Defining Contemporary Art

What is Contemporary Art?

It is astonishing that so many individuals crave a definition for contemporary art, even though it continually permeates our lives! The concepts within contemporary art are what people face on a daily basis, whether it be political, social, cultural, or environmental. Even though Art21 defines contemporary art as “the work of artists who are living in the 21st century,” the definition goes much deeper. Contemporary art is the mirror of each of us right now: our ever-changing ideas, cultures, and societies. It focuses strongly on the idea of an art piece rather than the medium out of which the art was constructed. It allows viewers to connect through art by sharing their ideas, concepts, and experiences and learning how each other interacts with each unique art piece. Contemporary art is community driven and aims to create socially and artistically relevant dialogue. As people diversify and technology evolves, so will contemporary art redefine and change itself in the future.

“Contemporary Art can be difficult to define because of its constantly evolving nature. On a basic level, one could say that it’s centered on an artist’s response to what is occurring around the politically, socially, economically, or even aesthetically, which is also in a constant state of change. Artists use a visual language constructed from recognizable images, objects, and materials to guide viewers through their thought processes and concerns, allowing the viewer to come to an understanding of the intent of the artist as expressed through the artwork.” –Jared Steffensen, UMOCA’s Curator of Exhibitions


Creating A Dialogue

Contemporary art is necessary for creating open and inclusive dialogues, learning how to share ideas, and expressing opinions and constructs in a creative—and, at times, challenging—way. It is part of a cultural dialogue that aims to teach us about things that are outside or greater than ourselves. And it is a necessary part of creating global citizens who are engaged in world-wide issues.


If you would like to stay updated on contemporary art, visit more of our blog or stop by UMOCA to explore our five thought-provoking exhibitions, which you can view a glimpse of here. What other contemporary art surrounds you that defines your life today?