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What is the Contemporary?

‘Of whom and of what are we contemporaries? What does it mean to be contemporary?’

James Riley introduced Giorgio Agamben’s “What Is the Contemporary?” from What is an Apparatus? and Other Essays , trans. David Kishik and Stefan Pedatella (Stanford University Press, 2009):

Agamben interprets the contemporary as an experience of profound dissonance:

‘Contemporariness is, then, a singular relationship with one’s own time, which adheres to it and, at the same time, keeps a distance from it.   More  precisely, it is that relationship with time that adheres to it, through a disjunction and an anachronism.’

Such a quote reminds us of the frequent elision that occurs between the conceptualisation of the ‘modern’ and the categorization of the ‘contemporary’. The terms are not synonyms. To be ‘contemporary’ is to experience a state of proximity with one’s temporality. In his discussion, Agamben attempts to articulate the idea that the contemporary is an ahistorical concept; not a label of periodization, but an existential marker.  This perspective foregrounds the critical importance of context and re-contextualisation when forming and understanding of ‘contemporary literature’. For Agamben, the mode of thought that this position demands is one that involves an integral epistemological difficulty:

The contemporary is he who firmly holds his gaze on his own time so as to perceive not its light, but rather its darkness. All eras, for those who experience contemporariness, are obscure. The contemporary is precisely the person who knows how to see this obscurity, who is able to write by dipping his pen in the obscurity of the present.

Contemporaneity as the perception of darkness. Agamben’s language is not without its own rhetorical obscurity at this point, but for a dramatization of the perspective he outlines we might look to Heart of Darkness . Historically it is a ‘modern’ novel but in its particular incorporation of narration, proximity and obscurity it encapsulates and also speaks from a point of con / temporal  extimacy.

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contemporary essay means

50 Must-Read Contemporary Essay Collections

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Liberty Hardy

Liberty Hardy is an unrepentant velocireader, writer, bitey mad lady, and tattoo canvas. Turn-ons include books, books and books. Her favorite exclamation is “Holy cats!” Liberty reads more than should be legal, sleeps very little, frequently writes on her belly with Sharpie markers, and when she dies, she’s leaving her body to library science. Until then, she lives with her three cats, Millay, Farrokh, and Zevon, in Maine. She is also right behind you. Just kidding! She’s too busy reading. Twitter: @MissLiberty

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I feel like essay collections don’t get enough credit. They’re so wonderful! They’re like short story collections, but TRUE. It’s like going to a truth buffet. You can get information about sooooo many topics, sometimes in one single book! To prove that there are a zillion amazing essay collections out there, I compiled 50 great contemporary essay collections, just from the last 18 months alone.  Ranging in topics from food, nature, politics, sex, celebrity, and more, there is something here for everyone!

I’ve included a brief description from the publisher with each title. Tell us in the comments about which of these you’ve read or other contemporary essay collections that you love. There are a LOT of them. Yay, books!

Must-Read Contemporary Essay Collections

They can’t kill us until they kill us  by hanif abdurraqib.

“In an age of confusion, fear, and loss, Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib’s is a voice that matters. Whether he’s attending a Bruce Springsteen concert the day after visiting Michael Brown’s grave, or discussing public displays of affection at a Carly Rae Jepsen show, he writes with a poignancy and magnetism that resonates profoundly.”

Would Everybody Please Stop?: Reflections on Life and Other Bad Ideas  by Jenny Allen

“Jenny Allen’s musings range fluidly from the personal to the philosophical. She writes with the familiarity of someone telling a dinner party anecdote, forgoing decorum for candor and comedy. To read  Would Everybody Please Stop?  is to experience life with imaginative and incisive humor.”

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Longthroat Memoirs: Soups, Sex and Nigerian Taste Buds  by Yemisi Aribisala

“A sumptuous menu of essays about Nigerian cuisine, lovingly presented by the nation’s top epicurean writer. As well as a mouth-watering appraisal of Nigerian food,  Longthroat Memoirs  is a series of love letters to the Nigerian palate. From the cultural history of soup, to fish as aphrodisiac and the sensual allure of snails,  Longthroat Memoirs  explores the complexities, the meticulousness, and the tactile joy of Nigerian gastronomy.”

Beyond Measure: Essays  by Rachel Z. Arndt

“ Beyond Measure  is a fascinating exploration of the rituals, routines, metrics and expectations through which we attempt to quantify and ascribe value to our lives. With mordant humor and penetrating intellect, Arndt casts her gaze beyond event-driven narratives to the machinery underlying them: judo competitions measured in weigh-ins and wait times; the significance of the elliptical’s stationary churn; the rote scripts of dating apps; the stupefying sameness of the daily commute.”

Magic Hours  by Tom Bissell

“Award-winning essayist Tom Bissell explores the highs and lows of the creative process. He takes us from the set of  The Big Bang Theory  to the first novel of Ernest Hemingway to the final work of David Foster Wallace; from the films of Werner Herzog to the film of Tommy Wiseau to the editorial meeting in which Paula Fox’s work was relaunched into the world. Originally published in magazines such as  The Believer ,  The New Yorker , and  Harper’s , these essays represent ten years of Bissell’s best writing on every aspect of creation—be it Iraq War documentaries or video-game character voices—and will provoke as much thought as they do laughter.”

Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession  by Alice Bolin

“In this poignant collection, Alice Bolin examines iconic American works from the essays of Joan Didion and James Baldwin to  Twin Peaks , Britney Spears, and  Serial , illuminating the widespread obsession with women who are abused, killed, and disenfranchised, and whose bodies (dead and alive) are used as props to bolster men’s stories. Smart and accessible, thoughtful and heartfelt, Bolin investigates the implications of our cultural fixations, and her own role as a consumer and creator.”

Betwixt-and-Between: Essays on the Writing Life  by Jenny Boully

“Jenny Boully’s essays are ripe with romance and sensual pleasures, drawing connections between the digression, reflection, imagination, and experience that characterizes falling in love as well as the life of a writer. Literary theory, philosophy, and linguistics rub up against memory, dreamscapes, and fancy, making the practice of writing a metaphor for the illusory nature of experience.  Betwixt and Between  is, in many ways, simply a book about how to live.”

Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give by Ada Calhoun

“In  Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give , Ada Calhoun presents an unflinching but also loving portrait of her own marriage, opening a long-overdue conversation about the institution as it truly is: not the happy ending of a love story or a relic doomed by high divorce rates, but the beginning of a challenging new chapter of which ‘the first twenty years are the hardest.’”

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays  by Alexander Chee

“ How to Write an Autobiographical Novel  is the author’s manifesto on the entangling of life, literature, and politics, and how the lessons learned from a life spent reading and writing fiction have changed him. In these essays, he grows from student to teacher, reader to writer, and reckons with his identities as a son, a gay man, a Korean American, an artist, an activist, a lover, and a friend. He examines some of the most formative experiences of his life and the nation’s history, including his father’s death, the AIDS crisis, 9/11, the jobs that supported his writing—Tarot-reading, bookselling, cater-waiting for William F. Buckley—the writing of his first novel,  Edinburgh , and the election of Donald Trump.”

Too Much and Not the Mood: Essays  by Durga Chew-Bose

“ Too Much and Not the Mood is a beautiful and surprising exploration of what it means to be a first-generation, creative young woman working today. On April 11, 1931, Virginia Woolf ended her entry in A Writer’s Diary with the words ‘too much and not the mood’ to describe her frustration with placating her readers, what she described as the ‘cramming in and the cutting out.’ She wondered if she had anything at all that was truly worth saying. The attitude of that sentiment inspired Durga Chew-Bose to gather own writing in this lyrical collection of poetic essays that examine personhood and artistic growth. Drawing inspiration from a diverse group of incisive and inquiring female authors, Chew-Bose captures the inner restlessness that keeps her always on the brink of creative expression.”

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy  by Ta-Nehisi Coates

“‘We were eight years in power’ was the lament of Reconstruction-era black politicians as the American experiment in multiracial democracy ended with the return of white supremacist rule in the South. In this sweeping collection of new and selected essays, Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the tragic echoes of that history in our own time: the unprecedented election of a black president followed by a vicious backlash that fueled the election of the man Coates argues is America’s ‘first white president.’”

Look Alive Out There: Essays by Sloane Crosley

“In  Look Alive Out There,  whether it’s scaling active volcanoes, crashing shivas, playing herself on  Gossip Girl,  befriending swingers, or squinting down the barrel of the fertility gun, Crosley continues to rise to the occasion with unmatchable nerve and electric one-liners. And as her subjects become more serious, her essays deliver not just laughs but lasting emotional heft and insight. Crosley has taken up the gauntlets thrown by her predecessors—Dorothy Parker, Nora Ephron, David Sedaris—and crafted something rare, affecting, and true.”

Fl â neuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London  by Lauren Elkin

“Part cultural meander, part memoir,  Flâneuse  takes us on a distinctly cosmopolitan jaunt that begins in New York, where Elkin grew up, and transports us to Paris via Venice, Tokyo, and London, all cities in which she’s lived. We are shown the paths beaten by such  flâneuses  as the cross-dressing nineteenth-century novelist George Sand, the Parisian artist Sophie Calle, the wartime correspondent Martha Gellhorn, and the writer Jean Rhys. With tenacity and insight, Elkin creates a mosaic of what urban settings have meant to women, charting through literature, art, history, and film the sometimes exhilarating, sometimes fraught relationship that women have with the metropolis.”

Idiophone  by Amy Fusselman

“Leaping from ballet to quiltmaking, from the The Nutcracker to an Annie-B Parson interview,  Idiophone  is a strikingly original meditation on risk-taking and provocation in art and a unabashedly honest, funny, and intimate consideration of art-making in the context of motherhood, and motherhood in the context of addiction. Amy Fusselman’s compact, beautifully digressive essay feels both surprising and effortless, fueled by broad-ranging curiosity, and, fundamentally, joy.”

Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture  by Roxane Gay

“In this valuable and revealing anthology, cultural critic and bestselling author Roxane Gay collects original and previously published pieces that address what it means to live in a world where women have to measure the harassment, violence, and aggression they face, and where they are ‘routinely second-guessed, blown off, discredited, denigrated, besmirched, belittled, patronized, mocked, shamed, gaslit, insulted, bullied’ for speaking out.”

Sunshine State: Essays  by Sarah Gerard

“With the personal insight of  The Empathy Exams , the societal exposal of  Nickel and Dimed , and the stylistic innovation and intensity of her own break-out debut novel  Binary Star , Sarah Gerard’s  Sunshine State  uses the intimately personal to unearth the deep reservoirs of humanity buried in the corners of our world often hardest to face.”

The Art of the Wasted Day  by Patricia Hampl

“ The Art of the Wasted Day  is a picaresque travelogue of leisure written from a lifelong enchantment with solitude. Patricia Hampl visits the homes of historic exemplars of ease who made repose a goal, even an art form. She begins with two celebrated eighteenth-century Irish ladies who ran off to live a life of ‘retirement’ in rural Wales. Her search then leads to Moravia to consider the monk-geneticist, Gregor Mendel, and finally to Bordeaux for Michel Montaigne—the hero of this book—who retreated from court life to sit in his chateau tower and write about whatever passed through his mind, thus inventing the personal essay.”

A Really Big Lunch: The Roving Gourmand on Food and Life  by Jim Harrison

“Jim Harrison’s legendary gourmandise is on full display in  A Really Big Lunch . From the titular  New Yorker  piece about a French lunch that went to thirty-seven courses, to pieces from  Brick ,  Playboy , Kermit Lynch Newsletter, and more on the relationship between hunter and prey, or the obscure language of wine reviews,  A Really Big Lunch  is shot through with Harrison’s pointed aperçus and keen delight in the pleasures of the senses. And between the lines the pieces give glimpses of Harrison’s life over the last three decades.  A Really Big Lunch  is a literary delight that will satisfy every appetite.”

Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me  by Bill Hayes

“Bill Hayes came to New York City in 2009 with a one-way ticket and only the vaguest idea of how he would get by. But, at forty-eight years old, having spent decades in San Francisco, he craved change. Grieving over the death of his partner, he quickly discovered the profound consolations of the city’s incessant rhythms, the sight of the Empire State Building against the night sky, and New Yorkers themselves, kindred souls that Hayes, a lifelong insomniac, encountered on late-night strolls with his camera.”

