Smith Paragraphs

Terry Smith’s article “What is Contemporary Art?” addresses the many conflicting definitions of Contemporary Art. Smith begins defining “Contemporary Art” as the mode in which art is presented not only to its audience but concurrent art forms within an institutionalized network. It is integrally linked to mass cultural industries and the constantly changing society in which it is manifested. The “scene” of contemporary art in itself defines current art production. The concept of contemporary art is a general term for today’s art taken as a significant whole–separated from modern art by the postmodern period. During the end of the 20th century art became defined as a surpassing history. The use of -isms fell out of fashion as nothing followed minimalism and conceptualism; potentially contemporary could become defined as “periodlessness.” This leads Smith to question whether there will ever be another predominant style in art.

Many view contemporary art as elitist and hermetic without a purpose for the broader public. This has lead to a lack of public confidence in the arts. The drive of the consumerism within a capitalist art market has created a narrow art audience, although still based on the broader visual cultures in which it is created. The issue of creating a canon of contemporary arts lies in our inability to determine what art will in the long-term be of historical interest. One theory is that important contemporary art is consistent with earlier art of consequence. However this is a western view point that could easily be discredited as conservative. The pluralist view and relativism promote the idea that we will be unable to define the present until it becomes the past thus contemporary history is an oxymoron. We must examine the cultural practices, movements and social values associated with a contemporary work to fully understand it. These conditions include globalization, decolonization, and generational differences especially the participation of the younger in society.

Defining contemporary art isn’t the most important issue when studying current art forms. The issues that arise in forming a definition are judgement calls on what and what isn’t art and you have to ask who has the ability to define art itself? While categorization might help art historians define art and its influences, most art defies compartmentalization. By forcing a work of art into a specific category, we limit the work into a certain formation of thought. Smith’s argument that contemporary art is a manifestation of contemporary visual culture is valid and could be used to further understanding. As art historians we need to recognize that although influenced by the modernist and post-modernist movements, contemporary art comes from a significantly different period. I agree with Smith’s evaluation of our period emphasizing globalization, decolonization and generational variations.  These issues allow an understanding of contemporary as it is increasingly influenced by global economics and politics, not just a localized culture.

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