9 Contemporary Art Terms You Need To Know

You’ve heard these words being used before, and you probably have a vague idea of they may mean, but sometimes we can all use a quick refresher.  Whether you’re purchasing art, or just appreciating it, here are 9 terms that will pop up again and again.

Modern Painting: Flag Station, Elizabeth, New Jersey (1925) Oscar Bluemner Watercolor on Paper 10 5/8 x 13 3/8 in. Courtesy of the MET Museum

Modern Painting:
Flag Station, Elizabeth, New Jersey (1925)
Oscar Bluemner
Watercolor on Paper
10 5/8 x 13 3/8 in.
Courtesy of the MET Museum

Contemporary Art vs. Modern Art 

It can be easy to mix up these two terms–they seem to mean the same thing.

Modern Art starts roughly around the second half of the 19th century and extends to the 1970s. With the rapid changes of the Industrial Revolution, artists began to move away from traditional definitions of art and experiment with subject, technique, and materials. Visual arts before the Modern era focused heavily on narrative, often depicting religious or mythological scenes to instruct the viewer. Modern artists, however, drew their inspiration their present surroundings, and used their work to critically examine and challenge art in more abstract ways.

Contemporary Art picks up where Modern Art left off around the 1970s, and extends up until this very moment. It is the current art of our time, and is the successor of the new possibilities opened by Modern Art. The definition of Contemporary Art is constantly changing, and artists today are all making their mark on the movement.

Contemporary Painting: Portal to Lhasa (2016) Natalia Wröbel Oil on Canvas 40 x 60 in.

Contemporary Painting:
Portal to Lhasa (2016)
Natalia Wröbel
Oil on Canvas
40 x 60 in.

Graffiti vs. Street Art

While Graffiti and Street Art are both energetic forms of public art, through which the artist challenges traditional practice, they are not the same.

Graffiti is not only an art form but also a cultural movement. The goal of the artist is to "tag", or brand, the city as quickly as possible without getting caught. Usually these artists are self-taught and express themselves with an air of immediacy.

Street Art, while Inspired by graffiti,  is executed by artists who have had some formal training.  The artist’s message is more methodical, as it is premeditated and developed. Sometimes commissioned or painted with permission, street art makes for a less risky public art form.

Provenance

Whether you’re at a museum or starting an art collection it’s helpful to know what this term means.  Provenance is a documentation or recorded history of the artwork’s owners and housed locations from the moment it was completed up to the present.  This information helps to determine the artwork’s authenticity and originality, which can increase the work’s value.

Certificate of Authenticity (COA)

Whether for insurance purposes, selling, or auditing art, a certificate of authenticity or original invoice proves the value of an artwork.  The certificate must be an original document (not a photocopy) with the artwork’s title, name of artist and/or publisher, medium, dimensions, and the title & contact information of the individual that validated the certificate.

Giclée

Giclée, pronounced (zhee-klay), is a relatively new type of printing process in which high quality reproductions of fine art are made using an inkjet printer.  The desired image is digitally scanned and printed with quality inkjets on various materials, such as canvas or photo-base paper.  The printing process lends for great color accuracy to stand the test of time over other reproduction processes. When you purchase a Giclée piece, know that you are getting a very high quality print, but not an original.

Encaustic

 Dating back to ancient Greece and stemming from the Greek word enkaustikos, meaning “to heat or burn in,” this ancient painting technique has seen a rebirth in the 20th century.  The process consists of melting transparent or opaque wax with the option of mixing in pigments.  After the wax is melted down it is applied to the surface with a brush or spatula.  Experimentation with collage materials or creating designs with a stylus can be done on each layer.  After each layer, you’ll want to fuse the wax with a heat gun to create a bond between each layer and smoothing out any uneven surfaces.  The result: multiple layers of wax creating a luminous yet softly haunting image.

Flag (1954-55) Jasper Johns Encaustic, oil, and collage on fabric mounted on plywood, three panels 42 1/4 x 60 5/8 in. Image Courtesy of the MoMA, New York

Flag (1954-55)
Jasper Johns
Encaustic, oil, and collage on fabric mounted on plywood, three panels
42 1/4 x 60 5/8 in.
Image Courtesy of the MoMA, New York

Outsider Art

Outsider Art refers to work produced by self-taught artists, or those not affiliated with an artistic institution. Since outsider art reflects more of the artist’s emotional or mental state, words such as “raw” or “naïve” are often used to describe this type of work.  Many view outsider art as more approachable or “refreshingly unpretentious", because of its unstudied and non-referential nature.

Keenan Derby Lost Horizon (2016) Acrylic and Sand on Canvas 35 x 28 in.

Keenan Derby
Lost Horizon (2016)
Acrylic and Sand on Canvas
35 x 28 in.

Impasto

The Italian word impasto, meaning ‘paste,’ is a painting technique that involves the thick application of paint, creating textured and three-dimensional surfaces.  Earlier artists often used this technique as a way to suggest certain textures such as lace or hair.  Later on, artists, such as the Impressionists used impasto to express their personal process and energy.

Impasto can be seen throughout todays art world as a way to add dimension, suggest specific textures or feelings, or create visual illusions or drama.  This technique can be inviting with it’s tactile nature of thick brush/ palette knife application, drawing attention to the artist’s hand at work.

Retrospective

Retrospective is a term you have most likely encountered at a museum or gallery. It refers to an exhibition of either the entirety of a phase of an artist's practice, or quintessential examples of their lifework. This type of exhibition is most often reserved for artists who have a long career to source from. When you go to see an artist's retrospective, expect a thorough and representative sampling of their art.

 

 

Wednesday, August 3: Laurel Marsh