“What is Contemporary Art and Why does it Matter?”

November 24th, 2013  |  Published in November 2013

“What is Contemporary Art and Why does it Matter?”

by Saad Ghosn


“Why Does Contemporary Art Matter?” or why does art in general or all art for that matter, matter. And is contemporary an adjective pertaining only to a certain category of art or does it apply to any art, making it a universal attribute of art? 


I personally would like to think that any art activity is both contemporary to the artist and contemporary to the artist’s time, and as such partakes in the role of the artist in shaping the times.


**So what do I mean when I say that the art activity is contemporary to the artist?


The dictionary defines Art as something that is created with imagination and skill, and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings


The key word for art here is creativity, i.e. a creative expression in which a new form comes to life, original to the artist and reflective of the artist’s self, thinking, imagination, and inner self. 

Coming from within the artist art is that transcendental activity in which experience, intuition, emotions, mind, soul, vision, beliefs, values, view of the world, issues of the world, exploration of the truth, search for beauty… all merge together and come out as a final product. 

That activity, however, transcends the final product; it becomes embodied in it, the product an expression and a reflection of the creator and of the process. 

It also transcends the immediate moment, the now and here, the material, and connects to the spiritual.

As Herbert Marcuse, the German philosopher, said, art allows the artist this “imaginative space for freedom to regenerate the lost, the hidden, the creative, the spiritual and intuitive capacities of human life”.


Implicating, engaging and reflecting the artist, genuine art, therefore, ceases to be only for the sake of art itself, or for the sake of a consumable object, the commodity product that society often expects or even imposes on the artist. It becomes for the sake of the artist himself, reflecting who he is, connected, not disconnected or dissociated, from the artist’s experience, beliefs, values, life path.

It becomes the artist’s voice, first to assert the artist himself, his original identity, to strengthen his voice and let it grow (like a plant put in the light, out of the dark, thus allowing its maximum expression and growth); then it becomes his communication tool to touch, create a dialogue, confront ideas, trigger emotions.

More importantly it becomes the artist’s needed and urgent voice, the one that is necessary for the artist to reach normalcy and harmony within himself and with the surrounding world.

Art thus becomes very much also for the sake of the artist’s life, the artist’s growing path and his active role and insertion in society.


Art, therefore, is and should be very much contemporary to the artist and to his life.


**Next what do I mean when I say that art is contemporary to the artist’s time.


The dictionary again defines Contemporary literally as: happening, existing, living, or coming into being during the same period of time; current; modern.


There are 2 aspects to consider here:

First, Art activity in synch with the sensitivity, historic experience, methods and techniques, tools, particular expressions of the time; but also art existing, happening, influenced by and influencing the times.


The artist through his creative activity is therefore connected not only to himself and to his life in isolation but to life in general and to the one he is experiencing daily where he lives, communicates, works, the social, political, spiritual of the day and of the times. Art becomes thus for the sake of life in general.

Art then will reflect what is taking place, what needs to be changed, how to reach the full potential of humanity, being an active part and an active voice in the ongoing process of life, contributing to a change towards a better world, adding the artist’s beauty to life…

Art also through its communicative and sharing tool will contribute to connectedness and to the building of a community that will affect the times.


Artists have the distinct advantage of doing this, their art activity because of its free and unlimited creative imagination allowing them to transcend the conventional wisdom, the established rules, the expected norms, allowing them to function outside the boundaries of permissible thought, outside the framework of traditional society.

Through their art artists then can open doors to what can be possible, what can change, what can be dreamt, to a utopian world of beauty, of different values and beliefs… and to paraphrase again Marcuse to “break the monopoly of established reality, to define what is real” or indirectly what can be real.


**Based on the above and returning to my original assumptions that any art activity is both contemporary to the artist and contemporary to his time, and merging the two together, any real artist in my view is connected through his art to himself, to his life, to life in general and to the times he is living. This to me makes the artist an activist, the creative act adding action to the momentum of life, triggering a change, shaping life and the times. Art therefore does really matter.



Note: He, His and Him are here used as neutral and interchangeably with She, Her and Her.

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