Terry Smith Response

Terry Smith’s article asks the question “What is Contemporary Art?” in terms of defining characteristics and styles, and even at times questions if there is such a thing as Contemporary Art on its own, or if there are just extensions of Modern Art waiting to be defined by art historians in years to come. 

Smith mentions Contemporary Art first and foremost as an “institutionalized network” that has its own ideals, values, community and market.  This institution is a very international one, and it has aspects and artists that are shared with other types of “high culture,” such as fashion, architecture, and design.  There has been no dominant style or school since around 1970 according to Smith, and that is part of what makes Contemporary Art so hard to categorize and classify, and with so many different available mediums and influences for  artists working today, Smith questions whether or not there will ever be another clearly dominant style in art.

Near the end of the article, Smith touches upon several of the main characteristics that he, and other scholars, believe make Contemporary Art the institution that it is.  Globalization, decolonization, and the increasing interest of young people in the art world are the three “currents” of Contemporary Art that Smith discusses as being the major themes in the market and in the art itself.  These ideas of Contemporary Art being either “remodernist” (meaning that the movements that started modern art at the turn of the century have not stopped or been taken over by anything new, and so what is now contemporary art is just a logical extension of what has already been) or “postcolonial” (meaning the adaptations and changes in the world after the dissolution of the colonial system), two schools of thought that are heavily cited by other art historians as well.

I agree most with the statement that Smith made in the very beginning of the article, that Contemporary Art “is what we say it is.”  The only sole defining feature of it is that it is art being made right now, and that changes even as the definition of art itself transforms and expands.  Smith describes the problem of art becoming a commodity that can be easily bought and sold in a broad and widely accessible market, but I personally see nothing wrong with that.  In his own words, Contemporary Art is “relational”, meaning that it is not defined by any one style or theme, but by the artists attempt to portray or foster social exchange and “inter-human relations,” and this accessibility that it now enjoys is an important part of that characteristic.  I do not see that as “selling out” to capitalism, I see it as more effectively spreading the message.

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