Would You Rather?: A Memoir of Growing Up and Coming Out  by Katie Heaney

“Here, for the first time, Katie opens up about realizing at the age of twenty-eight that she is gay. In these poignant, funny essays, she wrestles with her shifting sexuality and identity, and describes what it was like coming out to everyone she knows (and everyone she doesn’t). As she revisits her past, looking for any ‘clues’ that might have predicted this outcome, Katie reveals that life doesn’t always move directly from point A to point B—no matter how much we would like it to.”

Tonight I’m Someone Else: Essays  by Chelsea Hodson

“From graffiti gangs and  Grand Theft Auto  to sugar daddies, Schopenhauer, and a deadly game of Russian roulette, in these essays, Chelsea Hodson probes her own desires to examine where the physical and the proprietary collide. She asks what our privacy, our intimacy, and our own bodies are worth in the increasingly digital world of liking, linking, and sharing.”

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life.: Essays  by Samantha Irby

“With  We Are Never Meeting in Real Life. , ‘bitches gotta eat’ blogger and comedian Samantha Irby turns the serio-comic essay into an art form. Whether talking about how her difficult childhood has led to a problem in making ‘adult’ budgets, explaining why she should be the new Bachelorette—she’s ’35-ish, but could easily pass for 60-something’—detailing a disastrous pilgrimage-slash-romantic-vacation to Nashville to scatter her estranged father’s ashes, sharing awkward sexual encounters, or dispensing advice on how to navigate friendships with former drinking buddies who are now suburban moms—hang in there for the Costco loot—she’s as deft at poking fun at the ghosts of her past self as she is at capturing powerful emotional truths.”

This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America  by Morgan Jerkins

“Doubly disenfranchised by race and gender, often deprived of a place within the mostly white mainstream feminist movement, black women are objectified, silenced, and marginalized with devastating consequences, in ways both obvious and subtle, that are rarely acknowledged in our country’s larger discussion about inequality. In  This Will Be My Undoing , Jerkins becomes both narrator and subject to expose the social, cultural, and historical story of black female oppression that influences the black community as well as the white, male-dominated world at large.”

Everywhere Home: A Life in Essays  by Fenton Johnson

“Part retrospective, part memoir, Fenton Johnson’s collection  Everywhere Home: A Life in Essays  explores sexuality, religion, geography, the AIDS crisis, and more. Johnson’s wanderings take him from the hills of Kentucky to those of San Francisco, from the streets of Paris to the sidewalks of Calcutta. Along the way, he investigates questions large and small: What’s the relationship between artists and museums, illuminated in a New Guinean display of shrunken heads? What’s the difference between empiricism and intuition?”

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter: Essays  by Scaachi Koul

“In  One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter , Scaachi Koul deploys her razor-sharp humor to share all the fears, outrages, and mortifying moments of her life. She learned from an early age what made her miserable, and for Scaachi anything can be cause for despair. Whether it’s a shopping trip gone awry; enduring awkward conversations with her bikini waxer; overcoming her fear of flying while vacationing halfway around the world; dealing with Internet trolls, or navigating the fears and anxieties of her parents. Alongside these personal stories are pointed observations about life as a woman of color: where every aspect of her appearance is open for critique, derision, or outright scorn; where strict gender rules bind in both Western and Indian cultures, leaving little room for a woman not solely focused on marriage and children to have a career (and a life) for herself.”

Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions  by Valeria Luiselli and jon lee anderson (translator)

“A damning confrontation between the American dream and the reality of undocumented children seeking a new life in the U.S. Structured around the 40 questions Luiselli translates and asks undocumented Latin American children facing deportation,  Tell Me How It Ends  (an expansion of her 2016 Freeman’s essay of the same name) humanizes these young migrants and highlights the contradiction between the idea of America as a fiction for immigrants and the reality of racism and fear—both here and back home.”

All the Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen to Be Famous Strangers  by Alana Massey

“Mixing Didion’s affected cool with moments of giddy celebrity worship, Massey examines the lives of the women who reflect our greatest aspirations and darkest fears back onto us. These essays are personal without being confessional and clever in a way that invites readers into the joke. A cultural critique and a finely wrought fan letter, interwoven with stories that are achingly personal, All the Lives I Want is also an exploration of mental illness, the sex industry, and the dangers of loving too hard.”

Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish: Essays  by Tom McCarthy

“Certain points of reference recur with dreamlike insistence—among them the artist Ed Ruscha’s  Royal Road Test , a photographic documentation of the roadside debris of a Royal typewriter hurled from the window of a traveling car; the great blooms of jellyfish that are filling the oceans and gumming up the machinery of commerce and military domination—and the question throughout is: How can art explode the restraining conventions of so-called realism, whether aesthetic or political, to engage in the active reinvention of the world?”

Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America  by Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding

“When 53 percent of white women voted for Donald Trump and 94 percent of black women voted for Hillary Clinton, how can women unite in Trump’s America? Nasty Women includes inspiring essays from a diverse group of talented women writers who seek to provide a broad look at how we got here and what we need to do to move forward.”

Don’t Call Me Princess: Essays on Girls, Women, Sex, and Life  by Peggy Orenstein

“Named one of the ’40 women who changed the media business in the last 40 years’ by  Columbia Journalism Review , Peggy Orenstein is one of the most prominent, unflinching feminist voices of our time. Her writing has broken ground and broken silences on topics as wide-ranging as miscarriage, motherhood, breast cancer, princess culture and the importance of girls’ sexual pleasure. Her unique blend of investigative reporting, personal revelation and unexpected humor has made her books bestselling classics.”

When You Find Out the World Is Against You: And Other Funny Memories About Awful Moments  by Kelly Oxford

“Kelly Oxford likes to blow up the internet. Whether it is with the kind of Tweets that lead  Rolling Stone  to name her one of the Funniest People on Twitter or with pictures of her hilariously adorable family (human and animal) or with something much more serious, like creating the hashtag #NotOkay, where millions of women came together to share their stories of sexual assault, Kelly has a unique, razor-sharp perspective on modern life. As a screen writer, professional sh*t disturber, wife and mother of three, Kelly is about everything but the status quo.”

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman  by Anne Helen Petersen

“You know the type: the woman who won’t shut up, who’s too brazen, too opinionated—too much. She’s the unruly woman, and she embodies one of the most provocative and powerful forms of womanhood today. In  Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud , Anne Helen Petersen uses the lens of ‘unruliness’ to explore the ascension of pop culture powerhouses like Lena Dunham, Nicki Minaj, and Kim Kardashian, exploring why the public loves to love (and hate) these controversial figures. With its brisk, incisive analysis,  Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud  will be a conversation-starting book on what makes and breaks celebrity today.”

Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist  by Franchesca Ramsey

“In her first book, Ramsey uses her own experiences as an accidental activist to explore the many ways we communicate with each other—from the highs of bridging gaps and making connections to the many pitfalls that accompany talking about race, power, sexuality, and gender in an unpredictable public space…the internet.”

Shrewed: A Wry and Closely Observed Look at the Lives of Women and Girls  by Elizabeth Renzetti

“Drawing upon Renzetti’s decades of reporting on feminist issues,  Shrewed  is a book about feminism’s crossroads. From Hillary Clinton’s failed campaign to the quest for equal pay, from the lessons we can learn from old ladies to the future of feminism in a turbulent world, Renzetti takes a pointed, witty look at how far we’ve come—and how far we have to go.”

What Are We Doing Here?: Essays  by Marilynne Robinson

“In this new essay collection she trains her incisive mind on our modern political climate and the mysteries of faith. Whether she is investigating how the work of great thinkers about America like Emerson and Tocqueville inform our political consciousness or discussing the way that beauty informs and disciplines daily life, Robinson’s peerless prose and boundless humanity are on full display.”

Double Bind: Women on Ambition  by Robin Romm

“‘A work of courage and ferocious honesty’ (Diana Abu-Jaber),  Double Bind  could not come at a more urgent time. Even as major figures from Gloria Steinem to Beyoncé embrace the word ‘feminism,’ the word ‘ambition’ remains loaded with ambivalence. Many women see it as synonymous with strident or aggressive, yet most feel compelled to strive and achieve—the seeming contradiction leaving them in a perpetual double bind. Ayana Mathis, Molly Ringwald, Roxane Gay, and a constellation of ‘nimble thinkers . . . dismantle this maddening paradox’ ( O, The Oprah Magazine ) with candor, wit, and rage. Women who have made landmark achievements in fields as diverse as law, dog sledding, and butchery weigh in, breaking the last feminist taboo once and for all.”

The Destiny Thief: Essays on Writing, Writers and Life  by Richard Russo

“In these nine essays, Richard Russo provides insight into his life as a writer, teacher, friend, and reader. From a commencement speech he gave at Colby College, to the story of how an oddly placed toilet made him reevaluate the purpose of humor in art and life, to a comprehensive analysis of Mark Twain’s value, to his harrowing journey accompanying a dear friend as she pursued gender-reassignment surgery,  The Destiny Thief  reflects the broad interests and experiences of one of America’s most beloved authors. Warm, funny, wise, and poignant, the essays included here traverse Russo’s writing life, expanding our understanding of who he is and how his singular, incredibly generous mind works. An utter joy to read, they give deep insight into the creative process from the prospective of one of our greatest writers.”

Curry: Eating, Reading, and Race by Naben Ruthnum

“Curry is a dish that doesn’t quite exist, but, as this wildly funny and sharp essay points out, a dish that doesn’t properly exist can have infinite, equally authentic variations. By grappling with novels, recipes, travelogues, pop culture, and his own upbringing, Naben Ruthnum depicts how the distinctive taste of curry has often become maladroit shorthand for brown identity. With the sardonic wit of Gita Mehta’s  Karma Cola  and the refined, obsessive palette of Bill Buford’s  Heat , Ruthnum sinks his teeth into the story of how the beloved flavor calcified into an aesthetic genre that limits the imaginations of writers, readers, and eaters.”

The River of Consciousness  by Oliver Sacks

“Sacks, an Oxford-educated polymath, had a deep familiarity not only with literature and medicine but with botany, animal anatomy, chemistry, the history of science, philosophy, and psychology.  The River of Consciousness  is one of two books Sacks was working on up to his death, and it reveals his ability to make unexpected connections, his sheer joy in knowledge, and his unceasing, timeless project to understand what makes us human.”

All the Women in My Family Sing: Women Write the World: Essays on Equality, Justice, and Freedom (Nothing But the Truth So Help Me God)  by Deborah Santana and America Ferrera

“ All the Women in My Family Sing  is an anthology documenting the experiences of women of color at the dawn of the twenty-first century. It is a vital collection of prose and poetry whose topics range from the pressures of being the vice-president of a Fortune 500 Company, to escaping the killing fields of Cambodia, to the struggles inside immigration, identity, romance, and self-worth. These brief, trenchant essays capture the aspirations and wisdom of women of color as they exercise autonomy, creativity, and dignity and build bridges to heal the brokenness in today’s turbulent world.”

We Wear the Mask: 15 True Stories of Passing in America  by Brando Skyhorse and Lisa Page

“For some, ‘passing’ means opportunity, access, or safety. Others don’t willingly pass but are ‘passed’ in specific situations by someone else.  We Wear the Mask , edited by  Brando Skyhorse  and  Lisa Page , is an illuminating and timely anthology that examines the complex reality of passing in America. Skyhorse, a Mexican American, writes about how his mother passed him as an American Indian before he learned who he really is. Page shares how her white mother didn’t tell friends about her black ex-husband or that her children were, in fact, biracial.”

Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith

“Since she burst spectacularly into view with her debut novel almost two decades ago, Zadie Smith has established herself not just as one of the world’s preeminent fiction writers, but also a brilliant and singular essayist. She contributes regularly to  The New Yorker  and the  New York Review of Books  on a range of subjects, and each piece of hers is a literary event in its own right.”

The Mother of All Questions: Further Reports from the Feminist Revolutions  by Rebecca Solnit

“In a timely follow-up to her national bestseller  Men Explain Things to Me , Rebecca Solnit offers indispensable commentary on women who refuse to be silenced, misogynistic violence, the fragile masculinity of the literary canon, the gender binary, the recent history of rape jokes, and much more. In characteristic style, Solnit mixes humor, keen analysis, and powerful insight in these essays.”

