Lightning Rod - Will Cotton

Will Cotton's sumptuous oil paintings are in the soft focus, soft-core tradition of 18th-century masters Broc, Gerard, Franque and Fragonard. Like his predecessors, Cotton (born in Massachusetts in 1965 and studied art at New York's Cooper Union and the New York Academy of Art) paints beautiful, creamy skinned nudes amidst luscious surroundings. But while Cotton's paintings recall the sensuality and delight of his forefathers, Cotton updates his opulent source material by replacing pastoral love scenes with mountains of sweets and erotic treats. Cotton is now a Senior Critic at the Academy.


What are the criteria that make a work of art contemporary/relevant?

61 comments:

  1. It is said( I think) by Milan Kundera that art's purpose is to expand upon and communicate the condition of "being". I guess that means the communication of the artist's inner world. since the inner world of a person is shaped by the person's life and surroundings(life + creativity), the artist has to be social to have his/her inner life to be contemporary. I guess to be contemporary is to not be taken over by the art of older generations but rather devour them to be parts of the artist's inner-world to expressed as parts of the whole. expression of inner-worlds grown from contemporary life and sprung from art of past generations???

    but everything said here is absolutely a personal point of view. Milan Kundera's point of view which this comment is based on is also his own personal view.

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  2. Contemporary; as in the time defined as now. Issues, ideas, fashions, ethics, politics, values, beliefs; all have an evolutionary, some revolutionary aspects to their expression.
    The contemporary artist is concerned with concepts of today, perhaps in comparison with other eras, but certainly as expressions of the world as it is now.

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  3. contemporary- made now.

    relevant- engages an audience.

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  4. I find it interesting that "contemporary" (of the current mode, trendy, being uniquely of the moment) is equated with relevant (having transcendent meaning, speaking to a deeper self, reflecting a deeper experience). I often wonder if the the aggressively contemporary can ever have any relevance, can ever provide perspective or if relevance grows out of understanding ones place in the eternal.

    But then that is only a passing whim of mine,
    Robert Avila

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  5. What makes a work of art contemporary?
    One that acknowledges that we, as a species are fucked.
    This world operates like a big casino. We've made Money our King. The majority of this planet lives in squalor and starvation.
    Opinions are useless. Practical action and solutions would help. Can art help to create a new system? A system that considers what is best for all?
    Or do we prefer to keep discussing one another's "deep aesthetic insights" as pretend to care?

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  6. Perhaps the ancient Saturnian Myth of devouring one's children until the children revolt, conquer the father, and rule from Olympian heights explains the process of artist's relevancy and contemporaneousness. All art is contemporary once. To remain contemporary and relevant, art like people must evolve through time and have a relation to the human condition, as well as a dialogue with people and societal concerns whether that be pop culturally or more profound and lasting, the primordial, archetypal and universal. We'll call the greater contemporary artist's role as part alchemy, allegory inventor, visual poet, and interpreter of the larger mechanics of the cosmos and leave the live news feed to the ephemeral mass media. The contemporary artist must understand where he or she has come from, however must develop a dialect that is understood by his or her contemporaries while having lasting intrinsic value to "want" to be understood and sought out by those who follow.

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  7. Martha ErlebacherJune 14, 2010 at 9:46 AM

    I find the question irrelevant.
    Salvatore Dali said, to the effect, do not strive to be a modern artist. That is the one thing, unfortunately, you cannot help being.
    To quote Egon Schiele, "Art cannot be modern. Art is primordially eternal."

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  8. A new view of an old thing, approaching your subject in a new light.....

    Joe Gyurcsak
    Resident Artist Utrecht

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  9. a new aesthetic exuding control, confidence and dynamism.

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  10. The only criteria to make work contemporary and relevant is to make work that is sincere and honest. Because we are living in the present we are contemporary beings. If our work comes directly from us it will automatically become contemporary. It is when we intentionally try to make it for a particular category such as contemporary or modern, that it becomes forced.

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  11. Relativity is often best intuited through viewing.

    Take, for example, my work: www.paulacarletondesign.com the relevance and contemporaneity of which can be experienced directly through acquisition, which I highly recommend.

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  12. Whatever happens to be hip in Chelsea.

