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Art for the lover : Contemporary art meets traditional techniques

Contemporary art is the most recent art movement in human history. The movement started in 1980 and is still evolving. Global and multicultural elements and the influence of technology are hallmarks of contemporary art.


Modern art preceded the contemporary art movement. Comparing these movements can help us understand the evolution of art and the traditional techniques which continue to appear in contemporary art.


A photo of an ornately designed building with words reading "Teatro Calerdon" and blowup legs hanging out the window, by Maria Teneva
Teatro Calderon, Maria Teneva

Contemporary art is infused with a variety of traditional techniques when examined closely. 


This contemporary piece, an altered image of Madrid’s Teatro Calderon, demonstrates the use of technology in contemporary art. The woman’s legs protruding from the building have been digitally added. With contemporary art, interpretation is largely open to the viewer of the piece.  Descriptions of the work’s meaning, a typical hallmark of art museums, are not guaranteed.


Lisse’s LAM museum hosts examples of contemporary art. Located outside of Amsterdam, the LAM museum contains contemporary art without any of the traditional plaque descriptions and no formal tours. Instead, there are “art guides”: members of staff who will discuss the art and describe possible interpretations for visitors. Otherwise, visitors are free to explore the art and come to their own conclusions. The art on display at the LAM ranges from a collection of pure white kitchen items on white floor-to-ceiling shelves to a chaotic banquet attended by mannequins.


A photo of a brown wooden spiral staircase from above taken by Jamie Saw
Brown Wooden Spiral Stairs, Jamie Saw

The staircase image above (reminiscent of M.C. Escher’s staircase) illustrates the conflation of architecture and art and offers us further insight into the shifts between the modern and the contemporary. The angle of the photograph disorients the direction of the staircase and leaves the viewer wondering where, if anywhere, it leads.


Escher’s famous staircase piece demonstrates a conflation of architecture and creative design to subvert the viewer’s standard expectations of a staircase (most explicitly that it will start and end somewhere). The traditional techniques of perspective are skewed to engage the audience and disrupt preconceived notions. Though Escher’s staircase is from the modern art period, it is good evidence for the movement towards abstraction and subverting of art techniques such as perspectives. Abstraction and twists on traditional art techniques set a foundation for the contemporary art movement.


A photo of an art installation with five wooden chairs hung in the air by wires taken by Federica Campanaro
Five Brown Wooden Chairs, Federica Campanaro

This photo exemplifies a commonplace object being used out of context. Contemporary art frequently puts things out of context or puts a twist on everyday events or objects to represent an idea or a variety of ideas. Contemporary art’s use of familiar objects leaves an opportunity for

open-ended interpretations by the viewer. As with the art on display at the LAM, there was no fixed interpretation of each piece.


White and Black Spiral Light by Deepbluespaceship
White and Black Spiral Light, Deepbluespaceship

Traditional art techniques are used in combination with contemporary art and provide artists with a variety of ways of representing the world. The inclusion of digital mediums contributes to the unique style of contemporary art.


The contemporary art piece above provides an example of abstraction. The piece has elements of architecture and design and is also wholly unfamiliar as a specific object. Modern art often utilizes specific mediums with particular techniques, design elements and tools. This piece contains artistic techniques (lighting, angle and design) in a much more abstract way. Digital rendering and edits most likely played a role in the conception.

A front facing photo of the statue of liberty taken by Reno Laithienne
Statue of Liberty, Photo by Reno Laithienne

The Statue of Liberty offers an example of modern art which combines architecture with design to portray the welcoming of immigrants to the United States. The torch held up suggests US leadership in establishing the foundations of an inclusive and multicultural society. The grand size of the statue, an architectural choice, along with its placement in New York City’s Hudson River means it was one of the first sights of those entering the US aboard a ship.


Contemporary art leans heavily on the use of a combination of traditional techniques to create pieces that simultaneously rely on, and subvert, traditional art forms. Close examination of contemporary art reveals the use of design, architecture, light and perspective (to name a few traditional art techniques). However, the combination of techniques yields unique pieces that establish contemporary art as its own distinct movement.


By Jackie Vink

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