Kehide Wiley, “The Death of Hyacinth (Ndey Buri Mboup” (2022), oil on canvas, Galerie Templon, Paris. Photo: Ugo Carmeni
Changes in Art Practices
in the Last 20 Years
Cathy Locke and Georgia Modi
The past 20 years have seen a significant evolution in artists’ practices, driven by technological advancements and societal attitudes toward art. These changes have affected how artists create, exhibit, and market their work and how audiences perceive and consume art. This article will explore some critical differences in artists’ practices over the past two decades.
Digitalization of Art
The digitalization of art has been the most significant change in artists’ practices in the last 20 years. Digital technology has revolutionized how artists create, distribute, and exhibit their work, opening up new possibilities and opportunities for creative expression. In addition, digital tools such as graphic design software, 3D modeling software, and video editing have enabled artists to create complex and sophisticated works that would have been difficult or impossible to produce with traditional methods.
The rise of digital art has also changed how art is exhibited and consumed. Digital art can be easily shared and viewed online, reaching a wider audience than ever. Museums and galleries have also adapted to this trend, with many now exhibiting digital art in dedicated spaces or incorporating digital elements into their exhibitions.
Beeple’s collage, Everyday: The First 5000 Days, sold at Christie’s. Image: Beeple
Several digital artists have gained significant recognition and fame in recent years. One of the most well-known is Beeple (Mike Winkelmann), who gained worldwide attention when he sold a digital artwork for a record-breaking $69 million at a Christie’s auction in March 2021. Beeple’s digital art is known for its surreal and often dystopian themes, and he has gained a massive following on social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter.
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, "1984 x 1984, (2015).
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: Preabsence, Haus der Elektronischen Künste Basel, Basel, Switzerland, 2016. Photo by: Franz J. Wamhof.
Another famous digital artist is Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, a Mexican-Canadian artist who creates interactive installations that blend technology and art. His work has been exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York and the Venice Biennale.
Yayoi Kusama, “I Want Your Tears to Flow with the Words I Wrote” (2021), oil on canvas, Tokyo
Yayoi Kusama, a Japanese artist known for her vibrant and immersive installations, has also incorporated digital elements into her work in recent years. Her Infinity Mirror Rooms, for example, use mirrors and L.E.D. lights to create an immersive, otherworldly experience for viewers.
Joshua Davis, “A Better Tomorrow,” digital
Other notable digital artists include Joshua Davis, who creates generative art using code and algorithms; Golan Levin, who creates interactive installations that respond to the movements and actions of viewers; and Cory Arcangel, who creates digital art by repurposing and manipulating existing technologies and media.
It’s important to note that the field of digital art is constantly evolving, and new artists are always emerging. While the artists listed above are certainly some of the most famous and influential in the field, many others are pushing the boundaries of what is possible with digital technology and redefining what we think of as “art.”
Social Media and Self-Promotion
Social media has significantly impacted how artists promote and market their work. Platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook provide artists with direct communication with their audiences, enabling them to showcase their work and build their brands.
Many artists now use social media as a primary marketing tool, leveraging platforms to promote their work, share updates on their creative process, and connect with potential buyers and collectors. Social media has also enabled artists to build communities of fans and supporters who can help to spread the word about their work and provide feedback and support.
Social media has become an increasingly important tool for artists to promote their work and connect with audiences. At the same time, success in self-promotion can be challenging to quantify. Nevertheless, these are some of the artists who have been particularly successful at leveraging social media to increase their visibility and reach:
Yayoi Kusama, “You, Me, and the Balloons,” sculpture, Factory International, Manchester, U.K.
Yayoi Kusama - The Japanese artist is known for her colorful and immersive installations. She has a strong presence on Instagram, where she regularly posts updates about her work and upcoming exhibitions. Her social media use has helped build a global following for her art.
