“Postmodernism: does it exist at all, if so what does it mean? Is it a concept or a practice, a matter of local style or a whole new period or economic phase? What are its forms, effects, place? How are we to mark its advent? Are we truly beyond the modern, truly in (say) a postindustrial age?”In terms of visual art Postmodernism was a term that only emerged in the late 1970s and was one of the most debated topics of its time, even amongst postmodernists themselves, and still today it remains a complex term and set of ideas. This is because Postmodernism is more than just an aesthetic movement - it is both aconditionand a way of thinking. Postmodernism is a complicated term which is difficult to define. The reason it is difficult to define is because it is an idea which is used in lots of different subject areas such as art, technology, sociology, literature, architecture and communications etc and is used in slightly different ways in each area.I don’t pertain to be able to offer you an easy definition of Postmodernism. This is because postmodernism isn’t an easy subject to understand. In fact, critical aspects of postmodernism, that is to say theories and texts concerned with Postmodernism, are opposed to (or at least sceptical of) the notion that there is a single way to understand any given thing, and this obviously includes postmodernism itself. Rather than accepting ‘truths’ or ‘authentic essences’ Postmodernism politicises them, and attempts to reveal that they are the products of struggle and repression, the result of powerful discourses rather than eternal, universal values and truths. It will become apparent that postmodernists therefore don’t subscribe to a singular, authorative reading of Postmodernism itself and of Postmodern artworks. In terms of discussing postmodern art, the tactic I will employ is to sit artworksbeside theories, and suggest that there is resonance between them and that there are critical postmodern theories that may allow for a point of entry into understanding these artworks further. I am always wary not to circumscribe an artists’ practice within a myopic, art historical rationale. This is because I believe that to do may be restrictive, dishonest, and even unethical. Instead what I hope to do is to provoke analysis, to highlight contradictions and complications of exploring work through the lens of postmodernism. Contextual considerations and ideological rationales will also be explored. And it is my intension reallyto provide you with the tools to engage with these postmodern debates. So as I said, I can’t tell you definitively what postmodernism is or was. This is not a failing on my part but part of postmodernism’s slippery identity. It is a contested term. Postmodernism is often discussed in terms of its fluidity and open-endedness, because it resists being conveniently condensed into a neat definition. It has been noted that for students of the subject that postmodernism may feel very much like Narcissus’ reflection in the water which disintegrates the moment you reach out to grasp it.It would also be reductive and erroneous to claim to undertake a comprehensive exploration within the limited time that we have. So by its very nature this is course is an introduction to Postmodernism in art whereby I aim to orient you within the territories of postmodernism.
Today’s presentation is intended to give you a taste of what we’ll be looking at over the next 11 weeks, while hopefully equipping you with a basic framework –a starting point if you like – with which to start to understand postmodernism in art. The fact that you are here reveals the fact that you’ve heard of Postmodernism, and that you want to enquire and analyse Postmodernism in Art. I think its useful to start with this quote the theoristHeartney who states:“Like the concept of God who is everywhere and nowhere, ‘postmodernism’ is remarkably impervious to definition. A term thrown about to describe phenomena as diverse as the Star Wars films, the practice of digital sampling in rock music, television-driven political campaigns and the fashion designs of Jean Paul Gaultier and Issey Miyake, postmodernism seems to permeate contemporary life. And yet there are few outside of academic departments devoted to Cultural Studies who could confidently say exactly what they think it is.”
Aims of this lectureToday what I am going to do is give you an introduction to Postmodernism which I have already alluded to as being a highly contested term by offering you a background in Modernism, specifically High Modernism. In terms of visual art Postmodernism was a term that only emerged in the late 1970s and was one of the most debated topics of its time, even amongst postmodernists themselves, and still today it remains a complex term and set of ideas. This is because Postmodernism is more than just an aesthetic movement - it is both aconditionand a way of thinking. As Charles Jencks states:“We are well past the age when we can merely accept or reject this new ‘ism’; it is too omnipresent and important for either approach. Rather we have to ask about its emergent possibilities, ask ‘What is it?, and then decide selectively to support and criticise aspects of the movement.” Charles Jencks, What is Post-Modernism? P6Before we can contest Postmodernism we therefore need to begin by examining What is it?It is often described as having an identity crisis, but it can be characterised variously as an ‘incredulity towards metanarratives’, (more of which in a moment), ‘a crisis of cultural authority’ and ‘the shift from production to reproduction’
The term Postmodernism itself with its prefix of ‘post’ means after modernism but this is a misnomer. It suggests that Modernism ended and was superseded by its successor Postmodernism, and furthermore it pertains to have identified this paradigm shift in the 1960s. Furthermore,Postmodernism is not Anti-ModernismAs Heartney elaborates:“Part of the difficulty stems from the name. ‘Postmodernism’, as the term suggests, it is unthinkable without modernism. It may be constructed as a reaction against the ideals of modernism, as a return to the state that preceded modernism, or even a continuation and completion of various neglected strains within modernism. But whether the relationship is defined as parasitic, cannibalistic, symbiotic or revolutionary, one thing is clear: you cannot have postmodernism without modernism. Postmodernism is modernism’s unruly child.”Postmodernism therefore presents a set of complex philosophical and theoretical issues. One way to begin thinking about postmodernism is by thinking about modernism, the movement from which postmodernism seems to grow or emerge.
