Response To Smith // Thoughts on Contemporary Art // Jack Ricci

In his piece “What is Contemporary Art?” Smith defines “Contemporary Art” as an institutionalized network through which current art presents itself to itself and to those interested in it. Essentially, the contemporary art world is a self-referential system in which artistic expression is constantly evolving and building on itself. Contemporary Art, unlike art from other movements in history, is linked to more capitalistic pursuits, such as fashion and media. Contemporary Art both influences, and is influenced by such money-making ventures, in what is definable as a closed-loop system of influence and expression. Furthermore, the contemporary art world owes it own existence to the emergence of post-modern philosophy in art between the 1970s and 80s. The result of existing in a post modern world is the elimination of what we would call “style”. It is true that there still are certain styles, or schools of artistic expression, but these all exist in what we know as “Contemporary Art”.

Smith states that increasing globalization along with population growth and advances in technology have fostered the development of so many different  means of artistic expression, in addition to the shear amount of material produced, that contemporary art museums now act as condensers of sorts, they pick out the best from a vast and eclectic mix of material in different media, produced by artists from all over the world. Smith also talks of Contemporary Art as post-historical, and being “beyond history”, or even at the end of history, where art no longer references anything of the past, instead choosing to be self-referential, or depicting only ideas that exist in the present realm. Because of the inherent “Newness” associated with contemporary art, there exists little base from which to judge and critique many pieces, leaving the ideas of the artist the only real way to attribute value to a work. Being a multi-billion dollar industry, the current idea-based value system in contemporary art leaves room for error, as well as deceit. Smith talks about the “Trickster Effect”, and how some think the capitalistic pursuits of gallery owners, museum curators and the artists themselves might be diluting the usually erudite and academic nature with which the arts are normally associated, or even worse, fostering artistic creation for purely monetary pursuit. But alas, the world of contemporary art is self referential, and therefore relies on what people are and aren’t buying to guide its own evolution.

I believe we live and work in a wonderful time for artistic expression. The artists and art historians who preceded us have basically eliminated every barrier that previously existed in the art world. There are no longer any “rules” to define what is and isn’t art, which has opened the door for non-tradional artists to receive wide-spread recognition. Art with your name on it can now be painted entirely by someone else and still remain yours, art can be a giant taxidermied shark encased in plastic. Contemporary art to me is reliant on observation and intellectual capacity, as long as you have the power to observe, and synthesize what you see, you are capable of producing art. One of my favorite quotes basically sums up what I think of when I hear Contemporary Art: “The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths” – Bruce Nauman.

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