What is Contemporary art

Terry Smith’s article “What is Contemporary Art?” first suggests the importance of asking and investigating the articles very title, what is contemporary art?  Smith begins many of his own conceptions be prefacing them with the leading ideas of other scholars. This mode of inquiry is very sturdy and provides a rich exploration of what contemporary art is discussed as, in contrast to Smith’s personal claims of what he sees contemporary art as. Smith reveals one of the most popular approaches to understanding contemporary art that is to view it as ‘post historical.’ The very word contemporary describes time rather than the work itself, such as the case with for example abstract expressionism. Since time is specifically referenced in the word contemporary it would follow that the art being categorized is perpetually new and can therefore never become historical. This among other reasons Smith points out is what makes the study and articulation of contemporary art so challenging. A second problem with the artwork itself is its broad production worldwide, many people are making diverse works which cannot be categorized together under any sort of genre title. Smith provides one idea that it is perhaps this accessibility and widespread production of images which are unclassifiable that might later categorize the art of out generation in the future.

Smith continues his discussion by talking about the “trick” some say is being played in the contemporary art world and market. The trick is seen as Gallery and museum operators doing anything they can to draw the public in. Since the art work may itself be incomprehensible they have to use tricks to appeal to the public to see a toaster on a pedestal. This idea is one which I find most easy to contest, as it seems art curators and managers have throughout history wanted to gain attention and popularity for their artworks and represented artists. Smith extends the idea of contemporary art by introducing the ways in which the global nature of images has created a ‘visual language’ and therefore an open arena for dialogue on art and images accessible to everyone. He reveals the large number of young artists who he sees as more concerned with the interactive potential of art than its monumentality (as was the goal of artists in the past). The artwork is seen as original rather than reactionary, however Smith later proposes that it may soon be reacted against thus perpetuating the current cycle of art movements. He claims that perhaps the contemporary cannot be fully grasped till it becomes the past, as is true for most subjects, only recognizable or classifiable as history. Contemporary art is therefore just that but will soon morph into a field of art historical categorization and canonization.

I expect that Smith is mostly right, that contemporary art is something we are amid and will not understand until it has passed into time and become historical. However, I also fear that this passing into history may never come and that contemporary art modes will continue to diversify and ignore for the large part what Smith deems monumentality. I would suggest that it is not the artists or their works that resist becoming as monumental as say Michelangelo’s  David, but rather that the global public no longer has time or the right state of mind to cultivate monumental appreciation for artists or works.  The world has become crowded with ideas and people and images making it nearly impossible to reach any conclusion on which artworks are better than others. Just as there are many artists making works quickly and frequently all over the globe, so too art the viewers who see only a fraction of the works and are unable to therefore agree or perpetuate any as more or less valuable. Sadly I think this does lead to depreciation for art, which can no longer be fit into museums or promoted as monumental because it is so minute and extensive. What I hope for contemporary art is that artists and the public either choose to revert to old manners of appreciation for that which is ‘monumental,’ however I think this will become increasingly impossible as the global world and image continues to pervade. My second hope for contemporary art is that we will revisit our notions of museums and galleries and revise them to fit and accentuate the realities of the art being produced. I hope we will come up with new modes of display and discussion, that are not as disparate as the works and artists, but rather united, rich and accessible.

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