What Are The Different Types Of Contemporary Art?

Artist painting abstract art.

Since the beginning of time, humankind have been creative beings, using what was available on hand to make art. From the caveman carving crude drawings of animals into rocks to the present innovative modern artists.  

In the past, art galleries consisted of landscape and human form masterpieces, both crafted to mirror their subjects. While portraits were created with painstaking brush strokes that highlight the precise details of clothing and facial expression. 

As times changed, artists began to explore other methods of painting. Instead of creating the exact copy, artists added their imagination onto the canvas and gradually developed their own style. This burst of creativity eventually led to the contemporary art movement, allowing artists to shape the world in their way. 

What Is Contemporary Art? 

In most cases, contemporary art is defined as art that has been and continues to be created during our lifetime. It essentially refers to art produced today namely painting, sculpture photography, installation, performances and video art. 

Though seemingly simple, details that accompany this definition are often confusing as different individual’s interpretations of “today” may vary widely. Therefore, the exact birth of the genre is still debatable to this date. Many art historians estimate the advent of contemporary art to between the late 1960s or early 1970s. 

The Difference Between Modern & Contemporary Art 

There are many common misconceptions between modern and contemporary art, both are often used interchangeably. But what makes the two different from one another is time. In the world of art, these two terms describe two different periods of creation. It also uses two different approaches to art making and interpreting the functionality of art. 

Modern Art

It can easily be misinterpreted as art created in recent years. This may come as a surprise, but modern art style began as early as 1849 with French artist Gustav Courbet. Courbet created paintings which exhibited life and what an observer would see, with real subjects and not idealized models. As opposed to the romantic style of art, where the subjects, scenery and feelings were exaggerated. This new change ushered in a fresh style, where artists like Manetand Picasso explored new frontiers with art. It has allowed artists to explore the subconscious and personal stories, using colour and medium in innovative ways. 

The modern art movement has led to the burst of more novel styles of art. This includes Cubism, Dadaism and Impressionism, where artists strayed away from traditional artDuring the industrial Revolution, photography became a novel way to portray reality. Eventually, artists were free and began to express their own artistic style, usually instilling political and anti-war sentiment into their canvases. This ultimately allowed artists to break free from realistic exhibitions and display different techniques, which appeared more idealized and abstract. 

Contemporary Art

It can be best described as the “next step” in creative use of technique, materials and subject matter. In the 1960s and 1970s, artists began to use their skills to experiment more. They would express their beliefs on social, political and cultural aspects of the world. Instead of self-expression, contemporary artists pay attention to society, thus this art form is known for its social impact. It is often considered as living artists creating art centred around mediums such as video, digital works and installation art. 

Discovering Styles & Genres Of Contemporary Art 

In previous years, artists were restricted from creating art apart from the predominant fashion that was popular at the time. Today, artists are given absolute freedom to work as they please and create using various styles. It has shed a new light on art and allowed observers to understand the artists’ creative process. It is a window to their vision, subject and feelings expressed on the canvas or mediums. 

Read on to learn about some of the essential contemporary art styles and their prominent characteristics. 

Abstract Art 

Spherical relevation by peisy ting.

Credits: Spherical Revelation by Peisy Ting 

It is described as a style where the artwork incorporates an element from the real world. It then uses shapes, colours, forms and gestural marks to create a representation while detaching from its purest form. Usually, objects are represented by shapes and gestural marks, whereas the usage of colours signify emotions. In short, abstract art is a non-objective, non-representational form of art. It typically seeks to mirror the essence of the objects from real life in a simplified manner to emphasize the artist’s interpretation of reality.  

Though many cannot comprehend abstract art, artists consider it as the most liberating form. It highly depends on the artist’s wildest imagination where creativity has no limits and constraints. It allows them to show more of themselves without any boundaries, hence why artists love this form of art. 

Figurative Paintings

The concert pianist by ta thimkaeo.

Credits: The Concert Pianist by Ta Thimkaeo 

It is defined as the art of realistic representation. Unlike abstract artists, figurative artists tend to create works derived from real object sources and human figures are often portrayed.  

However, figurative paintings are not restricted to just realism. Like many others in the contemporary art world, figurative art has fused with other genres such as abstract, cubist and minimalist art. While doing so, its strong sense of figuration still remainsIn order to create unconventional pieces, figurative artists often integrate their own personal style and perspectives into real-life objects. Such art forms can vary for different artists and this type of work falls under stylised figurativism 


The study by erdem ergaz.

Credits: The Study by Erdem Ergaz 

It is more than just an artistic style, but a literary and philosophical movement that started in the twentieth century. This movement encouraged artists to explore their unconscious minds as a way of creating art. By disregarding rational thinking, artists produce dreamlike and sometimes bizarre imagery across multiple mediums.  

This thought process for creating art led to automatism, or simply known as automatic writing. It is used by many surrealist artists to unlock ideas and images from their mind’s deepest thoughts. While others look to illustrate dream worlds or hidden psychological tensions. With the birth of surrealism, artists and poets alike found peculiar beauty in the unconventional.  

Pop Art Style 

Forgotten flowers by ketna patel.

Credits: Forgotten Flowers by Ketna Patel 

This is perhaps the most well-known artistic development of the twentieth century. This art style compromises bold imagery, bright colour palette that derived from consumerism, mass media and popular culture. 

Generally, artists in this movement sought to explore re-imaginations of commercial images. In particular imageries from advertising, music, comic books, product packaging and so on. The characteristics of pop art are easily recognizable due to its vibrant composition. This can be commonly found in many of the most iconic works of the movement. Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein are two of the pop artists that defined the movement. Both renowned artists took subject matter from print media to create riffs on signage that depicted the modern cultural zeitgeist. 

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