By Adam Parker, Post and Courier, February 11, 2017
Pictured: Legendary, sweetgrass basket sculptor Mary Jackson who is based in Charleston, SC.
“Contemporary art” is an opaque term. What exactly does it mean? The broadest definition, one to which Gibbes Museum Executive Director Angela Mack subscribes, is “art made by a living person.” If the artist is contemporary, then the art she produces is contemporary.
But that definition is too encompassing for Tim Hussey. What if the art produced is an impressionist watercolor of Bulls Bay, or a portrait in the classical style? Does it qualify as “contemporary”? Hussey says to do so art should have “substance beyond its representational value.” It should say something about the human condition or convey emotional depth or express some explicit or implicit idea. It should break the rules in some way.
Erin Nathanson of The Southern gallery is perhaps less severe, but she too thinks contemporary art is work that’s not only new, not only made by living artists, not only representative of our peculiar historical moment, but imbued with significance. “We want our shows to be about something,” she said.
Of course, all art was at one time “contemporary.” Giotto embraced a naturalism never before seen, and it blew people’s minds. When Bronzino painted sculpture-like, elongated figures, he was abandoning the clean harmony and proportion of the Renaissance style and interjecting the artist’s unique discernment.
Rembrandt broke all kinds of rules, using a dark color palette and increasingly expressionistic technique. As he aged he worried less and less about what his clients thought and made pictures, including many self-portraits, that were as much about Rembrandt the Artist as the subjects he portrayed. He was the Beethoven of painters, breaking the discipline free of its age-old patronage-based system.
Flash forward to Cezanne, who was among the first to venture into the world of abstraction. Or consider Warhol, who made art inspired by commerce and popular culture. And what about Jackson Pollack and his action painting? You get the point.
All of these artists were breaking rules and presenting a unique visual experience. They also were all expressing new ideas, sometimes delving into the philosophical or spiritual realm, sometimes insisting on social commentary, sometimes challenging aesthetic expectations.
So what is contemporary art? You decide.VIEW THE FULL ARTICLE