Contemporary Approaches to Creating Art

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  • 0:04 Contemporary Art
  • 1:17 Visual Organization
  • 2:08 Juxtaposition
  • 3:20 Appropriation
  • 4:31 Transformation
  • 5:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Can a painting or photo be created by one artist and then copied by another? Is it an original work of art? Today, artists create in many new ways. In this lesson, explore several contemporary approaches to creating art.

Contemporary Art

For hundreds of years, people made art based on what they saw in the world. Some art conveyed a narrative, or story, possibly from religion or mythology. Artists painted portraits, landscapes, and scenes of everyday life. Sculptors carved figures from stone and cast works in bronze.

But ideas about art changed in the 20th century as artists questioned old approaches and expectations and began to express themselves visually in radical new ways. Twenty-first century technologies have also impacted art. In today's world, art includes activities and processes like performance art, or a series of actions by an artist, sometimes involving audience participation. Other artists make work from found objects, like beds and garbage.

Art today might include video works as well as installations, rooms that incorporate light and sound, or spaces where audiences are immersed in multi-sensory experiences. Artists might use graffiti, technology, or other elements to create experiences in unexpected areas, like abandoned buildings or those confined solely to the digital world.

Visual Organization

We view the world differently than our ancestors. New technologies and experiences have changed our understanding of visual organization. Visual organization is the process of how we see and grasp the connections among people and things. We tend to group forms and images in comprehensible ways to understand the meaning of the whole, such as how we see eyes, eyebrows, a nose, and a mouth as a face.

But in today's world, how we see each other and things and our sense of visual organization is changing. Think of how we use smartphones and other technological devices. Digital media has influenced how we comprehend information and images. For example, screens can be large or small and dissolve into one another. Clicking on information or images can take us into a completely different space.


Artists make art in countless ways today and with an endless variety of media and we can't cover them all, but let's discuss a few terms that might give you a better idea of contemporary art practices.

Many artists today use juxtaposition in their work, or the idea of placing two or more things beside each other, usually to compare or contrast them. Often, these are high contrast or out of the ordinary placements, like dark, bold shapes and delicate, fluttery lines, such as chunks of rock surrounded by fluffy feathers.

Juxtaposition was an important element in Surrealism, a 20th-century art movement that questioned reality and explored the unconscious, ideas that are still used in contemporary art. Some artists juxtapose images or objects to express two conflicting ideas, like nature versus technology or safety versus chaos.

Juxtaposition might also be associated with using unexpected materials whereby the objects are made to stand in opposition to their materials' qualities, like balloons made of steel or sculpted installations made using traditional craft practices, like basketry or weaving.


Another idea in contemporary art is appropriation, or intentionally borrowing or using well-known images or objects created by someone else. Appropriated elements might be used as-is or combined and merged with other elements.

You can see the beginnings of this idea in the early 1900s, when some artists used found objects, or cast-offs and everyday items repurposed to create art. Later in the 20th century, artists like Andy Warhol used familiar images of Campbell's soup cans and repeated photos of Marilyn Monroe to comment on celebrities and mass media.

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