J.R., “28 Millimeters, Women Are Heroes” (2008), Favela Morro Da Providencia, Brazil
J.R. - The French artist and photographer is known for his large-scale, site-specific installations and has a significant presence on Instagram, where he shares images and updates about his work. He also uses social media to engage with audiences and promote social justice causes.
Shepard Fairey, “Lotus Ornament (Red),” 2008, digital
Shepard Fairey - The American street artist and graphic designer is known for his politically charged works and has a significant presence on social media, particularly Instagram. He regularly shares images of his career and engages with his followers on various issues.
KAWS, “Waiting” (2019), sculpture, Brooklyn, N.Y.C.
KAWS - The American artist and designer has become known for his playful, cartoon-like characters. He has a strong presence on Instagram, sharing images of his work and updates about upcoming exhibitions and collaborations. He has also leveraged social media to sell limited-edition merchandise and connect with fans worldwide.
Ai Weiwei, “Sunflower Seeds,” 2010, porcelain, Tate, London, England
Ai Weiwei - The Chinese artist and activist has a significant presence on social media, particularly Twitter, where he has been an outspoken critic of the Chinese government’s human rights record. He uses his platform to advocate for social justice causes and connect with audiences worldwide.
These are just a few examples of contemporary artists who have successfully leveraged social media to promote their work and connect with audiences. Using media, they have reached a global audience and built a community of fans and supporters around their art.
New Forms of Collaboration
Collaboration has long been a central part of the art world, but the past 20 years have seen the rise of new forms of collaboration, driven in part by digital technology. For example, online platforms such as Behance and Dribbble enable artists to share their work with other creatives and collaborate on projects, regardless of geographical location.
Artists are also increasingly collaborating with other industries and disciplines, including technology, science, and fashion. These collaborations have resulted in new forms of art that blend traditional artistic techniques with cutting-edge technology, such as interactive installations, digital sculptures, and augmented reality experiences.
Tinker Fridays/Dina Amin, “Camera Foot Baller”
In 2017, illustrator and designer Dina Amin used Behance to showcase her project titled “Tinker Fridays,” where she deconstructed and repurposed electronic waste to create new objects. The project involved creating short videos and photographs of the deconstruction process and the final things she made. By sharing her work on Behance, Amin was able to attract the attention of a wider audience, including potential clients and collaborators.
Overall, Behance and Dribbble have become essential tools for artists and designers to promote their work and connect with potential clients and collaborators. By leveraging these platforms, artists and designers can reach a wider audience and find new opportunities to showcase their talents and grow their careers.
Sustainability and Eco-Friendly Practices
The past decade has seen a growing awareness of environmental issues and a renewed focus on sustainability in many industries, including art. Artists increasingly seek eco-friendlterials and production methods, and many explore ecological and climate change themes in their work.
This focus on sustainability has also led to new opportunities for artists, with organizations and events such as the Green Arts Initiative and the Sustainable Art Prize promoting environmentally conscious art and artists. Some artists have even started using recycled materials, transforming discarded objects into new and meaningful creations.
There has been a growing movement among artists to use eco-friendly and sustainable materials in their work in recent years. Here are some of the most famous artists who are leading the charge in this area:
Olafur Eliasson, “Your Light Spectrum” (2022), Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo Jeff McLane
Olafur Eliasson - The Danish-Icelandic artist is known for his large-scale installations incorporating natural elements such as water, light, and air. He has also been vocal about the need for sustainable practices in the art world and has tried to reduce the environmental impact of his exhibitions and studio.
Agnes Denes, “Tree Mountain - A Living Time Capsule,” 11,000 Trees, 11,000 People, 400 Years, 1992-96, (420 x 270 x 28 meters), Ylojarvi, Finland
Agnes Denes - The Hungarian-American artist is known for her environmental and ecological artworks. One of her most famous pieces is “Wheatfield - A Confrontation,” in which she transformed a two-acre plot of lower Manhattan into a wheat field to draw attention to the need for sustainable agriculture in urban areas.