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  13. I think the question is too broad. What context or relation does the work of art have. Relevant to what: The Artists own work or peers; The Gallery it may be made for; The hope that it is Reviewed and by whom and for what journal; the Collector; Is the work sold for $100 or $100,000? I think my work is relevant and contemporary but my audience, sales and press are limited or nil versus yours which is greater, does this mean that your work is MORE relevant or contemporary? If we could agree can actually make a list (criteria) for a work of art contemporary/relevant by which I think you mean valid and important, we should all have that list.

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  14. To be relevant to the present day a work of art must act as a conduit from the past to the future. It must remain alive and "in the moment" as it describes historical events. In addition it must in some way predict times to come.

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  15. The question is irrelevant. Salvatore Dali was right when he said we should not strive to be modern artists, it is the one thing, unfortunately, we cannot help being.
    I agree with Egon Schiele who said, "Art cannot be modern. Art is primordially eternal."

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  16. This question is very vague and subjective...Relevant in who's eyes ? I think Will Cotton is arrogantly and automatically assuming Art has some important relavance in our society. Notice I capitolized the word (like I actually believe). I don't think there is a true way to judge what is more relevant. Taste is subjective. Everyone will tell you a different story and have their own opinion.....Unless you believe that a price tag on a piece of work determines it's value ? Jeff Koons and all those other disgustingly rich artists would surely sleep better if this was true.

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  17. One criterion that makes a work of art contemporary/relevant is its character of being alive, and of conveying that life and feeling to the viewer. It's not a question of a specific style or content, nor even of when the work was created. A Caravaggio in this respect could be more contemporary/relevant than a portrait completed yesterday. A living work of art will live forever and will convey that life no matter the age in which it exists. Time is a construct of the mind that evaporates in the light of eternal realities. There is no age except the Age of Humanity.

    Though the art of our day, specifically, seems to have a universal quality of challenging the viewer's assumptions and expectations. Rafael felt he was contributing to his society and reinforcing it's beliefs. Today, almost universally, artists want the viewer to be disconcerted and thrown back upon the concepts with which they approach the artist's work, usually by way of a distortion of familiar forms and idioms.

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  18. Student - I like what you said about Kundera, could he also be speaking of a collective condition of "being"? I've only read a couple of his novels, but they both dealt with multiple characters or stories that were somehow connected in the end. Maybe this could be a model for making contemporary/relevant work? The artwork can be unique to the artist's inner world, but if it doesn't touch on the inner world's of other artists, or anyone for that matter, how can it be contemporary or relevant? I'm not sure if being a social animal is enough to be contemporary either, especially today.

    Drawing upon a theme or ideology that can be identified over a generation, or population - that is what I think it means to be contemporary. Reflecting on older generations of art/artists is not necessary for relevance, but I agree that artists should use (or at the very least recognize) art historical themes and references to build upon their own work.

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  19. The contemporary-ness of a piece obviously involves the fact it was created or conceived within the current passage of time. I also believe that there is a second deeper quality to what it is to be contemporary art.

    By that definition, it would seem contemporary art must have certain relevancy to others who also exist in this current passage of time to be considered so; it must resonate on some level through a shared experience, shared response, shared thought, depends on the specific piece of art. I think contemporary art is created by those who are sensitive to changes and fluctuations in the current, external world they inhabit, and are able and willing to let it inform their work.

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  20. I would disagree and say the condition of "being" ascribes to the grander scale, a general understanding of our existence. Art used to be dedicated to communicating that understanding through religious means, as it was the only widespread understanding of reality. Now things are far more complicated, and the artist must act on their own accord, but the duty remains the same. The condition of "being" must include all aspects of existential understanding, the mind, the physical, the "soul", and their relationships with the social world around us. I would say the duty of artists has always been and remains that of the philosopher, one who can deliver visual means of understanding. So in my opinion, the communication of the artist's personal identity and experience can be often self-indulgent and rather irrelevant unless it does directly speak to that larger whole.

