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Themes of Contemporary Art

Visual Art after 1980

Third Edition

Jean Robertson and Craig McDaniel

Publication Date - June 2012

ISBN: 9780199797073

416 pages
7-1/2 x 9-1/4 inches

Retail Price to Students: $44.95

See Contemporary Art in a Whole New Way


Offering a unique thematic approach to recent art history, Themes of Contemporary Art: Visual Art after 1980, Third Edition, focuses on eight central ideas recurring in art over the past few decades: identity, the body, time, memory, place, language, science, and spirituality.

Featuring 160 vivid illustrations (23 in color and 137 in black and white), this wide-ranging introduction presents artworks that exemplify a variety of materials, techniques, theoretical viewpoints, and stylistic approaches, by artists from diverse ethnic, cultural, and geographic backgrounds.

Concise, engaging, and accessible, this thought-provoking volume challenges readers to think actively and critically about the ideas expressed in contemporary art.

New to this Edition

  • Updated throughout with the most recent scholarship, research, and developments in the field
  • A new chapter on memory as a theme in contemporary art and culture
  • An updated timeline that reflects world events and developments in art and pop culture through today
  • 3 new artist profiles
  • 31 additional illustrations

About the Author(s)

Jean Robertson is Professor of Art History at Herron School of Art and Design, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Craig McDaniel is Associate Dean and Director of Graduate Programs at Herron School of Art and Design, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Previous Publication Date(s)

March 2009
January 2005


"Provides an excellent foundation for bringing various ideas and artists into a class discussion. Each theme is covered from a wonderful variety of perspectives, there's an excellent selection of work and artists, and the overall organization of the material is strong. The book is extremely well written, with the chapters equally sophisticated and carefully presented."--Julie Alderson, Humboldt State University

"I recommend this book constantly. It is incredibly versatile and the list of artists from different cultures extensive. The authors are to be applauded for opening a dialogue about art that crosses media and geopolitical borders."--Connie Cortez, Texas Tech University

Table of Contents

    Themes of Contemporary Art: What, Why, and How
    A Brief Orientation

    Chapter One: The Art World Expands
    Overview of History and Art History, 1980-2011
    Traditions Survive, New Trends Arrive
    A Spectrum of Voices Emerges
    Theory Flexes Its Muscles
    Social Experience as Art
    Art Meets Contemporary Culture

    Chapter Two: Identity
    Identity in Art History
    Identity is Communal or Relational
    Identity Politics
    --- Essentialism
    --- Diversity
    --- Hybridity
    Identity Is Constructed
    --- Otherness and Representation
    --- Deconstructing Difference
    --- The Fluidity of Identity
    Post Identity
    Profile: Nancy Burson
    Profile: Shirin Neshat

    Chapter Three: The Body
    Past Figurative Art
    A New Spin on the Body
    --- The Body Is a Battleground
    --- The Body Is a Sign
    --- Performing Bodies
    They Body Beautiful
    Sexual Bodies
    --- The Gaze
    --- Sex and Violence
    Mortal Bodies
    Posthuman Bodies
    Profile: Reneé Cox
    Profile: Zhang Huan

    Chapter Four: Time
    Changing Views of Time
    Time and Art History
    Time as a Medium
    --- Live Art
    --- Film and Video
    --- Process Art
    Exploring the Structure of Time
    --- Counting Time
    --- Measuring Time
    --- Reordering Time
    --- Expressing Endlessness
    Profile: Hiroshi Sugimoto
    Profile: Cornelia Parker

    Chapter Five: Memory
    Memory and Art History
    The Texture of Memory
    --- Memory is Emotional
    --- Memory is Unreliable
    --- Memory is Multisensory
    Strategies for Representing the Past
    --- Displaying Evidence
    --- Reenacting the Past
    --- Fracturing Narratives and Reshuffling Memories
    Storehouses of Memory
    Revisiting the Past
    --- Recovering History
    --- Rethinking History
    --- Reframing the Present
    Commemorating the Past
    Profile: Christian Boltanski
    Profile: Brian Tolle

    Chapter Six: Place
    Places Have Meanings
    Places Have Value
    History's Influence
    --- (Most) Places Exist in Space
    --- (Most) Works of Art Exist in a Place
    What's Public? What's Private?
    Looking at Places
    Looking Out for Places
    Fictionalized Places
    Profile: Unilever Series at Tate Modern
    Profile: Andrea Zittel

    Chapter Seven: Language
    Words with Art: A History
    Art with Words: A History
    Recent Theories of Language
    Reasons for Using Language
    Language Makes Meaning
    Language Takes Form
    --- Transparency and Translucency
    --- Spatiality and Physicality
    --- Books Made by Artists
    --- Art Made with Books
    Wielding the Power of Language
    Confronting the Challenge of Translation
    Using Text in the Information Age
    Profile: Nina Katchadourian
    Profile: Janet Cardiff

    Chapter Eight: Science
    What is Science?
    Artists as Amateur Scientists
    Artists Adopt Scientific Methods and Materials
    --- Creole Technologies
    --- BioArt
    The Ideology of Science
    --- Changing Paradigms of Science
    --- Is Science Running Amok? Activist Art Responds
    The Visual Culture of Science
    --- Scientific Imaging and Art
    --- Deconstructing the Visual Culture of Science
    --- Scientific Displays and Archives
    --- Science in Popular Culture
    Classifying Humans in the Genomic Age
    Is Nature Natural?
    Marveling at the Universe
    Profile: Patricia Piccinini
    Profile: Eduardo Kac

    Chapter Nine: Spirituality
    Spirituality and Religion
    A Short History
    A Few Strategies
    --- Manipulating Forms, Materials, and Processes
    --- Manipulating Meanings and Minds
    Finding Faith and Harboring Doubt
    Expressing Religious Identities
    Facing Death, Doom, and Destruction
    Mingling the Sacred and the Secular
    Profile: José Bedia
    Profile: Bill Viola

    Selected Bibliography
    Color Plate

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