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What Are the Different Types of Contemporary Artists?

L. Whitaker
L. Whitaker

Contemporary artists are those who create contemporary artworks. Contemporary art is an umbrella term that can include art that has either been produced since World War II or art that has been created within 20 years of the present date. The types of media used or the artwork created by contemporary artists can vary widely. These artists can include those working with virtual reality, video and digital media, graffiti, sound art, installation and earthworks, performance and interactive art, as well as more traditional media like painting, sculpture, and drawing.

Since the 1950s, there have been more than 50 movements in the art world that fall under the overall umbrella of contemporary art. Each art movement incorporates a different set of rules and aesthetics. Art movements vary from abstract expressionism to minimalism, and from pop art to electronic art. Both world events and advances in technology have influenced the types of work these artists create.

Impressionistic-style painting.
Impressionistic-style painting.

The term modern art is often used synonymously with contemporary art. Modern art, however, is artwork created from the 1880s to the mid-20th century, including the movements known as impressionism, cubism, and surrealism. Contemporary art, while it may overlap slightly with modern art, usually seeks out new technologies and new forms of expression. Overall, there is no one set of rules that determines what type of artwork contemporary artists create.

Surrealist art installation on the exterior of the Dali Museum.
Surrealist art installation on the exterior of the Dali Museum.

Contemporary artists in the 1960s discovered new uses for an acrylic polymer previously used only by scientists. Through their experimentation, they popularized what would become the acrylic paint medium. In the 1970s, these artists adopted new video technology and began creating performance videos. The 1980s brought digital artwork to the forefront with the onset of personal computers. The 1990s pushed the digital aspect even further to create interactive and Internet-based art.

Graffiti is a medium favored by some artists.
Graffiti is a medium favored by some artists.

At the same time, there were contemporary artists reacting to these new technologies in different ways by making works of art that utilized the waste or byproducts created by the onset of newer technologies. As one example, artist Ed Rossbach began weaving baskets out of plastic discards. Other artists, such as installation artist and sculptor Andy Goldsworthy, went in the opposite direction in a reaction against newer technologies by diving back into more traditional forms of art making. Today's artists have the luxury of working in any medium available, whether it be technology-based, traditional, or some combination of the two.

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Discussion Comments


@Iluviaporos - One of the things I like about contemporary art is that there is no real need for paint at all, or any other physical medium. You can pretty much make anything that you can imagine on a computer and if you make it in 3D you can even print it out with modern 3D printers as well.

I like this because it really allows art to spread out to marginalized people and allows everyone to participate, regardless of class or status, which is definitely not what would happen traditionally.

There are probably more contemporary women artists alive today than there have ever been in the last thousand years, just because they have access to the tools they need to create art.


@Mor - Most artists like to use oil paints for their pieces just because oil paint tends to be more vibrant. But I know a lot of contemporary Western artists use acrylic as well, particularly if they are making something abstract or extremely large. Oil paints are still very expensive, although nowhere near as much as they used to be now that we have modern methods of obtaining the pigments.


Huh, I didn't realize that acrylic paint was such a recent invention. I guess I never really thought about it that much, and I knew that paint used to be very expensive back in the old days, but I guess it has only been very recently that people could afford to really experiment with paint.

I mean, if you think about the way we splash it around, using it for kids' art lessons and murals on the streets and so forth, it's something that could never happen if it cost hundreds of dollars to produce each tube of paint from natural pigments.

Even if very few famous contemporary artists would deign to use acrylic paints in their work, they all owe something to its invention.

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    • Impressionistic-style painting.
      By: Lauren Rinder
      Impressionistic-style painting.
    • Surrealist art installation on the exterior of the Dali Museum.
      By: teddyh
      Surrealist art installation on the exterior of the Dali Museum.
    • Graffiti is a medium favored by some artists.
      By: Katrin Lantzsch
      Graffiti is a medium favored by some artists.
    • Contemporary art might overlap with modern art, such as cubism.
      By: Bob Hall
      Contemporary art might overlap with modern art, such as cubism.