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Home Blog The Fascinating History of 2010s Art: What We Can Learn from the Street Art Era

The Fascinating History of 2010s Art: What We Can Learn from the Street Art Era

August 8, 2023

Contributing Author: Alley Bardon

10 mins read

Art is meant to inspire and delight, but it also often acts as a gauge, reflecting the realities of certain moments in time. This is most evident when we look back at specific periods and the art movements that dominated during those times. 

The 2010s brought about significant changes in what we expect from — and how we perceive — great works of art. Through studying the best art of the 2010s, we can get a better sense of how far we've come and what artistic expression will look like moving forward.  

2010s Art: A Look Into Art in the Last Decade

While art was increasingly regarded as political or even downright shocking during the late 20th century, this perception gained traction during the 2010s, when performance art was the name of the game. The other main trend focused on street art and other public displays meant to be as visible to the community as possible. This was amplified, of course, by social media. 

The trends that took hold during the 2010s continue to dominate today and are worth examining now that a few years have passed. To illustrate the transformative nature of this decade and what it says about the future of art, we've highlighted some of the most meaningful trends, styles, and individuals that left their mark on the art scene during the 2010s.  

What Was Art in the 2010s Like?

The pace of change is rapid in the art world, to the point that it can be difficult to recall what, exactly, dominated, even a few years ago. This is especially evident when pondering the top trends of the 2010s, which, despite not being all that long ago, often feels like a lifetime away. 

No single adjective can entirely capture the diverse range of 2010s art, but terms such as thought-provoking and interactive come close. This artwork was frequently purposeful, with artists striving to shape discourse and catalyze action. Meanwhile, art has become more accessible and digitally influenced, reflecting the increased use of innovative technologies to inspire, produce, and share great works. 

Inspirational Artists in the 2010s

Throughout history, artists have often taken on the allure of celebrity. This trend continued in the 2010s, when many famous artists took on personas that felt larger than life. Countless sources of artistic inspiration emerged during this time, but these individuals were among the most memorable: 

Maurizio Cattelan

In a sea of controversial artists, Maurizio Cattelan has gone above and beyond to spark a response. He has often been regarded as the art world's top prankster;, although, as we'll touch on below, he's certainly not alone in his love of artistic jokes. 

Beyond this, his work can best be classified as hyper realistic. Perhaps the best encapsulation of Cattelan's mindset arrived with the appropriately named 2019 conceptual work Comedian. This featured a banana attached to the wall with duct tape and was, (for obvious reasons, controversial due to the nature of the art.

Kara Walker

Committed to exploring important concepts such as race and gender, Kara Walker has long stood out with her panoramic displays, in which black figures are contrasted against a blank white wall. Like many of the decade's influential artists, Walker actively sought to avoid passive viewership. 

Walker produced many solo installations during the 2010s but received the most significant response with her 2014 sculpture Marvelous Sugar Baby. This groundbreaking sculpture was meant to acknowledge the concept of "blood sugar," which Walker compared to blood diamonds. Soon after, Walker followed with equally shocking charcoal works that depicted tragic moments in American history.

Banksy

No discussion of 2010s art would be complete without a mention of the iconic Banksy. This street artist's real name has been unknown for decades, but the speculation over his identity is part of the appeal. 

While Banksy regularly hit headlines during the 2000s, his status was cemented during the 2010s, when he released an award-winning documentary and even started a pop-up street art stand near New York's Central Park. 

Other defining works included Cardinal Sin (a sculpture in which a cardinal's face was replaced by blank tiles) and Slave Labour (depicting a child hard at work with a sewing machine). One of his most shocking moments arrived during an auction in 2018, when an adaptation of a previous mural famously self-destructed.

2010s Art Styles

During the 2010s, a variety of artists enjoyed the freedom to experiment with new concepts while also bringing vintage styles back into the fray. The biggest shifts of the decade, however, had less to do with the specific techniques and mediums used, and rather , focused on what works of art were meant to convey or how audiences were expected to respond. Provocation was a big theme during the 2010s, when many works of art were created with the main intention of sparking public discourse.  

Street Art

As one of the most groundbreaking styles of the 2010s, street art was meant, above all else, to be publicly visible. While many people are familiar with this strategy, the answer to the common question, "What is street art?" remains murky. This is difficult to define, because street art can take so many forms and hold so many intentions. It is generally linked with graffiti art, but often goes beyond tagging to encompass vast and visually impactful public murals, which take a lot of skill and creativity to produce.   

Neo-Minimalism

While minimalism is far from new, this concept hit the mainstream during the early 2000s and continued to dominate in the 2010s, when it shaped not only impactful works of art, but also fashion, interior design, and even product packaging. During that time, artists embraced an offshoot known as neo-minimalism, which some described as "minimalism on steroids."  

Figurative Art

Enjoying a major revival during the 2010s, figurative art brought distinct references to reality, offsetting the more abstract visuals that had been so prominent during the mid-20th century. This new take on figurative art diverged from previous iterations, however, with the same political fervor that dominated street art, making the leap to works that, otherwise, seem far more 'conventional' than the decade's more daring pieces. 