Modernism is an umbrella term, or general name given to the succession of numerous avant-garde movements in art, design and literature between the end of the 18th century to the mid 20th century. What characterises this period is that modernist artists became less concerned with representing objects, or scenes and people in a ‘believable’ way. Insomuch as they were often less interested in naturalism and perspective that their immediate predecessors had been.
It is also important to make clear the distinction between Modernity and ModernismWHAT IS MODERNITY?The project of modernity is one with that of the Enlightenment: to develop spheres of science, morality and art according to their inner logic. It was dependent on the belief in universal laws and truths, and the idea that knowledge is objective, independent of culture, gender, etc. Modernity was posited on the notion that progress is based upon knowledge, and man is capable of discerning objective absolute truths in science and the arts. Modernity refers to a period extending from the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries (in the case of Europe) to the mid to late twentieth century characterized by the growth and strengthening of a specific set of social practices and ways of doing things. It is often associated with capitalism and notions such as progress.Modernity is fundamentally about order: about rationality and rationalization, creating order out of chaos. The assumption is that creating more rationality is conducive to creating more order, and that the more ordered a society is, the better it will function.Thus modern societies rely on continually establishing a binary opposition between "order" and "disorder," so that they can assert the superiority of "order." In western culture, then, disorder becomes "the other"—defined in relation toother binary oppositions. Thus anything non-white, non-male, non-heterosexual, non-hygienic, non-rational, (etc.) becomes part of "disorder,” and has to be eliminated from the ordered, rational modern society.Modernism as a term is typically associated with the twentieth-century reaction against realism and romanticism within the arts. ThereforeModernism can be thought of as the self-conscious response in the arts to the experience of modernity.A radically altered aesthetic form and perspective: the modernist stress upon art as a self-referential construct instead of as a mirror of nature or societySo clearly then we have identified how the term Modernism is related to but not to be confused with Modernity. This is because modernity relates to the massive changes in culture and society due mainly to the developments brought about by the industrial revolutions and subsequent political unrest within Europe, namely WW1 and WW2.
So if postmodernism in art implies some ‘going beyond’ modernism, or establishing a critical dialogue with it [which is our preferred definition], then it seems appropriate that we start with the question: What was modernism? And in order to find an answer to this question we must start by exploring the work of Clement Greenburg, a very influential American art critic after the second World War.Clement Greenberg was an important proponent of High Modernism.High modernism is a particular instance of modernism, coined towards the end of modernism.Modernism valorizes personal style.This presupposes a unique individuality - a private identity or self (subject) - that generates his or her own style according to a personal vision.This individualism is put into question in High Modernism. HIgh Modernism is situated at a time of Social turmoil, increasing nuclear threat, the technologization of the workforce under multinational capitalism, and the breakdown of religious belief that led to a kind of nihilism and anxiety about the future.After World War II - Negative effects of the war were offset temporarily by the economic prosperity & postwar reconstruction which took place during the ‘50s. However there were Cold War Tension between the Soviet Union and the United States, the strain of a nuclear buildup offset the psychological effects of the post-War economic prosperity.There were domestic tensions: Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Movement, Environmentalism, Viet Nam, political assassinations (JFK, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X).
The most prominent and lingering ideas expounded on Modernism as we will see are those of the critic Greenberg who stated in his essay on Modernist Painting in 1960 that ‘Modernist Painting oriented itself to flatness as it did to nothing else”Greenberg’s ‘Modernist Painting’ is a dominant account of modernism, which builds on the formalist theories of key 19th and 20th century writers, who believed that aesthetic experience was art’s predominant aim and value, and explained the development of modern art as a progression towards an increasingly pure abstraction, characterised by a focus on form.
