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Art Terminology

The Contemporary Framework

The Contemporary Framework


Contemporary Framework
The Contemporary Framework is used to examine an artwork, irrespective of when it was
created, in the context of contemporary art ideas and issues. For the purpose of this study
contemporary art ideas and issues are those originating in the late twentieth century onwards.
With a focus on current ideas and issues, students should consider the following questions:
How have contemporary art ideas and issues challenged traditional understandings of
artworks and their significance?
How does the choice or presentation of subject matter or medium, materials and
techniques reflect or challenge artistic or social traditions?
What is the impact of dynamic media applications and other emerging art forms on the
viewer such as video, digital, projection, installation, interactive, street art, sound and
performance art?
How do these art forms differ from traditional ideas of viewing and experiencing objectbased art in museums and galleries?
How might artworks of the past take on new or different meanings, in the context of
contemporary ideas and issues?

The Contemporary Framework: ways to write about this Framework


When thinking about addressing the Contemporary Framework try the following:

If the artwork is traditional and not from a recent era:

look for ways in which the artists work was radical in his/her own time . Look at the example of
Caspar David Friedrich in the following slides.
look for ways in which we, in the early 21st Century, might read the message of the artwork
differently compared to viewers of the artists own time. See the example of Tintoretto in the
following slides.

If the artwork is contemporary in the sense that it was created after 1970:

look at the media and materials that the artist has used and look for ways in which these media and
materials challenge traditional ideas about art. Compared to traditional painting or sculpture, how is
the artwork non-traditional? For example, the use of recent technologies such as film, video,
installation, performance, or computers. Or, look for non-traditional media, such as concrete in
sculpture, or spray cans in painting.
look for non-traditional presentations of artworks (in terms of location), such as street art (see
example of Banksy in the following slides) or other non-traditional sites, such as Rachel Whitereads
sculpture in the following slides.
look for ways in which we are challenged to view the artwork in different ways. For example, much
contemporary art demands that we walk around or through it, or that we view it over time, and
demands that we think about it and give meaning to it by drawing on our own lives and experiences.
Contemporary artworks often ask us to create our own meanings for them, rather than the artwork
giving away its meaning easily.

The Contemporary Framework, examples: Banksy

Banksy, Let them Eat Crack, cnr. Broadway & Howard, SoHo, New York

The Contemporary Framework, examples, Banksy continued:

How have contemporary art ideas and issues challenged


traditional understandings of artworks and their
significance?
How does the choice or presentation of subject matter or
medium, materials and techniques reflect or challenge
artistic or social traditions?
How do these art forms differ from traditional ideas of
viewing and experiencing object-based art in museums
and galleries?

Banksys artwork challenges traditional understandings of artworks and traditional ideas about the
viewing and presentation of artworks by:

The artwork is placed on the wall of a building in a city street, thus it challenges the tradition of
displaying art in a gallery.:

It challenges the perceived elitism of art as something that can only be seen in the refined
atmosphere of an art gallery. Banksys art is on the street and is available to everyone. This is part
of its impact; that it has maximum exposure to a broad audience, so that its message is conveyed
to as many people as possible.

It challenges the traditional power of the galley system that connects art with money. Banksys art
is free.

It challenges the traditional power of the art gallery over the artist himself. Banksy works outside
the gallery system and takes control of the production and display of his own work.
continued next slide

The Contemporary Framework, examples, Banksy continued:


The methods and processes used to create this artwork challenge traditional ideas about how an
artwork is produced:

Banksy did not produce this artwork himself, but employed an advertising company, Colossal
Media, to transfer his original design onto the wall of the building. This challenges the traditional
idea of the artist as the sole creator of an artwork.

As well as hiring Colossal Media to execute the work, Banksy also hired the space on the side of the
building on which it was painted, as would be the process for any advertising billboard. The
methods and techniques used to produce it were commercial rather than traditionally artistic.

The scale of the artwork is industrial; it fills the side of a three-storey building.
The style of the artwork is more that of a political cartoon than of traditional art. Its sole purpose is to
comment on the World Financial Crisis of 2008. Aesthetics arent really important. For example,
there is no background and no frame in which to create a context or composition for the subject; the
artwork is just a picture on a wall. Banksy also employs humour as a vital means of making this
artwork accessible to a wide viewing public. This humour is also more a trait of a cartoon than an
artwork. This artwork challenges ideas about what art is or what it should be. Is it art ,or cartoon, or
political commentary? Is there a difference? Does it matter?

This artwork was transitory. It lasted about a month before it was painted over. This challenges the
traditional idea that should be permanent.

The Contemporary Framework, examples: Rachel Whiteread


Rachel Whiteread, House, sculpture (cast concrete in
the shape of a full size, three-storey terrace house),
London, 1993.
This artwork is a full sized cast, in concrete, of the
interior of a London terrace house. The rest of the
houses in the street had been demolished in
readiness for a new building project. Whiteread cast
her sculpture in situ, 193 Grove Road, East London.
In describing the process of creating this sculpture,
the artist said: I was fascinated by the personal
environment of the people who had previously lived
in the house and documented it all before I destroyed
it. It was like exploring the inside of a body,
removing its vital organs.... House remained in
Gove Rd East London for about 4 months until the
local council demolished it, against the artists
wishes.

