What is Contemporary Art?

Contemporary art refers to the art of ‘today’ produced by artists who are living in the current century. The artwork thus produced is seen as a reflection of the world around its global and indigenous cultural values, social and political diversities and its interactive, synergetic and at times contradicting expressions in the given era.

The term ‘contemporary’ is a very vexed entity in today’s art world as it implies the ‘current’ or ‘new’ art; yet one is left wondering how art made a decade or two decades ago also would be termed ‘contemporary’ owing to differences in the social, political or economical stimuli of those decades. However, each era in its own right has produced the ‘new’ art of that generation, sometimes even moving away and defying traditions. This could be seen in fairly recent times where specific indigenous art practice are sidelined and western or European art practices are adopted by Indian artists, either by choice or by socio-political directives. Be it from the choice of subjects to the actual process of execution to the changes in palette and more, it gave rise to a fresh expression of ‘the Now now’. Today we see traditional art, classical art, coexisting along with blending artistic styles, offshoots of traditional art, modern offshoots of prehistoric art, tribal and folk art, technological hybrid art trends, hybrids of hybrids etc creating what we could only fathom as a complex gene pool in Indian art. This volatile evolving entity itself is ‘contemporary’ by nature.

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(Artworks used only for illustration purpose)

Notwithstanding the nomenclature, the contemporary art of our times is important for its open addressal of the issues/ taboo topics, acceptability of varied expressions, exploration of thoughts and ideologies, varieties of mediums explored and employed, while also moving from simple skill based traditional styles to conceptual and technology based depictions. Contemporary art today mirrors the wave of globalisation, the social, economical, political and spiritual upheavals within an artist, mirrored in a society and a nation simultaneously.

When one spans the length and breadth of the evolution of Indian art, one will notice certain important and enduring movements which found precision in timing and became established by their stability in visual art. For understanding this exceptional journey of Indian Art, one has to trace its footsteps of evolution from the prehistoric era, to the here and now of contemporary art. Here are some milestones to glean a better picture of Indian art evolution with each era distinctive in its own visual culture.