What Is Contemporary Art? Course Reviews

What Is Contemporary Art? is a course offered on Coursera, authored by Sophie Cavoulacos. The course provides an introduction to the world of contemporary art, exploring its concepts, themes, and practices.

What Is Contemporary Art? Course Reviews
What Is Contemporary Art? Course Reviews

Throughout the course, Sophie Cavoulacos examines the various aspects that define contemporary art, including its historical context, key movements, and influential artists. The course aims to demystify contemporary art and help learners develop a better understanding of its significance and relevance in today's world.

The curriculum covers a wide range of topics related to contemporary art, such as the shift from modernism to postmodernism, the exploration of identity and representation, the use of new media and technology, and the role of institutions and the art market. Students will also delve into discussions on the social, political, and cultural contexts that shape contemporary art.

The course incorporates a combination of video lectures, readings, discussions, and practical exercises to engage learners and deepen their understanding of the subject. Participants will have the opportunity to analyze and interpret contemporary artworks, explore different artistic practices, and develop their own critical perspectives.

By the end of the course, learners will have gained a comprehensive understanding of the diverse and dynamic nature of contemporary art. They will be equipped with the tools to engage with contemporary artworks, think critically about art in a broader context, and appreciate the ongoing conversations and debates within the contemporary art world.

What Is Contemporary Art? is a valuable resource for art enthusiasts, students, and anyone interested in exploring and appreciating the rich landscape of contemporary art.

Course Content:

What is contemporary art? In this course, you’ll consider this question through more than 70 works of art made between 1980 and the present, with a focus on art from the past decade. You’ll hear directly from artists, architects, and designers from around the globe about their creative processes, materials, and inspiration.

Five themes serve as your guide: Media from Television to the Internet, Territories & Transit, Materials & Making, Agency, and Power. You’ll look at 3-D–printed glass and fiber sculptures, performances in a factory and a museum, painted portraits—as well as those made with artificial intelligence—and interventions into television and video games. And much more, all drawn from the collection of The Museum of Modern Art.

Come along as artists invite us into their studios, out into their neighborhoods, and to experiment with the materials they use. Not only will you develop a deeper understanding of how artists work today, you’ll also explore some of their many approaches to the pressing issues and questions of our time. By taking this course, you’ll gain confidence to look at contemporary art wherever you encounter it and make connections to your own life or creative practice.

What Is Contemporary Art? is an online course on Coursera taught by Sophie Cavoulacos, and it consists of 6 weeks. The weeks are as follows:

Week 1: Introduction to What Is Contemporary Art?

