The Importance Of Materials In Contemporary Art

Materials in art has always been important regarding the structure and composition in any kind of piece. But what has been the importance of the material within contemporary art, which is commonly associated more to concept than to the object?

Materiality is the basis of all kind of art even if it seems the contrary. The Art Guide by the Tate Gallery says that:

“Materials are what things are made from. Materials have different qualities: they can be smooth or rough; hard or soft; heavy or light; fragile or indestructible. Artists choose materials because of their particular qualites. The same material can be used in very different ways to achieve very different results. The twentieth century saw artists experimenting with unexpected materials. Everyday objects, textiles, industrial substances, natural phenomena and even things we can’t touch or see (such as sound) found their way into art.”

As here is mentioned, material has a important role when creating art. Ther are not only simple tools, but key elements to achieve different results in terms of composition and regarding symbolic purpose. It is commonly thought in contemporary art as a more conceptual than physical art, as if an idea happen to be an abstract form floating over something called art. However, art history is full of objects. In fact, even when talking about a performance, a happening or actions -likes the ones by Tino Sehgal– materials as objects are full of symbolic contexts, values, meanings… Objects always transport and transmit meanings and senses.

The 20th Century came with an experimental spirit that led the artists to dismantle the traditional foundations of art through materials. Readymades are, for instance,  the antithesis of those expensive materials used in paintings and sculptures since almost all the art history, at least from the Ancient Greece. From readymades on, every founded object could be part of any kind of work of art, no matter it quality and cost.

All the objects around us has their own history. So is the case of the objects and materials used in artworks, the materials chosen by artists are always consciously thought for giving certain sense to their pieces. Materials, at the end, make the artworks possible.