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  21. It was interesting to read the comment above. An artist's inner world has only been of acknowledged importance in about the last 200 years ... since the romantic era. I've been studying the history of creativity and interested to learn about a socio-cultural view of creativity. There are 3 components... the individual, the domain and the field. The domain, i.e. painting, sculpture, dance, music etc. can only change if the field - those that judge, i.e. the museums, art institutes etc. support the work of the artist who has expanded upon all that has come before in a particular domain. As a psychoanalyst now (serious arm injury forced me to redirect my art goals though art and creativity are always at the core) I have focused on creativity, and as one of my specialties working with people who are in cult recovery (how's that for a specialization!) I have had the opportunity to guest edit a journal on the theme of Cults and Creativity and so have been immersed in thinking about these themes. I sgugest that cults occupy the position of "the field" and therefore exclusively dictate all domains. If we look at contemporary art we have to look at how western societal fields are open to or not open to the individual's integration of the particular domain, as stated by the respondent above, and out of that process combines, deconstructs and reconstructs so that the artwork reflects the individual's inner world within that context. So, compared to creativity being only a feature of the divine, or a representation of reason, or a representation of feeling, how does contemporary art reflect who we are as a culture post 9/11, post first black president of the US, etc? How does contemporary art reflect post-modern thinking that there is no absolute meaning and that only when mourning and loss are fully embraced can lack/gap not be filled by substances or cult doctrine for that matter, thus allowing for ongoing transformation and a state of being that phenomenologically helps us think about wholeness as an illusion. And then what of the ideal beauty and wonder of classical art in contemporary times? I think that this dynamic tension is central ... Lack/gap is not a negative concept. It allows for sliding room that is necessary for freedom.

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  22. I guess I would respond "relevant to whom"?

    As for contemporary/relevant : its weird to see the backslash formation here--they are not synonymous by any means. One can be relevant and not contemporary or vice versa.

    Personally, I want work to transcend contemprariness and be eternally relevant in a universal kind of way (which I guess means contemporary would not be part of the equation) I think some themes will never lose relevance: life, death, love, bodies and what's for dinner.

    As for the material/technical issues of how these themes are executed, I think they need to be personal enough to be original (i.e. not done to death in the same old way) and universal enough to be received by others.

    If the question is what's relevant to the ART WORLD exclusively then it becomes a game of second guessing what's the next big thang.

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  23. The problem with this question is that it is parochial, temporally and culturally. "Contemporary" in the strictest sense of the word is no guarantee of "relevance" (relevance to what?). There are no definitive criteria to answer this question because the conditions that govern the designations (whatever their worth as designations) are so fluid and complex. There are works from the distant past that we all find relevant both in terms of our time and our circumstances in life. There are also works made in the current year that are unknown to us (i.e. due to being made in another language, culture) that we might find very "relevant" to our circumstances if we could know of them. In the end, neither being contemporary, nor being relevant to the given audience necessarily indicates the aesthetic (or other) excellence of the work in question.

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  24. Language has become more complex than ever... it is impossible to determine relevance in our time. If there is such a thing as relevance then its for the generations to come to make that determination. As far as what's contemporary, who can escape it's curse.

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  25. First off, relevant to what? The art world is made up of so many relevant faucets. There's no ONE culture, even in the United States.

    That being said, If a societies culture is defined by its art, then its "relevant" art must express the values, ethics, etc, of that culture. In addition, and probably more important, we often value art which pushes the front end of those ever changing values.

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  26. it is contemporary if it is done today and it is relevant to the moment that it was done in for at least the person who made it.

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  27. I think that Art is contemporary if it is created by a living artist. We are all influenced by others and society either directly or indirectly, and what ever response we have cannot help but to be a contemporary response.

    Art is relevant if it fulfills its purpose as an exploration of meaningful communication vis-à-vis the human experience.

    " [The purpose of Art] is the meaningful objectification of whatever is metaphysically important to man." - Louis Torres and Michelle Kamhi, "What is Art" 2000

    That is to say that the purpose of Art is to make the metaphysical concerns, ideas, values, and experiences of mankind concrete and immediately perceivable in a meaningful way.

    Or as I would say it: Art is the meeting between communication and communion.

    So, meaningful communication is the shared purpose of Art. Communication requires both a communicator and one to receive the communication. The idea of an artist is not relevant until it is expressed in some form. Once it is expressed, it becomes a form of communication and can be evaluated based on how meaningful this communication is. In order for communication to be meaningful it requires both intellectual/conceptual content as well as emotive content. Intellectual content without an emotive component renders the content impotent, often unintelligible, and meaningless, and the same is true for the opposite. This necessitates an evaluation of quality based on these criteria.

