A Visual Dictionary of 2015's Art Trends

Visual definitions shed light on 2015's biggest art trends.

by Beckett Mufson
04 January 2016, 4:50pm

Kyttenjanae, Virtual Reality, 2015. All images courtesy the artists

As 2015 dies a dignified death and 2016 rears its confusing and frightening, but exciting head, now is the time to pause and consider what happened in the last year. Here's a rundown of big ideas and new tools artists used to advance their work over the last 12 months. From political ideas about surveillance and radioactive material policy, to the budding mediums of virtual reality and bio art, creators as diverse as Ai Weiwei, Trevor Paglen, Skylar Tibbits, Coral Morphologic, Ridley Scott, and more tapped into the zeitgeist of these ten ideas.

We asked some of our favorite artists to represent them as terms in a visual dictionary, fusing their artistic style with the essence of the theme they were given. We published each work individually throughout the final days of December, now here's the series in full.

Surveillance Art

Michael Kerbow, Roost, 2015

Michael Kerbow: Here is a my idea related to surveillance. I call it, Roost. It is a cold, metallic 'tree' comprised of surveillance cameras and satellite dishes in a weedy urban setting. Kind of menacing but also poignant.

See more from Michael Kerbow on his website.


Alex Andreyev, Surrealism, 2015

Alex Andreev: There's an internet-friendly wave of surrealism that draws on the work of the masters, but updates them for the 21st century. Some have done this by applying new tech like 3D animation or modern filmmaking, while others incorporate modern ideas into classic painting techniques or illustration. This two-headed creature represents the divide, yet unity between the two branches.

See more from Alex Andreev on his website.

Selfie Art

Stefan van Zoggel, Selfie Art, 2015

Stefan van Zoggel: Selfies are everywhere. In the world of art they're an especially common sight. I looked at famous landscape artist Bob Ross and decided to make him the subject for once, instead of the natural world outside. So forget pencils and brushes, here come the selfie sticks.

See more from Stefan van Zoggel on his website.

Space Art

Dave Valeza, Space Art, 2015

Dave Valeza: Humans have long been trying to understand space; artists attempt this in their works by striving to capture, replicate, and imagine what space is like! From finding water on Mars to landing reusable rockets (plural!), 2015 has been a great year for space, and artists are loving it. There is a giant cosmos beyond our Earth, and art can become our window to see it.

See more from Dave Valeza on his website.

AI Art

Aowen Jin, Artificial Intelligence, 2015

Aowen Jin: To capture the nuance of artificial intelligence-driven art in a year that includes everything from Ex Machina to Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking's anti-AI rhetoric, here is a program that learns from your clicks, matching your tempo and continuing it after you stop. Below, the code for that program is visualised as the iconic image of a human sperm cell fertilising an egg. The key moment of reproduction for organic life suggests what the whole field of AI is aiming to replicate using code—the detailed creation of human-like intelligence.

See more from Aowen Jin on her website.

Naked Performance

Amber McCall, Naked Performance Art, 2015

Amber McCall: Naked performance art of 2015 either involved mundane nudity or "in your face" nudity like artist Milo Moiré's naked calendar, leading to the basic idea that nakedness isn't always sex driven. Is a ripe pear butt or a fat cucumber in the grocery store asking to be sexualised? Well, if I'm in a certain mood maybe, but usually not; nudity is what you perceive it to be.

See more from Amber McCall on her website.

Virtual Reality

Kyttenjanae, Virtual Reality, 2015

Kyttenjanae: Virtual reality is still a medium in its infancy, but with billions of dollars of capital investiment surging through labs and production houses around the world, it's set to potentially revolutionise the way we see the world. A 20-minute vacation in Cabo—or a candy-colored alien wonderland—might be at our fingertips in the near future. Augmented reality, the meshing of real and digital realms in real time, isn't far behind. This was the year that these technologies came of age, but 2016 will be when they start to grow up.

See more from Kyttenjanae on her website.

Radioactive Materials

Dela Deso, Radioactive Art, 2015

Dela Deso: Radioactive materials are an everyday part of life, powering cities all over the world, summoning fear of cancer or hope for super powers (depending on how many comic books you've read) in pop culture. Artists like Trevor Paglen, Chim↑Pom, and Phillip Stearns have harnessed these emotions in works ranging from sculptures made from radioactive material, to a visual remix of a Geiger counter. How we decide to deal with nuclear energy (and waste) will affect future generations for 10,000 years, and these works inform that process.

See more from Dela Deso on his website.

Brainwave Art

Killer Acid, Brainwave Art, 2015

Killer Acid: Painters paint, sculptors sculpt, illustrators illustrate, and brain wave artists manipulate data generated by brain wave scanners to create new kinds of experiences. Brain waves can be turned into music, light shows, and meditative visuals—and that's just the surface of a brand new medium beginning to be scratched. Artists as diverse as performance artist Marina Abramovic, Russian tinkerer ::vtol::, and South Korean interactive artist Lisa Park have made compelling artwork by crunching brain wave data, and this illustration is what we imagine that would look like on Killer Acid.

See more from Killer Acid on his website.

Bio Art

Gretchen Röehrs, Bio Art, 2015

Gretchen Röehrs: One of the purest intersections between art and science lies in the creative applications of biology. Whether it's printing leggings with patterns from CT scans and X-rays like Epidemia Designs, or literally painting with living bacteria likeAnicka Yi, the questions asked by each discipline have never been more aligned. 

See more from Gretchen Röehrs on her website.

Learn more about each artist in our Visual Dictionary series.


[Visual Dictionary] The Year Virtual Reality Grew Up

[Visual Dictionary] Nude Artists Unveil Their Creativity

[Visual Dictionary] When Art Becomes Radioactive...

[Visual Dictionary] Michael Kerbow Defines Surveillance Art

killer acid
michael kerbow
dela deso
Dave Valeza
stefan van zoggel
visual dictionary
alex andreev
amber mccall
gretchen roehrs