Classical art

conquered by contemporary choices

Art aficionados in the US are concerned about the lack of exhibitions showing classical art from non-Western countries like Africa, India and China, attributing the phenomenon to changing trends in art study at university. Said a contributor to the New York Times: “Encyclopaedic museums – the ones that most people visit and look to as repositories of what we most value in art – are rarely doing big-idea shows of older non-Western art, and American art historians of the rising generation aren’t studying it these days.”

Instead, say art academics and teachers, an overwhelming number of first-year students in the US now declare contemporary art their field of choice. Bemoaned one art lecturer at the College Art Association conference, held in New York City last year: “Lack of visibility [of non-Western classical art] tends to lead to lack of financing, which translates into slow research, leaving vast amounts of foundational field work barely started. All the while, cultures are vanishing and changing form. Art scholars now focus on present-day urban trends, rather than object-intensive traditions.”

Conference delegates also lamented the increasing influence of money on art-related careers. To an unprecedented degree, contemporary art, no matter what its geographic or cultural source, is now linked to, and sustained by, the global economy. Students who graduate with degrees in contemporary art history can now choose to become curators, corporate advisers, auction house experts or art dealers. And, says one jaded art professor, “with only the history of today and yesterday to deal with, primary research can be done over a Starbucks latté via Google.”

Category: Winter 2012

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