Mark Dion, “The Memory Box” (2016), Tanya Bonakdar Gallery
Mark Dion - The American artist creates installations and sculptures that examine the relationships between humans and the natural world. His work often uses found objects and recycled materials, and has been a vocal advocate for sustainable art practices.
Mariele Neudecker, “400 Thousand Generations” (2009), mixed media, Royal Academy of Arts, London
Mariele Neudecker - The German artist works with a range of materials, including recycled plastic, to create installations and sculptures that explore the impact of human activity on the environment. Her work often incorporates elements of natural history and scientific research.
Tattfoo Tan, “S.O.S. Mobile Garden,” The Brooklyn Rail Curatorial Projects
Tattfoo Tan - The Singaporean-American artist creates installations and participatory projects that promote sustainable living and environmental awareness. His “Nature Matching System” project, for example, encourages people to make more sustainable choices by matching the colors of their clothing to those found in nature.
Maya Lin, “2×4 Landscape” (2006), wood
Maya Lin - The American artist and architect is best known for designing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. In recent years, she has turned her attention to environmental issues and has created installations and sculptures that explore the relationship between humans and the natural world.
These artists are a few examples of the growing movement toward sustainable and eco-friendly art practices. As the need for environmental awareness and action becomes more urgent, we will likely see more artists embracing these principles and using their work to raise awareness and promote positive change.
Changes in Art Education
Art education has also undergone significant changes in the past 20 years, driven partly by the rise of digital technology and changes in the job market. Many art schools and programs now offer courses in digital media, graphic design, and other digital art forms, reflecting the growing demand for these skills in the job market.
In addition, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of entrepreneurship and business skills for artists. As a result, many art schools now offer courses in marketing, branding, and other business-related topics to help artists succeed in a competitive market.
Shifts in Artistic Values and Themes
Finally, the past 20 years have seen a shift in artistic values and themes, reflecting changing societal attitudes. Many artists are now exploring articles related to identity, diversity, and social justice, reflecting a growing awareness of these issues in mainstream culture. In addition, artists are using their work to address issues such as racism, inequality, and marginalization and to promote greater understanding and empathy among audiences.
Furthermore, there has been a growing emphasis on interdisciplinary approaches to art-making, with artists drawing inspiration from science, technology, and philosophy. This multidisciplinary approach has led to new forms of art that challenge traditional boundaries and push the limits of what is possible.
In conclusion, the past 20 years have seen significant changes in artists’ practices, driven by technological advancements, societal attitudes, and a renewed focus on sustainability and social justice. These changes have opened up new possibilities for creative expression and have challenged artists to think differently about how they create, exhibit, and market their work. As we move into the future, it will be exciting to see how these changes continue to shape the art world and inspire new generations of artists.
Artists Working with the Theme of Identity
Identity has been a central theme in contemporary art, with many artists exploring questions around race, gender, sexuality, nationality, and cultural heritage. Here are some of the most famous artists working today who are exploring issues of identity in their work:
Kerry James Marshall, “Past Times” (1997), Acrylic and collage on canvas, M.C.A. Chicago
Kerry James Marshall - The American painter is known for his depictions of African-American life, and his work often addresses issues of race, identity, and representation. His paintings are highly detailed and richly colored, often featuring black figures against bright, saturated backgrounds.
Cindy Sherman, [left] “Untitled - #359" (2000) and [right] “Untitled - #299" (1994)
Cindy Sherman - The American photographer is known for her conceptual self-portraits, in which she assumes various personas and explores the construction of identity through the lens of gender and sexuality. Her work often challenges conventional ideas of beauty and femininity.
Ai Weiwei, “Forever Bicyles” (2014), Photo by Joshua White
Ai Weiwei - The Chinese artist and activist use his work to explore questions of cultural identity, political dissent, and social justice. His installations and sculptures often draw on traditional Chinese art forms and materials, and he has been vocal in his criticism of the Chinese government’s human rights record.
Yinka Shonibare, “Space Walk” (2002), pigment on cotton sateen and cotton brocade, fiberglass, resin, plastic.
