What is… contemporary art? A definition

The first in a new series of posts defining art terms in the contemporary art field.

Whether you are completely new to art or already count yourself among the cognoscenti, we hope this series will build your knowledge and confidence. For the new explorer, we aim to clarify the basics. For the more experienced, this useful refresher will be supplemented by intriguing background facts and details.

For a site which confines itself to contemporary art, we thought we had better start right there…


Definition: contemporary art

Term loosely used to denote the art of the present day and relatively recent past.

Usually avant-garde in nature.

Art museum definitions

Still confused? It is not surprising. Since the middle of the twentieth century, various museums have been established with a remit to focus on contemporary art. As a result, these institutions have developed their own definitions which vary from one to another.

For example, the Institute of Contemporary Art in London, founded in 1947, champions art from that year onwards. The New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York chooses the later date of 1977. In the 1980s, the Tate planned a Museum of Contemporary Art in which contemporary art was defined as art of the past ten years on a rolling basis.

Our definition

How does Art Radar define contemporary art? Our focus is firmly current, so we are interested in art being made today. However, we do delve back in time. For example, we like to look at the lifetime oeuvres of living artists and how current works have been shaped by the past. We may also look at the work of artists from any century who have played a part in influencing artworks being made today.

[Source: The Tate Guide to Modern Art Terms, Simon Wilson and Jessica Lack.]


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What is… contemporary art? A definition — 5 Comments

  1. Art has become anything and an artist anyone. Can you become any type of scientist without understanding theory and the foundation of a particular discipline? Or a social scientist without similar training?
    Every culture, country and subgroup, indeed every individual lays claim to a unique art which must be recognized. So art is everything and therefore nothing.

  2. a brilliant definition of contemporary art has been given. but who is a contemporary African artist? considering the Africans in diaspora in our definition

  3. Well, to me contemporary art means the art of the present as being practised by people who live in the same generation. While modern art to me depict the very beginnig of freedom in art. Modern art is all about liberty in self expresssion devoid of inhibitions and laid down rules. It actually marries contemporay art as most comtemporary art forms have traces of modernism in them.

  4. I quite agree with you that the term comtemporary art shares almost the same thing with modern art. My question is; Is their any qualification for contemporary artist? Is he the college trained artist or one who learnt in workshops and by informal way or the artist who developed through personal observation and self training? Enlighten me, please.

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