What Is Contemporary Art? – Ashley Ludkowski

“What Is Contemporary Art?” is not only the title of this reading section, but also the question proposed in the first paragraph. Terry Smith begins this exploration of Contemporary Art, capitalizing both words, by relating it to the global networks of today. Smith states, “It is an intense, expansionist, proliferating global subculture, with its own values and discourse; communicative networks; heroes, heroines, and renegades; professional organizations; defining events; meetings and monuments; markets and museums- in sum, distinctive structures of stasis and change.”  To Smith, Contemporary Art goes beyond the visual arts. Not only does it establish the currently evolving art, but it incorporates the national economy, fashion and design industries, tourism, education, media, and even politics. It is a culture that affects many aspects of this coexistent lifestyle we now live in.

Coinciding with history, yet moving beyond history, Contemporary Art thrives from the past but also moves forward without it. Innovative patterns and approaches unlike anything seen in the past are now at the forefront of this explosion. Contemporary Art is also manifested in the artist’s drive to further their own careers, in any way possible. Investigating this elitist artist scene, Smith draws from numerous outside sources. It is here that Contemporary Art becomes “tricky territory,” it becomes a grand challenge for interpreters. According to the standard definition of “contemporary,” it is the “play of multiple relationships between being and time.” For Smith, contemporaneity is the fundamental condition of our times. He states how these conditions can elude, or even destroy us. Contemporary Art becomes difficult to interpret as individuals try to decipher what is going on in art as it is happening. Yet, with an overview of the historical sense, it becomes clear that styles that persevere from this current time will do so as anachronisms.

Smith concludes this exploration with an overview of the currents in Contemporary Art. Beginning with the aesthetic of globalization; moving through the processes of decolonization regarding the second, third, and fourth worlds; and ending with the generational change seen among young people and their craving to participate in the image economy. Pulling from numerous sources, Smith sums up that Contemporary Art consists of numerous changes as they continue to play out as art. The difficulties with interpreting this contemporaneity derive in the possibility of all art to be entropic.

Smith quotes Donald Kuspit in saying, “the power of contemporary art comes from the insecurity of being ephemeral.” This quote stood out to me personally as this idea of contemporary is so new it becomes an intriguing term to study, yet with an unknown definition. The idea of contemporary alone is ephemeral. Understanding the past not only helps to decipher the present, but the future as well. Studying contemporary art is a great way to begin to delve into this broad category of coexistence. The culture we now live in is so intertwined with every aspect of life, art provides a grand platform for interpretation of life beyond the simple category of visual art. As Smith states in the first few paragraphs, contemporary art goes beyond the visual art of a culture and enters into a much more global network. This global network is what I am looking to further understand and explore through contemporary art.

2 Responses

  1. Your last paragraph really stood out to me because I wrote about the idea of contemporary art as well and where it stands in time, but the way you wrote that it “coexists” and is really ephemeral is very true and made a lot more sense to me after reading it.

  2. Ashley Marie,

    Are you enrolled in this class? If you are enrolled under a different name, please let me know.


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