The Wrong Way to Save Your Life: Essays  by Megan Stielstra

“Whether she’s imagining the implications of open-carry laws on college campuses, recounting the story of going underwater on the mortgage of her first home, or revealing the unexpected pains and joys of marriage and motherhood, Stielstra’s work informs, impels, enlightens, and embraces us all. The result is something beautiful—this story, her courage, and, potentially, our own.”

Against Memoir: Complaints, Confessions & Criticisms  by Michelle Tea

“Delivered with her signature honesty and dark humor, this is Tea’s first-ever collection of journalistic writing. As she blurs the line between telling other people’s stories and her own, she turns an investigative eye to the genre that’s nurtured her entire career—memoir—and considers the price that art demands be paid from life.”

A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause  by Shawn Wen

“In precise, jewel-like scenes and vignettes,  A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause  pays homage to the singular genius of a mostly-forgotten art form. Drawing on interviews, archival research, and meticulously observed performances, Wen translates the gestural language of mime into a lyric written portrait by turns whimsical, melancholic, and haunting.”

Acid West: Essays  by Joshua Wheeler

“The radical evolution of American identity, from cowboys to drone warriors to space explorers, is a story rooted in southern New Mexico.  Acid West  illuminates this history, clawing at the bounds of genre to reveal a place that is, for better or worse, home. By turns intimate, absurd, and frightening,  Acid West  is an enlightening deep-dive into a prophetic desert at the bottom of America.”

Sexographies  by Gabriela Wiener and Lucy Greaves And jennifer adcock (Translators)

“In fierce and sumptuous first-person accounts, renowned Peruvian journalist Gabriela Wiener records infiltrating the most dangerous Peruvian prison, participating in sexual exchanges in swingers clubs, traveling the dark paths of the Bois de Boulogne in Paris in the company of transvestites and prostitutes, undergoing a complicated process of egg donation, and participating in a ritual of ayahuasca ingestion in the Amazon jungle—all while taking us on inward journeys that explore immigration, maternity, fear of death, ugliness, and threesomes. Fortunately, our eagle-eyed voyeur emerges from her narrative forays unscathed and ready to take on the kinks, obsessions, and messiness of our lives.  Sexographies  is an eye-opening, kamikaze journey across the contours of the human body and mind.”

The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative  by Florence Williams

“From forest trails in Korea, to islands in Finland, to eucalyptus groves in California, Florence Williams investigates the science behind nature’s positive effects on the brain. Delving into brand-new research, she uncovers the powers of the natural world to improve health, promote reflection and innovation, and strengthen our relationships. As our modern lives shift dramatically indoors, these ideas—and the answers they yield—are more urgent than ever.”

Can You Tolerate This?: Essays  by Ashleigh Young

“ Can You Tolerate This?  presents a vivid self-portrait of an introspective yet widely curious young woman, the colorful, isolated community in which she comes of age, and the uneasy tensions—between safety and risk, love and solitude, the catharsis of grief and the ecstasy of creation—that define our lives.”

What are your favorite contemporary essay collections?

contemporary essay means

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The Contemporary Essay / Introduction: Form, Genre, and Style / Lola Boorman, Ella Barker, & Luke Young

contemporary essay means

Patron saint of the essay, Montaigne, looking on.

Begin with Montaigne. Reach for Adorno, for Sontag, for formal comparisons. Scramble to find literary histories, look towards established national traditions, to print culture, to the end of print culture. Retreat into definition: to “essayer,” to “try,” to “fail.” Find yourself back at Montaigne. 

Why is it so complicated to write about the essay? 

The essay is one of our most dynamic, playful, and irreverent literary forms. It is also our most ubiquitous, comprising modes of artistic production (literary, filmic, photographic) and the means by which we critique them. Nevertheless, writing about the essay, by artists or scholars, often falls back into familiar patterns and formulas, replicating the same uncertainties. 

In this cluster, we collaboratively explore alternative methods of scholarly exchange on the essay (conversation, collaborative close reading, critical fragments) that work through the cliches and paradoxes of the essay as a cultural and artistic form. Short pieces by our contributors—Kathryn Murphy, Alexandra Kingston-Reese, Gillian Russell, Philip Coleman, and Heather Macpherson—generate new ways of thinking about the essay’s familiar (if underexplored) genres and characteristics, raising questions about essayistic style to theorize and historically situate the essay’s formal and generic affiliations in the contemporary sphere. Our pieces each explore various genres and characteristics of essay writing: the personal essay, the poet’s essay, the critical essay, the visual essay, the political essay, the essay’s “prepositionality.” And each piece asks whether, indeed, we can speak of the essay in terms of genre or whether the essay, as Christy Wampole suggests, is simply “what happens when [writing] cannot be contained by its generic borders.” 

This cluster has emerged from a research network on The Contemporary Essay established at the University of York in 2020. The project was formed to stabilize an emerging body of scholarly work on the essay and to establish an international, interdisciplinary network of scholars. The group convened through a series of virtual reading groups and research events. What we initially saw as an impoverished form of academic exchange (Zoom) became a means of connecting a group of essay enthusiasts in the UK (including the Oxford Essays Research Group), Ireland, and the US in ways that would never have been possible before. The cluster records and extends our conversations over the past two years, which frequently circled back to the persistent problem of writing about the essay, to the irony, as Thomas Karshan and Kathryn Murphy put it, of writing “academic work on a form so resistant to methodical scholarship.” Our collaborative conclusion, a dialogue edited from a Zoom conversation, naturally skirts around this while reflecting on the possible futures of contemporary essay studies. 

This is part of the cluster The Contemporary Essay .  Read the other posts here .

Lola Boorman

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contemporary

Definition of contemporary

 (Entry 1 of 2)

Definition of contemporary  (Entry 2 of 2)

Did you know?

Contemporary can be confusing because of its slightly different meanings. In everyday use, it generally means simply "modern" or "new". But before the 20th century it instead referred only to things from the same era as certain other things; so, for instance, Jesus was contemporary with the Roman emperors Augustus and Tiberius, and Muhammad was contemporary with Pope Gregory the Great. And contemporary is also a noun: thus, Jane Austen's contemporaries included Coleridge and Wordsworth, and your own contemporaries were born around the same year that you were.

  • coextensive
  • coincidental
  • contemporaneous
  • coterminous
  • simultaneous
  • synchronous

contemporary , contemporaneous , coeval , synchronous , simultaneous , coincident mean existing or occurring at the same time.

contemporary is likely to apply to people and what relates to them.

contemporaneous is more often applied to events than to people.

coeval refers usually to periods, ages, eras, eons.

synchronous implies exact correspondence in time and especially in periodic intervals.

simultaneous implies correspondence in a moment of time.

coincident is applied to events and may be used in order to avoid implication of causal relationship.

Examples of contemporary in a Sentence

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'contemporary.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

probably borrowed from New Latin contemporārius "existing at the same period of time," from Latin con- con- + tempor-, tempus "time" + -ārius -ary entry 2 — more at tempo

Note: The suffixation may be modeled on Latin temporārius ; see temporary entry 1 .

derivative of contemporary entry 1 , or from nominal use of its probable source, New Latin contemporārius

1614, in the meaning defined at sense 2

1614, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Articles Related to contemporary

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Dictionary Entries Near contemporary

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Cite this Entry

“Contemporary.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary , Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/contemporary. Accessed 24 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition

Kids definition of contemporary.

Kids Definition of contemporary  (Entry 2 of 2)

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What Are the Different Types and Characteristics of Essays?

  • An Introduction to Punctuation
  • Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia
  • M.A., Modern English and American Literature, University of Leicester
  • B.A., English, State University of New York

The term essay comes from the French for "trial" or "attempt." French author Michel de Montaigne coined the term when he assigned the title Essais to his first publication in 1580. In "Montaigne: A Biography" (1984), Donald Frame notes that Montaigne "often used the verb essayer (in modern French, normally to try ) in ways close to his project, related to experience, with the sense of trying out or testing."

An essay is a short work of nonfiction , while a writer of essays is called an essayist. In writing instruction, essay is often used as another word for composition . In an essay, an authorial voice  (or narrator ) typically invites an implied reader  (the audience ) to accept as authentic a certain textual mode of experience. 

Definitions and Observations

  • "[An essay is a] composition , usually in prose .., which may be of only a few hundred words (like Bacon's "Essays") or of book length (like Locke's "Essay Concerning Human Understanding") and which discusses, formally or informally, a topic or a variety of topics." (J.A. Cuddon, "Dictionary of Literary Terms". Basil, 1991)
  • " Essays are how we speak to one another in print — caroming thoughts not merely in order to convey a certain packet of information, but with a special edge or bounce of personal character in a kind of public letter." (Edward Hoagland, Introduction, "The Best American Essays : 1999". Houghton, 1999)
  • "[T]he essay traffics in fact and tells the truth, yet it seems to feel free to enliven, to shape, to embellish, to make use as necessary of elements of the imaginative and the fictive — thus its inclusion in that rather unfortunate current designation ' creative nonfiction .'" (G. Douglas Atkins, "Reading Essays: An Invitation". University of Georgia Press, 2007)

Montaigne's Autobiographical Essays "Although Michel de Montaigne, who fathered the modern essay in the 16th century, wrote autobiographically (like the essayists who claim to be his followers today), his autobiography was always in the service of larger existential discoveries. He was forever on the lookout for life lessons. If he recounted the sauces he had for dinner and the stones that weighted his kidney, it was to find an element of truth that we could put in our pockets and carry away, that he could put in his own pocket. After all, Philosophy — which is what he thought he practiced in his essays, as had his idols, Seneca and Cicero, before him — is about 'learning to live.' And here lies the problem with essayists today: not that they speak of themselves, but that they do so with no effort to make their experience relevant or useful to anyone else, with no effort to extract from it any generalizable insight into the human condition." (Cristina Nehring, "What’s Wrong With the American Essay." Truthdig, Nov. 29, 2007)

The Artful Formlessness of the Essay "[G]ood essays are works of literary art. Their supposed formlessness is more a strategy to disarm the reader with the appearance of unstudied spontaneity than a reality of composition. . . . "The essay form as a whole has long been associated with an experimental method. This idea goes back to Montaigne and his endlessly suggestive use of the term essai for his writing. To essay is to attempt, to test, to make a run at something without knowing whether you are going to succeed. The experimental association also derives from the other fountain-head of the essay, Francis Bacon , and his stress on the empirical inductive method, so useful in the development of the social sciences." (Phillip Lopate, "The Art of the Personal Essay". Anchor, 1994)

Articles vs. Essays "[W]hat finally distinguishes an essay from an article may just be the author's gumption, the extent to which personal voice, vision, and style are the prime movers and shapers, even though the authorial 'I' may be only a remote energy, nowhere visible but everywhere present." (Justin Kaplan, ed. "The Best American Essays: 1990". Ticknor & Fields, 1990) "I am predisposed to the essay with knowledge to impart — but, unlike journalism, which exists primarily to present facts, the essays transcend their data, or transmute it into personal meaning. The memorable essay, unlike the article, is not place or time-bound; it survives the occasion of its original composition. Indeed, in the most brilliant essays, language is not merely the medium of communication ; it is communication." (Joyce Carol Oates, quoted by Robert Atwan in "The Best American Essays, College Edition", 2nd ed. Houghton Mifflin, 1998) "I speak of a 'genuine' essay because fakes abound. Here the old-fashioned term poetaster may apply, if only obliquely. As the poetaster is to the poet — a lesser aspirant — so the average article is to the essay: a look-alike knockoff guaranteed not to wear well. An article is often gossip. An essay is reflection and insight. An article often has the temporary advantage of social heat — what's hot out there right now. An essay's heat is interior. An article can be timely, topical, engaged in the issues and personalities of the moment; it is likely to be stale within the month. In five years it may have acquired the quaint aura of a rotary phone. An article is usually Siamese-twinned to its date of birth. An essay defies its date of birth — and ours, too. (A necessary caveat: some genuine essays are popularly called 'articles' — but this is no more than an idle, though persistent, habit of speech. What's in a name? The ephemeral is the ephemeral. The enduring is the enduring.)" (Cynthia Ozick, "SHE: Portrait of the Essay as a Warm Body." The Atlantic Monthly, September 1998)

