Primer:

ARE ART MOVEMENTS A THING OF THE PAST?

Art movements have been critical for centuries. But do they still exist?

It wasn’t too long ago that art was dominated by art movements. From the French realism of the 1840s to the neo-expressionism of the 1980s, the majority of history's most significant artists were members of one group or another. But in the last 10 years, it’s started to look like art's significance is no longer tied to defined movements.

This sea change isn’t happening in isolation. Whether it’s fashion, food or music, the authority to shape cultural tastes has shifted from institutions and self-proclaimed authority figures to individuals. This new approach might make understanding art more complex, but it also generates a degree of freedom that challenges old hierarchies.

Television offers an interesting parallel. Large networks in the US enjoyed years with no meaningful competition for viewer attention–except from one another. This enabled a few network executives to determine the programming consumed by millions. The explosion of cable networks (and serious investment into the development of shows) in the 2010s changed that. It resulted in what researchers called audience fragmentation as the public spent its time watching a broader set of programs driven more by personal taste. A decade later, content is more abundant and varied than ever, with the strategies of companies like Netflix, Mubi and Amazon rooted in this individualistic approach.

Contemporary art’s increasingly inclusive mindset is freeing people to choose art they like instead of being tethered to ideas of what they should like. With less gatekeeping, there’s a renewed sense of discovery and immediacy that makes art appealing to a younger generation and to those who felt barred from participating in the past.

Artists are also embracing this openness. They no longer need to create art that fits into a predetermined mold in order to achieve success, and technology has played a key role in this shift. Many artists are harnessing social media to connect directly with their audiences. This in turn means that more artists of color, women and queer artists (whether they hail from major metropolitan areas or not) are getting the kind of attention rarely seen only a few years ago.

Ironically, this may be an art movement of its own, one with an ambiguous definition, which will become clearer in hindsight.