Still, these figurative pieces were revolutionary in their own way, weaving political discourse or cultural concerns into often personal circumstances or sources of inspiration. The ensuing works of art felt deeply authentic. This tendency was most evident in the work of Aliza Nisenbaum, who inspired many with brightly colored, evocative portraits depicting equally inspiring community members.  

Craft

Once unfairly regarded as a 'lesser' form of art, craft art finally began to receive the respect it always deserved, with the 2010s ushering in a new appreciation for everything from embroidery to leatherwork, and even knitting. Some of this may have stemmed from the rise of platforms such as Pinterest and Etsy, but artists themselves were key to elevating the creativity within these practices. 

Throughout this decade, multiple exhibitions paid homage to the talent within the contemporary craft scene. Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, for example, explored the "flux" of this niche with a dynamic exhibition that not only featured a wide variety of materials and artists, but also, several exciting technologies that were integrated seamlessly into classic practices.  

Experiential Art

Similar in many respects to street art, experiential works aim to delight all the senses. Social media deserves much of the credit for this phenomenon, although the popularity of more politically minded, provocative works suggests that experiential styles would have still taken off without the influence of social media.

Examples of especially impactful works that qualify as experiential include: 

  • Rain Room. When this remarkable installation launched in 2012, it attracted legions of enthusiasts who were willing to stand in line for hours so that they could eventually hang out in what looked like downpour but didn't actually get them wet. 
  • Infinity Mirror Rooms. An early leader in experiential art, Yayoi Kusama discovered the power of mirrors during the 1960s, but captured attention from new audiences with distinct rooms designed four decades later. 
  • 512 Hours. Offering a decidedly different take on experiential art, the iconic Marina Abramović hit headlines in 2014 with a unique exhibition that called for participants to shed their belongings as they experienced Zen-like exhibit rooms that had been purposefully stripped bare.  

Art Movements of the 2010s

Artistic style represents the approach to a particular expressive piece, encompassing where and how it is created, which materials are used, and which techniques artists rely on. This also plays into movements, which may embrace specific styles but are typically anchored in a particular period. 

With the 2010s came a slow shift away from some of the movements that had dominated the late 20th century, such as neo-pop, transgressive art, and classical realism. In their place came dynamic new concepts expressed through street art style and in many other settings or contexts.  

Personal and Political Art

Even more evocative than the specific styles that dominated the 2010s were the political and personal circumstances that underscored the decade's most influential works of art. Thought-provoking and often controversial discourse took place via new mediums, with movements such as craftivism incorporating elements of environmentalism, feminism, and many other social concerns. 

Altmodern represented another influential concept, referencing the desire for art to stand in stark contrast to commercialism. The term emerged in 2009, when curator Nicholas Bourriaud hoped to "reexamine our present" following the "aftershock" of modernism. Taking this idea in a new and impactful direction, the offshoot of excessivism used exaggerated works of art to examine our preconceived notions about capitalism and the status quo.  

Social Media's Impact on 2010s Art

As artificial intelligence plays an increasingly prominent role in the social media sphere, it can be difficult to recollect just how influential social media was in the art world throughout the 2010s. It would be impossible to discuss the trends of the decade without also mentioning the significant impact of Instagram and other platforms. Often, the effect was circular and multifaceted, with art inspiring online discourse and vice versa.  

Mass Sharing and Audience Reach

While social media skeptics are often quick to point out the downsides of Instagram, there are also many benefits worth considering. Perhaps most significant is the expanded reach that social media has provided.  

Before great works of art were readily available online, many people were restricted to what they could view in a handful of art museums or galleries. Libraries helped, though it remained difficult for the average person to discover anything beyond a narrow selection of artists and works. 

If nothing else, social media has helped to bring art to the masses. In this way, it often shared the central purpose of street art: to make artistic creations more accessible to the public. It should come as no surprise, then, that the works most frequently shared on social media also happen to be those most clearly aligned with the street art movement. 

Even when works fail to go viral online, they are more easily discoverable in the internet age. Online indexing and databases amplify research, while curated social media pages allow individual artists to build stronger connections with the public.  

The Rise of Instagrammable Art

In addition to expanding access, social media had a huge influence on how the public perceived and interacted with art. Increasingly, many galleries, museums, and installations began to strive for displays deemed 'Instagrammable.' 

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Begin Your Study of Art at Lindenwood Online!

As we move beyond the 2010s into a new and even more exciting era in the artistic world, there is a strong need for passionate individuals who are driven to celebrate and promote artistic expression. 

At Lindenwood University Online, we strongly believe in the power of art and artistic study to shape our world and inspire meaningful change. To that end, we offer multiple art-oriented programs, including excellent options for earning your bachelor's or master's degree

Our online art degree programs delve into art history, visual culture, and design at the undergraduate and graduate levels. What's more, we offer the opportunity to specialize in several compelling areas, such as photography, digital art, and even user experience. Reach out today to learn more about these programs and how they can fit into your career plans. 

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