Contemporary art is art produced at the present period in time. Contemporary art includes, and develops from, Postmodern art, which is itself a successor to Modern art. In vernacular English, "modern" and "contemporary" are synonyms, resulting in some conflation of the terms "modern art" and "contemporary art" by non-specialists.
Some define contemporary art as art produced within "our lifetime," recognizing that lifetimes and life spans vary. However, there is a recognition that this generic definition is subject to specialized limitations.
The classification of "contemporary art" as a special type of art, rather than a general adjectival phrase, goes back to the beginnings of Modernism in the English-speaking world. In London, the Contemporary Art Society was founded in 1910 by the critic Roger Fry and others, as a private society for buying works of art to place in public museums. A number of other institutions using the term were founded in the 1930s, such as in 1938 the Contemporary Art Society of Adelaide, Australia, and an increasing number after 1945. Many, like the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston changed their names from ones using "Modern art" in this period, as Modernism became defined as a historical art movement, and much "modern" art ceased to be "contemporary". The definition of what is contemporary is naturally always on the move, anchored in the present with a start date that moves forward, and the works the Contemporary Art Society bought in 1910 could no longer be described as contemporary.
Particular points that have been seen as marking a change in art styles include the end of World War II and the 1960s. There has perhaps been a lack of natural break points since the 1960s, and definitions of what constitutes "contemporary art" in the 2010s vary, and are mostly imprecise. Art from the past 20 years is very likely to be included, and definitions often include art going back to about 1970, and sometimes further, especially in museum contexts, as museums which form a permanent collection of contemporary art inevitably find this ageing. Many use the formulation "Modern and Contemporary Art", which avoids this problem. Smaller commercial galleries, magazines and other sources may use stricter definitions, perhaps restricting the "contemporary" to work from 2000 onwards. Artists who are still productive after a long career, and ongoing art movements, may present a particular issue; galleries and critics are often reluctant to divide their work between the contemporary and non-contemporary.
The functioning of the art world is dependent on art institutions, ranging from major museums to private galleries, non-profit spaces, art schools and publishers, and the practices of individual artists, curators, collectors and philanthropists. A major division in the art world is between the for-profit and non-profit sectors, although in recent years the boundaries between for-profit private and non-profit public institutions have become increasingly blurred.
Most well-known contemporary art is exhibited by professional artists at commercial contemporary art galleries, by private collectors, art auctions, corporations, publicly funded arts organizations, contemporary art museums or by artists themselves in artist-run spaces. Contemporary artists are supported by grants, awards and prizes as well as by direct sales of their work. Career artists train at Art school or emerge from other fields.
There are close relationships between publicly funded contemporary art organisations and the commercial sector. For instance, in 2005 the book Understanding International Art Markets and Management reported that in Britain a handful of dealers represented the artists featured in leading publicly funded contemporary art museums.
Outstanding books and magazines and individual collectors can wield considerable influence.
Corporations have also integrated themselves into the contemporary art world, exhibiting contemporary art within their premises, organising and sponsoring contemporary art awards, and building up extensive corporate collections. Corporate advertisers frequently use the prestige associated with contemporary art and Coolhunting to draw the attention of consumers to Luxury goods.
The institutions of art have been criticised for regulating what is designated as contemporary art. Outsider art, for instance, is literally contemporary art, in that it is produced in the present day. However, one critic has argued it is not considered so because the artists are self-taught and are thus assumed to be working outside of an art historical context. Craft activities, such as textile design, are also excluded from the realm of contemporary art, despite large audiences for exhibitions. Art critic Peter Timms has said that attention is drawn to the way that craft objects must subscribe to particular values in order to be admitted to the realm of contemporary art. "A ceramic object that is intended as a subversive comment on the nature of beauty is more likely to fit the definition of contemporary art than one that is simply beautiful."
At any one time a particular place or group of artists can have a strong influence on subsequent contemporary art. For instance, The Ferus Gallery was a commercial gallery in Los Angeles and re-invigorated the Californian contemporary art scene in the late fifties and the sixties.
Contemporary art can sometimes seem at odds with a public that does not feel that art and its institutions share its values. In Britain, in the 1990s, contemporary art became a part of popular culture, with artists becoming stars, but this did not lead to a hoped-for "cultural utopia". Some critics like Julian Spalding and Donald Kuspit have suggested that skepticism, even rejection, is a legitimate and reasonable response to much contemporary art. Brian Ashbee in an essay called "Art Bollocks" criticizes "much installation art, photography, conceptual art, video and other practices generally called post-modern" as being too dependent on verbal explanations in the form of theoretical discourse.
