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The Challenging Relationship between Contemporary Art and Intellectual Property

April 24, 2022   •   Nikita Saha

AUTHOR'S PROFILE: Bhakti Parekh is enthusiastic about spreading awareness through the written word. She loves learning different languages as language gives insight into different thought processes and cultures. She is an avid reader, and one of her favourite genres is crime thrillers.


Contemporary Art is 'the art of today.' When referencing contemporary Art, it usually includes artwork produced during the late twentieth century and the twenty-first century. It means art that has been produced after modern and post-modern Art. However, it should be noted that contemporary art is not just art that is produced in a specific time frame but is a lot more. Contemporary art mirrors contemporary culture and society.

It is important to note that contemporary Art is difficult to define because it includes such a wide variety. This art style is not uniform and is more challenging to describe than any other genre or form of art. Contemporary Art is thus distinguished by its very lack of a uniform organizing principle or ideology.

The work of contemporary artists is dynamic and can be considered a combination of materials, methods, concepts, and subjects that aim to challenge the traditional boundaries and defy easy definitions. It is diverse and eclectic. There is no standard style as artists approach their work in many ways. While artists of the past were often influenced by religion, mythology, and the demands of patrons paying them, today's artists can be inspired by much more. The work often grows out of their interests or expressions of self.

Another important distinguishing factor is that this school of Art has no single viewpoint of view or objective. It is multi-faceted. The artwork, as mentioned before, is often reflective of the artists and therefore has a great diversity of perspectives. It can be said that contemporary art is a complex examination of the current day or present-day life. The themes common to this form of Art are identity, body, technology, society, culture, memory, time passage, and the artistic critique of sociopolitical institutions.

In contemporary art, the viewer is as essential as the artist. The ability of the audience to contemplate the artist's work or art pieces is as essential as the ability of the artist to create those pieces. Audiences play an active role in constructing meaning in the work of Art. Before, this was not like this. It can be explained like this – "If before communicating with art was similar to a game of squash, where a viewer was mainly a passive wall, not it is real tennis, where the very possibility of art's existence without a viewer is questionable."


Art in any form is paramount. There is a need to understand the importance of contemporary art to understand the importance and need to protect it through intellectual property rights or otherwise.

  • Aesthetic value: Contemporary Art has aesthetic value. This type of Art has the capability and capacity of eliciting a response from the viewer. It can elicit a sense of pleasure in the viewer. Because this form of Art is so diverse and incorporates a variety of mediums and methods, Art in this form will likely appeal to every person in some way or the other.
  • Relaxation and Inspiration: Viewing art can be a relaxing activity. Art can pull people out of their racing thoughts and into the present moment to experience it. Research shows that viewing Art can be extremely relaxing. Another thing that contemporary Art does is inspire. Since this form of Art aims to depict and comment on the world, people viewing such artwork can be inspired into action. It pushes viewers to be better versions of themselves.
  • Personal expression: Contemporary Art helps individuals express themselves. It is a means of personal expression. Contemporary Art is so diverse that anyone can express themselves in a way that others can observe and try to understand. This expression can be through paintings, sculptures, performances, etc. This form of Art is thus valuable for society as it gives a unique window into the minds and thoughts of the artist. Just like contemporary Art is a personal expression for the artists, it can be a personal expression of the choices and views of the viewers or audience. Selection of Art to decorate an office or home also helps such a person express themselves and elements of their thoughts even if they have no artistic talent.
  • Cultural Commentary: Contemporary Art allows the artist to make a commentary on the world around them. It is a way to comment on and observe the culture and society. This can include depicting something literally or figuratively through imagery, shapes, or other media and further helps the artist create a narrative of their views. Art becomes a kind of visual historical record of the life of the present time and people's feelings. This cannot be captured in history books, and Art gives a unique lens into the past, present, and future.
  • Thought-provoking: Contemporary Art is thought-provoking in nature. It is communicated to the viewers through stronger visuals than words and can trigger thoughts and emotions. Such Art can promote an internal dialogue that can be sensational and even transformative to a person's mindset.


It has been said that “the main characteristic of contemporary art is its sublime emancipation from the long-adored Romantic notion of the 'original,' what Nicolas Bourriaud has ingeniously described as relational aesthetics." This relational aesthetics states that "one is always already enmeshed in the constant circulation of signs, images, and discourses, and that in this realm there can be no 'outside' or neutral point of view since one's perspective is always already informed and contained by this restricted discursive economy."

