Friday, July 18, 2008

How to kill postmodernism

Most art these days is crap. And that saddens me deeply.

But it doesn't have to be crap. I remember when growing up we had a much loved friend of the family who was an artist - a gifted and eccentric artist - who sat me down and explained in sombre but urgent tones why he did what he did. He was on a mission, for the sake of humanity, to explore what it means to exist, to live and to die. His medium was paint and canvass. He wielded his brush to create something that would reveal hidden truths to the viewer.

It wasn't about ego. It wasn't about money. And it wasn't about bringing down the establishment, empowering the oppressed or shocking for the sake of shock itself.

Sadly, it seems much of the gallery exhibited art that is produced these days is more about 'subversion' than creativity. It's more about so-called 'exploring' concepts that are either so confused or obtuse that they teach us nothing.

I blame postmodernism (as exemplified by the YBA).

Simply put, postmodernism is a movement that was only ever half-inspired, and it exhausted its value to art shortly after the movement began. Yet, by the astounding voracity of its meme, it's proven virtually inescapable for modern artists. And over time, it has become the very thing it sought to destroy.

Postmodernism has fostered a new elite and has reinstated the gallery as the only place 'true art' is shown. It is exclusive, presumptuous and deeply vacuous. In fact, I think Dada achieved nearly everything postmodernism sought to achieve, and things have regressed from there.

Why is postmodernism so voracious? Because it's conceived in such a way that the very act of rejecting it is a postmodern act. Postmodernism is all about reacting to those who come before, or around, you. So by even suggesting a new art movement in reaction to postmodernism just leads to more of the same.

So how to break free? The beginnings have already emerged, in the form of the Stuckists. The Stuckists want to recapture some of the values of modernism, hence their coining the term Remodernism. It's about returning to 'authenticity', without pretence and without the gagging desire to be avant-guarde. It's about re-injecting values into art - values that have not only been avoided, but overtly rejected by postmodernism and its rampant relativism.

Does Stuckism successfully break free from the pomo spell? Nearly, but not quite. I still find a hint of self reference and self consciousness to Stuckism, as shown in the last point of its manifesto:
Stuckism embraces all that it denounces. We only denounce that which stops at the starting point — Stuckism starts at the stopping point!

So what will it take to move on from postmodernism - or as it's called these days, with or without irony, 'post-postmodernism?

I think the only way to cut through the funk is to reject the pitiless relativism of postmodernism and acknowledge that there are some things that are common to all humans and that there is a reason why art is art, not soccer. It's no accident that paintings, sculptures and music have a profound effect on our psyche. In fact, recent research has been revealing startling facts about how our brains appreciate art, and why we respond to certain things in certain ways.

For example, there are clearly parts of the brain that are specialised in recognising faces, and perceiving emotions thereon. The same mechanisms are evoked by an artistic representation of a face (or a landscape, or a physical object, or even abstract entities like colours or textures). Thus, an artist can stir emotional responses through a representation, and they need not do so consciously - in fact, artistic intuitions are enough to create something with affect. And there is nothing inauthentic about this approach.

I firmly believe that art is ripe for a revolution, one that will make postmodernism seem childish, shallow and naive. It will be art that is intended to have an effect on the audience, whether it be happiness, sadness or simply exhibiting something aesthetically pleasing. Meaning can come back to art, and not in wildly presumptuous tangential ways. Representation, symbols, significance, culture can all return without fear of being called out for selling out to a dominant cultural paradigm or whatnot. That will be authentic art.

Already there are movements that are focussed on bringing art to the public, not keeping it seconded away for the art elite. This is exactly what we need: more art in homes around the world. We shouldn't be leaving people framing the same old prints from the art gallery store or hanging more art deco on their walls (not that there's anything wrong with either - but there should be an injection of new, wonderful art into the mix).

Now, I'm no artist myself, so I don't know what form art could take in the future. But conceptually, postmodernism is a decaying edifice, a house of cards, that is ready to collapse with the rejection of rampant relativism and subjectivism. And that can only be a good thing for art and culture as a whole.


At 12:54 pm , Blogger Charles Thomson said...

Good to see your post.

There's nothing wrong with anything in itself, only when it is not in its right place within the whole.

You're here: and also listed on the home page...

At 5:56 pm , Anonymous frank furt said...

Absolutely brilliant piece. Post-modernism is really just an accommodation to a repugnant status quo where people feel justified affirming a life (either serious or ironic) on the margin while the juggernaut rolls on regardless. The post- is meant to signify some radical break, some opposition, some defiance, but it is little more than a gesture that leaves its opponent completely unscathed.

Unfortunately I am not so optimistic. Aren't the gallery system (high art as investment) and the culture industry (churning out cultural commodities that by their very form as commodities could never signal a break with the status quo) just too powerful – just so hyertrophied? Could there really be a grassroots art for the public that revived a more authentic and spontaneous aesthetic sense without it very quickly being lured back into the lucrative culture market?

I will have a look at your stuff on morality – I hope it is in the same vein as this piece.

I notice you have no links, no neighbourhood (if that is the correct term in the psuedo society of bloggers).

At 3:11 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

things are just happening and it won't help to complain or kill them. who can decide it's black or white. all of the adjectives are so personal. i like postmodernism because it doesn't try to give me sense or say elegant things. it's a natural situatuon which was born from unnatural.

Zeynep Ozkazanc


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