top of page

The Artist, the Culture and the Contemporary Condition

Many of us have been spectators to hour long colloquiums on the question “What is Art?”, but somehow, if ever reached, the answers provided are usually so abstract that they hardly provide any sort of light to those of us wondering. “An undefined and undefinable concept”, “An end in itself”, “Passion”, “Anything you want” or “Nothing at all” may be phrases familiar to all of us.

After many years of wonder, and however weak a definition, if I had to give one definition for “art”, it would be the following: “Art is the cultural manifestation of members of a society in a specific moment of their history.”

What really lies under this definition is the fact that no work of art can be separated from the context of its creation. It would be absurd to coin a single definition for ritualistic prehistoric objects, for the egyptian pyramids, for the socially engaged art of the political propaganda of one or another side during the Cold War or for the evasive paintings of European Impressionists.

That’s the problem facing contemporary art today in many parts of the world. We expect to understand works we know nothing about and we don’t even try to understand them. We then turn to, say, classical European masters, and we feel like we know about them just because the elements are presented in a more recognisable way. But do we actually understand them?