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Defining Contemporary Art

Contemporary art can be defined variously as art produced at this present point in time or art produced since World War II. The definition of the word contemporary would support the first view, but museums of contemporary art commonly define their collections as consisting of art produced since World War II.
A common concern since the early part of the 20th century is the question of what constitutes art. This concern can be seen running through the modern and postmodern periods. Contemporary art can sometimes seem at odds with a public that does not feel that art and its institutions share its values.designation.
The late 1900s saw major socio-economic, cultural, political and also educational changes the world over, which undoubtedly influenced art, amongst many other productive fields. Contemporary artists chose to highlight the idea or impulse behind their work rather than concentrate on the medium or method used.

Unlike earlier artists, they were not deterred by the thought of using various media and techniques in combination, and, open to experimentation, they pioneered the concept of setting their audience thinking about the subject as the most important aim of the artwork. Topics like racism, global warming, cloning and biotechnology, international politics, human rights, spirituality and economics are all reflected in the work of contemporary artists.

The advent of contemporary art marked the breaking of shackles by artists to move from the conventional inclination towards aesthetic beauty and purity to address subjects such as politics, which affect the lay man. This is what brought the common man closer to the artist who didn't seem 'high and mighty' like an untouchable philosopher any more.

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Words in Pictures
The use of Text in Art

In the 20th century, artists have used the inherent 'pattern quality' of words and text for both symbolic and random effects. Picasso and Braque introduced text by collage of found tickets, newspaper whilst Arp used the idea of the word as a valuable example of the random quality of chance, an object containing both meaning and visual impact.

During the 1940s and 50s in USA, artists of Abstract Expressionism and Colour-Field groups used the calligraphic surface of written words as the substance of paintings, producing works of a continuous composition laid down with the control of a mathematical formula; and the
Pop art movement focused on the appropriation of random, banal objects from popular culture including billboards, comic products - all used with their accompanying text.

From the 1960's onwards, there has been a proliferation of text in art, possibly because of the influence of advertising and popular culture. Also the philosophy of semiotics, which recognises the power and identity invested into a single word and the signature of the artist, has assumed a greater significance.
Postmodernism has been characterised as the invasion of the visual arts by language and artists are challenging the traditions of modernism and providing sometimes ironic, reference to the canons of aesthetics and perfection. They have also proven a powerful tool for artists to meditate on belief issues and their own faith identities.

Words in paintings are not always intended to be read: they can be seen in the context of the broader concept of signs and symbols. Writing is visual language and as such, when we look at words we see two things: forms or shapes with our senses and then we read past or through these forms to the speech or concepts behind them. Written words can never be purely meaning, they are also visual signifiers. The word style derives from the latin stylus meaning writing tool and as such, highlights the way in which all drawing and painting are a form of writing. The sensual nature of painted words can also become a central focus on contemporary, word painting. That is, rendering it significant in meaning and aesthetics, and therefore not necessarily postmodern because it does not challenge past conventions formal traditions.

MORLEY, S. The Painted Word CONTEMPORARY VISUAL ARTS issue 23 1999 p.22

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