Different Influences on Contemporary Art

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  • 00:00 Contemporary Art
  • 00:48 Abstract Expressionism
  • 1:48 Appropriation
  • 2:22 Pluralism
  • 3:10 Globalization
  • 3:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

The term contemporary art defines art created by those living today or the art of the 21st century. This lesson explores contemporary art and how the art of the past and societal values influences it.

Contemporary Art

Trying to list the influences on contemporary art is sort of like trying to number all the fish in the sea. There are just too many to count. For this reason, today's lesson will break down two of the more general and overarching influences on contemporary art. They are: art of the past, and today's societal values.

For starters, the term contemporary art is a bit subjective. Some define it as art being created by those living today, while others broaden the definition to art created in the 21st century. No matter which definition you choose, one thing is for sure: the contemporary art of today is greatly influenced by the past, specifically abstract expressionism.

Abstract Expressionism

Abstract expressionism, an art movement centered on emotional expression, creativity, and spontaneity, ruled the art world from about the 1940s to the 1960s. During this famous art era, many artists traded in a desire to make things look realistic for the desire to express themselves. Gone were the calculated brush strokes and pencil lines that made a tree look like a tree. In their place came things like wide splashes of paint strewn impulsively and instinctively across large canvases.

Similar to the way my dad passed down his looks and his love of golf to my son, abstract expressionism passed on its freedom from prescribed convention to contemporary art. Gone are the days when art used only the medium of oil paints or soft watercolors to imitate the natural world. Like abstract expressionism, contemporary art comes in all different shapes and sizes.


Adding to abstract expressionism, the practice of appropriation is an excellent example of how contemporary art is molded by the past. Stated very simply, appropriation is the act of using old imagery to create something new. Sort of how the flare pants of today are copies of the bell bottoms of the 70s, artists use creations from yesteryear as patterns for today's creations. The result is often something that looks almost identical to the original work with a bit of a contemporary flair.

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