    So, a work of Art is relevant if it has both valuable or meaningful conceptual content and emotive content (meaningful to both the artist and the viewer, but not necessarily the exact same meaning). This is regardless of whether or not it refers to specifically contemporary values, modes, ideas, or concerns (i.e. those elements that will change) because these contemporary concerns, modes, etc... are the result of unchanging human nature and the universal human condition. If a work of Art addresses the universal concerns of "being" or the human condition, then it will always be meaningful and relevant as long as our species is here to perceive the Art. Conversely, if it ONLY addresses specifically contemporary values, modes, ideas, or concerns then it will be relevant only as long as those elements remain contemporary. It will quickly become as irrelevant as a concern over the "Killer Bees", Japanese industry taking over the world, and the Dukakis/Bush Sr. presidential election. What could be relevant today about these subjects, if explored, are the underlying and unchanging issues: man's self destructive relationship with nature, man's struggle for power/ the question of "us" and the "other", and the nature of politicians, society, and our systems of governance, etc...

    Thus, Ibsen and Shakespeare are relevant today. And further, if Ovid had never written "Metamorphosis" and someone wrote it today in the exact same manifestation as we currently know it, it would be as relevant as it is being a work of Ovid. If it were written in Ancient Greek, it would still be relevant to someone who could read Ancient Greek, even if I couldn't read it. I think this is analogous to the visual arts as well.

    Of course this is just my opinion. But the validity of the logic will reveal itself to be true, partially true, or false based on the soundness of the fundamental assumptions. I hope it has helped to clarify the subject.

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  28. Good question. It is an ongoing dilemma. To be of one's time. In response, I offer two quotes to chew on. The first, by Carl Jung..

    “Everything young grows old, all beauty fades, all heat cools, all brightness dims, and every truth becomes stale and trite. For all these things have taken on shape, and all shapes are worn thin by the working of time; they age, sicken, crumble to dust – unless they change. But change they can, for the invisible spark that generated them is potent enough for infinite generation. No one should deny the danger of the descent, but it can be risked. No one need risk it, but it is certain that some one will. And let those who go down the sunset way do so with open eyes, for it is a sacrifice which daunts even the gods. Yet every descent is followed by an ascent; the vanishing shapes are shaped anew, and a truth is valid in the end only if it suffers change and bears new witness in new images, in new tongues, like a new wine that is put into new bottles.”

    The second by, DH Lawrence, (excuse gender)...

    "Man struggles with his unborn needs and fulfillment. New unfoldings struggle up in torment in him, as buds struggle forth from the midst of a plant. Any man of real individuality tries to know and understand what is happening, even in himself as he goes along. This struggle for verbal consciousness should not be left out in Art. It is a very great part of life. It is not superimposition of a theory. It is the passionate struggle into conscious being.

    We are now in a period of Crisis. Every man who is acutely alive is acutely wrestling with his own soul. The people that can bring forth the new passion, the new idea, will endure. The others, that fix themselves in the old idea, will perish with the new life strangled unborn within them. Men must speak out to one another."

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  29. I wouldn't assume that 'contemporary' and 'relevant' mean the same thing. Paintings and sculptures that are poorly conceived and executed will never be artistically relevant, no matter how great their contemporary succès de scandale may be.
    The shadow of Manet's'Olympia' looms large nowadays, but I believe that that's only because the picture was, from the start, both contemporary in content and artistically relevant.

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  30. What criteria make contemporary art relevant? Does it touch me?-and especially, if I were not artistically trained, would it touch me?

    To me the greatest artwork is less about technical demonstration and more about immediately compelling content achieved by using literary devices in conjunction with imagery to defy expectations of the viewer and elevate or denigrate established social standards.

    There is historical artwork that is just as compelling now as it was when it was created (such as Goya's 'Saturn Devouring His Son')and I would consider that art to have contemporary relevance because society still deals with similar problems that such work initially confronted since there is a very slow adjustment of cultural convention.

    Much contemporary artwork is a only modern restatement of arguments that have previously been made, often more clearly, by other artists and thinkers for millennia. And other contemporary work is isolated and masturbatory. The relevance of such work should be debated.

    As artists receive accolades and build careers around this kind of work, younger artists take note and some emulate the process potentially creating an entire generation of "successful" creative individuals who express without critical examination of their content creating hollow models of financial success whose relevance can not last.

    *ASIDE* An individual I hope all artists will know is artist and activist Theo van Gogh (great grandson to Theodor van Gogh) a Dutch Filmmaker whose project "Submission" a critical examination of misogynistic text from the Koran created in collaboration with political activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali (critic of conservative Islam and victim/opponent of Female Genital Cutting) inspired his murder organized by a Muslim extremist terrorist group, an event which shook the foundation of Dutch policy and forced Ali into hiding.

