Sunday, April 29, 2007

Modern vs. Contemporary

Professor Creegan could you please do me a favor and define contemporary art? I believe most folks don't know the difference between modern and contemporary. It'd be a good start here at Jax CAL to make the differences clear. Anyone else who'd like to chime in please do so.

Thanks Mark.


onesock said...

Well, it is an easy thing to get confused because in normal parlance, the words “contemporary” and “modern” are basically interchangeable. “This modern world” is basically synonymous with “contemporary society”.

When it comes to art, however, these terms are used differently to describe both temporal and stylistic differences. Modern art began around 1880 with artists like Van Gogh and Gauguin , or , some say, with Manet. Either way, the break came when artists broke free from strict mimetic representation towards more subjectivity. Early on, modern artists concerned themselves with finding their unique styles (cubism, surrealism, dada, etc) that reflected inner and/or outer worlds (spirituality, technology, society ect.) , rather than depict life as they visually perceived it since the camera took over that job. But also involved in modern art is finding the “pure” idea of art. Cezanne started us down this road with his simplifying form into geometry (cone, sphere, cube), and continued thru to Greenbergian formalism which stresses the separate “pure” qualities of each medium (painting is flat, sculpture 3D). The temporal part of the definition of modern art comes in with the narrative of that progress toward purity. The idea of successive progress from Cezanne to Picasso to Mondrian, to Pollock, for example, is central to the idea of modern art. So, rather than represent the visual world, modern art basically meant that each medium must represent itself.

Where contemporary art comes in (around 1960), artists are no longer concerned with the idea of purity in art and with the historical progression of art. Contemporary art becomes more of a hybridization of styles (both pre-modern and modern art styles, pop culture, design, multicultural) and mediums. The defining line between painting and sculpture becomes blurred, the use of technology broadens the tools and uses of art. Contemporary art has different uses other than just decorative or medium-specificity, including conceptual, political, or social.

Some peeps lump all of the above def under the heading “post-modernism” and think about “contemporary art” in more temporal terms which range from art produced within the last 15 years, 10 years or 2 years. But, in this case, contemporary art could easily include art with premodern and modern art characteristics, so I think contemporary art museums tend to think about it in both temporal and stylistic terms in order to distinguish itself from a Modern Art museum.

mark creegan

onesock said...

this is a test post, everytime i try to post Blogger makes me sign up with google before ia can post.

Byron said...

Great input. Thanks Mark.

You could write a book on this it seems.

Thanks for clarifying. Anyone else have any input?

Did Marcel Duchamp have anything to do with making the line between the two clearer? Or was there any specific artists like Manet for Modern? If I remember correctly Duchamp was the heavyweight of contemporary. His R. Mutt piece caused such controversy on what was art?, that it redefined everything.

Jax CAL said...

Anyone should be able to comment now. I changed that setting.

Thanks for pointing that out Mark.

AO said...

In regards to Duchamp and the R. Mutt, I am reminded of the eternal artists struggle for validity, especially for the contemporary artist.

Anyone else feel the same?

In a letter to Duchamp, a fellow Dadaist, Hans Richter wrote:

"This Neo-Dada, which they call New Realism, Pop Art, Assemblage, etc., is an easy way out, and lives on what Dada did. When you discovered the ready-mades you sought to discourage aesthetics. In Neo-Dada they have taken your readymades and found aesthetic beauty in them, you threw the bottle-rack and the urinal into their faces as a challenge and now they admire them for their aesthetic beauty."

Duchamp actually had a more positive opinion:

Pop Art is a return to "conceptual" painting, virtually abandoned, except by the Surrealists, since Courbet, in favour of retinal painting... If you take a Campbell soup can and repeat it 50 times, you are not interested in the retinal image. What interests you is the concept that wants to put 50 Campbell soup cans on a canvas.

From the Marcel Duchamp Studies on-line Journal:

Anonymous said...

Contemporary doesn't have a mold or predefined definition.

It's like all of the molds have been broken. The evolution has gone full circle.

What are we to do now after having gone full circle? Get back on the circle?

I think contemporary artists are in a bit of a dilemma because they can't define themselves. I can see how some artists who actually have a predefine craft, printmakers, photographers, etc. do not have this issue, but mixed media artists, and painters head's are about to pop off with the defining and redefining process.

Or at least my head is?

Where'd you get those quotes AO? Amazing to read. Interesting to see that all of Duchamp's dada buddies weren't too agreeable with R. Mutt. I'm not a big fan of it visually but can see how conceptually it was a lightning bolt.