So to offer a pre-Greenbergiancontext for Modernism, it can be seen to emerge around the 1860s, and this is of course the period of the Industrial Revolution; when we can identify major shifts. from agriculture to industry, from peasant to mass production, from landowner to business man, the factory, the engine, the automobile, urbanisation and the crowds, the city streets…and so onSo, the term Modernism is used to describe the style and the ideology of art produced from around the 1860s up to the 1960s (with recent art production called either Contemporary art or Postmodern art). The terms modernism and modern art are generally used to describe the succession of art movements that critics and historians have identified since the Realism of Courbet, culminating in abstract art and its developments up to the 1960s. By that time modernism had become a dominant idea of art, and a particularly narrow theory of modernist painting had been formulated by the highly influential American critic Clement Greenberg. As an art movement, modernism sought to engage with modernity by capturing the images and sensibility of the age rather than its superficial appearances.Modernism was also marked by the introduction of the camera in widespread use. The camera allowed artists the freedom to explore new subjects and also provided an alternative to painting to record history. So it was no longer important to represent a subject realistically, that is to say that the invention of photography made this function of art obsolete.Artists’ were attempting to capture contemporary life and so essentially Modernism was an urban style, pastoral modes were replaced by subject matter and a style that took it’s substance from the new, angular, constructed, technological environments of the modern city. The autonomy of the work of art was of paramount importance, the images were frequently abstracted, seen as autonomous objects not pictures of something else. That is to say, that Modernism called attention to the artwork as artwork - the fact that all painting is paint on a flat surface, before it is a person, bowl of fruit, etc. Or, as Greenberg put it, ‘Modernism used art to call attention to art’. High modernism is a particular instance of modernism, which was coined towards the end of modernism. High modernism is exemplified in the writings of Greenberg, who developed and promoted an opposition between "avant-garde" art and what he dismissed as "kitsch". Avant-Garde and Kitsch is the title of a 1939 essay by Greenberg in which he claimed that avant-garde and modernist art was a means to resist the 'dumbing down' of culture caused by consumerism. Characteristics of Modernism include• Formalism • Narrow in practice and theory • Each movement builds and improves on the previous, alluding to progress• Cult of the Avant-Garde and Originality • Artwork for sale and created for viewing in museums and galleries • Belief in a Universal Truth
Modernity is fundamentally about order: about rationality and rationalization, creating order out of chaos. The assumption is that creating more rationality is conducive to creating more order, and that the more ordered a society is, the better it will function (the more rationally it will function). According to Rosalind Krauss the ‘end’ of modernism is not the ‘beginning’ of postmodernism, rather postmodernism is a form of resistance that takes place within modernism. Arthur C. Danto locates the break between modernism and postmodernism in the appearance of Warhol’s Brillo Boxes in 1964.
The 1960s was a highly politicised decade, while also seeing a dramatic rise in consumerism and popular culture (what Greenberg pejoratively termed ‘kitsch’). Though it would absurd to suggest that postmodernism had a clear beginning, 1968 is often seen to be important (though highly contested). In France, events culminated in a student demonstration, linked to an avant-garde art movement called Situationism, which objected to the spectacularisation of society and it’s divorce from real life. The philosopher Michel Foucault has also suggested that 1968 marked a repositioning of academic understanding, a turn towards culture and everyday life. Coupled with the ongoing struggle for civil rights, this move might be seen part of a broader questioning of fundamental values (including identity and subjectivity). A year earlier saw the publication of two major texts by Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference and Of Grammatology. These works similarly question underlying values by placing an emphasis upon the way that meaning is constructed in language. The importance attributed to these works signifies a turn towards considering language as being a prime mediator in all social interactions, what mounted in intellectual terms to what Barthes called The Semiotic Challenge.Artists in the 1960s would explode the concepts of modern art, proliferating an intoxicating range of different practices and approaches to making art. That which had been repressed by Greenberg’s version of modernism (and perhaps more accurately the structures that sustained them) was about a make a dramatic return (if indeed it had ever been away!).