The Status of the Essay "Though the essay has been a popular form of writing in British and American periodicals since the 18th century, until recently its status in the literary canon has been, at best, uncertain. Relegated to the composition class, frequently dismissed as mere journalism, and generally ignored as an object for serious academic study, the essay has sat, in James Thurber's phrase, ' on the edge of the chair of Literature.' "In recent years, however, prompted by both a renewed interest in rhetoric and by poststructuralist redefinitions of literature itself, the essay — as well as such related forms of 'literary nonfiction' as biography , autobiography , and travel and nature writing — has begun to attract increasing critical attention and respect." (Richard Nordquist, "Essay," in "Encylopedia of American Literature", ed. S. R. Serafin. Continuum, 1999)

The Contemporary Essay "At present, the American magazine essay , both the long feature piece and the critical essay, is flourishing, in unlikely circumstances... "There are plenty of reasons for this. One is that magazines, big and small, are taking over some of the cultural and literary ground vacated by newspapers in their seemingly unstoppable evaporation. Another is that the contemporary essay has for some time now been gaining energy as an escape from, or rival to, the perceived conservatism of much mainstream fiction... "So the contemporary essay is often to be seen engaged in acts of apparent anti-novelization: in place of plot , there is drift or the fracture of numbered paragraphs; in place of a frozen verisimilitude, there may be a sly and knowing movement between reality and fictionality; in place of the impersonal author of standard-issue third-person realism, the authorial self pops in and out of the picture, with a liberty hard to pull off in fiction." (James Wood, "Reality Effects." The New Yorker, Dec. 19 & 26, 2011)

The Lighter Side of Essays: "The Breakfast Club" Essay Assignment "All right people, we're going to try something a little different today. We are going to write an essay of not less than a thousand words describing to me who you think you are. And when I say 'essay,' I mean 'essay,' not one word repeated a thousand times. Is that clear, Mr. Bender?" (Paul Gleason as Mr. Vernon) Saturday, March 24, 1984 Shermer High School Shermer, Illinois 60062 Dear Mr. Vernon, We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. What we did was wrong. But we think you're crazy to make us write this essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us — in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That's the way we saw each other at seven o'clock this morning. We were brainwashed... But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain and an athlete and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club (Anthony Michael Hall as Brian Johnson, "The Breakfast Club", 1985)

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  • Definition and Examples of Analysis in Composition
  • The Title in Composition
  • What is a Familiar Essay in Composition?
  • Understanding Organization in Composition and Speech
  • Development in Composition: Building an Essay
  • What Is Tone In Writing?
  • List (Grammar and Sentence Styles)
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  • Compose a Narrative Essay or Personal Statement

Situation Critical Fall 2016

contemporary essay means

Defining Contemporary: From History to Future

What is contemporary? If someone asks me, I cannot help but ask back: in what terms? Do you want the dictionary definition? Philosophical definition? One knows such question of categorization cannot be answered succinctly (unless the person who answers is too annoyed or without knowledge), since these terms do not always concur with a fixed definition. Though the core to these terms remain in temporality, they mean more than just time; the terms encompass philosophy, style, historical background, ideologies, and much more. As such, critically defining these terms is a complex task.

Contemporary, in art and museum world, therefore encompasses both the sense of being literally present, or pertaining to presentism , and something more . I know it bothers people that this something more cannot clearly be defined. But again, viewing contemporary solely as being present has problems: Are modernism and postmodernism dead then? Is an artist who is stylistically anachronistic but born during the 21 st century a contemporary artist? As such, simply denoting contemporary art in terms of presentism generates contradictions and complications. How, then, do we define contemporary? I define contemporary as the harmony between presentism and contextualization through multi-temporalities. Contemporary encompasses both new sensibility, undisturbed by context and past, and previously overlooked sensibility, discovered through re-reading of historical context. That is, contemporary is defined by both multi-temporal, historical context and present, avant-garde spirit toward future.

Attempt at Contemporary

One attempt to define contemporary is Claire Bishop’s attempt to politicize and contextualize the term. In Claire Bishop’s book “Radical Museology,” Bishop defines contemporary in two terms:

  • Presentism – thinking of our current moment as the horizon and destination of our thoughts
  • Dialectical method and a politicized project with a more radical understanding of temporality.

First definition is easy to grasp; this definition pertains to presence itself. However, the definition of dialectical contemporary is in some sense radically different. Bishop further defines this dialectical contemporary as she writes, “What I call a dialectical contemporary seeks to navigate multiple temporalities within a more political horizon. Rather than simply claim that many or all times are present in each historical object, we need to ask why certain temporalities appear in particular works of art at specific historical moments. Furthermore, this analysis is motivated by desires to understand our present condition and how to change it.” Multiple temporalities, politicization, history, and better future are the keys to her argument. She believes that contemporary involves multiple temporalities, in which these temporalities and specific historical moments reinforce the sensibility and the context of specific works; the politicization of works through the lens of multiple temporalities, which motivates us toward better future, is what she believes to be contemporary. To further understand what she means by this, we need to take a closer look at Bishop’s examples of her new notion of contemporary. She praises Van Abbemuseum for its attempt to build historical consciousness of museum itself, Reina Sofia for rethinking education and the medium-specific status of the collection, and MSUM for displaying multiple, overlapping time periods (temporalities) to discover previously overlooked historical context.

Reflecting on Bishop’s definition of dialectical contemporary, I understand the importance of contextualization in more profoundly appreciating the work of art. However, although I agree that contemporary seeks multiple-temporalities, Bishop’s notion of contemporary too strongly emphasizes historical and educational role of contemporary; Bishop downplays the importance of presentism.

Presentism and Avant-garde

Contemporary, residing in presentism, is also the springboard for a new, breakthrough sensibility in future. This sensibility involves both technical novelty and resistance against current political tendency (which in Bishop’s case is neo-liberalism). I understand that re-reading historical context of artworks can be great in understanding previously unseen sensibilities; for instance, Bishop praised Reina Sofia for displaying historically relevant newspapers, magazines, songs, and other mediums next to an artwork, creating an overall. more enlightening context for the work. I am sure this exhibition technique discloses previously unnoticed sensibility; as you unveil context and as it reinforces new meaning to work, the work may appear differently. However, though I agree with Bishop’s idea of politicization and historicization to a certain extent, her definition of contemporary seems to neglect or lacks to prioritize the search for a new, avant-garde sensibility. This particular new sensibility is the sensibility that is both challenging to current political concern (neo-liberalism) and is stylistically novel. Although I think Bishop’s vision can set up challenges to current neo-liberal market driven world of contemporary, I doubt if it can expand on avant-garde spirit. Bishop’s definition does not empower presentism as it prioritizes politicization, and this downplay of presentism in comparison to dialectical contemporary discomfits me. Being present and being without ties to history and politicization clears away the distractions for the emergence of avant-garde sensibilities. Thinking of contemporary within historical context is important and enlightening, but genuine avant-garde spirit, that is central to the progress of art in its search for stylistically ‘new,’ should deserve higher or at least equal priority in defining contemporary.

Contemporary Is…

Therefore, contemporary is about both presentism to achieve avant-garde, new sensibility in future, and dialectical contemporary that understands works through certain context established by multi-temporalities and politicization. This definition encompassses the efforts both to be stylistically new and to understand work more deeply through politicization and contextualization. Though my definition is similar to that of Claire Bishop, I want to define contemporary more in terms of presentism rather than of historicization and politicization. I understand that she has problems with neoliberal tendency of art institutions and thus, her definition of contemporary is in a way reactionary to neo-liberalism. However, this backlash definition cannot propel contemporary forward, toward future. Bishop certainly uses the notion of future in her contemporary dialectics, saying that understanding history prepares us for future. I agree with her that understanding work from multiple temporalities and multiple mediums is fruitful for our future attitude in exploring art. However, contemporary art should not be too subject to analysis and contextualization for its progress in sensibilities. If her definition of contemporary emphasizes reframing and re-reading, I emphasize more of presentism. Focusing on senses of present moment increases the possibility for new sensibilities that transcends historical and political context. Because Bishop’s definition is more reactionary to what she hates, which is neo-liberal forces that increasingly affect contemporary, her definition tends to overlook what is central to the progress of art: genuine, avant-garde pursuit of new sensibilities.

Contemporary is both about presentism and contextualization of work through multiple temporalities. First definition stays conducive to the emergence of new sensibilities, and the second definition enables one to see work’s previously unveiled sensibilities. I agree with Bishop’s approach to define contemporary, but I wish that she does not overlook the power of presentism. The power of rereading and reframing is great, it educates us. But art is more than education. It is about exploration of new sensibilities: new sensibilities in style, retained by an artwork itself and intended by its author (not requiring other contexts from multi-temporalities). Contemporary belongs to both sense and logical understanding, and these two work harmonically toward future sensibility that is both completely new (avant-garde) and re-contextualized (previously overlooked). Contemporary should not divert away from presentism just because present is filled with market-driven epidemic of capitalism; in fact, it is sometimes de-contextualization and focus on present moment that produces new sensibility, completely new and groundbreaking in its style and resistant to neo-liberal market context.

550 Comments

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I found lots of solace in reading this piece; my own reflection on “contemporary” asked just as many questions as yours did at first, some of them very similar. However, you did a much better job than I was able to at creating a sort of working definition that, as you state, is so hard to come by. I agree with your assertion that a sense of presentism has been lost in Bishop’s valiant attempts to tie historicization to the contemporary. I read her argument to still believe in such a presentism that you call for, though I agree that she could have been more intentional about explaining that. Either way, we can all agree that “the emergence of new sensibilities” and the need to “see work’s previously unveiled sensibilities” are both necessary endeavors when trying to define a work’s place within “the contemporary.”

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Similarly to Mai, I really admire the way you carefully worked through this very difficult issue and didn’t give up until you reached a conclusion that felt right to you. I completely agree that at times Bishop’s argument seemed to devalue the idea of the present a little too much. You bravely combined your own opinions with with Bishop’s grounding to put forth a formidable argument. I think I could learn a lot from the thought process you present here. Thank you for your meticulous work!

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Jae — This is a marvelous piece. Your insistence that we retain a place for “presentism” as capable of transformation beyond the anything goes relativism of the contemporary (!) global ideology of neoliberalism is important. It retains a space for the pursuit of what you refer to as genuinely new sensibilities. It also reminds me that there’s a conservative impulse buried in Bishop’s argument. She implies that conserving the past by remixing it as an archive of the commons becomes a better mode of radicalism in the present, a way to change things for the better. You remind us that while this isn’t a terrible thing, it does block out art that might actually be fully new and not just a remix of the past. And that is important. Hers is in some sense a kind of reaction to the present; you argue for keeping a space where not just reaction, but fresh and unprecedented action might occur, both aesthetically and, by extension, ideologically and politically. It would be interesting to try to map this out a bit more: what kind of presentism might be different from the latest easily absorbed mode of rebellion on offer in the global art market? What might its outlines or contours look like? Those are difficult questions to answer, since your whole point is that it might be new, and therefore unrecognizable at first, but still, as a critic, worth trying to imagine. I like your tone in this piece too, the crisp sentences, abbreviated, sometimes even choppy sentences create a kind of urgency that fits with your argument. Nice work.

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contemporary essay means

10 Contemporary American Essayists You Should Be Reading Right Now

Today marks the release of celebrated novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson’s newest collection of essays, When I Was a Child I Read Books . We’ve been excited about this book for a while now, so if you’ve been reading our books coverage with any regularity you probably already know we think it’s something worth picking up. Great as it is, Robinson’s collection only whet our appetites for more essays by contemporary writers, so in case it does the same for you, we’ve put together a list of contemporary essayists we think everyone should be reading right now (or, you know, whenever you finish watching Downton Abbey ). We’ve tried to stick to authors who are still alive — so David Foster Wallace and Christopher Hitchens are off the table, though they both would have made this list with flying colors were they still with us — and limited ourselves to American writers, but even with those caveats, there is enough in these writers’ oeuvres to keep you up and thinking for weeks on end. Click through to read our list, and please do add your own suggestions for top-notch essayists we should all be reading in the comments.

