Anthropologist and cultural theorist Robert Philen has a recent piece on his always fascinating blog on "Great Art, Timeliness, and Timelessness".
Here are a couple of quotes from this insightful essay.
"Great art always has two qualities with relation to temporality. It is of its moment – any art cannot help but be shaped by the realities of the era, but great art also reflects and shapes its moment, and does so in a different manner than equally great art of an earlier era. It is timely. Simultaneously, great art transcends its moment, it communicates powerfully well after its creation. It is timeless.
"It is possible to have the first quality without the second, that is, to be timely without being timeless."
"While timely art without timelessness is a clear possibility, I’m not convinced that the second quality of great art, timelessness, is possible without the first, timeliness. Part of what allows for transcendence is the artist’s tapping into a universal human experience, that of grappling with reality, attempting to understand one’s surroundings and reality and attempting to shape that reality, and presenting this in artistic form requires a grappling with and groundedness in contemporary reality. In great art, we see a union of the concrete and timely and the universal and timeless."
I urge all interested parties to read the entire piece. Philen promises a follow-up piece in which he will apply these ideas to the work of the jazz and classical trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.