The art practices of the 1960s reflected a broader questioning of the values underpinning society.In art, these questions would be directed against the conventions assuring modern art of it’s “purity”: the autonomy of traditional disciplines (such as painting or sculpture), the separation of art from life or popular culture, the gallery system, the status of artist and role of the spectator, to name but a few.ACTUALLY, WHEN TALKING ABOUT THE HISTORY OF WESTERN INTELLECTUALISM AND ARTYou are in the midst of this revolutionWHERE MOD AND POMO BEGINS AND ENDS IS FUZZY
Key in this comparative tableMoThere are universal laws and truthsKnowledge is objective, independent of culture, gender, etc.PoMOTruth is pluralistic, dependent upon the frame of reference of the observerKnowledge is contingent, contextual and linked to POWERValues are derived from ordinary social practices, which differ from culture to culture and change with time.Values are determined by manipulation and dominationPoMoPostmodernism and Aesthetic Theory If truth isn't possible, then true interpretations cannot be a goal of art Interpretation.All value is merely a reflection of historically and culturally informed preferences. There is no essence of art, and no possibility of a clear definition. So there is no clear difference between art and other aspects of life. OUR prejudices about the differences between art and entertainment, or high and low culture, aren't based on real features of the things; our prejudices are simply OURS, meaning that they reflect our cultural traditions.Anti-essentialism—many of the notions previously regarded as universal and fixed (gender identity, individual selfhood) are actually fluid and unstable. These are socially constructed or contingent categories rather than absolute or essential ones. All thinking and investigation is affected by prior ideological commitments. There is no disinterested enquiry. Postmodernists also distrust grandiose words like authenticity and expression, and concern themselves with gender, politics, and new media. Postmodernist made visible the economic, political, gender, and colonizing hegemony inherent in western "objectivity" and "universality.”DEATH OF THE AVANT GARDE?So, what went out of the window with postmodernism was the idea of originality; the ‘original’ new was rejected and replaced by the concept of ‘reference’ and ‘quotation’. So to be ‘post-modern’ means, in one respect, the end of the new. Postmodernism has been declared to be the death of the avantgarde.AvantGarde, on first glance may seem obvious and simple: Derives from a French term, meaning in English, vanguard or advance guard (the part of an army that goes forward ahead of the rest). Applied to art, means that which is in the forefront, is innovatory, which introduces and explores new forms and in some cases new subject matter.
“In the art world, the idea of postmodernism first began to surface in the 1960s, with the emergence of trends like Pop art, Minimalism, Conceptualism and performance. (In retrospect, nascent examples of postmodernism could be detected much earlier in works by artists such as Duchamp, whose readymades spoofed the preciousness of the art object, late De Chirico, who laid waste to the idea of the uniqueness of the artwork by cannibalising his own work, and even Picasso, whose abrupt stylistic changes made a mockery of the notion of signature style).”Initially, postmodernism was a movement in architecture that rejected the modernist, avantgarde, passion for the new. Modernism was an exploration of possibilities and a perpetual search for uniqueness and individuality. Modernism's valorization of the new was rejected by architectural postmodernism in the 50's and 60's for conservative reasons. They wanted to maintain elements of modern utility while returning to the reassuring classical forms of the past. The result of this was a collage approach to construction that combines several traditional styles into one structure. As collage, meaning is found in combinations of already created patterns. Other defining characteristics of Postmodernism include a loss of faith in upward progress. Postmodernism, born after World War II, it is very much a product of the "lost" era, disillusionment in religion, and in the qualities of life taken for granted in the past. Where modernism boasted the human's ability to solve questions regarding meaning and life, postmodernism makes no such claims. Therefore “from a philosophical point of view, postmodernism is associated with the dethroning of Enlightenment ideals of progress , the independent subject, truth and the external world. The dismal outcome of the utopian ideals that opened the twentieth century have played a big role in undermining such beliefs. So have developments in various scientific fields.”
Looking beyond postmodern preoccupations it is clear that this was not the first historical moment in which issues of gender and sexuality held particular prominence. Not only do aspects of European art production between the two world wars (notably Dada and Surrealism) resemble certain features of pomo art but some of the psychoanalytic roots of pomo gender theory date back as far as the late 1920s. In the late 1940s merleau-ponty and Jean Paul Satre discussed the body and its experiences as a reaction agianst the previous mentalist tradition on philosophy. The psychoanalyst Joan Riviere first argued in 1929 when she introduced the concept of femininity as masquerade exploring the masks of femininity and the scripts women adopt in her essay Womanliness as Masquerade.
