Art of today is classified as contemporary art drawn by artists who are a part of the 21st century. It is not easy to define contemporary art simply because it has no boundaries, it has no logic and it is always in a state of fluid dynamic evolution. This form of art represents thought processes that have seen the world coming close to form a global village challenging the traditional boundaries of class, culture and ethnicity. Contemporary art is far removed from the traditional art themes, it is basically a manifestation of ideologies, identities and happenings ruling the world in the modern era.
Why it is that contemporary art cannot be specifically put in a framework unlike say Egyptian tomb paintings or Greek sculpture or Renaissance paintings or period paintings? It is because contemporary art describes a way of life, it brings forth through art, the prevailing circumstances of the modern world. Most importantly, it is a portrait of our recent past and depicts in art form the social, political and economic upheavals of the twentieth century.
Historically, the roots of contemporary art go back to the beginnings of the “Modernism” era. In 1910, the Contemporary Art Society was founded in London by Roger Fry as a private society that focussed on buying art works for placement in public museums. A number of other institutions followed suit notably the Contemporary Art Society of Adelaide Australia in 1938. There is however a flip side to what really falls in the “contemporary” definition. Since this concept is anchored in the present and as the start date moves forward, the previous periodicity of “contemporary” loses its relevance. Hence the works of art bought by the Contemporary Art Society of London in 1910 can no longer be described as contemporary.
Contemporary art has always been a mix of representational forms and the abstract. It has always stood for the prevalent socio political concerns of society. A case in point is the art works of Judy Chicago whose forms of women were symbols of the feminist movement of the 1970s. Similarly, artists of the 1960s created works that characterised the free liberal hippy movements. Artists like Maya Lin who designed the Vietnamese Veteran’s Memorial Wall in Washington DC and Richard Serra who was associated with the Minimalist movement in 1960s have all tailored their art to design sculptures that have appealed to the emotional conscience of the people.
This is what contemporary art is all about. It is not simply about visual appeal, it is more of delving into the undercurrent of modern happenings and sentiments and portraying them in art form.