Demystifying Contemporary Art

You Decide

What is contemporary art?

Technically speaking, contemporary art is the art of the present day, made by artists who are still alive. However, this explanation doesn’t get us any closer to figuring out what contemporary art really is. When compared to art of the Renaissance, or even late 19th century Modern art, contemporary art can be overwhelming and intimidating. It can be difficult to try to understand the message being conveyed by the artist.

This article from the Getty Museum breaks it down. “Contemporary artists may question traditional ideas of how art is defined, what constitutes art, and how art is made, while creating a dialogue with—and in some cases rejecting—the styles and movements that came before them.”

What is contemporary art made of?

Contemporary art varies in a multitude of mediums. We can observe contemporary painting, glass, ceramics, photography, video, performance, drawing, a combination of these, and more. One major theme we can observe throughout all of these mediums, however, is that the artists shy away from form and formal art techniques. Or, they may take certain techniques and distort them until they serve their purpose. The abstraction of contemporary art is inexhaustible and artists continue to test this limitless expression.

What are the artists trying to do?

Typically, contemporary artists channel or are inspired by an event or theme of today’s society, or something in their own life. Some artists choose to respond to topics such as equality, gender, feminism, sexism, or racism, while others focus on politics, world events, or the economy. Some artists may respond to personal events, interests, or nature just because they feel inspired by that topic. The truth is, there really is no limit to what contemporary art is or can be.

How can we interpret contemporary art?

When trying to interpret contemporary art, it is most important to keep an open mind. First, think about how the piece makes you feel. Are you happy? Sad? Scared? Excited? Then assess why this is. What did the artist do to make you feel that way? Consider the piece, its title, and any background information given. Sometimes a theme may be obvious, other times its hidden under layers of other understandings that all fit together like a puzzle. This is one of the most captivating aspects of contemporary art. It makes you feel something. Sometimes you may gain an understanding you’ve never had because of one piece of art. It’s incredible, isn’t it?

How does this relate to In Between Here & Gone?

Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center strives to provide the public with exposure to contemporary art made by Michigan artists. Our current exhibition, In Between Here & Gone by Cara O’Brien and Diane Zoellmer, features two very innovative approaches to understanding nature and the world around us. Diane Zoellmer uses photography to capture the ever-changing, undetected moments and patterns of ice, water, sand, and light. Cara O’Brien combines porcelain with driftwood and metal to create organic and biomorphic sculptures (read their artists’ statements here). Together, this paired display of contemporary photography and sculpture invites the viewer into two very distinct ideas about nature. Zoellmer’s photographs and O’Brien’s sculptures pull you into the artists’ eyes and ask you to see nature the way they did when the pieces were made.

In Between Here & Gone:
by Diane Zoellmer and Cara O’Brien

Exhibition: July 6 – August 31, 2017
Exhibition sponsored by Gary & Nancy McRay

Written By: Madison Kautman, July 19, 2017