Contemporary Art Seminar Heads to New York

“What’s the difference between modern art and contemporary art?” Art professor Josh Smith drummed the table with his fingertips. “We’re in an age of postmodern, or post-postmodern art. Has anyone heard of that?”

His eyes wandered around the table, crowded with students.

“Don’t get Christina started,” a student said. “She hates postmodernism. She wants to crush it.”

Junior Christina Williams tried unsuccessfully to smother a laugh.

“I don’t hate it,” she said. “I have a list of things I want to know about art, and postmodernism is on the list.”

Asbury University art exhibit
Art Professor Josh Smith will take a group of students to New York in March to view several contemporary art exhibitions. He recently showed his work in Asbury's art gallery.

That, Smith says, is what the Contemporary Art Seminar is for. Whether students love it, hate it, or fall somewhere in between, he hopes this class will provide “the potential for students to see contemporary art differently.” The class provides students with a rich experience of contemporary art through weekly discussions, out-of-class research assignments, and a four-day-long trip to New York City. The much-anticipated New York trip, March 7-10, will feature two world-famous art shows: the Whitney Biennial and the Armory Show.

Until they leave for New York, students will complete weekly journal assignments on contemporary artists who exhibiting at the Whitney Biennial or the Armory Show. True to the nature of the class, each journal is a combination sketchbook, work space, and catch-all for reflections, definitions and discoveries.

Discovery, Smith says, is what the New York trip is all about.

“To see art in person is the only way to really see it,” he said. “It’s tough to explain, but it’s kind of like being in an audience. It’s more participatory, I guess.”

Smith says that it’s crucial for students to learn to engage contemporary art, and he hopes this class will help even those who don’t automatically connect with the contemporary scene to understand it more clearly.

“It’s important for young Christians to be able to engage in the world, period,” he said. “The art world is a place of ideas and Christians should be able to engage with ideas that have truth and power. I would hope that students come away with the power to engage with the art world and everyone else with a clear and open heart and mind.”

Sometimes obscure and market-driven, contemporary art can be hard for some people to connect with, Smith says. But in spite of its potential difficulties, contemporary art offers its own unique rewards.

“Contemporary art that is forward-thinking has the potential to both creatively reflect current culture as well as lead the way in terms of re-imagining societal issues,” Smith said.

Senior art major Lizzi Smith says contemporary art fascinates her because of its ability to express truth “in its rawest form.”

“Sometimes truth can be masked by skill or tact, whereas contemporary art can show truth for what it is,” she said. “Also, I love that it brings attention to everyday, ordinary things.”

Lizzi is most excited for the New York trip because of the real-time interaction she will have with contemporary artists and their work — something she says is essential to artistic growth.

“It’s always good to be aware of other people’s art,” she said. “It’s a challenge, and any challenge makes you grow as a person and an artist.”

--by Joel Sams '15

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