by expressing their profound engagement with institutions, especially when their sensibility is disturbed by them. Today, contemporary art faces the decline of modern ideologies (in the 1960s and after 1990 with the fall of communism). It is based on new behaviors: stylistic renewal, interdisciplinary mixing, diverse origins, technological arts (leveraging the computational power of computers and software ergonomics), and approaches to reality. Technologies have always provided tools for art, and today artists use them as instruments of mediation, and even invent new ones. They draw upon existing historical culture, read, visit, understand, research, specialize, focus on their subject, and surpass what has been done before. Sometimes, they take a position, aim to be demonstrative or shocking, but in any case, they seek media attention.

According to Anne Cauquelin, as early as the 1910s, Marcel Duchamp laid bare the future network functioning of contemporary art by speculating on the value of exhibiting an object that could simply be a manufactured item.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page