How to understand contemporary art in 5 easy steps

What is contemporary art?

Most of us regular people cannot readily define contemporary art. In short, the term “contemporary art” refers to all forms of art produced today, namely, painting, sculpture, photography, installation, performance, and video art.

Human beings have been making and enjoying art for longer than our recorded history. Contemporary artists work in a globally influenced, culturally diverse, and technologically advancing world, using a dynamic combination of materials, methods, concepts, and subjects, all that might seem confusing. But let us try to meet the artist halfway.

1. Don’t Waste Your Time Trying to Understand It.

ugly weird sculptures or how to understand contemporary art
One of the ugliest statues, made by Robert Hendrick for Montreal’s Expo ’67. The nearly human-sized sculpture made its way to the university as a gift in 1969.

A visitor to the New Museum (of contemporary art) in New York City a few years ago remarked:  

“I get modern art. It is what I love. Good modern art is not always about beauty,  but makes one think and question.

This, however, just seemed like it was conceived by college kids smoking weed.
The exhibition on the ground level about immigration was slightly interesting and had some aesthetics to it, but the two TVs in the basement are just down right stupid.

Don’t waste your time.”

2. Don’t Be Afraid To Like/Dislike Something.

Cy Twombly with his painting "1994 Untitled"
Cy Twombly with his painting “1994 Untitled (Say Goodbye Catullus, to the Shores of Asia Minor),” at the Menil Collection in Houston in 2005.

The best way to see art is to see it alone. Like what you like, even if you’re not sure why, or can’t put the reason to words. Or, if you find a subject offensive or unlikable, just move on. Art has long been controversial, that is to say disliked by some viewers, for a wide variety of reasons, ugliness is one of them. See weird ugly art here. Find the art you enjoy and explore it.

3. Define Art for Yourself.

David Datuna $120,000 banana duct-taped to a wall art installation
The $120,000 fruit was plucked off the wall and eaten by performance artist David Datuna on Saturday in front of a roomful of stunned art aficionados.

Anything within the context of art is art. 

“I would argue that Art-with-a-capital-A, art that makes it into art magazines and big art museums, art that smells of the present instead of the past – all this art is synonymous with Conceptual art. Given the infinite mutability of art today, how can it be otherwise? In order to interpret this vast range of enterprises, the only net that can encompass everything is theory, idea, embodied meaning.” The Pissoir Problem, by Bruce Metcalf.

It might make you roll your eyes, but seeing/hearing art that you disagree with can challenge your notions, or help you broaden your creative scope, engage in creative activities on a daily basis.

4. Let Your Creativity Flow.

sand artwork sea sunrise beautiful aerial picture make your own contemporary art to understand it better
You are an instrument, world around is your canvas.

Creativity is one of the many benefits of human intelligence. In other words, our ability to make art and think critically about it separate us from dolphins and monkeys. Therefore, disregarding what you majored in, or how your figure drawings (or stick figures) always come out, remember that every human being has artistic ability. And most importantly, trust in this.

Take a second to reflect on your emotions, thoughts, feelings, experiences, and any interests or passions you have with the intent of conveying your message. If you do not have any clear interests, you can start looking. It can be your own secret message to yourself. Do something and call it art. Art is defined by the artist, and everyone can be an artist.

5. Step Inside and Make Your Own Art.

participate in contemporary art and have fun making a recreational painting to understand art

Assuming you do not intend to spend hundreds of thousands dollars for a degree in art to enter art world and be famous in museums, just start making useless but meaningful things and call them art. Anything that you consider to be art will be. For example, watch around you and squint, take a photo, and Instagram it. More than that, experiment. For change, cook an amazing meal and try new spices. Most importantly, you will feel better about art after exercising your right to create.

This is one hour twenty minutes long video on how to understand contemporary art.