Lauren Roberts on Smith reading

Terry Smith’s chapter, What is Contemporary Art?, discusses a lot of important issues on the topic. He does so by breaking the chapter into 8 parts. This creates a greater organization of the material and allows for an easier read. The first header is simply titled, Asking the Question. It is a simple question to ask, but the answer is a lot more complicated.

First, Smith analyses where contemporary art belongs in the study of art history, since it has been considered “beyond history.” Then, he goes on to discuss who is creating contemporary art and for what reasons, comparing opposing political positions, and asking the question; Are contemporary artists self serving, arrogant elitists, or are they necessary in the late capitalist, spectacle society in order to create work that society deserves?  Whether or not contemporary art is more challenging for curators, critics to interpret than before, is another important question he asks. To answer this question he had to describe what “before” means in this context, but basically he finds that the sheer amount of art, the accessibility and the diversity of contemporary art is what can challenge the interpretations. The future of contemporary art and how it will be studied cannot be foreseen, nor can the relevance of current practices and their value. This brings me to the next point about how contemporary art, according to Smith. Although contemporary art has a sense of the quickly passing present, it cannot rid itself of the past either. Modern influences as well as others from previous movements are inevitable; making the definition of what is contemporary art a little cloudy. How the art is being displayed, where it is being displayed, how is it being moved in the art market, and who is viewing the art are all important questions when Smith seeks the specific importance of these contemporary pieces. Lastly world currents, as well as national and local have significant roles to play in contemporary art. Globalization is a factor because people previously isolated are creating work that is now known and has changed the way we view art. Just as important is the postcolonial, decolonization of parts of the world. The independence of these parts is attributing to the diversity of art that is being produced. Also, the younger generations have the digital tools, which have shifted the practice of art making in contemporary society.

I found this reading assignment to be helpful but I’m still a little confused about how to easily define contemporary art. Maybe there is no easy definition and that is what I got from the Smith reading.  If I could sum it up I would say that contemporary art is art that is currently being created and viewed in order for people to find a commonplace with each other, making itself accessible to varying cultures in a world that is more connected than ever before. Although it is unifying, contemporary art can be committed to diversity as well. Do I believe art has become a commodity in capitalist society? Yes I do but I also believe there are artists out there who have a sole mission to create work that sends a message worth more than its price tag. Contemporary art making is a current and ongoing process that is looking ahead but I’m not sure I agree with Smith that there will never be another “ism” or epoch in the art world. Only time will tell.

Key words and phrases: relevant to the times, diverse, and accessible

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