For someone new to the world of contemporary art, it can be a little hard to understand the point of the movement. It’s perhaps easier for the casual observer to appreciate the works of artists like Rembrandt and Michelangelo, because they at least demonstrate intricate detail and impressive paintwork. Contemporary art is a different beast. It crosses many different mediums, materials, styles and principles that can, at times, seem baffling. You would be forgiven, for example, for wondering how 32 canvases depicting Campbell’s Soup cans could be so famous.
But the truth is that there’s a lot more to contemporary art than meets the eye, and you don’t need to be an expert – or worse, a snob – to enjoy it. To get you started, we’ve compiled a few quick and easy tips on exploring and appreciating the contemporary art world. Once you get going, don’t forget to browse original Australian artworks from some of the nation’s most exciting artists!
1. Open your mind
While it may be an overused expression, opening your mind is one of the best – and simplest – ways to begin enjoying contemporary art. What it means is to consciously shed any preconceptions you may have and allow yourself to consider new ideas and perspectives, even if you don’t agree with them. There’s no wrong answer, just let your mind wander where it pleases. See what engages you and where it takes your thoughts, whether they be pleasant, uncomfortable or anything in between.
2. Don’t obsess over technical skill
We’ve all looked at an artwork at least once in our lives and thought, “I could have done that”. And it’s true that some artists are appreciated for difficult techniques and technical skills more than others. But contemporary art is about much more than how difficult it was to create something. It often relies far more on a particular concept, idea or expression to make an impact and mean something.
3. Learn the history behind an artwork
Don’t worry, you don’t need to stick your nose in a thick textbook to enjoy a little history. There’s a story behind most contemporary artworks, whether it be displayed in plain sight or hidden behind layers of imagery. Knowing the context behind a particular piece is a great way to appreciate the message it sends and the artist’s motivation. It could be anything from an exploration of controversial ideas to a simple love for a particular colour.
4. Create your own art
It doesn’t matter if you don’t have anything close to a creative bone in your body: trying your own hand at art can be a great way to appreciate the joy of the creative process. From whipping out the paintbrush to moulding clay to taking photographs, you’ll quickly discover how art can be an expression of the person behind it. The beauty of it? If you enjoyed the journey, it doesn’t matter one bit what the end result looks like.
5. Visit local museums and galleries
Jump to your feet and start exploring! There are art museums and galleries all over the world just waiting to be explored, many offering free displays and exhibitions. The more you immerse yourself in the world of art, the more you’ll be exposed to different ideas and influences. You’ll also get a better idea of the styles or artists you like the most, along with those you might not be too fond of.
6. Try a different angle
When we suggested opening yourself up to new perspectives, we also meant it literally. When you do see contemporary art in person, take the chance to look at it in different ways. Does it look the same up close as it does from afar? How about from the left and right, or even upside-down? Some artworks may look much the same, while others can be completely transformed with a new perspective.
7. Talk about it
As hard as you may try to open your mind, you’ll never be able to completely ignore your own life experiences and how they have shaped the person you are. And that’s a good thing. By talking with a friend, a family member or even a complete stranger about contemporary art, you get the opportunity to share your own interpretation and learn about theirs.