Although the term "postmodernism" is continually undergoing interrogation and redefinition, one constant that emerges from the critical discourses surrounding it is a sense that postmodernism involves a radical rethinking of representational strategies, and with this a questioning of our underlying assumptions about how "meanings" are produced. So to summarise thus far, Postmodernism is not merely a rejection of Modernism but a continuum or a reaction. Postmodernism embraced an expansion of media. It is multi-cultural and can be defined as more “hybrid” than “pure”. Significantly, Postmodernism relies on concrete experience over abstract principles, knowing always that the outcome of one's own experience will necessarily be fallible and relative, rather than certain and universal. Post-modernism has nothing to do with a period or an epoch. Post-modern is not what exists after modernity. Post-modernism is a term that implies certain intellectual or cultural tendencies.We have seen how the term modernity was developed alongside the development of the capitalist state. Modernisation is a diverse unity of socio-economic changes generated by scientific and technological discoveries. Modernity was born by what are called grand narratives in the jargon of the post-modernists. In simple language, Grand Narratives are big ideas which give sense and direction in life. Such ideas are truth, reason, tradition, religion, morality, ideology, etc.The post-modernists argue that these notions, grand narratives, do not live up to scrutiny, hence are meaningless. According to the post-modernists, all worldviews that claim absolute notions of truth — religion, science, Marxism, etc — are artificial constructions that are totalitarian by their very nature.
In an essay called “Modernist Painting” Greenberg offered an explanation for the developments of modern art. He wrote “The task of self-criticism [in modern art] became to eliminate from the specific effects of each art any and every effect that might conceivably be borrowed from or by the medium of any other art. Thus would each art be rendered ‘pure’, and in its ‘purity’ find the guarantee of its standard of quality as well as of its independence.” This explanation reveals a lot about the way he thought art should be produced and understood. For Greenberg, crucial to modernism was the capacity of an individual discipline to criticise itself. In the case of painting therefore, Greenberg pictured an internal process of criticism to generated by the act of painting itself. So in line with Greenbergian thought, Modernism "defined itself through the exclusion of mass culture and was driven, by its fear of contamination by the consumer culture burgeoning around it, into an elitist and exclusive view of aesthetic formalism and the autonomy of art". So clearly if there is one thing that especially distinguishes postmodernism from modernism, it is postmodernism's relation to mass culture. There are a few general characteristics of Modernist Art:Firstly it engaged with the modern world, engaging with the frenetic urban lifestyle and landscapeIt was modern in both its themes and in its treatment, exploring new subject matter and painterly valuesAs the Modernist critic Greenberg stated, ‘Modernism called attention to art’, by this he means that it called attention to the fact that all painting is paint on a flat surface
Greenberg is considered a formalist critic - his assessment of the value of an artwork lay in its formal characteristics. Believed that although form was not the total of art, it provided the only firm basis on which to make judgements on both the quality and character of different works of art, as it was too easy to make contradictory assertions about subject matter.Greenberg:Concrete aesthetic encountersSure of its own objectivityForm over contentPurist media categoriesAn evolving linear progression abstracted from artists’ lives and historic eventsAgainst the subjective nature of aesthetic judgement
Greenberg championed Abstract Expressionist artists like Jackson Pollock. Pollock’s (ostensibly) radical departure from figurative representation, epitomised in his infamous drip paintings, were seen to be the pinnacle of a radical, avant-garde art – the culmination of modern arts ‘progress’. They seemed to typify a ‘pure’ type of painting, alluding only to painting itself.
In the 1960s however, the emergence of Minimalism would add extra strain to the meticulous formal rules laid out by Greenberg, threatening the ‘purity’ and coherence of modern art ‘from within’. Frank Stella’s work, for example, seems to continue Modern Paintings’ internal process of self reflection, while pushing it to its limits. A critic called Michael Fried, who was close to Greenberg, offers some incite into one of the aspects of Minimalism that would cause it to break with the Modern paradigm. Though he’s essentially an advocate of formalist criticism, he writes (when discussing the work of Frank Stella, Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski) that “All judgements of value begin and end in experience, or ought to...” (Though he qualifies this by saying that this can be an informed judgement) (Fried  2004, p. 787). Here is a hint then of the part played by the spectator, the ambiguity of objects subject to interpretation.Elsewhere Fried wrote ofStella’s work, “It is as though depicted shape has become less and less capable of venturing on its own, of pursuing its own ends; as though useless, in a given painting, depicted shape manages to participate in – by helping to establish – the authority of the shape of the support, conviction is aborted and the painting fails.” (Fried  2004, p.795) What seems to be at stake here is the status of the work as an object. (If you look at your reading materials, those by Roland Barthes might offer significant incite here into the way that intellectuals were trying to better account for the object’s complex relationship to meaning – see Semantics of the Object.) In passing, Stella’s works have also been compared to corporate logos.