    South Park was recently censored for attempting to show an image of Islamic prophet Mohamed after anonymous threats were submitted to Comedy Central alluding to the "righteous" murder of Theo van Gogh. As artists are targeted and controlled with threats of violence one has to wonder "What is free speech?" and much more importantly "What is the value/price of free speech?"

    If extremists consistently respond to criticism of their ideas with violence, eventually the general shape of art will be shaped by that oppression, similar to the way the early Catholic church "influenced" scientific thought and artistic expression after the fall of Rome and up to the Renaissance.

    Are we on the cusp of another medieval period brought about by extremist threats and ineffectual social response to the injustice perpetrated by zealots? What is "appropriate" to say? Is it righteous to be "offensive" in response to conservative values bent on silencing descent?

    To make relevant art today I think artists have to ask themselves these questions. As artists we are being herded like livestock, and we either work together to confront the world in which we exist, or we bow to expectations and make meaningless artwork. Thanks for reading my long-winded take.*

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  31. it has to be mediocre, appeal to the collective, and lack any recognizable individuality. only then is is relevant to the contemporary community.

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  32. Technology, globalism, capitalism, and the internet (among other movements and innovations) have reinvented the meaning of relevance to the art world.
    Contemporary art can no longer be broken down into a set of criteria to be judged. This type of criticism and judgment can be short-sighted, where such evaluation needs a more universal perspective. Art, based on definition can only expand, and thus needs a continually evolving set of criteria for determining relevance.
    "Relevance" and "validity" are out of vogue and out of step with today's artistic landscape.
    An ecumenical approach to artistic taste and aesthetic judgement suits today's climate.

    Just a voice of many...

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  33. Hmm, good question and something I think about regularly. I hope thats the first step!

    Being a painter, particularly one based in traditional representation, automatically puts us at a disadvantage of being directly contemporary. However, It can also be our strength if we consider what we represent and try to understand how it may be viewed. This is where ones social circle becomes key. The broader the dialogue and feedback, the greater our understanding of what was made and the context within which its made. All images have language, style, and attitude. Harnessing these aspects in our work and using them intentionally is the best way (in my opinion) to be contemporary/relevant.

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  34. this is an impossible question.
    the criteria that "make a work of art relevant" imply a knowledge of the future that no one, short of the Delphic Oracle (a purported drug addict), could hope to have access to.
    As for what makes a work of art contemporary... i would have to answer: it's existence.

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  35. who is "approving" my comment???

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  36. There are many games well played in art concerning the social context of acceptance, rejection and subversion. Seeking placement in that hierarchy of relevance can range from professional ambition to incorporating historical consciousness into the creative process.

    But I have to ask:
    Does death make life relevant?
    Then what of the objects that seek to embody and communicate information beyond the individual's scope and lifetime?

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  37. I am in agreement with Kundera (and his fan above) that art is related to the condition of 'being'. It is a continuum of ideas that can touch the heart and soul of our aliveness. I think I would say that to be contemporary and relevant is to clearly communicate a timeless statement of 'being' from within the visual climate of the moment but with one foot stepping into the unknown.

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  38. Okay, So perhaps my initial response was both intemperate and evasive. Maybe the big question is: "relevant to whom?" People already interested in art will always get involved, even if they loath the thing they're looking at.

    Maybe "relevant" means "capable of reaching a larger, non-art audience." So, with that in mind, here are my Three Criteria for Relevance:
    1) The work must represent recognizable people, places and things, and it must do so with an impressive level of skill. Anything that might evoke the comment, "My kid could do better!" is not eligible.
    2) The work must have as its subject an event all people have either heard about, witnessed or participated in.
    3) The work must be displayed in a place where it is widely accessible, (cuz, who goes to art galleries?).

    Voila: "Freedom from Want," by Norman Rockwell. Any takers? Any one else out there?

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  39. I think it has something to do with writing your own blog.

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  40. Technology, globalism, capitalism, and the internet (among other movements and innovations) have reinvented the meaning of relevance to the art world.
    Contemporary art can no longer be broken down into a set of criteria to be judged. This type of criticism and judgment can be short-sighted, where such evaluation needs a more universal perspective. Art, based on definition can only expand, and thus needs a continually evolving set of criteria for determining relevance.
    "Relevance" and "validity" are out of vogue and out of step with today's artistic landscape.
    An ecumenical approach to artistic taste and aesthetic judgement suits today's climate.

    Just a voice of many...