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Marilynne Robinson

Though Robinson is much lauded for her fiction (she won the Pulitzer Prize for her second novel, Gilead ), she is equally adored for her incisive essays, which often take hard looks at Americanism and the social political system writ both large and very small. Dorris Lessing called her 1998 collection, The Death of Adam , “a useful antidote to the increasingly crude and slogan-loving culture we inhabit,” and we’re comfortable expanding that statement to Robinson’s work at large — always challenging, always thought provoking, always making us want to be better.

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John Jeremiah Sullivan

Sullivan’s recent collection, Pulphead , has had everyone raving since it hit shelves in October — and with good reason. With exacting, witty prose, Sullivan tackles pop culture and history with equal ability, writing about everything from Real World alumni to Christian rock festivals in the Ozarks to Constantine Rafinesque, a nineteenth-century genius struggling for a foothold. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll wonder about modern existence — and what else are essays for?

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Cynthia Ozick

Though David Foster Wallace was disqualified from this list, he lives on in Ozick, whom he listed (alongside Cormac McCarthy and Don DeLillo) as one of the country’s best living fiction writers. From the king of the contemporary essay, that’s a ringing endorsement. Not that she really needs it, however — Ozick has no less than seven essay collections to her name, alongside a host of novels and short fiction, and writes on almost every subject, though she tends to favor the Jewish American lens. Her prose is perfectly self-conscious, sharp and crystal clear, she is witty and definitely smarter than you. Which is really never bad.

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John D’Agata

D’Agata, already a celebrated essayist, has been in the news recently due to the release of The Lifespan of a Fact , a years-long conversation between D’Agata and his fact checker about the very nature of essay-writing. The book must itself, of course, be a semi-fiction, proving its own point, in a way — but that just makes the whole thing all the more interesting. But if for no other reason, you should read D’Agata because he’s tackling questions that have long stumped both readers and writers, and will probably continue to for some time. Better get acquainted.

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An important social equality activist and scholar, bell hooks’ writings are must-reads for anyone. Incredibly prolific both in the academic and essay format (and in many other types of media as well), hooks writes about race, gender, feminism, class, art, and the world at large, often through a postmodern lens. She is fiery and unabashed about her beliefs, as every intelligent woman should be, and though this has of course caused some to criticize her, it has caused many more to love her. Obviously, we’re in the latter camp.

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Sarah Vowell

The author of six nonfiction books on American history and culture as well as many essays, Vowell is practiced at cultural criticism. A frequent contributor to This American Life , where many of her essays get their starts, she comes at the contemporary social world with a supreme understanding of our country’s past. After all, she does write a lot about assassinated presidents. Fun fact: she’s also a voice actor, best known for her portrayal as Violet Parr in The Incredibles . Though she doesn’t really need it, we admit that makes us like her more.

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Elif Batuman

Elif Batuman’s first collection of essays, The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them , published last year, reveals her to be a complete nerd — in the best of ways, of course. Unpretentiously in love with literature and blessed with a relentlessly charming voice, almost everything we read by Batuman sends us scrambling back to our bookshelves for that novel she’s reminded us we’re dying to dive into. And that, friends, is always a good thing.

contemporary essay means

Touré sort of has a hand in everything — he writes essays and short stories, has a novel under his belt, is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone and hosts hip-hop shows on Fuse. Constant through all his mediums, however, are his insightful, intimate — and often hilarious — observations about race, class, and the wild and crazy world of pop culture. In his most recent book, Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?: What It Means to Be Black Now , he explores race as “a completely liquid shape-shifter that can take any form” and aims “to attack and destroy the idea that there is a correct or legitimate way of doing blackness.” Provocative and brilliant, we think this is a guy who’ll keep changing the cultural landscape for years to come.

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David Shields

Like D’Agata, Shields is concerned with probing the edges of what makes an essay an essay — or if we should even have terms like “essay” at all. In his 2010 book Reality Hunger , Shields argues that the “lyric essay” is contemporary culture’s premier literary form — but that such terms don’t really matter, as all of culture is in the midst of getting mixed up in a huge intellectual blender. While we had our issues with the book, he makes some fascinating points, all worth reading in this age of mash-ups and DIY and shifting intellectual property rights.

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Sloane Crosley

Crosley’s hilarious personal essays are smart and observant and relentlessly sly. Like a lady Sedaris, she wins you over with self-deprecating humor and indignant reactions to the weirdness of the everyday world. Though her essays are no intellectual slog, they will make you smile, commiserate, and perhaps enjoy your day just a little bit more.

Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts

Expository Essays

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Welcome to the Purdue OWL

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Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.

The Modes of Discourse—Exposition, Description, Narration, Argumentation (EDNA)—are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the wide spread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.

What is an expository essay?

The expository essay is a genre of essay that requires the student to investigate an idea, evaluate evidence, expound on the idea, and set forth an argument concerning that idea in a clear and concise manner. This can be accomplished through comparison and contrast, definition, example, the analysis of cause and effect, etc.

Please note : This genre is commonly assigned as a tool for classroom evaluation and is often found in various exam formats.

The structure of the expository essay is held together by the following.

  • A clear, concise, and defined thesis statement that occurs in the first paragraph of the essay.

It is essential that this thesis statement be appropriately narrowed to follow the guidelines set forth in the assignment. If the student does not master this portion of the essay, it will be quite difficult to compose an effective or persuasive essay.

  • Clear and logical transitions between the introduction, body, and conclusion.

Transitions are the mortar that holds the foundation of the essay together. Without logical progression of thought, the reader is unable to follow the essay’s argument, and the structure will collapse.

  • Body paragraphs that include evidential support.

Each paragraph should be limited to the exposition of one general idea. This will allow for clarity and direction throughout the essay. What is more, such conciseness creates an ease of readability for one’s audience. It is important to note that each paragraph in the body of the essay must have some logical connection to the thesis statement in the opening paragraph.

  • Evidential support (whether factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal).

Often times, students are required to write expository essays with little or no preparation; therefore, such essays do not typically allow for a great deal of statistical or factual evidence.

  • A bit of creativity!

Though creativity and artfulness are not always associated with essay writing, it is an art form nonetheless. Try not to get stuck on the formulaic nature of expository writing at the expense of writing something interesting. Remember, though you may not be crafting the next great novel, you are attempting to leave a lasting impression on the people evaluating your essay.

  • A conclusion that does not simply restate the thesis, but readdresses it in light of the evidence provided.

It is at this point of the essay that students will inevitably begin to struggle. This is the portion of the essay that will leave the most immediate impression on the mind of the reader. Therefore, it must be effective and logical. Do not introduce any new information into the conclusion; rather, synthesize and come to a conclusion concerning the information presented in the body of the essay.

A complete argument

Perhaps it is helpful to think of an essay in terms of a conversation or debate with a classmate. If I were to discuss the cause of the Great Depression and its current effect on those who lived through the tumultuous time, there would be a beginning, middle, and end to the conversation. In fact, if I were to end the exposition in the middle of my second point, questions would arise concerning the current effects on those who lived through the Depression. Therefore, the expository essay must be complete, and logically so, leaving no doubt as to its intent or argument.

The five-paragraph Essay

A common method for writing an expository essay is the five-paragraph approach. This is, however, by no means the only formula for writing such essays. If it sounds straightforward, that is because it is; in fact, the method consists of:

  • an introductory paragraph
  • three evidentiary body paragraphs
  • a conclusion

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  • Knowledge Base
  • How to write an expository essay

How to Write an Expository Essay | Structure, Tips & Examples

Published on July 14, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on July 23, 2023.

“Expository” means “intended to explain or describe something.” An expository essay provides a clear, focused explanation of a particular topic, process, or set of ideas. It doesn’t set out to prove a point, just to give a balanced view of its subject matter.

Expository essays are usually short assignments intended to test your composition skills or your understanding of a subject. They tend to involve less research and original arguments than argumentative essays .

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Table of contents

When should you write an expository essay, how to approach an expository essay, introducing your essay, writing the body paragraphs, concluding your essay, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about expository essays.

In school and university, you might have to write expository essays as in-class exercises, exam questions, or coursework assignments.

Sometimes it won’t be directly stated that the assignment is an expository essay, but there are certain keywords that imply expository writing is required. Consider the prompts below.

The word “explain” here is the clue: An essay responding to this prompt should provide an explanation of this historical process—not necessarily an original argument about it.

Sometimes you’ll be asked to define a particular term or concept. This means more than just copying down the dictionary definition; you’ll be expected to explore different ideas surrounding the term, as this prompt emphasizes.

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See an example

contemporary essay means

An expository essay should take an objective approach: It isn’t about your personal opinions or experiences. Instead, your goal is to provide an informative and balanced explanation of your topic. Avoid using the first or second person (“I” or “you”).

The structure of your expository essay will vary according to the scope of your assignment and the demands of your topic. It’s worthwhile to plan out your structure before you start, using an essay outline .

A common structure for a short expository essay consists of five paragraphs: An introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

Like all essays, an expository essay begins with an introduction . This serves to hook the reader’s interest, briefly introduce your topic, and provide a thesis statement summarizing what you’re going to say about it.

Hover over different parts of the example below to see how a typical introduction works.

In many ways, the invention of the printing press marked the end of the Middle Ages. The medieval period in Europe is often remembered as a time of intellectual and political stagnation. Prior to the Renaissance, the average person had very limited access to books and was unlikely to be literate. The invention of the printing press in the 15th century allowed for much less restricted circulation of information in Europe, paving the way for the Reformation.

The body of your essay is where you cover your topic in depth. It often consists of three paragraphs, but may be more for a longer essay. This is where you present the details of the process, idea or topic you’re explaining.

It’s important to make sure each paragraph covers its own clearly defined topic, introduced with a topic sentence . Different topics (all related to the overall subject matter of the essay) should be presented in a logical order, with clear transitions between paragraphs.

Hover over different parts of the example paragraph below to see how a body paragraph is constructed.

The invention of the printing press in 1440 changed this situation dramatically. Johannes Gutenberg, who had worked as a goldsmith, used his knowledge of metals in the design of the press. He made his type from an alloy of lead, tin, and antimony, whose durability allowed for the reliable production of high-quality books. This new technology allowed texts to be reproduced and disseminated on a much larger scale than was previously possible. The Gutenberg Bible appeared in the 1450s, and a large number of printing presses sprang up across the continent in the following decades. Gutenberg’s invention rapidly transformed cultural production in Europe; among other things, it would lead to the Protestant Reformation.

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The conclusion of an expository essay serves to summarize the topic under discussion. It should not present any new information or evidence, but should instead focus on reinforcing the points made so far. Essentially, your conclusion is there to round off the essay in an engaging way.

Hover over different parts of the example below to see how a conclusion works.

The invention of the printing press was important not only in terms of its immediate cultural and economic effects, but also in terms of its major impact on politics and religion across Europe. In the century following the invention of the printing press, the relatively stationary intellectual atmosphere of the Middle Ages gave way to the social upheavals of the Reformation and the Renaissance. A single technological innovation had contributed to the total reshaping of the continent.

If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!

  • Ad hominem fallacy
  • Post hoc fallacy
  • Appeal to authority fallacy
  • False cause fallacy
  • Sunk cost fallacy

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An expository essay is a broad form that varies in length according to the scope of the assignment.

Expository essays are often assigned as a writing exercise or as part of an exam, in which case a five-paragraph essay of around 800 words may be appropriate.

You’ll usually be given guidelines regarding length; if you’re not sure, ask.

An expository essay is a common assignment in high-school and university composition classes. It might be assigned as coursework, in class, or as part of an exam.

Sometimes you might not be told explicitly to write an expository essay. Look out for prompts containing keywords like “explain” and “define.” An expository essay is usually the right response to these prompts.

An argumentative essay tends to be a longer essay involving independent research, and aims to make an original argument about a topic. Its thesis statement makes a contentious claim that must be supported in an objective, evidence-based way.

An expository essay also aims to be objective, but it doesn’t have to make an original argument. Rather, it aims to explain something (e.g., a process or idea) in a clear, concise way. Expository essays are often shorter assignments and rely less on research.

