From Medieval art to Renaissance to Neoclassicism to Romanticism to Modern art, and finally to Contemporary, what would be next? If art indeed mirrors culture, we should be able to look deeply into emerging cultural trends to find the next movement. While there is no crystal ball to consult, a few artists and curators are weighing in on the possibilities.

A culture journalist for BBC recently tackled this question in a smaller scope, by asking what we can expect art to look like in 20 years. Through interviews with various curators and artists, he received as many different responses as there were respondents. One can really only look to the past the make predictions for the future. However, one thing they all seemed to agree on is that there will be a trend toward intellectualism, with topics like geopolitics, climate change, and shifting populations taking center stage.

Activism trends shaping art

For example, art historian and curator, Jeffreen M. Hayes, sees a future of mixed media and collapsed boundaries, along with a focus on minority artists. “I imagine art in 20 years will be much more fluid than it is today,” she says, “in the sense of boundaries being collapsed between media, between the kinds of art that is labelled art, in the traditional sense. I also see it being much more representative of our growing and shifting demographics, so more artists of color, more female-identified works, and everything in between.”

The article notes that “activism-art campaigns are indicative of shifting trends toward accountability, also revealing of entrenched power dynamics and dirty money in the art world.” Clearly, activism has already played a large role in contemporary art, especially with the Dada movement and the Fluxus artists. Artists who describe themselves as an “action-oriented movement centering around Indigenous struggle, global warming, global wage workers and de-gentrification.” Last year, the movement protested inside New York’s Whitney Museum of Art against the museum’s vice chairman, who is also the owner of a company that manufactures tear gas. The activists argue that the tear gas is used against oppressed people worldwide, and the museum chairman should be held accountable for his life decisions outside of the art world.

Globalism, visual culture, and immersion

Jean Robertson, Chancellor’s Professor of Art History, Purdue University, writes that 21st century art has begun to move toward a mix of ideals gleaned from globalism, visual culture, and public and participatory art. She notes that while familiar genres continue to be practiced, such as painting, the emerging trend is shifting influences, thanks to the enormous changes in communications and technology. She writes, “Every location around the world has artists who respond to local geographies and histories, as well as the sway of global visual culture.” With increasing globalization and Internet use, practices in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere are actively challenging the traditional assumptions and value judgments of the Western canon.

That visual culture has inspired the rise of other trends, such as immersive art experiences, and artists maintaining an active following on Instagram. Robertson writes, “21st-century artists [are] drawing inspiration, imagery, materials, and concepts from diverse areas of culture”—from graphic novels, to film, to fashion design. This same visual culture is compelling artists to use mixed-media methods to create art, as well as overt physical experiences that involve the viewer’s five senses. In many such examples, the artist incorporates social interactions prompted by a work as the actual content.

Painting is (not) dead

French painter Paul Delaroche (1797-1856) once exclaimed “From today, painting is dead” when he saw the first daguerreotype around 1840. Facts and statistics negate this argument, as according to the BBC article, “In 20 years, the market might not be very different than it is today – dominated by modern painting.” The author notes that paintings still hold the top spots in record-breaking sales, and are still what sells most at auction houses, art fairs, and galleries.

The future is….?

Returning to the original question, if art imitates culture, it is easy to see where future trends would go. In fact, the true disruption to the art world (if it happens soon) would be one that returns to traditional methods. As some artists and art historians note, “Of all the mediums, painting is perhaps the one that has most doggedly remained associated with tradition.”

However, it’s also true that along with the longevity of painting, there is still room for boundless artistic freedom. This disruption would be a great one for painters, since as noted earlier, paintings continue to sell the most often, and at the highest price. It is ultimately up to the audience and patrons to decide.