Contemporary art. What is it?
“I don’t even know what that means”
“No one knows what it means but it’s provocative”
“No, it’s not, it’s gross”
“It gets the people going!”
Yes that is a Blades of Glory reference.
All of that is true. Contemporary art gets the people going when the don’t immediately understand it and are frustrated. How many times have you gone into a contemporary art gallery and became confused or angry by what you were looking at? Maybe it’s just me… despite being in an art program. I have to admit, I don’t understand some works. I realized that is totally fine and I don’t have to ‘get’ everything right away or at all.
Contemporary art can also get the people going when it’s that moment of “Ahh, I understand it now!” Yeah, sometimes it can be ‘gross’ as in make you feel uncomfortable, feel moved, or feel completely indifferent to it.
I took a seminar course on contemporary art this past summer and I honestly can’t give you a definition that properly sums it up. My teacher reminded us that all art is contemporary and modern in the moment of its time. We just feel the need to categorize and label periods to make sense of things. This need causes an issue because what will all this be called in the future? Will it become Post-post-modern? No, because we have to admit, that sounds ridiculous! I mean it can’t be called contemporary art forever… can it?
The class made me realize how difficult it was to provide a clear definition or even give an exact date for when it began. Some people say it began in 1985, some say earlier, or later. I simply understand contemporary art as “art today” as said by Jean- Luc Nancy. In one of our readings, Nancy uses ‘art today’ because “contemporary art is a fixed phrase…a strange historical category since it is a category whose borders are shifting…and continually moving.” His talk titled Art Today is translated and published in Journal of Visual Culture in case you were interested in reading more.
Anyways, I apologize if you were looking for a solid definition of this possibly confusing time in art that is still changing and moving.
So you might be wondering then, “what the heck did you learn in that class?” That course has been one of the most influential courses I have taken. Seriously. It was challenging and intimidating with large assignments like 30 minute presentations and 20 paged-papers! Hey, that’s a huge jump when the most I’ve ever written were 12 paged-papers. I find I still think about the topics we discussed in class which I would like to share my thoughts on, like political correctness in art, reimagining the white cube, and the lines (if any) between appropriation, originality, and plagiarism, because those are grey areas and it gets me going! Ha.
side note: If you ever get the opportunity to take a seminar course, do it. I think that any course that makes you curious even after the semester is over, is a good one!