Artists must be able to contextualise their work

Modern vs Contemporary Art at the Armory | Art Guides

This video is from The Creators project and is a short look at reporter Kathleen Flood’s visit to the 2016 Armory Show in New York. Kathleen wants to find out what the difference between ‘modern’ and ‘contemporary’ art is. She is unable to get a cogent answer. She speaks to an ‘Art Consultant’ and an artist who both tell her that “modern artists are dead” and “contemporary artists are alive” – not even a brief explanation of Modernism or what important movements came between then and now. According to this logic, if the artist who gave her this definition died tomorrow would his work suddenly jump from being contemporary to Modernist?

She then talks to artists about their work and very few are able to give any context for their practice. An artist called Ed Young talks about his works “All So Fucking African” and “Delroy” but is unable to give us any insight in to what it is or why he created it; in fact he uses the phrase “I really don’t know why I made it” as his parting gift. For a white South African male to make a piece of work like this, he really needs to know why he’s doing it – does he want to reference apartheid and colonialism? Is he looking at the commoditisation of the African continent and it’s indigenous people? Or does he just want to make a big controversial banner with the word FUCK on it? Come on Ed, what’s the context for this work? Being controversial and thinking it looks kinda cool isn’t enough.

This brought into sharp relief for me the difference between artists who can talk about their practice and those that cannot. Granted this video is really more of a pop culture interlude than a serious piece from the art world, but this is exactly why the public think that contemporary art has little value and is just a bunch of pretentious fluff. If artists and art world people can’t succinctly or correctly explain why modern art and contemporary art are different, then how is anyone else viewing work supposed to know?

Contextualising and speaking about your work in a succinct and informed manner is difficult. It’s a constant challenge for me but it allows me to speak to others and to myself about the work. The ability to question and answer enriches the work in ways that can’t be found elsewhere.

The best bit of this video was a woman explaining which works her celebrity instagram dog enjoys the most and why. Welcome to The Armory.

4 thoughts on “Artists must be able to contextualise their work

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  1. wow, sightly speechless after watching the clip. Given me a boost to stop fighting the need to contextualise my work, no way do I want to sound so incredibly naive and for lack of a better word – dumb when I leave this course

    1. I know! I was shocked and disappointed. But it goes to show the huge chasm between artists who can talk easily and coherently about their work and those who can’t. I couldn’t talk about my work when I started the MFA but I can now! I’ve still got gaps and holes but you expect that 🙂 I imagine it takes a lifetime of art to really get a grip on what you are creating.

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