Is art an expression, a surrealist abstract, a movement critiquing social life, or an obsession aestheticised by capitalism

The definition of Art today has become very porous and multifaceted, just like our modern lifestyle. Art has always been an indispensable medium for expressionists, but with the dawning of the modern era, many new and emerging trends have redefined the art market. These growing trends reflect culture, diversity, technological advancement, and global challenges in the ever-changing world. 

Some of the trends that have recently shaped the global art market have been summarised as follows:

Techno upheaval


With technological advancement hitting skyrocket, the upbringing of the Metaverse changed the concept of the digital realm. NFTs are unique intangible objects that can be bought and sold just like any other property, but since they are non-fungible (as the name states) they have unique properties that are not interchangeable. To simplify, they are transactional digital assets within the realm of the metaverse. NFT art is tokenized in blockchain; they are nuances that store data without having to be owned or secured by one entity. Thus, the NFT art collection has transformed the form of art collecting. Similar to physical art, digital art has one original which holds unique value, albeit it can easily be copied and downloaded by other users via screen snips. Despite infringement worries, buyers are still willing to spend top dollar for unique personal-made art. By promoting their work in social media platforms NFT artists have bolstered a massive chunk of revenue from their work. Artists such as PAK and Beeple have grossed a maximum of $291,732,674.58 and $69,346,250.  

The biggest challenge for an NFT artist and their owners is for their art to get plagiarized; although the original copy gets stored in the blockchain, the art media in the form of GIFs, stickers, and pictures can still be misused and reused without issued copyrights. There have also been cases of blockchain breaching, as every NFT record in the blockchain can be accessed and the linked media can be downloaded.  

Art in the 21st century: Contemporary Art Markets - Sheet1
Dijkstra, E (2022). Revolution in Art?_©[NFT].

Rise of AI

With AI-generated art on the rise with AI-powered tools such as DALLE-2, anyone can opt to become an artist of their own. These tools are run by algorithms based on the user’s prompts; With just a text prompt away, one can easily edit images or create an original one from scratch. AI has created a platform for those who do not have access to balloon their creativity, but there has been an ongoing debate as to whether AI-generated art should be considered art at all. Art is genuinely considered a form of an artist’s expression that encapsulates their feelings, and emotions which can be understood on a human level. But when an inanimate emotionless object harnesses millions of data from various mediums to generate an image, will it still be considered art? Regardless, it still does convey the intention of the user, who has the command over the machine.

Art in the 21st century: Contemporary Art Markets - Sheet2
©Anadol, R. (2023). Living Painting Immersive Editions [AI-generated Art]

Meaningful Art Collectives

Artists nowadays also address their art to support a certain charity group or provide donations to support disaster relief groups. Even in the transaction of buying and selling art at an auction, knowing it supports a good cause induces buyers to bid at double or triple the estimated price. In the time of global crisis, Auction houses have not hesitated to aid with disaster relief acknowledging the severity of calamity. A growing number of collectors have also started shifting their values towards supporting artists from marginalized communities (BIPOC, women, LGBTQ+). Thus, art markets have also fruitfully impacted the world with their noble acts.

Art in the 21st century: Contemporary Art Markets - Sheet3
©Toor, S. (2019). 4 Guests. [Painting]

Art as a form of activism

The 21st Century has reimagined the practice of revolt and protest into something that has been aestheticized to express pressing political and social issues. In the late 20th century, activism was put as an intervention to target social injustices and target the needs of marginalized societies. Today, the lines have been blurred between art and activism as artists have full-on aestheticized social action. That is to say, their art is tailored to address what the social realm wants to see.

In turn, art is merely a visual deception of the mass media to manipulate the worldview in a materialized fashion. Through increasingly sophisticated advertising methods, artists have now started making art as though they were activist campaigns, which convinces the masses to consume what has been shown to them. Art is not just confined to us as selling products. We are sold on appearances rather than actual policies as a representative political model. As an epiphany to the critique of Situationist Internationale, Capitalism has aestheticized every part of social reality mediating our image-obsessed world.

©Just Stop Oil (2022). The Paradox of Art as Activism. [Photograph]

Art Markets, as of now

Following the end of WW2, with peace established and worldwide markets opened up, there was a boom in consumer goods. Similar to today’s context, the decline of covid 19 pandemic crisis could see an upsurge in the global market as consumer confidence rise. 

In 2000, Contemporary art markets generated $90 million, and as of 2022, it became the global art market’s principal driver worth $2.7 billion. In 2021/2022, Contemporary art weighed 17.6% of the total art market. Ultra Contemporary art (works of artists under 40) represented just 2.7% of the market. Ultra Contemporary art comprises of Woman artists, NFTs, Street art, African artists, etc., and focuses on the major trends in the art market. Although there was a slight compression of -1.1% due to the pandemic, China led the turnover auction but dropped down to second behind the USA due to Covid policies. The results clearly state the trajectory of art fanatics on the rise and the global expansion of the art market.

Reference List:

– The World Leader In Art Market Information. The key figures for the contemporary art market. [online]
Accessed date: [17 June 2023]

– The ArtReview. Charlesworth J.J.  (16 December 2022). The Paradox of Art as Activism. [online]
Accessed date: [16 June 2023]

– Artsy. Thaddeus-Johns. J (7 December 2022). 5 Trends that defined the art market in 2022. [online]
Accessed date: [17 June 2023]

– The Verge. Clark. M. (June 6, 2022). NFTs Explained. [online]
Accessed date: [17 June 2023]

-Entrepreneur. Staff .E. (February 9 2023). What is NFT art? Everything you need to know. [online]
Accessed date: [17 June 2023]

– 1. Dijkstra, E (2022), Revolution in Art? [NFT].

– 2. Anadol, R. (2023). Living Painting Immersive Editions [AI-generated Art]

-3. Toor, S. (2019). 4 Guests. [Painting]

-4. Just Stop Oil (2022). The Paradox of Art as Activism. [Photograph]


Sumin Bajracharya is a flamboyant architectural designer passionate about design and the wanderlust that comes with it. A nature lover and photography enthusiast who encapsulates the ambiguity of the world through his lens