This view is against the very basic understanding of copyright or intellectual property rights, which deals with protecting originality and authorship. The Contemporary form of Art seems to go against the very nature of the intellectual property, which aims to protect the creations of the original mind to protect the rights of the creators and help them earn recognition and financial benefit from their work.

Thus, it should be understood that Intellectual Property law is essential to artists of all kinds as it ensures that their creativity is rewarded and their rights protected.

One of the primary reasons the relationship between contemporary art and intellectual property law is so challenging and weird is that the basic principles on which these two are based conflict with each other. Often, Intellectual Property law is seen as a threat to Contemporary Art.


Contemporary Art is mainly based on the reinvention and reworking of existing artwork. It can involve borrowing from existing pieces of Art to bring about a new interpretation or a different reinterpretation of the same work of Art. On the other hand, intellectual property rights and intellectual property law depend on protecting an author's originality. So, the two principles are based on contradicting or contrasting in nature.


So the few key issues that need to be dealt with to come up with a solution to the strained relationship between contemporary art and intellectual property are few.

  • Art is ever evolving while the law is comparatively stagnant: The laws that protect the artwork or the artist's rights, the intellectual property rights laws are stagnant or relatively static, whereas Art and artistic expression are in a constant state of flux and change. This leads to a certain amount of conflict between the two.
  • Contemporary Art draws from existing works of art. It employs technology and manipulation of existing Art and the creation of new Art through the use of existing Art. Originality is in the idea of expression and the reinterpretation of a piece of work. This raises the question of whether contemporary Art infringes the rights of others and to what extent such rights can be infringed for the sake of Art.
  • Intellectual property law has a uniform structure and a 'one-size-fits-all' approach. This means that their protection schemes are predicated on the principle of one-size-fits-all. So, whatever is patentable or copyrightable enjoys the exact scope of protection for a uniform period, no matter how useful or not it is.

To sum up, the relationship between modern contemporary Art and intellectual property is challenging and strained. This is because of the difference in basic underlying principles that govern these two fields. Contemporary art rebels against the traditional originality and believes in reinterpretation and rework of existing artwork where it may need to draw heavily from existing artwork. In contrast, intellectual property law believes in safeguarding originality of expression and where the author’s rights are protected if the work is original enough.


A few have argued that the current intellectual property approach is restrictive and challenging to implement in a one-size-fits-all approach. Maybe the inclusion of new categories in copyright law could help reduce the issues faced by modern contemporary art. There is a need for a new system that strikes the right balance between producing and distributing new ideas. Any intellectual property rights system must make a trade-off between these two inherently conflicting objectives of more production and faster distribution. There is no single correct answer about how this can be done. It needs to be noted that one size does not fit all, and even though simplicity may be a powerful virtue, it can also, at the same time, cause more problems than providing solutions. What is needed is an upheaval of the idea of what can and should be protected by intellectual property rights. Contemporary Art does have a significant influence on society, and the artists or authors of modern contemporary Art also have the right to protect their work. Maybe, artists should be given the option to choose what rights they want to protect and which they are willing to give up. Letting the artist decide what is a fundamental right and whatnot in protecting their artwork could also help reduce the disputes among artists and reduce pointless litigation.


The relationship between the contemporary arts and intellectual property rights is challenging. This is because the basic principles on which these two concepts are based are contrasting and contradictory. The principle of rethinking and reworking and drawing inspiration from existing Art and the principle of originality of expression are in contrast and cause problems for contemporary Art. It can be said that the current Intellectual property system is a threat to contemporary Art. What is required is a complete upheaval or at least upheaval in part of the existing principles of intellectual property.


Q. Why is the relationship between contemporary art and intellectual property rights challenging?

A. The relationship between contemporary art and intellectual property rights was challenging and strained because of the basic principles that these two concepts are based on. Contemporary Art is based on the reinvention and reworking of existing artwork. It can involve borrowing from existing pieces of Art to bring about a new interpretation or a different reinterpretation of the same work of Art. The fundamental principle on which intellectual property law is based in the author's protection for his originality in expressing an idea.

Disclaimer: This article is an original submission of the Author. Niti Manthan does not hold any liability arising out of this article. Kindly refer to our terms of use or write to us in case of any concerns.


[i]PanoramaAntonopoulou-Saliverou, Copyright Protection in Contemporary Art: A State of Insufficiency,

[ii] Ibid.

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