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Essays About the Contemporary World: Top 5 Examples

We live in a very different world from the one our parents lived in; if you are writing essays about the contemporary world, you can start by reading essay examples.

The contemporary world refers to the circumstances and ideas of our current time. From costly conflicts to tremendous political developments to a global pandemic, it is safe to say that the 21st century has been quite chaotic. Recent events have put various issues including bodily autonomy, climate change, and territorial sovereignty, at the forefront of the global discussion.

A good understanding of the contemporary world helps us become more conscious, responsible citizens, no matter what country we are from. Therefore, many schools have included subjects such as “the contemporary world” or “contemporary issues” in their curricula. 

If you wish to write essays about the contemporary world, here are five essay examples to help you. 

You might also be interested in these essays about engineering and essays about cooperation .

1. Our Future Is Now by Francesca Minicozzi

2. what it may be like after the chaos by kassidy pratt, 3. does social media actually reflect reality by kalev leetaru.

  • 4.  Importance of English by Terry Walton

5. The Meaning of Life in Modern Society (Author Unknown)

Top prompts on essays about the contemporary world, 1. the effects of technology, 2. why you should keep up with current events, 3. college education: is it essential, 4. politics in the contemporary world, 5. modern contemporary issues.

“Our globe is in dire need of help, and the coronavirus reminds the world of what it means to work together. This pandemic marks a turning point in global efforts to slow down climate change. The methods we enact towards not only stopping the spread of the virus, but slowing down climate change, will ultimately depict how humanity will arise once this pandemic is suppressed. The future of our home planet lies in how we treat it right now.”

Minicozzi discusses the differences in the U.K.’s and her native U.S.’s approaches to one of today’s greatest issues: climate change. The U.K. makes consistent efforts to reduce pollution, while the U.S., led by President Donald Trump, treats the issue with little to no regard. She laments her homeland’s inaction and concludes her essay with suggestions for Americans to help fight climate change in their way. 

“College began, in-person classes were allowed, but with half the students, all social distanced, wearing a mask at all times. Wearing a mask became natural, where leaving without one felt like I was leaving without my phone. It is our normal for now, and it has worked to slow the spread. With the vaccines beginning to roll out, we all hope that soon things will go back to the way

we remember them a year ago before the pandemic began.”

Pratt reflects on her school life throughout the COVID-19 pandemic in this short essay. She recalls the early days of class suspension, the lockdowns, and the social distancing and mask guidelines. She understands why it has to be this way but remains hopeful that things will return as they once were. 

You might be interested in these essays about cheating .

“While a tweet by Bieber to his tens of millions of followers will no doubt be widely read, it is unlikely that his musings on the Syrian peace process will suddenly sway the warring factions and yield overnight peace. In fact, this is a common limitation of many social analyses: the lack of connection between social reality and physical reality. A person who is highly influential in the conversation on Twitter around a particular topic may or may not yield any influence in the real world on that topic.”

Leetaru criticizes the perception that social media gives users that what they see is an accurate representation of contemporary worldviews. However, this is not the case, as the content that social media shows you are based on your interactions with other content, and specific demographics dominate these platforms. As a result, people should be more aware that not everything they read on social media is accurate. 

4.   Importance of English by Terry Walton

“We can use English to develop ourselves culturally and materially so that we can compete with the best side in the world of mind and matter. We can say that English language is our window to the world. One of advantage is that it is the world most used business and political language. Those who are still unaware about the importance of English. They should start learning English as a time come when everything would be understood spoken and written in English.”

According to author Terry Walton, proficiency in the English language is vital in today’s world. He discusses its status as a lingua franca used by people worldwide. He also lists some of the ways English is used today, such as in business, science and technology, and education. 

“The socialites have ensured the meaning of life is to push their followers beyond their healthy lives by making them feel that they are only worthy of keeping tabs on the next big thing that they are engaging. These socialites have ensured that life has been reduced to the detrimental appraisal of egos. They have guaranteed that the experience of social media is the only life worth living in the modern society.”

This essay describes the idea in contemporary culture that prioritizes social media image over well-being. People have become so obsessed with monitoring likes and follow that their lives revolve around social media. We seldom genuinely know a person based on their online presence. The meaning of life is reduced to the idea of a “good” life rather than the true reality. 

Essays About the Contemporary World: The effects of technology

Technology is everywhere in our life –  in social media, internet services, and artificial intelligence. How do you think technology affects the world today, and how will it affect the future? If this topic seems too broad, you can focus on technology in one particular sector, such as education or medicine. Describe the common technologies used in everyday life, and discuss the benefits and disadvantages of relying on these technologies.

In your essay, you can write about the importance of being aware of whatever is happening in the contemporary world. Discuss lessons you can learn from current events and the advantages of being more conscious or knowledgeable in day-to-day life.

In the 21st century, we have heard many success stories of people who dropped out or did not attend college. In addition, more and more job opportunities no longer require a college degree. Decide whether or not a college education is still necessary in the contemporary world and discuss why. Also include context, such as reasons why people do not attend college.

Many countries have undergone drastic political changes, from coups d’état to wars to groundbreaking elections. In your essay, write about one important political event, global or in your home country, in the contemporary world. Provide context by giving the causes and effects of your chosen event. 

From vaccination to the racial justice movement to gun control. For your essay, you can pick a topic and explain your stance on it. Provide a defensible argument, and include ample evidence such as statistics, research, and news articles. 

Tip: If writing an essay sounds like a lot of work, simplify it. Write a simple 5 paragraph essay instead.

If you’d like to learn more, check out our guide on how to write an argumentative essay .

contemporary essay means

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Definition of 'contemporary'

  • contemporary

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Meaning of contemporary in English

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contemporary adjective ( MODERN )

  • modern The building was made using modern construction techniques.
  • up to date The hospital has some of the most up-to-date equipment in the country.
  • latest She always wears the latest fashions.
  • cutting-edge Computers have brought cutting-edge technology into the classroom.
  • high-tech Divers with high-tech equipment discovered the wreck of the ship.
  • The contemporary dance scene is flourishing in Britain at the moment .
  • The band's sound is very contemporary.
  • I thought the contemporary dialogue sounded a little out of place .
  • She gave a series of lectures on contemporary British writers .
  • Contemporary psychology tells us that a person's mental health is supported by having good social networks .
  • contemporaneity
  • contemporarily
  • in this day and age idiom
  • the status quo
  • there's no time like the present idiom
  • this minute idiom

contemporary adjective ( OF SAME PERIOD )

  • They are very similar artists , but they are not contemporary.
  • Contemporary readers would have understood these political references very clearly .
  • anachronism
  • anachronistic
  • anachronistically
  • chronological
  • chronologically
  • contemporaneously
  • cut into something
  • dendrochronology
  • retroaction
  • retroactive
  • retroactively
  • retrospective
  • retrospectively
  • synchronically
  • a friend in need is a friend indeed idiom
  • acquaintance
  • acquaintanceship
  • acquainted with someone
  • fair-weather friend
  • non-contemporary
  • office spouse
  • on further acquaintance
  • with friends like you, who needs enemies? idiom

contemporary | Intermediate English

Contemporary adjective ( existing now ), contemporary adjective ( of the same period ), contemporary noun [c] ( person of the same period ), contemporary noun [c] ( person existing now ), contemporary | business english, examples of contemporary, translations of contemporary.

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a game played by two or more children in which one child chases the others and tries to touch one of them. This child then becomes the one who does the chasing.

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Essay on Contemporary Art

Students are often asked to write an essay on Contemporary Art in their schools and colleges. And if you’re also looking for the same, we have created 100-word, 250-word, and 500-word essays on the topic.

Let’s take a look…

100 Words Essay on Contemporary Art

What is contemporary art.

Contemporary art is art made today by living artists. It shows what’s going on in the world and often uses new materials and ideas. It’s like a mirror that reflects our society, culture, and technology.

Styles in Contemporary Art

This art is very diverse. Some artists paint, others use computers or recycle things to make sculptures. There are no fixed rules, so artists can try whatever they like to express their thoughts and feelings.

Themes of Contemporary Art

Many contemporary artists talk about important topics like nature, politics, or personal stories. Their work can make us think and feel things about these issues.

Where to Find Contemporary Art

You can see contemporary art in museums, galleries, or even on the streets. Some art is only for looking, while other pieces invite you to touch or walk around them.

Why it Matters

Contemporary art helps us see the world in new ways. It can surprise, confuse, or excite us. It’s a way for artists to share their ideas with us, and for us to see things from a different point of view.

250 Words Essay on Contemporary Art

What is contemporary art.

Contemporary art is the art made today by living artists. It shows what is happening in our world and explores modern ideas, technology, and society. Artists create paintings, sculptures, videos, and other artworks that can surprise or make us think.

Styles and Materials

Artists in contemporary art use all sorts of materials, not just paint or clay. They might use plastic, glass, or even digital tools to make art. There are many different styles too, like abstract, which doesn’t look like anything real, or realistic, which looks very much like real life.

Themes and Messages

A lot of contemporary art talks about important topics like the environment, politics, or people’s rights. Artists want to share their thoughts and sometimes try to make the world a better place through their art.

Where to Find It

You can see contemporary art in museums, galleries, or even on the streets. Some art is made to be outside, like big sculptures in parks or murals on buildings.

Why It Matters

Contemporary art is special because it helps us see the world in new ways. It can make us feel happy, sad, or even confused, but that’s part of what makes it exciting. It’s like a conversation between the artist and us, and everyone can have their own opinion about it.

Contemporary art is all around us, and it’s a fun way to understand the thoughts and feelings of the people who make it. It’s a part of our world that keeps changing, just like we do.

500 Words Essay on Contemporary Art

Contemporary art is the art of today, created by living artists. It reflects the complex issues that shape our diverse, fast-moving world. Through paintings, sculptures, and all sorts of creative works, artists express ideas about society, culture, and technology. This kind of art can look very different from the art made in the past, and it often uses new methods and materials to surprise and engage people who see it.

Styles and Techniques

There are many styles in contemporary art. Some artists paint abstract pictures that don’t look like anything real but are all about colors and feelings. Others make realistic pictures that look like photographs, showing every small detail. Then there are artists who use new technology, like computers and video, to make their art. They might also use unexpected materials, like bits of plastic or old clothes, to create something new and exciting.

Themes in Contemporary Art

Artists today like to make art about things that are happening now. This could be about politics, the environment, or how people live with each other. For example, some artists make art about nature to show how important it is to protect the earth. Others might make art that asks questions about how we use technology and what it means for our future.

You can find contemporary art almost everywhere. Museums and galleries have exhibitions where you can see the latest artworks. Sometimes, art is even shown in public spaces like parks or train stations. This means that everyone can see and think about the art, not just people who go to museums.

Understanding Contemporary Art

Sometimes, looking at contemporary art can be confusing. An artwork might not be pretty or even look like much at all. But that doesn’t mean it’s not good or important. Often, the artist wants to make you think or feel something special. When you see a piece of contemporary art, try to imagine what the artist is trying to say. Think about the colors, shapes, or materials they used. You can also read the title or description, which can give you clues.

Artists and Audiences

Artists today work in a world where they can share their art with people all over the globe. Through the internet, people can see art made far away from where they live. This means that artists can have fans in different countries, and they can learn from each other, too. Audiences are important because they can talk about the art and share their own ideas, making the experience of art richer for everyone.

Contemporary art is all about the here and now. It can be fun, serious, beautiful, or strange. The main thing is to keep an open mind and try to see what the artist is sharing. Whether it’s in a museum or on the street, contemporary art has something to say about the world we live in, and it invites everyone, including school students like you, to join in the conversation.

That’s it! I hope the essay helped you.

If you’re looking for more, here are essays on other interesting topics:

  • Essay on Leadership Experience As A Student
  • Essay on Leadership Experience
  • Essay on Leadership And Teamwork

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Contemporary World Meaning

The sample essay on Contemporary World Meaning deals with a framework of research-based facts, approaches and arguments concerning this theme. To see the essay’s introduction, body paragraphs and conclusion, read on.

