SchoolArts Room

Editor's Letter: Contemporary Art

By Nancy Walkup, posted on Mar 8, 2021

Contemporary art is vibrant, diverse, exciting, and engaging. It can help you introduce more diverse, living, global artists to your students and spark meaningful discussions. However, many art teachers struggle to incorporate it into the teaching practices, or find it challenging to define. In preparation for this issue on teaching with and about contemporary art and ideas, I asked our contributing editors to share how they define contemporary art.


SchoolArts magazine, April 2021 issue, Editor's Letter on Contemporary Art
Featured artists from “Contemporary Art in Context.” Clockwise: Lawrence Lindell, September 2020; Antonius-Tín Bui, January 2021; Justin Favela, October 2020; Alice Beasley, November 2020.

Contemporary art is vibrant, diverse, exciting, and engaging. It can help you introduce more diverse, living, global artists to your students and spark meaningful discussions. However, many art teachers struggle to incorporate it into the teaching practices, or find it challenging to define. In preparation for this issue on teaching with and about contemporary art and ideas, I asked our contributing editors to share how they define contemporary art.

Contemporary art is an engagement with the now. The subject matter, the materials and media, the themes, and the issues reflect the zeitgeist of the present culture in which the work was created. —David S. Gran

Contemporary art stimulates our sense of belonging, which goes beyond the creation of a work of art. It invites us to feel, think, and question life as it happens. —Frank Juarez

Contemporary art is art that is made by artists who are living and working today—in the twenty-first century. I previously have found the words of George Szekely helpful here. To paraphrase George: Artists today are continually redefining what art is. In this regard, I most appreciate the work of artists who make us think about art in new ways. —Craig Roland

I see contemporary art as a reflection of twenty-first century globalization, an umbrella phrase that embraces an ever-changing variety of artistic practices, media, materials, and concepts, each that value aesthetic questions as much as concrete answers. —Pam Stephens

People make things today for many different purposes—to communicate, celebrate, commemorate, decorate... Some of what has been made—objects, events, performances, and ideas—is used in such a way that it falls within the conceptual boundaries of what people have named art. If that which we have named art is made in our time, then it is contemporary art. —Marilyn Stewart

I think Joe Fusaro’s definition expresses the consensus most simply: “Contemporary art is art made by artists living in the twenty-first century.”

To engage your students with contemporary art, you need contemporary resources. One of the best online resources is Art:21 (art21.org). A good starting point is Art:21’s introduction to teaching with contemporary art, found here.

Because SchoolArts believes it is critically important for students to learn about, respond to, and create contemporary art, each month we offer a centerfold feature called “Contemporary Art in Context” (formerly called “Looking and Learning”). We updated the title this volume year to emphasize its focus on contemporary art and artists. We hope the articles in this issue will inspire and encourage you to engage your students with contemporary art!

View this article in the digital edition.