Though Donald Judd would continue to cite the influence of Pollock, Clifford Still, and BarnettNewman, his work constitutes a departures from their practice. Significantly like a number of minimalists, this included a transition from painterly abstracts to sculptural forms (a transgression of Greenberg’s insistence on the separation of different disciplines). In addition to this, his work would often be manufactured by various companies, dramatically changing Judd’s relationship to the work relative to the ‘Abstract Expressionists’, whose (‘existentially heightened’) relationship to the production of the work seems all important. Interestingly, you’ll see how suddenly representations of this work start to feature the space of the gallery too – perhaps another sign that the spectator was starting to be considered.Judd also tried to avoid the type of aesthetic decision making typified by the artists representative of Greenberg’s modernism, and instead he suggested that objects simply be placed in some systematic fashion, one next to the other. This relates to the work of certain conceptual artists (such as Sol LeWitt) but firmly emphasises materiality.
Robert Morris did not accept the significance of the ‘Abstract Expressionists’ in the way Judd did. Rather he was more interested in a European tradition related to the Constructivists. His works effaced personal traces (i.e. Distinct colour or shape) and pushed towards anonymity (again distinct from the idiosyncratic tendencies of Willem de Kooning or Franz Kline). More importantly perhaps, his work evoked a sense of theatricality. Each piece became a type of actor, in space. Again this seems like an ‘incestuous’ notion that crucially emphasises the role that the viewer had in completing the work of art – i.e. Walking round, under things, next to things. (Again Barthes’ texts might be useful reference, see The Death of the Author).I hope this is giving you an indication of how Modernism was stating to decay – loose coherence – from within. I hope it’s apparent too, that Greenberg’s particular reading of ‘Modern Art’, which gained so much momentum, essentially neglected, or to use a stronger term ,represseda whole gamut of experiences and possibilities for art.
Some of the characteristics of what we might term postmodernism as contrasted with modernism might be that the work of postmodernists is deliberately less unified, less obviously ‘masterful’, more playful or anarchic, more concerned with the processes of our understanding than with the pleasures if artistic finish or unity, less inclined to hold narrative together, and more resistant to a certain interpretation, than much of the art that had preceeded it.Much pomo art pays attention to previously marginalised forms of identity, the male gaze, through reinscription, appropriation, challenging originality…Shift from universal historiesto local and explicitly contingent histories. History and identity politics: who can write or make art? for whom? from what standpoint?Postmodern historians and philosophers question the representation of history and cultural identities: history as "what 'really' happened" (external to representation or mediation) vs. history as a "narrative of what happened" a "mediated representation" with cultural/ideological interests.Art works are likewise caught up in the problem of representation and mediation--of what, for whom, from what ideological point of view? Distrust of metanarratives (Lyotard); suspicion of ideological agendas in "Western Art" paradigms; deconstruction of traditional art media and genres. Rise of feminism and identity politics as challenge to artworld roles and functions of art.The wider significance of the postmodern condition lies in the awareness ofa range of other dissonant, even dissident histories and voices
Cindy Sherman demonstrates the power of transformation to impact notions of identity in her photographic series Untitled Film Stills. They have been much discussed as virtual emblems of postmodernism’s concern with theories of representation, specifically representations of women.Sherman’s images are not an invitation to look behind or through the representation for the ‘real’ Sherman, but rather they are an exploitation of this impulse to drive a wedge between the unified and authentic inner self and the postmodern sense of an irrevocably fragmented and culturally constituted subjectivity.