In modern day society, an increasing number of people question their purpose, their meaning, and their very existence on this earth. The questioning stems from either a lack of faith, a lack of understanding, lack of knowledge, or the general belief that human life pales in insignificance to the universe, and that, as described in Humanism: A Very Short Introduction, ‘humanity amounts to nothing more then a dirty smudge on a ball of rock lost in an incomprehensively vast universe'(page 119)1.

We must ask ourselves, what causes humanity to constantly question itself? Can it be solely be attributed to the rise of modern day science, which casts itself directly opposite the might and meaning of religion? Or it may be the fact that humans, are a race are more aware of the Earth’s small role in the vast universe; a parallel with humanities own insecurities about their own role in the colossal size of the universe.

Personal situations, such as the heartbreak of unrequited love, the despair of losing your job, can evaporate all meaning in an individuals life, thus leading towards a crisis of value. In the Western world especially, the rise of atheism has also contributed towards an individuals lack of belief and sense of meaning; as one turned to religion and the belief that there was a higher power, which was substantial enough to give the individual meaning and a place in society.

contemporary essay means

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However, the rise of atheism, has led people to question the idea of an all powerful God.

What Is The Meaning Of Contemporary World

The seeds of modern day atheism were sown by Karl Marx, who felt that religion was a form of control, and that the idea of a God was an illusion. He also stated that ‘Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the feelings of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of unspiritual conditions. It is the opium of the people. ‘2 This school of thought gained popularity, as more and more people started to think outside of the institutionalized, rigid ideas of religion.

It was thought that the idea of an all loving God, whom people had to worship did not satisfy the developing curiosity of the masses, who still wonder, how an omniscient, omnipotent higher being, can allow atrocities such as the Nazi’s slaughter of millions of Jews in World War 2 occur without trying to stop it, or lets natural disasters such as the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2011 take place. Surely if a loving God exists, such pain and suffering cannot be piled on so many people?

Certain religions, such as Hinduism, go to great lengths to explain the suffering inflicted upon so many. It is a belief in Hinduism, and various other religions such as Buddhism and Sikhism, that our physical beings are just a shell for our soul, which is derived directly from God itself. This soul is reincarnated within various lifetimes, as punishment for our past sins. This means that the agony and pain undergone by so many is a direct result of our past actions, in previous lives, thus taking the absence of an intervention of God, out of the equation.

The lack of a definitive answer however, leads individuals to lose faith in a God, and a religious system, as these questions eventually cannot be answered by anybody, all but leaving either a feeling of emptiness or content inside the person; as they either are satisfied with knowing there’s nothing more to life, or are depressed by the thought that there is no meaning to their existence. Albert Schopenhauer, a philosopher in the 18th century rejected the idea of a God, and that suffering and loss is all of our own making, and not determined by a higher power.

An existential crisis is in most cases triggered by a significant event which provokes a turning point in an individuals life. These can range from cases involving the loss of a loved one, to an individuals own sense of isolation and detachment from the modern world. Looking back on my own experience of being in the position of one who has lost faith and ultimately questioned the purpose of life, the ultimate answer is that each person must come to their own conclusion, and find their own path in life.

For me, after going through the pain of unrequited love, I was lead to question God, and the reason why I had been going such heartache, while others around me were so happy, and for a period of time I felt isolated and found no reason strong enough to justify why human beings are here. For me, being brought up in a religious household, this was a radical way of thinking, and had no idea how to deal with it.

My way of life had been threatened by a new way of thinking, and questioning whether all I believed in was a lie. Now I realize it was my lack underlying lack of faith which subsequently led me to question my existence and purpose on this earth. I discovered that the worst thing about questioning one self’s meaning and purpose, is that there is no definitive answer. The quest for meaning led me to research several philosophers and religious figures, including a prominent Indian philosopher, Swami Vivekananda.

Swami Vivekananda enabled me to understand the meaning of our existence, by stating that human beings were like ‘the bee’ who ‘came to sip the honey, but found its feet stuck to the honey-pot, and could not get it away. Again and again we find ourselves in that state. That is the whole secret of existence. ‘. This is further explained when he questions ‘Why are we here? We came to sip the honey, and we find our hands and feet stuck to it’3.

This for me implies that human beings are never satisfied with what we have, and always seem to question more and more, without finding any satisfactory answer. The breakthroughs and discoveries in science further destroyed peoples ideas of a higher purpose, as it moved to dissolve the idea of a creator figure. Charles Darwin was a leading figure in challenging Creationism and the ‘Great Chain of Being’. His studies and new ideas such as Succession of types, Representative species, and the distribution of species were important in radically altering people’s outlook on life.

His theory of evolution, ascertaining that man was essentially once a Neanderthal opposed the idea that we were created for a purpose. It challenged the idea that humanity was the center of the world, and that the hierarchy must be rejected, and that man is just a consequence of nature, which moved to dissolve many peoples belief in a higher power, thus leading them to query their existence, as Darwin’s theories suggested that we were not put on this planet for any specific reason by a God; we are just a consequence of natural selection and biology.

Darwins theories were challenged by Karl Popper, a philosopher who claimed that scientific theories could be falsified and replaced. The problem with science however, is that it does not provide a moral code, or ascertain what is wrong and right to feel, leaving the individual in a quandary about what to believe. In conclusion, it can be said that a higher number of people fail to find meaning in their life, or at least question it at some point in their lifetime.

This is due to a combination of a lack of faith in a God/religion , the emergence of science and Darwin’s theory of natural selection/ evolution and the consequence of suffering caused by events such as the Rwanda genocide and global AIDs crisis. The fundamental problem is that there is no definitive answer, and no solution to the questioning of an individuals purpose, leaving us to the only answer, that each individual must find their own path in life.

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What does it mean to claim the US is a Christian nation, and what does the Constitution say?

FILE - A statue of Benjamin Franklin is seen at The Franklin Institute, Feb. 10, 2015, in Philadelphia. Franklin, like some other key founders, admired Jesus as a moral teacher but would not pass a test of Christian orthodoxy. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

FILE - A statue of Benjamin Franklin is seen at The Franklin Institute, Feb. 10, 2015, in Philadelphia. Franklin, like some other key founders, admired Jesus as a moral teacher but would not pass a test of Christian orthodoxy. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

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Many Americans believe the United States was founded as a Christian nation, and the idea is energizing some conservative and Republican activists. But the concept means different things to different people, and historians say that while the issue is complex, the founding documents prioritize religious freedom and do not create a Christian nation.

Does the U.S. Constitution establish Christianity as an official religion?

What does the constitution say about religion.

“(N)o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” (Article VI)

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” (First Amendment)

FILE- President Joe Biden, with from left, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., and House Speaker Mike Johnson of La., pray and listen during the National Prayer Breakfast, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024, at the Capitol in Washington. Johnson has spoken in the past of his belief America was founded as a Christian nation. Biden, while citing his own Catholic faith, has spoken of values shared by people of “any other faith, or no faith at all.” (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

If it says “Congress,” does the First Amendment apply to the states?

It does now. Early in the republic, some states officially sponsored particular churches, such as the Congregational Church in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Within a few decades, all had removed such support. The post-Civil War 14th Amendment guaranteed all U.S. citizens “equal protection of the laws” and said states couldn’t impede on their “privileges or immunities” without due process. In the 20th century, the Supreme Court applied that to a number of First Amendment cases involving religion, saying states couldn’t forbid public proselytizing, reimburse funding for religious education or sponsor prayer in public schools.

What does it mean to say America is a Christian nation?

It depends on whom you ask. Some believe God worked to bring European Christians to America in the 1600s and secure their independence in the 1700s. Some take the Puritan settlers at their word that they were forming a covenant with God, similar to the Bible’s description of ancient Israel, and see America as still subject to divine blessings or punishments depending on how faithful it is. Still others contend that some or all the American founders were Christian, or that the founding documents were based on Christianity.

That’s a lot to unpack. Let’s start at the top. What about the colonies?

Several had Christian language in their founding documents, such as Massachusetts, with established churches lasting decades after independence. Others, such as Rhode Island, offered broader religious freedom. It’s also arguable whether the colonies’ actions lived up to their words, given their histories of religious intolerance and their beginnings of centuries-long African slavery and wars on Native Americans.

What about the founders?

The leaders of the American Revolution and the new republic held a mix of beliefs — some Christian, some Unitarian, some deistic or otherwise theistic. Some key founders, like Benjamin Franklin, admired Jesus as a moral teacher but would fail a test of Christian orthodoxy. Many believed strongly in religious freedom, even as they also believed that religion was essential to maintain a virtuous citizenry.

Were the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution based on Christianity and the Ten Commandments?

References to the Creator and Nature’s God in the Declaration reflect a general theism that could be acceptable to Christians, Unitarians, deists and others. Both documents reflect Enlightenment ideas of natural rights and accountable government. Some also see these documents as influenced, or at least compatible, with Protestant emphasis on such ideas as human sin, requiring checks and balances. In fact, believers in a Christian America were some of the strongest opponents of ratifying the Constitution because of its omission of God references.

Were most early Americans Christian?

Many were and many weren’t. Early church membership was actually quite low, but revivals known as the First and Second Great Awakenings, before and after the Revolution, won a lot of converts. Many scholars see religious freedom as enabling multiple churches to grow and thrive.

Were Catholics considered Christian?

Not by many early Americans. Some state constitutions barred them from office.

How did that change?

Gradually, but by the time of the Cold War, many saw Catholics, Protestants and Jews as God-believing American patriots, allied in the face-off with the atheistic, communist Soviet Union.

Was it only conservatives citing the idea of a Christian nation?

No. Many proponents of the early 20th century social gospel saw their efforts to help the needy as part of building a Christian society. During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt prayed on national radio for God’s blessing “in our united crusade ... over the unholy forces of our enemy.”

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote that civil rights protesters stood for “the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage.”

What do progressive Christians say today?

“Christian nationalism has traditionally employed images that advocate an idealized view of the nation’s identity and mission, while deliberately ignoring those persons who have been excluded, exploited, and persecuted,” said a 2021 statement from the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, an umbrella group that includes multiple progressive denominations.

What do Americans believe about this?

Six in 10 U.S. adults said the founders originally intended America to be a Christian nation, according to a 2022 Pew Research Center survey. Forty-five percent said the U.S. should be a Christian nation, but only a third thought it was one currently.

Among white evangelical Protestants, 81% said the founders intended a Christian nation, and the same number said that the U.S. should be one — but only 23% thought it currently was one, according to Pew.

In a 2021 Pew report, 15% of U.S. adults surveyed said the federal government should declare the U.S. a Christian nation, while 18% said the U.S. Constitution was inspired by God.

One-third of U.S. adults surveyed in 2023 said God intended America to be a promised land for European Christians to set an example to the world, according to a Public Religion Research Institute/Brookings survey. Those who embraced this view were also more likely to dismiss the impact of anti-Black discrimination and more likely to say true patriots may need to act violently to save the country, the survey said.

Sources: Pew Research Center; Public Religion Research Institute/Brookings; “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?” by John Fea.

Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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What is Presidents Day and how is it celebrated? What to know about the federal holiday

Many will have a day off on monday in honor of presidents day. consumers may take advantage of retail sales that proliferate on the federal holiday, but here's what to know about the history of it..

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Presidents Day is fast approaching, which may signal to many a relaxing three-day weekend and plenty of holiday sales and bargains .

But next to Independence Day, there may not exist another American holiday that is quite so patriotic.

While Presidents Day has come to be a commemoration of all the nation's 46 chief executives, both past and present, it wasn't always so broad . When it first came into existence – long before it was even federally recognized – the holiday was meant to celebrate just one man: George Washington.

How has the day grown from a simple celebration of the birthday of the first president of the United States? And why are we seeing all these ads for car and furniture sales on TV?

Here's what to know about Presidents Day and how it came to be:

When is Presidents Day 2024?

This year, Presidents Day is on Monday, Feb. 19.

The holiday is celebrated on the third Monday of every February because of a bill signed into law in 1968 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Taking effect three years later, the Uniform Holiday Bill mandated that three holidays – Memorial Day, Presidents Day and Veterans Day – occur on Mondays to prevent midweek shutdowns and add long weekends to the federal calendar, according to Britannica .

Other holidays, including Labor Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day , were also established to be celebrated on Mondays when they were first observed.

However, Veterans Day was returned to Nov. 11 in 1978 and continues to be commemorated on that day.

