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Am I Contemporary Enough? – “It’s Debatable”

September 13, 2020

Words Sakina N.   
Header Credits Sakina N. 
Follow her work on her Tumblr.


Art Forms: Contemporary vs. Traditional

Am I Contemporary Enough? 

Before we begin this article, I thought it might be useful to clarify the difference between contemporary and modern art. Though the terms are frequently used as synonyms, they actually refer to two distinctly varying art forms. 

According to the TATE, the term contemporary art loosely refers to “art of the present day and of the relatively recent past, of an innovatory or avant-garde nature” (think: Ai Weiwei, Yayoi Kusama & Damien Hirst).  Conversely, MoMA defines modern art as “art of a style marked by a significant departure from traditional styles and values, in particular that created between the late 19th and the late 20th centuries” (think: Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol)

For the purpose of this debate we will be arguing that traditional art (i.e. art from the Baroque period) possesses not only the merits of contemporary art but was and continues to be avant-garde in nature. Whilst the art might not be dated to the 21st century, the discussion of the art of Artemisia Gentileschi will reflect the innovation and sometimes revolutionary nature of the Baroque. 

The 17th century saw the flourishing of a style, the Baroque, which was characterised by self-confidence, dynamism and a realistic approach to depiction. However, that its origins were rooted in the high artistic standards set by the ancient Romans and Greeks is undeniable. It resulted in the creation of superficially homogenous artworks, ones that are vastly disparate from our definition and ideas of contemporary art.

How then can the art of Artemisia Gentileschi be viewed as contemporary?

The answer lies with her. Artemisia Gentileschi was essentially a badass (by 21st century standards). She was strong, independent, passionate, driven and inadvertently a feminist. 

Although she was the daughter of Orazio Gentileschi (a famed artist in his own right), under whom she trained, her success was no easy feat. In 1611, Artemisia was raped by the painter Agostino Tassi, an acquaintance and collaborator of her father’s. The ensuing trial in 1612 was a blood-bath, which saw Artemisia tortured (ropes were wrapped around her fingers and pulled tight) in court whilst her assailant watched on.

Following the trial, where Tassi was found guilty but remained unpunished, Artemisia married a little-known Florentine artist by the name of Pierantonio di Vincenzo Stiattesi, and left Rome for Florence shortly thereafter. 

Though her marriage was unhappy, it allowed her to establish herself as an independent artist, becoming the first woman to gain membership to the Academy of the Arts of Drawing in 1616, and eventually opening an independent studio in 1630, remaining until her death.

Through her art, Artemisia Gentileschi achieved the near impossible. She not only became highly successful in an age when guilds and academies closed their doors to women, but she did what none of the other Renaissance and Baroque women could – she communicated a powerful personal vision. Her paintings, comparable to the works of Frida Kahlo, are self-evidently autobiographical. 

This is most observable in her painting, Judith and Holofernes. Her artwork, unlike the similar male created works, reflects a savage realism, transforming the narrative of her painting from biblical to personal. Artemisia’s brushstrokes and colour palette personify the image, ensuring that Judith exacts revenge where Artemesia could not. 

Although the subject matter of her works were biblical and her figures were influenced by the Renaissance techniques of paintings and drawings, they reflected the emotions and experiences of Artemisia Gentileschi. Where Yayoi Kusama began the dot revolution, Artemisia shows the world what a disadvantaged woman of the 17th century is capable of. She said, ‘I AM HERE!’

Thus, I believe that the art of Artemisia Gentileschi, arguably the most famous female artist of her time, was and continues to be contemporary art. Like the definition, her paintings were innovative and avant-garde. She is a beacon of hope for women, a revolutionary.

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