Modern art gets a bad rap from a lot of people. It is often derided as meaningless, scatalogical, shallow, and lacking in any form of technical skill or mastery. Opponents of contemporary art often cite great Renaissance artists as examples of “true” masters, while condemning most modern painters, sculptors and other artists as charlatans. One look at even the most fantastic online contemporary art gallery, and they baulk at everything.
But are they right? Or are they just lacking a real understanding of what gives modern art its true value? Not all modern art is great, of course it’s not. That has always been the case in the art world, where a celebrated local artist loved by some has been rejected by their peers as mundane or pedestrian. It’s just the way of things. Below are some tips on how to spot really great works of modern art.
A Defined and Practised Technique
First, one thing that hasn’t changed so much between more classical and modern forms of art is the need for some kind of defined technique that the artist is using to achieve whatever effect they create. It’s true that contemporary art allows for more different types of technique to be used compared to the classical styles, but one should be able to see it nonetheless.
For example, imagine that an artist has been experimenting with using human hair as a paintbrush, or they’ve been building sculptures by twisting a particular kind of coat hanger into shape, and you start to get the idea. Art has real value when the artist is displaying an interesting and thought-provoking technique or idea. That brings us neatly to the next thing.
Provocation of Thought or Discussion
Truly great art is that which provokes the most lively discussion and even the most passionate disagreements. When two people look at a statue of something in the town square, with one loving it and being moved by it, while the other feels it is sending the wrong message, then art has value. Those kinds of thoughtful exchanges — assuming they remain thoughtful and don’t descend into the personal — are what great art is really all about.
If not discussion, then if art can at least generate thought and reflection in the viewer, then it too has been an effective creation. Art should prompt one into a process of thought, even if that thought is only “is this really art?”
Engages the Viewer’s Attention
Next, contemporary art that can hold someone’s attention for even a few precious seconds is something of value. Powerful art does distract, and it does demand our attention, and in the modern context of constant smartphone notifications, social media updates and a stream of constant noise, it’s more impressive than ever when a painting, sculpture or other piece of art can really grab and hold our attention for even just a moment.
Prompts an Emotional Response
Valuable art can grab our attention and provoke thoughts and discussion, but one more thing you might hope it can do is to evoke an emotional response of some kind. A piece of art might prompt someone to think of a powerful or emotional memory from the past. It could be something traumatic, or something ecstatic, it’s all the same in the art world.
Has the Ability to Inspire Awe
When art has the power to make people stop and look up; to make people’s heart beat a little faster; to make one’s mouth open in quiet awe, then it can be said with certainty that this is contemporary art of tremendous value. That inspiration is a positive and powerful fuel for the masses, one that we should all embrace heartily.