What does Presidents Day commemorate?

Presidents Day was initially established in 1879 to celebrate the birthday of the nation's first president, George Washington. In fact, the holiday was simply called Washington's Birthday, which is still how the federal government refers to it, the Department of State explains .

Following the death of the venerated American Revolution leader in 1799, Feb. 22, widely believed to be Washington's date of birth , became a perennial day of remembrance, according to History.com .

The day remained an unofficial observance for much of the 1800s until Sen. Stephen Wallace Dorsey of Arkansas proposed that it become a federal holiday. In 1879, President Rutherford B. Hayes signed it into law, according to History.com.

While initially being recognized only in Washington D.C., Washington's Birthday became a nationwide holiday in 1885. The first to celebrate the life of an individual American, Washington's Birthday was at the time one of only five federally-recognized holidays – the others being Christmas, New Year's, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July.

However, most Americans today likely don't view the federal holiday as a commemoration of just one specific president. Presidents Day has since come to represent a day to recognize and celebrate all of the United States' commanders-in-chief, according to the U.S. Department of State .

When the Uniform Holiday Bill took effect in 1971, a provision was included to combine the celebration of Washington’s birthday with Abraham Lincoln's on Feb. 12, according to History.com. Because the new annual date always fell between Washington's and Lincoln's birthdays, Americans believed the day was intended to honor both presidents.

Interestingly, advertisers may have played a part in the shift to "Presidents Day."

Many businesses jumped at the opportunity to use the three-day weekend as a means to draw customers with Presidents Day sales and bargain at stores across the country, according to History.com.

How is the holiday celebrated?

Because Presidents Day is a federal holiday , most federal workers will have the day off .

Part of the reason Johnson made the day a uniform holiday was so Americans had a long weekend "to travel farther and see more of this beautiful land of ours," he wrote. As such, places like the Washington Monument in D.C. and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota – which bears the likenesses of Presidents Washington, Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt – are bound to attract plenty of tourists.

Similar to Independence Day, the holiday is also viewed as a patriotic celebration . As opposed to July, February might not be the best time for backyard barbecues and fireworks, but reenactments, parades and other ceremonies are sure to take place in cities across the U.S.

Presidential places abound across the U.S.

Opinions on current and recent presidents may leave Americans divided, but we apparently love our leaders of old enough to name a lot of places after them.

In 2023, the U.S. Census Bureau pulled information from its databases showcasing presidential geographic facts about the nation's cities and states.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the census data shows that as of 2020 , the U.S. is home to plenty of cities, counties and towns bearing presidential names. Specifically:

  • 94 places are named "Washington."
  • 72 places are named "Lincoln."
  • 67 places are named for Andrew Jackson, a controversial figure who owned slaves and forced thousands of Native Americans to march along the infamous Trail of Tears.

Contributing: Clare Mulroy

Eric Lagatta covers breaking and trending news for USA TODAY. Reach him at [email protected]

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Guest Essay

What a Split in Consumer Confidence Means for Biden

contemporary essay means

By Nate Silver

Mr. Silver writes the newsletter Silver Bulletin.

We look to be headed for what could be the most unpopular sequel since “ Home Alone 3 ”: Biden versus Trump 2.0.

One question goes to the heart of shaping expectations for that matchup: Why does everyone think the economy stinks? The answer is critical, given that this election is probably going to be close and that a variety of research suggests that the incumbent party’s chances are better when the economy is going well. President Biden, trailing Donald Trump in early polls , will need all the economic tailwind he can get.

Many commentators on the left have focused on a purported gap between what they see as objective data signaling a strong economy (in particular, persistently low unemployment ) and middling to poor consumer sentiment, as in the University of Michigan’s monthly survey . This gap is sometimes attributed to partisanship — Republican voters being unwilling to give any credit to Mr. Biden — and at other times to media bias or misinformation driven by social media .

But a more careful look at the numbers reveals a different answer, and it requires no great mystery to solve, no inexplicable gap in the data.

Consumers don’t think the economy stinks. Rather, they quite rationally have mixed feelings about this economy — and they’ll reveal different things depending on exactly what you ask them.

They are pessimistic about the future, but that’s a matter of prediction, not misinterpreting the current economic situation. And here’s the good news for Mr. Biden: They’ve noticed that the data has been improving.

The terms “consumer sentiment” and “consumer confidence” are sometimes used interchangeably, but in fact, they reflect two distinct, longstanding monthly surveys often cited by economists. First, there’s the University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment and, second, the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Survey .

One is not inherently better than the other. The best approach, as I usually recommend with polls, is to average them. They actually show rather different things: The Michigan numbers are bearish (although growing less so), and the Conference Board’s are bullish. That’s because they focus on different parts of the economy .

The Michigan survey puts a lot of weight on voter assessment of pocketbook conditions , like whether it’s a good time to buy major household items. The Conference Board, meanwhile, asks consumers for their appraisal of the employment and business outlook but nothing that really gets directly at things like consumer prices.

Also, and this is often overlooked: In both surveys, the majority of the questions are about voters’ predictions about future economic conditions and not how they think the economy is doing at the moment. For example, the Michigan survey asks about the possibility of a severe economic downturn over the next five years — a question that is notoriously hard even for professional economists to answer.

Fortunately, instead of one measure of consumer confidence, Michigan and the Conference Board publish separate subindexes, one focused on consumers’ perceptions of current conditions and the other about their outlook for the future. So we actually have four measures: two major surveys each asking two varieties of big-picture questions.

In these surveys, from January 1978 to January 2021, consumers’ assessments of current conditions usually tracked each other well. But in summer 2021, they began to diverge — and not just a little but hugely.

For the graphic below, I’m normalizing these four data series such that they’re all on the same scale, with a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 20. This just means we can make an apples-to-apples comparison. A score of 100 represents the average consumer outlook between 1978 and 2024.

contemporary essay means

Consumer confidence in current conditions

Less confidence

More confidence

of Michigan

Consumer confidence was slow to recover following the 1990-91 recession

The mood reached record highs during the buoyant economic growth of the late '90s

An unprecedented combination of rapid job growth and high inflation has caused consumer confidence measures to diverge

Biden’s

inauguration

contemporary essay means

The mood reached record highs during the buoyant economic growth of the late ’90s

business conditions

contemporary essay means

Sources: University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment, Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Survey

Note: Survey results normalized to an average score of 100 and a standard deviation of 20 points.

Why the divergence? The Michigan survey’s questions are highly sensitive to inflation, whereas the Conference Board’s are not. And spring 2021 is when inflation really began to ramp up , as a white-hot-recovery summer ran headlong into supply chain disruptions, the Delta variant and an injection of stimulus cash that led people to splurge on everything from revenge travel to meme stocks . It was a deeply strange economy — good for businesses and good for job seekers but sometimes awful for consumers.

So while the Conference Board numbers have consistently been above average, at roughly a score of 120 on my normalized scale, the Michigan ones took longer to recover. However, they have rebounded recently, reflecting a deceleration of inflation since roughly mid-2023, perking up to 82 on my adjusted scale in the January 2024 reading after having bottomed out at 41 in June 2022.

If you’re wondering why a rebound took so long — or why the numbers are still below average — there are a lot of good explanations. First, although inflation numbers when reported in the news typically focus on the year-over-year change, that’s not necessarily how consumers see them. Prices in December 2023 were only 3 percent higher than they were a year earlier, but they were 10 percent higher than they were two years earlier and about 18 percent higher than three years ago.

It takes some time for consumers to adjust to the new normal. Historically, Michigan consumer sentiment is more closely correlated with the two-year change in inflation than the one-year shift. If so, the timing could work out well for Mr. Biden, since the period of peak inflation will be farther in the rearview mirror by the time people vote this November.

But it’s a mistake to assume that consumers have just been reacting to news accounts of high gasoline or fast-food prices instead of actually observing the impact on their bottom lines. People’s pocketbooks really aren’t in great shape — income growth has struggled to keep up with inflation.

contemporary essay means

Per capita disposable income

COVID stimulus payments temporarily boosted disposable income

Inflation-adjusted income has barely grown during Biden’s term

contemporary essay means

Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis

Note: Income shown in inflation-adjusted 2017 dollars

Per capita disposable income is historically one of the variables that most accurately predicts election outcomes. Although heavily affected by the timing of Covid stimulus payments, nothing about this data suggests that consumers have had a smooth economic ride under Mr. Biden. While corporate profits have soared to record levels , Americans quickly spent down the savings they built up during the pandemic.

It’s not just that goods have cost more; people have also been spending more on an inflation-adjusted basis. Often, that’s a sign of healthy economic demand. But consumers may be getting the short end of the stick as companies use algorithm-driven price discrimination to induce them to spend more on things they don’t necessarily want or need.

In short, consumers’ assessment of the current economic situation has been rational. They accurately report in the Conference Board survey that the business and labor outlook has been good. And they accurately report in the Michigan data that their pocketbooks were in bad shape because of inflation but are now recovering. But what about their future outlooks?

contemporary essay means

Consumer confidence in future conditions

contemporary essay means

The Michigan and Conference Board surveys closely overlap and tell the same story. Consumers were in an optimistic mood for roughly the first six months of Mr. Biden’s term, with both surveys usually showing above-average forward-looking numbers. Then the Delta variant and the period of extremely high inflation hit in midsummer 2021 and knocked the wind out of Mr. Biden’s promise of a rapid return to normalcy. Inflation was more persistent than economists were initially expecting, and the S&P 500 lost around a fifth of its value on an inflation-adjusted basis in 2022 .

Combined with the profound disruptions of the pandemic itself, there has been a lot of anxiety-inducing economic news for consumers. Although optimism is up in recent surveys, it’s not surprising that it’s taken some time to process everything.

There are other long-term factors pointing toward greater pessimism. For almost a quarter-century, a majority of voters have consistently thought the country is on the wrong track . There are many indications of a rise in poor mental health (and equally many hypotheses for why that’s happened). Many Americans have existential concerns about the long-term future for reasons ranging from environmental degradation to runaway artificial intelligence.

Fundamentally, Mr. Biden’s challenge is that it’s hard to persuade voters who are used to constant doomscrolling that it’s Morning in America again . The incumbency advantage seems to be declining ; it’s been 40 years since a president won re-election by a double-digit margin.

But there is good news for Mr. Biden: Voter perceptions about the economy are not just vibes — in fact, consumer sentiment has tracked the objective data well. That data, particularly the pocketbook numbers that were the weak point before, has begun to improve, and that leaves the door open for a potential second Biden term.

It will be a close call. His numbers against Mr. Trump haven’t improved yet — in fact, they’ve gotten slightly worse lately — even as consumers’ mood has become more buoyant. His age is still a big concern for voters (yes, Mr. Trump is old, too), and the Democratic coalition is bitterly divided over the Israel-Hamas war and other issues.

Polls show that Mr. Biden has lost the most ground with lower-income voters — even as the robust labor market has helped the working class. His campaign, however, has said it will replay its 2020 strategy, with a heavy emphasis on Mr. Trump and a lesser one on the economy. It’s plausible that this is a mistake. Mr. Trump is no longer the incumbent president. And working-class Democrats don’t necessarily have the instinctual dislike for Mr. Trump that college-educated progressives do.

Still, we ought not to take an overly deterministic view of the relationship between the economy and elections. With any sort of presidential election forecast, we’re limited in making reliable inferences because of small sample sizes. This is only the 12th presidential election, for instance, since Michigan began regularly publishing its consumer numbers. We’re in dangerous territory where models sometimes fail. No previous presidential incumbent has been as old as Mr. Biden — and no major-party challenger has been as old as Mr. Trump.

If Mr. Biden loses, it may be because the relationship between the economy and perceptions of the president has weakened — not because voters are mistaking a good economy for a bad one.

Graphics by Sara Chodosh .

Nate Silver, the founder and former editor of FiveThirtyEight and the author of the forthcoming book “ On the Edge : The Art of Risking Everything,” writes the newsletter Silver Bulletin .

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

Follow the New York Times Opinion section on Facebook , Instagram , TikTok , X and Threads .

An earlier version of a graphic accompanying this article on the home page misstated the year of a sharp drop in consumer confidence. It was 2020, not 2018.

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