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“This book explores the potential of art in education, beginning at the center: art and artists. Artists reinvent art. Contemporary art can transform art education, offering a broad and diverse approach to creative expression - and freeing art education from the conventional shackles that can stifle it.”

-Julia Marshall

 Contemporary Art

How do we teach with contemporary art when it’s so slippery, ever-changing and elastic that the time-honored elements of art skill and knowledge no longer apply? Teaching Contemporary Art with Young People and this website provide some windows into contemporary art that can help teachers and students enter into contemporary art to explore all its richness and power. 

We begin with the question: What is contemporary art?  Since current art is so diverse and flexible, the best we can do is formulate some hallmarks. Here are eight essential characteristics of current art:

  1. Contemporaneousness (created in the present and about the present). 

  2. Liberation of Practice (open to a multitude of ways of making and presenting)

  3. Supremacy of Concept (Ideas come first and determine the form of a work, its style, technique and medium).

  4. Cross disciplinary practice (artists play with concepts, methods and forms not traditionally associated with art).

  5. Radical Aesthetics (meaning and emotional/intellectual response replace classical notions of beauty and visual pleasure).

  6. Inclusiveness (a broad variety of perspectives and forms are recognized and honored)

  7. Interaction with Popular culture (art and popular culture influence and mimic each other). 

  8. Global/local perspectives (the art world is international, applying local perspectives and forms to global ideas and issues).

Our second question is: Why is contemporary art important and useful in the classroom? Here are some answers:

  1. It tackles the issues and situations young people can relate to, grabbing their attention and stimulating their interest in making art and/or exploring its history. 

  2. It provokes creative and critical thinking. 

  3. It comes at issues and ideas from a “slant perspective”, enabling a viewer to see things differently.

  4. It provides a platform for inclusive art making—opening up art to many ways of creating and presenting ideas, thus lessening the grip of technical skills and techniques.

  5. It crosses disciplinary boundaries to tackle big cross-disciplinary concepts and illuminate, critique and mimic the other disciplines.

  6. With its emphasis on thinking and creative interpretation and invention, it brings art-based learning into the core of the school curriculum.

Our third question is: How do we bring contemporary art into the classroom?


This question is at the core of this website. We hope the structures, ideas and vocabulary articulated here will help teachers as they venture into and make sense of this vast and valuable resource.

This website is an ongoing extension of our book Teaching Contemporary Art with Young People, published by Teachers College Press, October 2021. Over time, we will add more artists, themes, ideas and strategies to the site. We welcome your feedback and contributions.

Connie Stewart
Anne Thulson
Julia Marshall

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