"What is Contemporary Art?" Assignment for "Painting and Alternative Methods" Course

 The Purpose of "What is Contemporary Art?"Assignment:

1) Develop independent research skills 

2) Become aware of contemporary art books and journals at the Architecture/Fine Arts Library and elsewhere.

3) Create a dialogue among classmates that clarifies and deciphers between imagery and objects that convey clichés and substantial thematic content

4) Assist students in clarifying current artwork that represents innovative contemporary ideas. Innovation occurs either through a visually interesting and unusually new use of materials or a new context has been created for an idea, message, image or object, or there is a combination of some or all of these mentioned points. As well, contemporary work often challenges people’s value systems.

Homework Assignment: Due Tuesday, Sept 19 (Not graded)
The Contemporary Art Assignment will require the following 4 components that can be presented on screen in the classroom or printed and pinned to the wall:

1) Cliché Image (or an object) with an optional 50 words of text explaining why the example is the selected Cliché Image Typically, the selected image is an overused image,  symbol or narrative seen often. (4 x 5 minimum size if printed)  

2) Reproduction of a 2-D Work, 3-D Work, or Installation with Thematic Content (Metaphor or Symbolism)
The thematic content should have substance and or poetic layering. Describe the thematic content in the chosen example with an optional 50 words of text explaining the Thematic Content.  Image 4 x 5 minimum size if printed)

3) Example of Contemporary Art Describe the contemporary content and or ideas in the chosen example with an optional 50 words of text explaining the contemporary ideas in the work. Image (4 x 5 minimum size if printed)

4) Be prepared to speak about the three image choices as to why Image 1 is cliché and the thematic content presented in Image 2, and discuss the example of contemporary art in Image 3.

If it is easier to speak about the three chosen examples in a 150-word typed explanation, you may do that instead (50 words for each category) presented along with the three image choices. 

Note: Try to have Images that correlate with the verbal presentation or optional text clearly.

This assignment will require research in the Architecture Fine Arts Library, or in some cases, you may go online to do the research to find examples.

Note: If two or more people have chosen the same imagery or object, both people will have to find an alternative source. Students should check with each other during class to ensure no duplication. An online list on UM Learn will indicate images and artist(s) students have selected.

The “What is Contemporary Art?” ASSIGNMENT (continued)

For Clarification, here are some Suggested Readings, Ideas and Topics Regarding Contemporary Art:

Sample of Contemporary Ideas and Terms used in current art practices:





Sexuality (marginalization of people of an alternative sexual orientation or cultural repression or misrepresentation of sexuality)

Globalism (21st C)


Post-Medium Art (Rosalind Krauss)


Semiotics (signifier and signified)


Environmental Issues





Irony or satire (re-contextualizing something that is cliché, conventional or kitsch

Books at Fine Arts Architecture Library such as:

Brandon Taylor, Contemporary Art since 1970

Michael Archer, Art Since 1960

Edward Lucie-Smith, Art Tomorrow

Artspeak, (dictionary) Robert Atkins

Survey Art History Books at the Fine Arts Architecture Library, such as:
Marilyn Stokstad, Art: A Brief History 3rd ed. 2007 pages 582-598

Hugh Honour & John Fleming 7th ed. 2005 Chapter 22

Journals at Fine Arts Architecture Library such as:

Border Crossings

Art Journal

Art in America

Art Forum

Art News


Art and Paper

October (art theory and criticism)

Flash Art


Modern Painters

Yishu  (Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art)

THEMATIC CONTENT (Layers of Meaning):
Thematic content may involve choosing symbols, metaphors, allegories, narratives, myths, icons, motifs or combining some of these choices. Thematic content may also be like a word in a poem where a given word has multiple layers of meaning but connects to the poem’s overall theme.

Definitions of Symbol:
1. The use of symbols to invest things with a representative meaning or to represent something abstract by something concrete
2. The artistic method of revealing ideas or truths through the use of symbols
3. A 19th-century literary and artistic movement that sought to evoke, rather than describe, ideas or feelings through the use of symbolic images
4. The belief that the bread and wine used in the Eucharist are symbols and not literally the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. (Many other significant spiritual or non western religious icons could apply.)

Definitions of Metaphor:
1. The application of a word or phrase to somebody or something that is not meant literally but to make a comparison, for example, saying that somebody is a snake.
2. All language that involves figures of speech or symbolism and does not literally represent real things.
3. One thing used or considered to represent another.

Definitions of Allegory:
1. A work in which the characters and events are understood to represent other things and symbolically express a deeper, often spiritual, moral, or political meaning.
2. The symbolic expression of a deeper meaning through a story or scene acted out by human, animal, or mythical characters

Definition of Cliché:
A saying, image, expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, rendering it a stereotype and or as expected, and or predictable, and or not innovative, and often based on a prior context that no longer has any significance or conceptual substance. A cliché may sometimes be used in a work of fiction for comedic effect or as a form of irony or ironic critique.

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