1 video (Total 1 min), 6 readings

1 video

What Is Contemporary Art? 51s

6 readings

Welcome to the course! 10m

Course instructors respond: what is contemporary art? 10m

Suggestions for making the most of the course 10m

We want to hear from you 10m

Recordings of live virtual sessions (optional) 10m

Resources: MoMA podcasts, art vocabulary, Magazine, and YouTube channel 10m


Week 2: Media from Television to the Internet

5 videos (Total 14 min), 11 readings, 1 quiz

5 videos

In the studio with Arthur Jafa | "The place where images overlap is you" 3m

Beatriz González on her street posters in Bogotá, 1983 2m

Alfredo Jaar on Lament of the Images, 2002 1m

Dayanita Singh on Museum of Chance, 2013 3m

Susan Kare on designing the first Mac icons, 1980s 3m

11 readings

Introduction to this week10mArthur Jafa, APEX, 2013 10m

Three approaches to appropriation 10m

How do artists and architects share and circulate images? 10m

Two interventions in television and architecture 10m

How are images used to watch and classify us? 10m

Surveilling, seeing, scanning 10m

What do video games and computers have to do with art and design? 10m

JODI on turning desktop order inside out 10m

Serious games and artificial intelligence 10m

Optional Readings & Resources 10m

1 practice exercise

Memory Check


Week 3: Territories & Transit

6 videos (Total 17 min), 9 readings, 1 quiz

6 videos

In the studio with Rael San Fratello | Transforming the wall 5m

Bouchra Khalili on The Mapping Journey Project, 2008–11 3m

Mateo López on Travel without Movement, 2008–10 2m

Shellyne Rodriguez on Martin Wong, Stanton near Forsyth Street, 1983 1m

IRWIN on NSK Garda, 20021m

Amanda Williams on Color(ed) Theory Suite, 2014–16 2m

9 readings

Introduction to this week 10m

Rael San Fratello, Teeter-Totter Wall, 2014 10m

Crossing borders 10m

Claiming space 10m

Changing states 10m

Sky Hopinka on Jáaji Approx., 2015 10m

Portfolio: Teresa Margolles, Pista de baile (Dance Floor), 2016 10m

Optional Readings & Resources 10m

Mid-course survey 5m

1 practice exercise

Memory Check


Week 4: Materials & Making

7 videos (Total 20 min), 10 readings, 1 quiz

7 videos

At the Museum with Sheila Hicks | Form, Texture, Color 4m

Liz Deschenes on Tilt/Swing (360º field of vision, version 1), 2009 1m

Sheela Gowda on Of All People, 2011 3m

3-D printed architecture with Rael San Fratello 4m

Lady Pink on Trust visions that don't feature buckets of blood, 1983–84 2m

Glenn Ligon on White #19, 1994 1m

Amy Sillman on making and unmaking painting 1m

10 readings

Introduction to this week 10m

Sheila Hicks, Pillar of Inquiry/Supple Column, 2013–14 10m

Film, vinyl, and ultrasonic gel 10m

How is contemporary art made? 10m

Building, painting, printing 10m

Luther Price, Sorry, 2005–12 10m

Labor and work in contemporary art 10m

Revital Cohen & Tuur Van Balen on 75 Watt, 2013 10m

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Work/Travail/Arbeid, 2017 10m

Optional Readings & Resources 10m

1 practice exercise

Memory Check


Week 5: Agency

8 videos (Total 22 min), 10 readings, 1 quiz

8 videos

In New York City with Pope.L | Direct action 4m

Two artists consider Catherine Opie, Dyke, 1993 2m

Tania Bruguera on Untitled (Havana, 2000), 2000 4m

Luis Camnitzer on Memorial, 2009 2m

Nick Cave on Soundsuit, 2011 2m

Lorraine O'Grady on Mlle Bourgeoise Noire, 1980–83/2009 2m

Xiao Lu on Dialogue, 1989 2m

Ralph Borland, Suited for Subversion (Prototype), 2002 1m

10 readings

Introduction to this week 10m

William Pope.L's New York crawls 10m

Yara Said on the Refugee Flag, 2016 10m

Firelei Báez on For Améthyste and Athénaïre (Exiled Muses Beyond Jean Luc Nancy’s Canon), Anacaonas, 2018 10m

Who speaks? 10m

Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Conflicted Phonemes, 2012 10m

Patrick Staff on Weed Killer, 2017 10m

Taking action 10m

Defining and blurring identities through performance 10m

Optional Readings & Resources 10m

1 practice exercise

Memory Check


Week 6: Power

5 videos (Total 17 min), 8 readings, 2 quizzes

5 videos

Instructor Christian Rattemeyer on Mark Lombardi's diagrams of power 6m

Deana Lawson on Nation, 2017 2m

Wolfgang Tillmans on Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I, 2014 2m

Curator Paola Antonelli on Massoud Hassani's on Mine Kafon wind-powered deminer, 2011 1m

Rania Ghosn on After Oil, 2016 4m

8 readings

Introduction to the final week 10m

What do war and peace have to do with chandeliers and portraits? 10m

How do artists critique power? 10m

Two responses to abuse of power 10m

Power: sources and resources 10m

Outer space to inner earth 10m

Optional Readings & Resources 10m

End-of-course survey 5m

2 practice exercises

Memory Check

Final course reflection 30m




As a former learner, I would like to review the course What Is Contemporary Art? by Sophie Cavoulacos on Coursera. Overall, I found the course to be highly informative, engaging, and thought-provoking.

Sophie Cavoulacos' expertise in contemporary art is evident throughout the course. Her in-depth knowledge and ability to articulate complex ideas in a clear and accessible manner greatly contributed to my understanding of contemporary art. Her lectures were well-structured, providing a comprehensive overview of the subject while delving into specific movements, artists, and themes.

One aspect that stood out to me was the course's emphasis on contextual understanding. Cavoulacos effectively highlighted the social, political, and cultural contexts that shape contemporary art, allowing me to appreciate its significance and relevance in today's world. This contextual approach helped me develop a deeper appreciation for the artworks and understand the underlying messages they convey.

The course also encouraged critical thinking and discussion. Through the interactive elements, such as forums and discussions with fellow learners, I had the opportunity to exchange ideas, explore different perspectives, and gain insights from diverse viewpoints. This aspect greatly enriched my learning experience and broadened my understanding of contemporary art.

The course materials, including readings and supplemental resources, were well-curated and provided valuable additional information. They allowed me to delve deeper into specific topics and explore the works of notable artists and movements in more detail. The practical exercises and assignments provided opportunities to apply the knowledge gained and develop my own critical analysis skills.

The production quality of the course was excellent. The video lectures were visually engaging, accompanied by relevant images and artworks, enhancing the overall learning experience. The platform's user interface was intuitive and easy to navigate, making it convenient to access course materials and track progress.

One suggestion for improvement would be to incorporate more interactive activities or case studies that allow learners to actively engage with contemporary artworks. This could further enhance the practical application of the knowledge gained and provide a more immersive learning experience.

