Contemporary Art is that art made by our contemporaries.

Arthur Danto

The quote above is a definition of contemporary art. There are many definitions, but this one is almost perfect. It is ahistorical; not tied to a particular set of dates. It is open and flexible; ie it does not mandate materiality or technique, it makes no mention of style nor does it state who is or who is not an artist other than “our contemporaries”; those who live in a time contemporaneous to our own.

Given such a definition, contemporary art becomes a creative space. It becomes a space that looks more democratic than prior to Danto’s observation, it becomes a social space of inclusion; the only requirements for membership in this group, according to Danto would be that you are my contemporary and I am yours.

Danto’s statement is, in philosophical terms, a tautology: a phrase or expression in which the same thing is said twice in different words. It is a particular kind of logic; a statement that is true by necessity or by virtue of its logical form:

Contemporary Art is that art made by our contemporaries; Art made by our contemporaries is therefore Contemporary Art.

I noted in class today that, our job is to peel back the layers of form and material and attitude and gesture and style and hack through the rhetoric and hyperbole that pervades the art world to find meaning. And that meaning will be largely subjective. In other words, what is meaningful to you might be different than your classmates. However, whether or not we individually find meaning in every work of art, our collective job is to engage; to use our ability to think critically about the work, about why it may be meaningful and worth our attention. To think about how it fits into the larger landscape of art and of culture.

What is relevant is how we engage with the questions it raises. Perhaps that is a significant difference between art and entertainment; personal taste is less important than the dialogs that take place around the practice of art; it is the discourse that matters most.

Douglas Rosenberg
Chair, Art Department