Analyzing the complicated nature of contemporary art

Elisa Fang, Editor-in-Chief

Expressive works of art created by the artists of this time are the products of a different type of thinking: using imagination to fill a boundary-less space. With minimalism on the rise and artists unafraid to challenge societal issues, contemporary art is often a topic of controversy, misunderstanding and prejudice.

So, what’s the deal with contemporary art?

Contemporary art simply refers to art made by the artists of this century, whether it be large or minuscule, colorful or monochromatic, realistic or abstract. With the introduction of technology, the possibility to create has increased tenfold, and the purpose driving its production became twice as extensive. As our society blooms, people have taken less of a realistic approach to their works, leaning towards abstract expressionism, creating a piece taken over by symbolism. Artists supporting the postmodern movement set out to make “alternative” pieces, rejecting the notion of mainstream concepts, and embracing the open-minded approach to new art and innovative styles.

So in an era in which boundaries are nearly nonexistent, one question is bound to introduce itself: what makes art, art?

Within Leo Tolstoy’s book “What is Art?” the author poses a simple, yet reasonable point.

“Art begins when one person, with the object of joining another or others to himself in one and the same feeling, expresses that feeling by certain external indications,” Tolstoy writes. “If only the spectators or auditors are infected by the feelings which the author has felt, it is art.”

But this book was published in 1897, preceding the movement of contemporary art. Does this concept still apply? Tolstoy claims that art is a method of communication, to provide a means that transcends language and delves into the interpretive image.

Interpretive: that’s the key word. With minimalism and abstract expressionism, artists don’t have to prioritize the connection between the producer and the consumer. Often, the art is a process and less of a creation, such as using materials that hold significance, or coming across an artistic gorilla (Koko and Michael), whose paintings are valued at $350 digitally.

If Tolstoy’s definition is used, these products may not fit the requirements of “art”, which means his definition is not the whole truth.

So does interpretation define the art? It’s a tricky subject. Interpretation isn’t stable, and it fluctuates from person to person. Art often brews specific feelings or specific memories, belonging to one person and usually only that person. Interpretation is unmanageable by the artist, the best being a “majority rules” type of deal.

A painting of a few paint splatters and color blocks can sell for millions of dollars, and though it may seem obscure to an outside perspective, the buyer may legitimately see something in the painting that connects it to them, allowing the purchase to appear logical, even if only to their eyes alone.

If based upon interpretation, art has the potential to be everything that has ever existed. Your math problem could be art, a drowned ant in a puddle, the gasoline dripping from the exhaust pipe of an old car. If everything is art, then there really is no purpose for art at all.

Art has many targets, many processes and many connections. To organize them all is an impossible task, and to unite them under one definition would defeat their purpose of freedom.

Art is simply anything intended to be art upon creation. If one makes, alters, destroys or keeps in the name of art, their creation is art. If one uses their creativity to achieve, to change, to preserve or to surrender, their end product is art. If one wants it to be art, it will be art.

Contemporary art is the most diverse era in its history, simply because right now is the longest we’ve ever lived. We have inspirations from our past and hopes for our future, and with this, we’re allowed to be skeptical about what we’re doing, yet also amazed by how far we’ve come.