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Trends in contemporary art

Perhaps the most defining aspect of contemporary art is its indefinability. Prior to the late 1960s, most artwork could be categorized fairly easily into one particular medium or a specific school. Even through the 1970s and 80s, one can see certain trends such as Conceptual Art, Performance Art, Feminist Art, Pop Art, Graffiti Art. Art after the Modern Era has transformed along with the large-scale economic, global, political, and socio-cultural change. The growing speed of the transference of ideas, money, information and culture around the globe seems to be happening within art worlds as well. Many of the boundaries and disctinctions within Art have loosened.

Contemporary art should not be confused with the workings of modern art, although the trends and movements in contemporary practice may directly refer to modernism. Much of the direction of modern art involved exploring the very basis of painting, for instance, color, brush stroke, and canvas. Philosopher and art critic Arthur Danto has asserted that modernism (as well as "art history" itself) came to its end with the making of Andy Warhol's Brillo Boxes, which functioned as art yet were largely indistinguishable from their real life counterparts. These sculptures therefore marked the end of any pretense that art had some essential and objectively discernible trait that separated it from non-art objects.

Similarly, Donald Kuspit has labelled contemporary practices that fail to demonstrate historically evidenced artistic qualities as post-art. He criticizes socially-oriented art, exemplified by the work of Rirkrit Tiravanija and Jeremy Deller, for replacing: high culture with mass appeal, autonomy with homogeneity, mystery with transparency, skill with chance creativity, dialectic with dialogue, and “refinement of the unconscious” with spectacle. In the last case, this reminds one of Michael Fried’s disdain for Minimalist theatricality as being an instance of heavy-handed rhetoric. For Kuspit, as well as Danto, artistic categorization “is possible only on the basis of working knowledge of the past...looking to the past for inspiration,” looking specifically to what “post-art” supposedly does not contain, which is beauty. Most emphatically, Kuspit laments the disappearance of the “sacred studio” and the move to the "noisy public street".

One notable characteristic of Contemporary art is that it often engages matters and issues that presently affect the world. Cloning, politics, economics, issues of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, class, human rights, war or perhaps even the high price of bread being sold locally. This emphasis on politics, though not entirely new, does seem to have intensified. Historically, art was more closely aligned with aesthetic notions of beauty, purity and transcendence. It was identified with higher thoughts--not politics. Distinctions, however, may be made between politically-motivated art with activist purposes and socially-oriented art with political implications. Fundamentally, the conceptual basis of socially-oriented art is that a social formation may be taken as the art-object, with the result that the physical distance between artist and audience is collapsed through a project’s participatory, collaborative structure. This aesthetic shift has been defined variously by contemporary art theorists as relational (Nicolas Bourriaud), connective (Suzi Gablik), and dialogic (Grant Kester).

Contemporary art often also crosses the boundaries of medium; it is not limited by materials or methodology. It may or may not use traditional forms such as painting, drawing, and sculpture but may engage performance, installation, video and employ any variety of materials or readymade objects. Since the modernist days of the first half of the 20th century, art has also engaged post-modernism, neo-conceptualism, High art Lite (the Young British Artists movement (YBAs) of the mid nineties), the Irrealists of the early 21st century, as well as multi-culturalist work within the post-postmodern. It often engages a multi-disciplinary discourse, utilizing a diverse body of skills and peoples to ultimately engage the mass with a substantial, and sometimes provocative discourse pertaining to the relevant issues shaping the world right now. It is continually engaging, and affecting the boundaries of perception.

Contemporary artists today such as The Yes Men, uS, Vanessa Beecroft,Maurizio Cattelan, and Marc Quinn utilize a sophisticated language to communicate with a variety of audiences. The relationship between the viewer and the artist has grown increasingly complex over the later half of the 20th century and into the 21st. Contemporary art is becoming increasingly more global, and is slowly breaking down the cultural barriers that separate the antiquated elitism of high art from the public forum of the masses. Irrealist artist Tristan Tondino (1961 - 2002) claimed that the history of art is the history of Irrealism - i.e. the destruction of absolutism. One of his paintings entitled "Realism is an Irrealism" is a powerful description of Contemporary art. Another painting entitiled "Realism is Fascism - Reality requires an Army" has a similar tone.

The future development of Contemporary art is often directed by massive biennials (The Whitney Biennial, The Venice, Sao Paulo, the Kwan Ju, the Havana...), triennials (Echigo-Tsumari), and most importantly the exhibition of documenta in Kassel, Germany.

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