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  41. A work is contemporary if it is about some subject that is related to recent developments in politics, technology, current events etc. within the society from where it is created. It can be a personal response to such matters but only if it can be visually accessible to the common viewer and not so personal as to be remote or incomprehensible. If it is too personal and not accessible then it becomes irrelevant. The developments mentioned above can even be pyschological as in the general depression that was felt in NYC directly after 9/11.
    Manet's "Olympia" is a good example for contemporaneous and relevant for mid 19th century Parisian society and because the painting is so strongly put and clearly stated it was easily understandable for most of European and North American viewers at the time, and still can be easily learned about today.
    It is very important for artists to address this question regularly regarding their own work and not to rely too much on what other artists, novelists, philosophers or art critics think but to form their own answers.

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  42. To answer the question, it may be helpful to consider whether or not contemporary and relevant are one and the same, and come to an agreement on how we shall interpret both contemporary and relevant.

    Generally speaking,for a work to be contemporary,it would seem the only broad requirement would be that it is done in this day and time. Any art done today could be considered contemporary even if it can be classified into one of the earlier movements or "isms".

    However,if, by contemporary we mean a work of art must have certain characteristics (materials, technique, concept, approach, etc) which in some way speak to the issues of contemporary culture/society. then we must discern the degree to which any or all of these criteria are met in any given work of art.

    In terms of relevance,we could also benefit from some clarification as to what is meant, i.e if a work is relevant to the artist, does that make it relevant to the larger culture?

    Or is the notion of relevance solely the province of the larger culture? (institutional, commercial,educational, etc.)

    It would be interesting to hear from others on this.

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  43. Haha Jerry Saltz said the same thing on 'Work of Art' in the first episode about successful art being an expression of the artists innerworld. Being on television is a good start. Though truely for a work of art to be contemporary and relative, someone important must deem it so.

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  44. This question feels like a little bit of a “red herring”. Frequently the aspects of a work of art that makes it contemporary/relevant are the very things that will make it topical and hence frozen in time. Its relevance is located entirely in its moment of creation. The real challenge is to be contemporary/relevant and lasting. What is remarkable about Guernica isn’t that it is an image of the bombing of a Basque village filtered through the lens of synthetic cubism, but that it is a distillation of the horrors of war.

    This challenge, to be aware of history, to be located in your own time and to make art that exceeds your moment is what really matters.

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  45. I almost completely agree with you Peter. But I would have to say that a work of art's relevance is not "located entirely in its moment of creation". It seems to me that relevance is more a product of the interaction between the artist and the viewer vicariously through the work of art. That interaction is not always very clear cut and varies to a degree from viewer to viewer and generation to generation. Otherwise I agree with your conclusion.

    Regarding being "contemporary". that word it seems to me is often used (knowingly or not) as a euphemism for a "fad" or "fashion" of the moment, and should not necessarily be equated with relevance.

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  46. Cory MorgensteinJune 15, 2010 at 3:49 PM

    To me art is like science, it is constantly progressing as people are building off of what has come before. To be contemporary and relevant means that you have a strong knowledge of tradition. It also means you are creative and innovative. Making a contribution is what is important. This is different than fad or trendy art which is based on fitting in and following. This is also different than simply addressing current issues. A true contemporary and relevant artist is a leader with a voice who is progressing art in some way.

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  47. this discussion has stemmed into a wonderful dialog. I agree with Mr. Drake completely

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  48. Sir James Adkins '12June 15, 2010 at 4:34 PM

    My response to the question posed, with all due respect to Mr. Cotton, would be; “What difference does it make if a work is ‘relevant?’” and/or, “Who cares if a piece is relevant?”

    I think artists’ first and possibly only concern should be the quality of their work, i.e. the skill visible in their pieces. For me, there are far too many ‘artists’ trying to be ‘edgy’, ‘controversial’, ‘shocking’, etc., and not enough artist trying to be great.

    When Bernini was given the commission from Cardinal Borghese to sculpt, ‘The Rape of Proserpina’ does anyone think that he contemplated; “How can I make this piece contemporary or relevant?” My guess would be, “no” and that his only concern was to make an amazing piece. (Mission accomplished) Even if he had tried to make some sort of contemporary tie-in within the piece, who would care? When one stands in front of the piece, one doesn’t ask; “Was this piece considered contemporary or relevant in 1622?” Rather, one in first awed, and then considers quitting as an artist.

