Terry Smith defines contemporary art as an institution–one that is self-interested, self-motivated and self-perpetuating.  Though it is seemingly all dynamic, Smith argues that it is made up of both definitive structures of stasis and similarly definitive structures of change, so change and not-change are specific to compartmentalized sections of a larger whole that is contemporary art.  However, Smith notes that contemporary art itself can not be compartmentalized in the way that former “movements” and “isms” have been.  In somewhat of a Nietzsche-esque tone, Smith defines contemporary art as the death of said categorization.  She writes, “‘Contemporary,’ therefore, could well come to mean periodlessness, being perpetually out of time, or at least not subject to historical unfolding.”  In such, Smith claims that contemporary art appears to defy its own title, in that our judgment of it, our critique of it, and our analysis of it, creates a paradox.  Now, we can view contemporary art retrospectively (or seemingly so), despite its being constantly created and redefined.


To quote Yona Friedman, “order is a kind of disorder disguised and disorder is a kind of order disguised.”  This notion certainly applies to Smith’s argument that, despite the seeming order of past periodization, to limit the current movements of art would be an unpresidented disservice to the nature of the art culture itself.  What Smith calls a “socius,” refers to the “scene” in which the art culture works, buys, and judges art.  This is all contained within the larger locus of Contemporary Art as we understand it, or rather fail to understand it, today.

Given this subjectivity, which is arguably a result of its fluidity of definition, Contemporary Art has forever been full of contradictions.  It is both accessible and not accessible, both for the every-man and for the intellectual elite.  Despite this seeming conflict, however, I would argue that these qualities of Contemporary Art is as open to movement in and out of the socius as it needs to be.  Its semi-permeable barrier allows for the easy movement of individuals in and out of the locus of information.  In such a way, once an individual enters this locus, he or she has the open ability of interpretation, creation, appreciation, or other actions without the threat of either complete exclusion or complete inclusion, which are both equally threatening.  Art critics such as Terry Smith will continue to worry and argue over the future and current definitions of this art period, but I personally am happy to enjoy the fluidity and expansion that I see everyday as a result of Contemporary Art’s continuing infusion into everyday life.

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