Smith, “What is Contemporary Art?”

According to Terry Smith’s article, “What is Contemporary Art?”, it is a challenge for many to define Contemporary Art.  At the most basic level, Smith dictates that Contemporary Art is the discourse through which art produced today is presented to itself and its designated audience.  It is a culture within itself, with its own celebrities and jargon, and importantly, its own distinct institutions.  Contemporary art is self definitive: it is whatever we say it is, and it evolves according to our own opinions.  Contemporary art institutions have become a fixture in both global and local cultures, but also economies.  It is a commodity that is closely tied with high culture tastes, and often acts as a trendsetter.

There are many different theories of Contemporary art and its place within the grand scheme of Art History.  It is definitely not modernism; modernism is a movement that has closed.  It could be called postmodernism, but many consider postmodernism as a transition between modern and contemporary, taking place in the 70’s and 80s.  While there is no feature or style that is proficient enough to define Contemporary art as a distinct art historical movement, Contemporary art is steeped with an understanding of art history and often reflects upon history with itself.  Contemporary art is based on the ephemeral present, which is really the only common feature of this genre.  However, the periodless nature of Contemporary Art, the idea that it hangs only in the present, could serve to ultimately define it.

For me, the article was somewhat of a relief.  I love Contemporary Art, but could never define a singular feature that could be used to describe it as a whole.  This article described a handful of my issues in a much more articulate manner than I would be able to achieve.  The fact that there is so much of it, and that there is such a market for it, is fascinating to me.  I think that one of the beauties of Contemporary art is that it does not have a stable definition, other than the fact that it is always changing, always creating, always something novel.  To me, Contemporary art is what the viewer makes of it, but the more you know and see, the more you can understand a singular piece.  My expectation of Contemporary art is that it will always surprise and impress me, regardless of how I perceive the work.

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