A common concern since the early part of the 20th century has been the question of what constitutes art. In the contemporary period (1950 to now), the concept of avant-garde may come into play in determining what art is taken notice of by galleries, museums, and collectors. Propaganda and Entertainment in some circumstances have been regarded as art genres during the contemporary art period.
Some competitions, awards, and prizes in contemporary art are
- Emerging Artist Award awarded by The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum
- Hugo Boss Prize awarded by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
- Factor Prize in Southern Art
- Kandinsky Prize for Russian artists under 30
- Turner Prize for British artists under 50
- Jindřich Chalupecký Award for Czech artists under 35 
- Participation in the Whitney Biennial
- Vincent Award, The Vincent van Gogh Biennial Award for Contemporary Art in Europe, founded by The Broere Charitable Foundation and hosted by Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.
- Marcel Duchamp Prize awarded by ADIAF and Centre Pompidou.
- The Winifred Shantz Award for Ceramists, awarded by the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery
- Ricard Prize for a French artist under 40.
- Deste Prize for young Greek artists, held every two years; funded by Dakis Joannou.
- John Moore’s Painting Prize
This table lists art movements and styles by decade. It should not be assumed to be conclusive.
- Anti-art and Anti-anti-art
- Criticism of postmodernism
- Classificatory disputes about art
- List of contemporary art museums
- List of contemporary artists
- Medium specificity
- Reductive art
- Value theory
- Esaak, Shelley. "What is "Contemporary" Art?". Retrieved 28 April 2013 work=About.com.
- Fry Roger, Ed. Craufurd D. Goodwin, Art and the Market: Roger Fry on Commerce in Art, 1999, University of Michigan Press, ISBN 0472109022, 9780472109029, google books
- Also the Contemporary Arts Society of Montreal, 1939-1948
- Smith, 257-258
- Some definitions: "Art21 defines contemporary art as the work of artists who are living in the twenty-first century." Art21; "the art of the late 20th and early 21st century" dictionary.com; "the art of the late 20th cent. and early 21st cent., both an outgrowth and a rejection of modern art" Columbia Encyclopedia; "Strictly speaking, the term "contemporary art" refers to art made and produced by artists living today." Getty Museum; "Art from the 1960's or 70's up until this very minute." about.com
- Examples of specializing museums include the Strasbourg Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art and Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Trento and Rovereto. The Oxford Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art is one of many book titles to use the phrase.
- Derrick Chong in Iain Robertson, Understanding International Art Markets And Management, Routledge, 2005, p95. ISBN 0-415-33956-1
- Chin-Tao Wu, Privatising Culture: Corporate Art Intervention Since the 1980s, Verso, 2002, p14. ISBN 1-85984-472-3
- Gary Alan Fine, Everyday Genius: Self-Taught Art and the Culture of Authenticity, University of Chicago Press, 2004, pp42-43. ISBN 0-226-24950-6
- Peter Dormer, The Culture of Craft: Status and Future, Manchester University Press, 1996, p175. ISBN 0-7190-4618-1
- Peter Timms, What's Wrong with Contemporary Art?, UNSW Press, 2004, p17. ISBN 0-86840-407-1
- Mary Jane Jacob and Michael Brenson, Conversations at the Castle: Changing Audiences and Contemporary Art, MIT Press, 1998, p30. ISBN 0-262-10072-X
- Julian Stallabrass, High Art Lite: British Art in the 1990s, Verso, 1999, pp1-2. ISBN 1-85984-721-8
- Spalding, Julian, The Eclipse of Art: Tackling the Crisis in Art Today, Prestel Publishing, 2003. ISBN 3-7913-2881-6
- "Art Bollocks". Ipod.org.uk. 1990-05-05. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-08-17.
- Fred Orton & Griselda Pollock, Avant-Gardes and Partisans Reviewed. Manchester University, 1996. ISBN 0-7190-4399-9
- [dead link]
- Smith, Terry (2009). What Is Contemporary Art?. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226764311. Retrieved 26 April 2013. ISBN 9780226764313
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- Kristine Stiles and Peter Howard Selz, Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art, A Sourcebook of Artists's Writings (1996), ISBN 0-520-20251-1
- Isabelle Loring Wallace and Jennie Hirsh, Contemporary Art and Classical Myth. Farnham: Ashgate (2011), ISBN 978-0-7546-6974-6