In conclusion, I highly recommend the course What Is Contemporary Art? by Sophie Cavoulacos on Coursera. It is an enriching and comprehensive exploration of contemporary art, offering valuable insights, fostering critical thinking, and providing a strong foundation for understanding and appreciating this dynamic field.

At the time, the course has an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars based on over 1,742 ratings.

What you'll learn:

After completing the course What Is Contemporary Art? by Sophie Cavoulacos on Coursera, learners will acquire several skills. These skills include:

  1. Understanding Contemporary Art: Participants will gain a comprehensive understanding of contemporary art, including its historical development, key movements, and important artists. They will become familiar with the concepts, themes, and practices that define contemporary art.

  2. Critical Analysis: Learners will develop the ability to critically analyze and interpret contemporary artworks. They will learn how to analyze artistic techniques, explore the underlying concepts and messages, and articulate their own interpretations.

  3. Contextual Understanding: The course emphasizes the social, political, and cultural contexts that shape contemporary art. Students will learn to situate artworks within broader cultural and historical frameworks, enabling them to understand the significance and relevance of contemporary art in society.

  4. Artistic Appreciation: Participants will develop a deeper appreciation for contemporary art and its various forms, including painting, sculpture, installation, performance, video, and digital media. They will learn to engage with different artistic practices and styles, broadening their artistic horizons.

  5. Critical Thinking: The course encourages critical thinking by exploring the debates and controversies within the contemporary art world. Students will learn to evaluate and form their own opinions on issues such as representation, identity, and the role of art institutions.

  6. Communication Skills: Through discussions, assignments, and potentially interacting with fellow learners, students will enhance their communication skills. They will learn to articulate their thoughts, engage in constructive conversations about contemporary art, and express their ideas effectively.

  7. Research and Inquiry: Learners will develop research and inquiry skills by exploring the diverse range of contemporary artworks. They will learn how to conduct research, gather information, and analyze multiple sources to deepen their understanding of specific artists, movements, or themes.

Overall, completing this course equips students with the knowledge, skills, and critical mindset necessary to engage with contemporary art, fostering a deeper appreciation and understanding of this dynamic field.


Sophie Cavoulacos is a prominent figure in the field of contemporary art. She is an accomplished curator and author known for her expertise and contributions to the art world.

Cavoulacos has a deep understanding of contemporary art and its various dimensions. Her extensive knowledge spans across different artistic movements, styles, and themes. She is well-versed in the historical context of contemporary art and its evolution from modernism to postmodernism. Her expertise also extends to the exploration of identity, representation, and the use of new media and technology in art.

As a curator, Cavoulacos has curated numerous exhibitions that showcase cutting-edge contemporary art. Her curatorial work demonstrates a keen eye for selecting artworks that engage with relevant social, political, and cultural issues. She has a talent for creating meaningful and thought-provoking exhibition experiences that challenge conventional notions of art and push boundaries.

Cavoulacos is also a skilled author and educator. Her ability to distill complex ideas and concepts into accessible language makes her an effective communicator. Through her writings and teachings, she has played a crucial role in demystifying contemporary art and making it more approachable for a wider audience. Her work on the course What Is Contemporary Art? on Coursera showcases her ability to provide clear explanations and engaging content for learners.

Overall, Sophie Cavoulacos is highly regarded for her expertise and contributions to the field of contemporary art. Her deep knowledge, curatorial skills, and passion for art enable her to provide valuable insights and perspectives. Her ability to communicate complex ideas in an accessible manner makes her an exceptional educator. Students and art enthusiasts can trust in her expertise and guidance as they navigate the dynamic world of contemporary art.


The requirements for What Is Contemporary Art? by Sophie Cavoulacos on Coursera include:

  1. Access to a computer or mobile device: Students should have access to a computer or mobile device with a stable internet connection to participate in the course.

  2. Basic computer literacy: Learners should have basic computer skills, including the ability to navigate websites, access online resources, and participate in online discussions.

  3. Interest in contemporary art: The course is designed for individuals who have an interest in and curiosity about contemporary art. A genuine enthusiasm for exploring new ideas and artistic expressions is recommended.

  4. Time commitment: Students should allocate sufficient time to engage with the course materials, including watching video lectures, reading assigned texts, and participating in discussions. The recommended time commitment may vary depending on the individual's learning pace.

  5. English proficiency: The course is conducted in English, so a good command of the English language is necessary to understand the lectures, readings, and discussions.

  6. Open-mindedness and critical thinking: The course encourages open-mindedness and critical thinking. Students should be willing to explore new concepts, challenge assumptions, and engage in thoughtful discussions about contemporary art.

  7. Willingness to participate: Active participation is encouraged in the course, including engaging in discussions with fellow learners, sharing insights, and asking questions. Students are encouraged to contribute to a collaborative learning environment.

It's important to note that the specific requirements for the course may vary, and learners should refer to the course description and guidelines provided by Coursera for the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding enrollment and participation in the course.

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