Thoroughly Contemporary Millie? Not So Much

“Thoroughly Contemporary Millie.” That movie title just doesn’t roll off the tongue, does it? And maybe that’s because using the word “contemporary” as a substitute for “modern” isn’t always correct. In terms of design, contemporary refers to a look that is new, fresh, timely, and constantly changing. By contrast, the word “modern” refers to a period of time, that period of time which the movie, “Thoroughly Modern Millie” featured. On the other hand, the TV show “Modern Family” would probably be more accurately titled “Contemporary Family.” Likewise, modern dance refers to a style which evolved early in the 20th century that rejected the rigorous structure of classical ballet. In contemporary dance, just about anything goes. Modern art refers to a style and philosophy of an entire era spanning decades and the term usually brings to mind artists such as van Gogh, Matisse, and Picasso, to name the most familiar. Contemporary art is what artists are typically doing now in the early 21st century.
Theoretically, in the furniture world, including the world of high-end office furniture, modern refers to a style of furniture which became popular in the mid-twentieth century. Furniture that looks like this would still be called “modern.” And strictly speaking, contemporary refers to a style that is new, fresh, different from the era it follows. It’s difficult to define contemporary, but you pretty much know it when you see it. In reality, the world in which we live and work, these terms, modern and contemporary, are often used interchangeably. And sometimes the styles are mixed.
That gave me something to think about as I sat a spell. In what ways am I modern – identifiable, consigned to a particular era? In what ways am I contemporary – willing to look at things afresh, adaptable, streamlined? And in what ways am I classic – structured, traditional, timeless? It seems to me each of us is probably meant to be a combination of all three styles!
The term for that would be “eclectic”, but we’ll save that style for yet another blog post.


Kevin Astala