    So, my advice to anyone whose foot might fit in the shoe; stop trying to be contemporary/relevant, instead, start trying to be Bernini i.e. amazing…

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  49. This is a question that I often ask myself with regards to my own painting. Since I work on site in the ever-changing Manhattan landscape, this question is more often than not, answered for me. But it is also a question answered by me. I live and work in the present. The tradition of urban landscape painting is hundreds of years old. Unlike many of my contemporaries, I do not believe that it is necessary to jettison or swallow whole this history in order to appear relevant today. The structures that appear in my paintings are structures of my time and place even if they are part of a tradition.

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  50. Contemporary is now, relevance is organic to contemporary as it is to now. So a work of art that is created now is relevant to contemporary.
    The rest is one's own personal choice of expression.

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  51. Walking the line between plagiarism and revolution requires pushing mediums and having a flexible creative identity.

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  52. I only want to add an "amen" to Mr. Adkins's remarks. Thanks.

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  53. Art should reveal a deeper truth, a deeper understanding about the human condition and about the world, through the power of the visual medium (rather the written or spoken word.) The rest is irrelevant. Any attempt to overlay a matrix of contemporariness perverts the medium. I agree with Martha Erlbacher about being contemporary.

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  54. Do what you have to do, Art has to be relevant to the artist that makes it and incidentally it can become contemporary when it becomes relevant to the wider world.
    Or you cold do a market research and see what sells.

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  55. The criteria should include the relationship between the artist's interpretation of his or her subject and the audience for there to be relevancy. True art is an organic expression that must evoke a response from both the artist and the viewer. One must be weary, however, of novelty for novelty's sake or the assupmtion that everything in modern art should be the newest or latest fashion.

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  56. I've spent most of my life trying to understand what makes a work of art a 'classic' - its relevance will survive the test of time, in 1000 years it will still reach that inner core & evoke a feeling of completeness or empathy. The question is, have recent changes in technology and media evolved/ devolved man/womankind to the point to which the classics are no longer recognizable? If so is that a new ‘enlightenment’, or simply a loss of soul? If that core is indestructible, then a certain classical element must be reflected in even the most outrageous contemporary work to make it relevant. Picasso knew this & often incorporated a classical sense into his 4 dimensional experiments. Today most Americans under 21 can’t tell you who Stalin or Hemmingway are. If mankind has lost its soul, then we settle for what the media with the most money sells to the masses in endless repetition. A quarter of the world’s population (and growing rapidly), rejects figurative art altogether and demands a stylistic form of calligraphy for self expression instead. But that’s another crusade.
    Tom A. Hoffman ‘86

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  57. Coming late to this conversation...perhaps later is better having had a chance to read the previous entries. The range seems to be from the strongest reaction against the question ("half the planet is starving, what relevance does this question have") to discussions of what consitutes "classic". It seems to me that this commentary is telling of our particular cultural (multicultural) moment: little real conviction, much passionate debate. My question relates to the conditions that lead to such a discussion. Are we fatally skeptical/suspicious/cool/ironic/self-conscious? Is sincerity the new leprosy?
    Contemporary culture makers are always looking over their shoulder -- and that fearful stance is only the most obvious (post)modern situation. Lastly, I ask what makes for the confident ability to make a thing well and believe and experience that it has meaning. Perhaps Alistair MacIntyre is right (in After Virtue) that micro-communities are the future of meaning.

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  58. Wow, thanks everyone for your thoughts on the subject!
    I really liked reading the the thread of comments beginning with the Kundera quote. I'd agree that if an artist remains focused on his or her own condition of being, the contemporary and the relevant are most likely to follow. This is nicely echoed in Will Kurtz's comment regarding sincerity and honesty. Thanks Bo for the terrific Jung and Lawrence quotes.
    And thanks Peter Drake for pointing out one of the inherent dilemmas of contemporary relevancy.
    I agree with Cory Morganstein's emphasis on the importance of knowing the past as a means to understanding the present as well.

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  59. I would like to answer Martha Erlebacher's two comments about the question posted here by Will Cotton as being irrelevant. Ms. Erlebacher uses one comment by Salvador Dali and Egon Schiele as her basis for her anwser. My reply is most of Dali's work was anachronistic when it was created never mind now. His general political and philsophical viewpoint was mostly in alliance with the conservative fascism of the Franco era and a particularly strict conservative Catholic theology. Egon Schiele's comment is true but I don't think he was addressing this question in any shape or form when he made it. I think he was probably speaking in a more general way.

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