Terry Smith, by Megan Keith

Terry Smith’s What is Contemporary Art begins with his defining it as “the institutionalized network through which the art of today presents itself to itself and to its interested audiences all over the world.” He goes on to call it “a trendsetting force”, claiming it to have the power to “mobilize nationalities”. I found it interesting that his idea of Contemporary Art represented a globalized component, as well as a local one, meaning a piece was to speak to a worldwide audience, while at the same time reaching out to a localized one as well.

But his critique of the idea of Contemporary Art involves the notion that it “substitutes passive acceptance for interrogation”, an idea which I felt meant that the audience of Contemporary Art has begun to overlook the necessity of questioning a piece, really observing it critically, and instead, has begun to appreciate a piece for the sake of it. Smith claims that a “taste for the unformed has come to dominate the international art scene in recent years”, a claim which implies the incomplete nature of Contemporary Art, as sufficient time has not been allowed to appreciate the piece, or look back on it with perspective, thus preventing an adequate “formation” of said artwork. In fact, he concludes his thoughts with the idea that “It is just becoming visible to us”, which meant that only with the passing of ample time comes the real understanding of Contemporary Art.

My understanding of Contemporary Art comes from a further statement from Smith: “It is what we say, it is what we do, it is the art we show, that we buy and sell, that we promote and interpret.” I’ve understood contemporary art to be the art that is being created today, that is new and exciting and possibly misunderstood, with the only hope of true understanding waiting far in the future. But I believe the lack of complete understanding gives a piece more room for personal interpretation and admiration. As a non-art major, I love a piece due to sheer attraction to it; I don’t search for underlying messages or promotions. I see the surface of a piece and come to love it or walk by it, due to the feelings it provokes inside me, nothing more and nothing less.

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