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The Future of Art: Shattered, International, and Incomprehensible

by Will Wlizlo

Tags: Art History, Visual Studies, The Chronicle Review, Arts Will Wlizlo,


Whether you call it “post-postmodern,” “altermodern,” or “nonaesthetic,” contemporary art is less tenuous than ever. Disparate threads of post-colonialism, globalism, commercialism, and (insert preferred –ism, ad infinitum) work to intertwine the international community of artists and, at the same time, chip away at our notions of artistic discipline, medium, and purpose.

Writing on the future of art for The Chronicle Review’s “Defining Idea of the Next Decade” issue, James Elkins predicts that the next 10 years will bring dramatic change to art studies, splitting the study of art history from visual studies. Elkins writes:

In academe this will be played out in a collision of fields, as newer disciplines like postcolonial studies and visual studies collide with older disciplines like art history and art theory. Visual studies looks at popular culture, mass media, television, and advertising. Postcolonial studies considers art as an effect of class, ethnicity, socioeconomic conditions, and power relations. Art history has always cared about value—it matters that Michelangelo really is a good artist, and not just a symbol of Florentine or Roman identity—and so art history has difficulty with ways of understanding art that are based on economics, politics, and social functions. The two approaches, visual studies and art history, create a kind of unstable oil-and-water mixture in academic writing.

Perhaps the need for thoughtful art criticism and academic research is more pressing than ever. “As in all historical changes, much will be lost,” concludes Elkins. “My hope is that the celebratory mood of the new art and scholarship will not obscure the fact that the new art, which seems too much fun to resist, is deeply problematic. No one knows what contemporary international art expresses, or how best to interpret it.”

Source: The Chronicle Review

Image by See-ming Lee, licensed under Creative Commons.