The Contemporary Framework, examples: Rachel Whiteread continued


How have contemporary art ideas and issues challenged traditional
understandings of artworks and their significance?
How does the choice or presentation of subject matter or medium,
materials and techniques reflect or challenge artistic or social
traditions?
How do these art forms differ from traditional ideas of viewing and
experiencing object-based art in museums and galleries?

Whitereads artwork challenges traditional understandings of artworks and traditional ideas about
the viewing and presentation of artworks by:
The siting of he artwork, in a suburban street, challenges traditional ideas about where sculpture
should be displayed. It is not, for example, in gallery, park or public square.
It is made from non-traditional materials, concrete not marble or bronze.
The artwork seems to involve little creative work. To produce it, Whiteread has merely cast the
interior of the house in concrete then removed the walls. This challenges traditional ideas about
an artwork requiring a significant act of creation, such as sculpting a figure in stone or bronze.
House is more about an idea than skill or craft . This again challenges the idea that art should
demonstrate technical mastery of a medium. Contemporary art is often more about the idea than
demonstrating traditional technical skill. It is unlikely, for example, that Whiteread actually
applied the concrete herself; this was probably done by assistants.
House demands more of the viewer than traditional art. Contemporary art often requires the
viewer to engage with it; walk around it, think about it, make connections through ones own
experience. House does not give up its meaning in a traditional way; we are expected to think,
make connections and , to an extent, make sense of it on our own terms.

The Contemporary Framework, examples: Caspar David Friedrich


How have contemporary art ideas and issues
challenged traditional understandings of artworks and
their significance?

This aspect of the Contemporary Framework can also


apply to artworks from the past. For example,
Friedrichs art challenged traditional ideas about
religious art, and also challenged traditional ideas of
his time about how an artwork, especially a landscape,
should be composed:

Caspar David
Friedrich,
The Cross in
the
Mountains,
1808

Much of Friedrichs art was landscape in which he discerned a specifically Christian message in the
revelations of nature. (Vaughan, W., Romantic Art, p. 143.) In other words, Friedrich believed that:
God manifests himself in nature and man views the landscape as an act of devotion. (Oxford Art
Online) . Friedrich himself said, The divine [God] is everywhere, even in a grain of sand. Perhaps
surprisingly to us, the idea that landscape could be used to convey religious ideas through symbolism
and metaphor was a radical idea for Friedrichs time, as it challenged traditional beliefs about the
conventions of religious art.
When Friedrich first exhibited The Cross in the Mountains, the work met with controversy, for
the first time in Christian art, a pure landscape was the [subject for a religious artwork]. It depicts the
crucified Christ in profile at the top of a mountain, alone, surrounded by nature. The cross rises
highest in the composition, [but it is secondary to the landscape]. The mountain symbolizes an
immovable faith, while the fir trees represent hope. The artist and critic Basilius von Ramdohr
published a lengthy article rejecting Friedrich's use of landscape in such a context; he wrote that it
would be "a veritable presumption, if landscape painting were to sneak into the church and creep
onto the altar". Ramdohr was fundamentally asking whether a pure landscape painting could convey
an explicit [religious] meaning. (http://www.caspardavidfriedrich.org/biography.html)

The Contemporary Framework, examples: Caspar David Friedrich continued


Caspar David Friedrich, Monk by the Sea, 1809

Friedrichs artworks also challenged traditional


understandings of artworks of his time through the
radical changes he made to traditional landscape
composition:
In a work such as Monk by the Sea Friedrich eliminates the foreground so that the viewer sees only the
middle-ground and a limitless background. He also had a habit of eliminating the middle-ground in some of
his paintings, as a means of creating a sense of there being two worlds in his pictures, the physical world in
the foreground and the spiritual world in the background. Art viewers of his time were disconcerted by the
liberties that Friedrich took with traditional ways of composing a landscape, which made his pictures look
empty and alienating to them. Famously, a contemporary art critic, Heinrich von Kleist, wrote this about
Monk by the Sea: "since in its monotony and boundlessness it has no foreground except the frame, when
viewing it, it is as if one's eyelids had been cut away.

The Contemporary Framework, examples: Tintoretto


Jacopo Tintoretto, Susanna and the Elders
c. 1555 -56

How might artworks of the past take on new


or different meanings, in the context of
contemporary ideas and issues?

Tintorettos painting illustrates a story from the


Book of Daniel in the Bible. For the artist and the
viewers of his time, this painting faithfully
depicted a recognisable scene from the narrative
and, no doubt, called to mind the message of
right over might that is the moral of the story.
In the context of contemporary ideas and issues,
such as feminism and gender politics,
Tintorettos picture may elicit a different response from a modern viewers compared to the viewers of the
16thC.
For example, we may recognise an expression of clichd gender roles, and may question the validity of the
scene from the narrative that Tintoretto has chosen as his subject:

The figure of Susanna may appear to us to be a stereotype of the passive female, while the male
figures are active.
We may also question the feminine clich in the presentation of Susanna as vain, concerned with
luxury and her own appearance (as suggested by the perfume and jewellery, and by her looking at
herself in the mirror).
In Tintorettos choice to paint the scene of Susanna bathing, therefore nude, while the elders spy on
her, we may see the representation of women as mere passive objects for the male gaze.
In the figure of Susannas nudity we may also discern a gender power imbalance, in that her nudity
implies her vulnerability in contrast to the power of the clothed male figures