Understanding Contemporary Art

Berry artwork by Ed Shears Understanding Contemporary Art
"Berry Art" Contemporary Ceramic Art

Contemporary art is being created in the present day by current living artists. If the artist is dead, it's not "contemporary" anymore. I do not consider contemporary art to be "contemporary" if the artist is dead. The reason is that "contemporary art", is art, that reflects current social issues, the surrounding things, the world in the current time period. Art to be contemporary must relate to what is currently relevant. Understanding contemporary art is to understand the current world we live in today.


The artworks of Peter Voulkos is not contemporary any more. Yes, he was a great artist, and yes, he created contemporary art in his time, but he is not contemporary anymore. In 1998, when Peter worked with Peter Callas in Belvidere, NJ, he was considered contemporary. The most innovative approach Peter adopted was at the moment unheard of. He abandoned his conventional education and instead of creating smooth, well-thrown glazed vessels, he worked gestural with raw clay, often marring his art with gashes and pricks.


Contemporary Art Peter Voulkos and Peter Callas working on a 1998 Stack in Belvidere, NJ.
Contemporary Art Peter Voulkos and Peter Callas working on a 1998 Stack in Belvidere, NJ.



But if you ask most folks for the definition of contemporary art, they will immediately tell you it is "work created after World Ar II". It only applies to work considered innovative for the period. So this leaves you wide open to accept anything like a string nailed to the wall or a shark preserved in formaldehyde. Therefore is has become so many things it has no meaning now, right? So that is why I gave it the actual definition mentioned in the above opening paragraph.


Shark Understanding Contemporary Art
Damien Hirst's Shark in formaldehyde



What do You Learn in Studying Contemporary Arts?


Learning contemporary art gives the student the ability to become critical thinkers in so that they can seek influences in creating their artwork. Study the training, the social effects of the time, the climate and the artist's cultural influence to better understand the driving forces for the innovation.


Did the artist create a thought-provoking artwork? Was the art at the time expressive to viewers? The artist should expose themselves to stimuli that invokes thoughts and emotions in which one can create new art. It is then this art in which triggers thoughts and emotions in others. The viewer is fully engaged with the art. Now you have a thought-provoking piece of contemporary art.


Once you have an idea, the challenge is to offer your interpolations or expression of the idea. Like Peter Voulkos, his idea was not to create a smooth, well-thrown, glazed vessel, but to mar with gashes and pricks. If you create a ceramic teapot and you can use it, then it's not considered artwork according to Peter. Was this self appealing for Peter? Who knows, maybe? Often we make choices based on our preferences in which are appealing. But it does not have to be this way. I wonder what was Peter thinking when he created his stacks of clay? The bottom line is expression. In math it's an equation, a finite combination of symbols formed to rules depending on the context. In computer science, it's a syntactic entity written in a programming language for evaluation. And in speech it's a group of words carrying a special idiomatic meaning. In art, it's the visualization expressed that that conveys emotion.





Peter Voulkos 

Peter Voulkos and Peter Callas working on a 1998 Stack in Belvidere, NJ.

Damien Hirst, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living

Damien Hirst’s shark

Shark image: By Agent001, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7268276