Classical Art vs. Contemporary Art

When it comes to the aesthetic emotion in art, audiences understand the simplicity of beauty in classic art much better than the complication of context behind contemporary art. This understanding leads to more aesthetic response rather than emotion to pretty art. Art constantly evolves into new movements ever so often, and our current  is Contemporary Art, which  is mainly valued by educated, open-minded artists, not necessarily the general public. There is a deeper level in the art that not everyone can relate to. Exposure, understanding, and concepts all contribute to appreciating contemporary art.Contemporary art needs to be understood, simply looking and admiring will not suffice. Someone who does not understand the need to please the aesthetic emotion does not understand contemporary art, and will look only for beauty in classical art.  Certain audiences relate to classical art better, and find it more appealing, while contemporary art arouses aesthetic emotion better with artistic minds.

Classic art is relatable, containing beautiful elements that please the eye, making the aesthetic response much easier to grasp. Viewers feel a connection to the beauty and release an aesthetic response that is positive and happy. “We have no other means of recognizing a work of art than our feeling for it. The objects that provoke aesthetic emotion vary with each individual (Aesthetic hypothesis)”. Conversely, classical art has a function: to depict a scene or tells a story. Art once expressed the beauty of world and life, which could not be captured on camera, and now the need for that no longer exists. Lots of classic art is revered because there is not as much interpretation necessary. “The more convenient the reception of the information contained within a work of art is, the prettier that work is. (Flusseer)”. Classic paintings don’t need to have a meaning or purpose, just they are simply more beautiful and the aesthetic response is better. “The content may have changed. It may now be less figurative, less lucidly realistic. But it is still assumed that a work of art is its content… a work of art by definition says something. (Against interpretation, 2)”

venus-1                   The Birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli, 1486

Modern art is functional and crazy to fulfill the need to evoke aesthetic emotions. Instead of conveying a subject or idea that is beautiful or realistic, contemporary art focuses more on expressing an idea or feeling, “…an image system greatly increases the complexity of an aesthetic emotion (Adaptation, 50:38).”  One who is not an artist or art student may not understand the function of art and they don’t know it should be made to be aesthetically pleasing and stir emotions. “I do not say that they cannot understand art; rather I say that they cannot understand the state of mind of those who understand it best. I do not say that art means nothing or little to them; I say they miss its full significance. “(Aesthetic hypothesis). Because of this, modern art is more deep and complicated and the audience that grasps this new art is limited. “…Because they are paying such close attention, their brain would learn to see that difference (Colors 29:20)”. Yes, that art may get a response from a broad audience, but it might be confusion or disgust, and the audience may not fully understand the concept or aesthetic emotion that is supposed to be felt. It would be difficult to replicate the necessarily response by a non-artist.

Contemporary art is art produced in our current era, including postmodern, and is often dismissed in comparison to “Fine Art”. Those who make contemporary art are not necessarily making it for a universal audience. The works may only appeal to a limited, educated artist or collectors and not care if their work is widely accepted. I remember starting off at DAAP; I had very little appreciation for art that wasn’t considered classic, but after being exposed to more contemporary art, I received a better understanding and liking for it. “If there is a philosophical sense of absurdity…it must arise from the perception of something universal.” (Nagel) The perception of modern or contemporary art varies and depends on the absurdity of a person’s upbringing. Artists who are cultured in modern and contemporary art are introduced to the absurdity of contemporary artists, given a better understanding of concepts and artistically thinking. Van Gogh is still my favorite artist, but I have learned to accept other forms of art in different mediums like never before. Others that are more into art history and classics do not have the same experiences and level of understanding, explaining why certain people people don’t accept modern art and will never see it as something meaningful.

Abstract, ‘unconventional” art cannot be created without basic art skills and training. Those who argue that contemporary art isn’t real art don’t realize one must be taught the  basic skills and rules in order to break them, thus creating contemporary art. I believe that art should make one question and think, while having an enjoyable aesthetic affect on the viewer. Nagel declares that one must take a step back and see our life almost through another’s eyes.  If someone questions if an object can be considered art, doesn’t that exemplify that it is art? If there was truly no art, a discussion wouldn’t even be brought up in the first place. “Is not a judgment; it is a disclosure of being on the basis of which we can make a judgment. And if I expect a disclosure of being, I am prepared at the same time for the eventuality of a disclosure of a non-being. ” (Sartre) The audience in the film “Rubber” were like art critics, and some did not see the “film” as being artistic or any good, very much like the people who don’t want to understand contemporary art.

The protagonists Vladimir and Estragon from Waiting for Godot remind me of people who refuse to accept contemporary art, representing uneducated audiences of art everywhere. They refused to change at all, much like those who refuse to accept new art. Many stubborn appreciators of classic art believe that Contemporary art is stupid and doesn’t require talent, just proclaiming a random object to be art. Many elements of this are that it doesn’t require talent, and real art should require skill and handcrafting, be visually pleasing.

For example, Duchamp’s urinal piece entitled “Fountain” was one of the very first contemporary, scandalous pieces. Duchamp seemed much before his time; the work was very revolutionary and strange. An early contemporary thinker, he wished to make art focuses on the intellectual response and interpretation that comes when viewing the work, rather than the craftsmanship of the work itself. His piece is much more accepted now than it was when he first created it, when it was rejected from a guaranteed admittance art gallery. Only a limited, educated audience could appreciate this piece and consider it art.


The Fountain, Marcel Duchamp, 1917

With introduction new concepts and mediums, the definition of art has expanded and transformed. Art now is more about context and meaning, not just the visual. Art doesn’t have to just be visually aesthetic, it can be something to make the brain contemplate and begin questioning. Some of the public will never understand this form of art because they lack the understanding, experience, or artistic background.

In conclusion, aesthetic emotion is conveyed much differently in classical and modern art. Audiences can understand the beauty and realism of classic art that brings happiness and admiration rather than the thought and complexity of modern art that always strives to break boundaries and explain feelings or thoughts. Viewer enjoy classical art more, while the artistic at heart understand the power of the aesthetic modern art attempts to supply.


Works Cited

 Adaptation. Dir. Jonze Spike. 2002. Film. 7 Oct 2013.

Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. New York: Grove Press, 1954

Bells, Clive. The Aesthetic Hypothesis. Print.

 “Colors.” Radiolab. N.p., 29 May 2012. web. 7 Oct 2012.

Contemporary Art. Wikipedia. 2013.

  Duchamp “Fountain”. Wikipedia. 2013.

Flusser, Vilém. Habit: The True Aesthetic Criterion. 1990. Print.

Nagel, Thomas. “The Journal of Philosophy.” The Absurd. No. 20, 68. Princeton University: Journal of Philosophy, Inc., 1971. Print. < >

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Being and Nothingness. Print.

Sontag, Susan. Against Interpretation. New York: 1966. Print.















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