The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia, PA
Yinka Shonibare - The British-Nigerian artist is known for using African textiles in his sculptures and installations, which explore questions of cultural hybridity and identity. His work often draws on colonial history and its ongoing impact on contemporary society.
Artists Working with Themes of Diversity
Kara Walker, “Slavery! Slavery! Presenting a GRAND and LIFELIKE Panoramic Journey into Picturesque Southern Slavery or Life at ‘Ol’ Virginny’s Hole (sketches from Plantation Life)” (1997), cut paper and adhesive on wall
Kara Walker - The American artist is known for her large-scale silhouette installations, which explore issues of race, gender, and power in American history. Her work often addresses the legacy of slavery and its ongoing impact on the lives of African-Americans.
Kehide Wiley, “The Death of Hyacinth (Ndey Buri Mboup” (2022), oil on canvas, Galerie Templon, Paris. Photo: Ugo Carmeni
Kehinde Wiley - The American painter is known for his portraits of black men and women, which he sets against vividly patterned backgrounds that draw on art historical traditions. His work challenges traditional notions of beauty and representation and often explores the intersection of race, gender, and class.
These are just a few examples of the many contemporary artists using their work to explore questions of identity and representation. Their work challenges us to question our assumptions and biases and encourages us to embrace the richness and diversity of human experience.
Artists Working with the Theme of Social Justice
Social justice has become an increasingly important theme in contemporary art, with many artists using their work to challenge systemic inequalities and advocate for social change. Here are some of the most famous artists working today who are exploring issues of social justice in their work:
Banksy, “Love is in the Air” (2003) - specific image: Bethlehem, Palestine
Banksy - The British street artist is known for his politically charged and often provocative works, which comment on various social and political issues, including poverty, war, and police brutality.
Theaster Gates, “White Painting #1” (2019), Torchdown, wood, enamel paint, and tare
Theaster Gates - The American artist works across various mediums, including sculpture, installation, and performance, to address race, class, and urban renewal issues. He often uses found materials to create his works, which speak to the history and culture of his native Chicago.
Titus Kaphar, “Sacrifice (Diptych)” (2011), oil on canvas, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
Titus Kaphar - The American painter and sculptor explores issues of race, identity, and representation in his work, which often involves the reimagining and deconstructing of traditional art forms. His work challenges viewers to confront how art and history have been used to perpetuate systemic inequality.
Tania Bruguera, “Destierro (Displacement),” 1998-2003, sculptural suit, Cuban mud, and nails
Tania Bruguera - The Cuban artist uses performance, installation, and social practice to explore power, migration, and human rights issues. Her work often involves direct engagement with audiences, and she has been a vocal advocate for art’s ability to effect social change.
Ai Weiwei, “Straight” (2008-12), reinforcing steel bars
Ai Weiwei - The Chinese artist and activist has been an outspoken critic of the Chinese government’s human rights record. His work often addresses political dissent, censorship, and social justice issues. In addition, he has used his platform to advocate for the rights of refugees and other marginalized communities.
Dread Scott, “Overthrow Dictators” (2017), Laser cut frosted mylar, framed, open edition, Ronald Feldman Gallery, New York
Dread Scott - The American artist works across various mediums, including performance, sculpture, and installation, to explore issues of race, power, and inequality. His work often involves direct engagement with audiences, and he has been a vocal advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement, and other social justice causes.
These are just a few examples of contemporary artists using their work to challenge systemic inequalities and advocate for social change. Through their art, they invite us to think critically about the world around us and imagine a more just and equitable future.
In the last 20 years, artists’ practices have undergone significant changes driven by technological advancements, social and political developments, and evolving artistic philosophies. From the rise of digital art and the democratization of the creative process to the growing emphasis on social justice and sustainability, artists have adapted to a rapidly changing world and embraced new mediums, techniques, and themes. As a result, while the art world continues to evolve, artists today have more opportunities to showcase their work, connect with audiences, and drive social change through their art.