Anonymous said...

Why do contemporary museums need to distinguish themselves from a Modern art museum?

Seems MOMA shows contemporary work and is still called MOMA?

Just wondering?

AO said...

Hey Anon:

I am a quote junkie! Those actually came from Wikipedia; The passage actually refers to the comment (1st quote in my post)generally attributed to Duchamp, but later Richter acknowleged he made the comment. Interestingly, Duchamp is said to have jotted "Ok, ça va très bien" ("that's really fine")in the margin next to the comment.

mark creegan said...

Some say art has ended, that the practice of art self-perpetuates its own myth. The largesat irony of art being that the idea that pervades all of contemporary art, that the role of art is to make us question our conventional notions about art, has ITSELF become convention.

A conversation I had with Byron about our early "angry boy" art made in our early 20s made me think of how art acts as a method of subversive action. The students I have who are art majors, chose that major in perhaps an unconscious attempt to avoid a conventional life, and its true that life in art can be as radical as you can get without illegal activity. This is the appeal of art for me.

But as I get older, I realize this drive I have for unconventionality is as traditional as processes like printmaking and pottery. So there is no circle to get back on because it IS the circle. The Duchamp effect proves this in that any attempt at avant gardist disruption of the idea of art, even though may effectivly do this for a while, eventually gets consumed within "art".

So maybe that is a way of understanding that helps us keep our heads from popping off. Keep reinventing yourself, keep challenging your own conventional ideas about art, because
a) its the only area in life for radical ideas without being hauled off to a Guantanimo, and
B) there is no point in finding refuge from radicality (like chucking it all and making pots to sell at park fairs), because its ALL conventional. Its just that what you do APPEARS radical and that is as close as it gets to being truly radical.
Does any of this make sense :)?

Anonymous said...

Makes sense. But is it all Conventional? Art has recreated itself to such a degree hat there is truly revolutionary work being made in mediums that have never existed before.

mark creegan said...

Art allows for an individual to move thru the process of unconventional acts. A person taking an art class for the very first time, perhaps drawing for the very first time, is doing something just as radical as the most avant garde artist. The fact that the process of unconvionality is now itself conventional does not negate the radial actions of the individual within the context of his or her own life.

And yes its true that new technologies allow for the possiblity something revolutionary, but the strategies for making art that were developed by the 60s and 70s would also have to radically change. Perhaps new tools will lead to new strategies. Perhaps they are now but are so unrecognizable we dont call it "art"

Anonymous said...

Well put Mark.

Great input.

No matter what the medium the tools for creative expression are just that tools. Be it a paint brush, camera or custom software.

roman bradley said...

I've always put more importance on Joseph Beuys and Cy Twombly in seperating contemporary art from modern art.
While definetly Duchamp had his parts in this process, it was mostly in America that he affected American concepts of Modern art and Contemporary art.

Mostly because of Jasper Johns and Rauchenburg.

Rauchenburg of course seems to be the balancing act of that transition, from cy twombly to jasper johns.

After Jasper Johns, it became seemingly solely a process, or the adding on of a new material and the configuration of unique materials that created some sort of importance. CY twombly rarely uses anything but old fashioned art materials, albeit in a new unique fashion.

While you could probably reach back to the marketing of Leo Castelli in all probability from the deviation from American painting and a more European Dadaist approach it would be less interesting.

The work has to be mythical for those large prices to work themselves out.

I've always prefered the lesser known, often more talented painters in a larger tradition of painting that doesn't necessarily fit into these crisp categories.

Modernism has not been approached really by contemporary artists, Modern art is seperate but often coexists with contemporary painting.

In this the Modernist is a much more traditional and academic artist while the contemporary artist possibly is wrestling against Modernist imperialistic and colonistic concepts.

Until of course the contemporary artist is accepted by the establishment, then he/she can too become considered Modernist.

Most conversations from people in New York City lead me to believe that Modernism will again suck up and mine post modernism's more aesthetically pleasing motifs, while discarding post modernism and it's art as an infant terrible that it doesn't necessarily like to support, but will in fear that it will be put to blame for the self destruction Post modernism will and has incurred on Modern society.

Anonymous said...

Roman. Good points about Joseph Beuys. He's like the John Wayne of contemporary art. There's also this cat, Chris Burden. He sort of made all of them look like little girls.

Not that it's bad to be a little girl. But shooting yourself in the name of art? Don't think I could do that one.

Crucifying yourself to a VW bug? No thank you.

Anonymous said...

more on Chris.

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