Response to Smith (Goodman)

Smith opens chapter thirteen of his book asking the question “What is Contemporary Art?” and promptly provides for us “Contemporary Art is the institutionalized network through which the art of today presents itself to itself and to its interested audiences all over the world”. This allows to frame contemporary art in time and place. What we have is post historic timeless compositions, comparable only to themselves, and unclassifiable. Contemporary art is a term used to encompass art post modernism, or post 1950-1970’s, depending on who you are asking. The art as a whole is non homogenous; on the broad scope, the subject and methodology the art consists of are far to diverse to group in a manner like impressionism, or minimalism. Smith comments that a “sterility” would result from trying to place the art in a school or epoch.

Smith goes on to provide that the ingestion of the art by the public, although perhaps  more available than in the past, may not be so easy. He believes that “reluctance to engage fundamental questions” has led to a”lack of public confidence”. Conversely he also states that a change in subject matter from historic events and references to subjects that might include soap opera. He allows for us to understand the broad scope of work by providing some insightful characters. “There will always be more contemporary art than historical art”. This is due to the limbo period before scholars can categorize the work. There also “seems to be more contemporary art than ever before”. Smith attributes this to young vigorous artists prepared to make and show work rapidly. Work constructed ad hoc current events is a form of response. The increasing global tendencies of the world at large expose fundamentals of different cultures to a mass reception of viewers. This also caters to diversity as the art is drawn from every corner of the globe. Perhaps as Smith thinks, this is a result of our increasingly visual culture.

I thought this article was DENSE! The second half provided for me, little insight that I felt I could readily ingest. The first 8 – 10 pages written very clearly with summarizing titles per subsection helped ease my understanding of contemporary art. What seemed most important to me were the appeal to globalized and connected corners of the globe that fuel the diversity of the art and the audiences. Also important is the diversity and unclassifiable of the art itself.

2 Responses

  1. Nate,
    I agree with your assessment of Smith’s article, more specifically when you talk about “sterility” from over-classification (if I interpreted your post correctly); artists and consumers of art (whether this is scholars, critics, viewers, or curators) tend to put everything in categories, even if they don’t belong. This can lead to art becoming sterile, because artists tend to follow movements and genres with or without knowing why such art exists. Certain artists may find influence from other artists aesthetic or message, and lose the essence of the work.
    This got me thinking about Clyfford Still’s work; it’s easy for other artists to takes something out of his works, but for the most part, they may be completely unaware of what he was trying to communicate. They may get caught in his aesthetic, use of color palette, technique, etc, and they may ignore his messages or be completely unaware of the person that he was. In our increasingly global culture, there are so many different types of art, and in some way every piece of artwork we are subjected to influences us in some way, even if we don’t know this. We (artists and scholars) can get bogged down in classifying a lot of what we see, we can miss the point of entire artistic movements. Because there is so much art out there, this is easier than ever to do. Misinterpretation, for me, is the keyword here. Also, you are right on when you speak of the limbo period that occurs in contemporary art, many artists or artworks may have a limited shelf life, and not withstand the test of time; like natural selection only time will tell if something is worth remembering. The only part I think I missed was the soap opera part, what did you mean by this exactly? That was within the Smith article right?

    • Yea, Smith hardly mentions soap operas. In one small sentence where the subject matter is of relating to audiences, he mentions the soaps but not critically. He mentions them just to make a point that common people now have something to relate as opposed to the typical high art snob.

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