Smith Paragraph Summary

Smith’s piece What Is Contemporary Art? circles around the ambiguity of contemporary art and the difficulty one encounters when trying to define it.  While there are many things that contribute to this dilemma, Smith eventually narrows it down to four primary issues.  The first is the fact that there seems to be more contemporary art than before.  With such an abundance of art, it becomes difficult to satisfactorily constrain all of these works into an overarching theme.  The second is that contemporary art is more decisive than before.  This comes in many forms, ranging from content to medium to location, explaining that there does not seem to be a unifying theme or practice.  Where past movements may have kept to a particular style or subject matter, that does not seem to be the case with contemporary art, making it ever the more harder to pin down.  The third explains that contemporary art is being created all over the world, which causes a problem for those who view a particular piece of contemporary art from another country.  Much of art draws from cultural backgrounds and therefore there may be certain boundaries that impede one’s understanding of a particular work of art.  The fourth  issue is that art is being generated by younger artists and exhibited more quickly than ever.  This creates a problem because new works are constantly being churned out.  Once someone believes they may have an idea of what ‘contemporary art’ is, a newly emerging piece may radically alter that perception.  Furthermore, with artists becoming younger and younger, it only allows the artist population to continue to grow, therefore exponentially increasing the amount of contemporary art available, all of which must be considered to define ‘contemporary art’.

Smith then continues to address the complexity of contemporary art and why it is so difficult to define.  He dabbles in several areas in attempting to define it, such as a continuation of modernism and a postcolonial view.  The continuation of modernism explains that contemporary is just a reflection of modernism, and is in conversation with it.  Therefore, contemporary art is an extension of modernism, rather than a completely different branch.  Postcolonialism explains why contemporary art is seen all over the world now.  After having freed themselves from the colonial stranglehold, many countries began producing art.  This leads one to believe that there is a clear cut distinction between modernism and contemporary art, and that distinction is rooted in political separation.  Smith also continues to grapple with why contemporary art is so hard to define, explaining that to look at the present and attempt to define it in historical terms is counter intuitive.  How is one supposed to explain something historically that is currently happening?

My view on contemporary aligns most closely with the last point I stated from Smith.  I believe that contemporary art, as we currently see it, is incredibly multifaceted and can not be confined to a particular description.  While subject matter can be quite obviously different, the explosion of technology in this current era has double the amount of available artistic mediums.  Digital prints and graphic design are things that were not even being thought of in the modernist era.  Furthermore, it is something that is ever growing around us and we are growing with it.  We cannot even attempt to try and understand something that is ever changing.  All we can hope to do is try and understand it as best we can and master it one piece at a time.  In order for the art that is currently being produced to be wrangled into a specific ‘style’ or ‘theme,’ it must be viewed from a future perspective.  To try and define something historically that is happening as we speak is not only counter intuitive, but a waste of breath.

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