GENERAL: PostModernism.

From: IN%"[email protected]" "Art Criticism Discussion Forum" 6-JUN-1994
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To: IN%"[email protected]" "Howard Lawrence"
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Subj: RE: What is postmodernism

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Date: Mon, 6 Jun 1994 06:20:54 +0600
From: scott weakley <[email protected]>
Subject: RE: What is postmodernism
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>>Reply to "What is Postmodernism"<<

This is not an easy question. Both Modernism and Postmodernism are
huge, complex subjects that contain many ironies and inconsistancies. There
is no clear cut point where one can say that modernism ends and
postmodernism begins, and there are still many areas where they overlap.
Having made that disclaimer, I'll tell you what I know of it and hope it
helps.

In order to understand Postmodernism, you must understand a little
about Modernism. Modernism can be seen as growing out of the Enlightenment
of the late 18th century which exhaulted the power of reason, and sought to
categorize and purify all areas of knowledge including the arts. So, the
branches of the arts were seen to have a definite hierarchy with the "high"
arts such as painting and sculpture on top and the "lower" arts such as
ceramics and textiles on the bottom. It saw the knowlege as a linear
progression, a heroic march forward where the "new" is better than the
"old" ideas. It was a period of radical experimentation, rebellion, a
search for pure knowlege and pure experience, to reduce to the essence. It
was a period where the new avant garde sought to break from the past. New
ideas did not coexist with old ideas, instead they overpowered and
destroyed them. These ideas became ingrained in much of American culture
and still exist to some extent to this day. It was the period of "isms"
loosely from neoclassism to minimalism. Its major proponent in the 60's was
Clement Greenburg who believe the goal of art was a reduction to essence,
and "truth to materials" so that each medium exhaulted its virtues
(sculpture should stress its texture and three dimensionality, painting
should stress its color and flatness, etc).
This was all fine and good until the about the mid 60's to early
70's when a number of things came together to change our world and culture.
There was a breakdown of fundamental beliefs during the 60's and 70's.
There was the Vietnam war, the students shot at Kent State by the National
Guard, and Watergate which caused us to lose faith in the institution of
governent and question the superiority of capitalism. There was the oil
embargo and pollution concerns of the the early 70's that caused us to
realize that our resources were not unlimited after all. There was the
near nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island that caused us to fear science
and business. As people struggled to make sense of the world they turned to
alternative ways of knowing and living, hence the explosion of self-help
movements and movement toward eastern philosophies during the 70's.
Minorities and women became more vocal demanding there place in the world
in numbers that could no longer be ignored. Out of all this grew a new view
of the world where we began to discard the myths in history (revisionism)
and rewrite it with a more objective and honest view that included the
contributions of minorities and women as well as including many of the
atrocities that earlier Americans had committed (Columbus, etc). Most
importantly, we began to accept the idea that knowledge was not linear
where succession of new ideas replaced older ideas, but knowledge was
instead more like a multifaceted gem where many views and ideas about a
subject could co-exist and all be equally true. We began to accept the idea
that no knowlege was perfect and that we would never be able to know it all
or understand the universe (possibly the reason life seemed futile and
without purpose for so many and so they dropped out like the punkers or
went for the money like the yuppies of the 80's). Around this time, the
computer and information explosion began as well. Knowlege began to expand
outward in many directions instead of forward and it became easier to
access it. History and world changes began to speed up at a phenomenal
rate. Major changes in the world that would have taken decades began to
take place in months, new technology was outdated by the time it hit the
stores, and as a result life began to seem discontinous and disjointed.
In the artworld, we had been moving toward reducing art to its
essence for 100 years and by the end of the 60's it seemed we had done it.
Art had gone from Pop art to Minimal to Conceptual in a few short years.
Art had been reduced to its essence which was simply - the idea. So where
to now? Art floundered for a number of years and people predicted the end
of art and the death of painting and no style dominated and there were no
longer any superstars of the artworld emerging. Many different styles
existed sides by side for the first time in history without one of them
dominating the artworld. Artists and critics began to piece together what
had happened in the world and began to accept this idea of many styles
coexisting along with the borrowing of ideas from the past instead of
rejecting them. This new age in art was labeled Post-modernism which
embraced the past and the multitude of styles. It is more of a sensibility
rather than a style. It's characteristics are impurtity, ornamentation,
anti-mainstream, humanization, autobiographical, romantic, whismical,
irrational, rococo, eclectic, exotic, messy, eccentric, decorative,
anti-exclusive, anti-grandiose, and anti-absolutist among others.

Scott Weakley

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