In a conversation this morning with a potential new reader, I was pleasantly surprised by his excitement to find that I was writing about contemporary art.
"Do you travel?" he asked.
"When I can," was my wistful reply. I always hope to. And I do. I shall, and I will.
"Were you at the Venice Biennale? My wife and I spent four days there with friends from California. I wondered if you'd written about it?"
I had to say that I had neither attended nor written about it. Other writers have it pretty well covered, I reckon.
This encounter reminded me that the expression "contemporary art" has a particular meaning for many. It's celebrity. It's fast and cool, cerebral and young. It signifies an international, cosmopolitan, high-end art scene that is indeed well-covered in cultural journalism, in the New York Times and in peer publications aimed at a well-educated general readership.
But contemporary art is also made by many people one rarely if ever hears of, and it exists in every form. It's made by the members of the local plein air society as well as by videographers in computer labs. It's outsider, insider, borderless, closeted, environmental, classical, hide-bound, nostalgic, playful and experimental. It's local, global, romantic, raw, childish or transcendent. "Contemporary art" is made now, it's resurrected now. It's on people's minds coming, going, and slamming the door.
If you're looking at art in any gallery or museum; if you're making it in a studio or lending a hand at a neighborhood mural project; if you are involved in public policy or funding; if you are reading, writing, or studying art; if you make sure that the children around you know art as a normal part of life—then you're thinking of contemporary art in the way that it interests me. Contemporary art's a fact of being alive now. It's activity, whether you're making or looking. It doesn't wait for a jury, or need two years to get our attention.