Research point – Postmodernism

Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction. Chapter 1 ‘The rise of postmodernism’, (p.1-12)

Points of interest

  • ‘…postmodernists often follow Marx. They claim to be peculiarly aware of the unique state of contemporary society, immured as it is in what they call ‘the postmodern condition’.’ (p.2-3)
  • ‘They have a distinct way of seeing the world as a whole, and use a set of philosophical ideas that not only support an aesthetic but also analyse a ‘late capitalist’ cultural condition of ‘postmodernity’.’ (p.3)

  • ‘The postmodernist attitude is therefore one of a suspicion which can border on paranoia…’ (p.3)
  • ‘…the work of postmodernists was deliberately less unified, less obviously ‘masterful’, more playful or anarchic, more concerned with the processes of our understanding than with the pleasures of artistic finish or unity, less inclined to hold a narrative together, and certainly more resistant to a certain interpretation…’ (p.5)
  • ‘By the mid-1970s it becomes difficult to know what matters most to postmodernists – the fashioning of a particular kind of (disturbing) experience within art, or the new philosophical and political interpretative opportunities which it offered.’ (p.6)
  • ‘…the result was a theory which was more literary than philosophical, and which rarely if ever came to clear or empirically testable conclusions, simply because it was so difficult to be sure about what it meant.’ (p.9)
  • ‘There is as we shall see a deep irrationalism at the heart of postmodernism – a kind of despair about the Enlightenment-derived public functions of reason…’ (p.11)
  • Once found out, such ideas are either reinterpreted…or just condemned to obsolescence… All extremist intellectual movements in history have this character, and postmodernism is one of them.’ (p.12)

Artists

  • Carl Andre
  • Anthony Caro
  • Martin Creed
  • Robert Rauschenberg
  • Jacob Epstein

Reflection

Initially, I had some difficulty with the formality of the writing, which seemed a little hard to digest, but I caught up to it after giving it a second read. It was particularly interesting to learn how Marxism and philosophy played a big role in the origin of postmodernist art and literature. Each time I read new information about an art movement, I understand better why art looks the way it does today and why its definitions are constantly evolving.

The author has a skeptic view towards postmodernism and a recurring negative, rather than completely neutral or positive, wording when describing it. I was very surprised when I noticed this and had to re-read certain sections to make sure I was getting the right impression. I had assumed from the title and the publisher that this would be an unbiased introduction, something that would have been more useful for a student. Personally, however, I do agree with most of the author’s views.

Part of my own skepticism towards postmodernism can be explained by the author’s statement that ‘…interpretative implications were always (and disastrously) ‘privileged’ over the enjoyable artistic embodiment and formal sophistication which so many had learned to appreciate in modernist art.’ So basically, postmodernism gives importance to the philosophical and/or political meaning of a piece rather than its visual and formal qualities or its artistic mastery. I feel that most contemporary art still follows this definition and has become so common that it has even gone to replace many of the qualities so admired in art throughout history. I read a very interesting article in which the author stated that the main reason why many people find contemporary art hard to swallow is simply because it seems to want to overshadow and be superior than all other types of art, especially visual art.

I graduated from art school last year, and I was continuously disappointed throughout those years just because we were taught very little about art history, formal qualities and traditional media (drawing, painting, sculpture, print-making, etc.) and taught too much about interpretative art, installation, performance art and, worst of all, a type of art that can be visually lacking or amateur-like but is successful after giving it an emotive interpretation. I’m sure that many artists and viewers really do enjoy this type of art, but I find it a little bit extreme that it has begun to replace traditional art in our art schools. I think the best solution would be to separate these two art forms, rather than let one take over the other.

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