In 1979 the French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard wrote The Postmodern Condition and stated that the ‘grand narrative’ that had informed the West since the Enlightenment (in other words since the 18thc, when European philosophers such as Kant and Rousseau had laid the intellectual foundations for modernism) could no longer sustain credibility. These abstract systems of thought, by which social institutions validated themselves, were infused with ideas of ‘social perfectibility’ or ‘progress’. In terms of modern art Greenberg’s aesthetic Modernism might be considered a ‘grand narrative’ of sorts. Lyotard in his book the postmodern condition, clearly articulated the view that postmodernism is about pluralism and fragmentation. The modern period is bankrupt he said, because the meta narratives of the past assume a progression toward social enlightenment and emancipation, meta narratives being Marxism and Freudianism and all forms of Enlightenment reason.Postmodernism was seen to pay closer attention to other worlds and voices which had been silenced by these dominant meta narratives. So grand narratives are inherently ideological in their own right, postmodernism seeks to de-stabilise these narratives by replacing them not with another grand narrative but with a series of micro or mini narratives, little stories that explain smaller practices or local events rather than huge scale universal global concepts.
The philosophical revolution in art:You can’t tell art just by looking.The revolution Danto is talking about is that the difference between art and non-art is no longer visible (even though it is still there). The difference must be conceptual, not visible. The work raises a philosophical question about the difference between art and non-art.
Other writers including Thomas McEvilley, Donald Kuspit, and Leo Steinberg have located the moment of transition from modern to postmodern in pop art, and especially in Johns, Ruschenberg, or Warhol. After pop, so these arguments go, art became eclectic or pluralistic and began addressing the condition of late capitalism.
In his rejection of the distinction between low and high art, Koons is a typically ‘post-modern’ artist. ‘Post-modern art’ is a reaction to the ‘consumerism’ that has been made possible by the fact that manufacturing of products, distribution and dissemination have become very cheap. However, instead of criticizing the ordinariness and commonness of all these products, post-modern art just accepts them, and in Koons' case somehow both celebrates and ironicizes them. Modernist judgements of quality and relevance came under scrutiny and challenge from the mid 1960s.A consequence of this challenge has been the recognition that the meaning of an artwork does not necessarily lie within it, but as often as not arises out of the context in which it exists.This context is as much social and political as it is formal, and questions of politics and identity, both cultural and personal have been central to much art since the 1970s.There was a shift towards focusing on context, as you will recall, Modernism had been indifferent to context.For the most part ‘specific objects’ had unproblematically occupied traditional gallery spaces, this new work which was concerned with materials, in particular formless materials, had the effect of inducing reflection upon the ‘containers’ or galleries.Postmodernists have helped us see that reality is more complex than we had imagined. It does not exist objectively, “out there,” simply to be mirrored by our thoughts. Rather, it is in part a human creation. We mold reality in accordance with our needs, interests, prejudices, and cultural traditions.I would define postmodernism as a set of radical strategies that emerged in the 1970s, but proliferated rapidly especially in the early 1980s, which had in common an antipathy to modernism and sought to depart from its certainties, progressive narratives, and claims to objective quality.
Week 1 po mo intro 2012 (nx powerlite)
Postmodernism in Art: an introductionThe End of Modernity: 1960s Art and Culture University of Edinburgh Deborah Jackson firstname.lastname@example.org
Content of Course1. The end of modernity: 1960s art and culture (minimalism, Greenburg etc)2. Art as Idea – the roots of conceptual art3. From object to concept: environment, performance and installation art4. New voices: postmodernism’s focus on the marginalised5. Consumer culture: art and temporality (Warhol, Koons)6. Subjectivity and identity – self awareness7. Globalisation and art8. The white cube: institutions, validation and elitism9. Artist as celebrity: Brit Art and self-branding10.The age of uncertainty: art after modernism11.Unseen assessment & credit essay workshop
“Postmodernism: does it existat all, if so what does it mean?Is it a concept or a practice, amatter of local style or awhole new period oreconomic phase? What are itsforms, effects, place? How arewe to mark its advent? Are wetruly beyond the modern,truly in (say) a postindustrialage?”(Foster: 1983 p.vii)
“Like the concept of God who is everywhere andnowhere, ‘postmodernism’ is remarkably impervious todefinition. A term thrown about to describe phenomenaas diverse as the Star Wars films, the practice of digitalsampling in rock music, television-driven politicalcampaigns and the fashion designs of Jean Paul Gaultierand Issey Miyake, postmodernism seems to permeatecontemporary life. And yet there are few outside ofacademic departments devoted to Cultural Studies whocould confidently say exactly what they think it is.”Heartney, E. (2001) Movements in Modern Art: Postmodernism.London, Tate Gallery Publishing Ltd. pp.6-12
Aims of this lecture:•ContextualiseGreenbergian Modernism• Introduce Postmodernism as a highly contested term• Introduce Postmodernism as more than just an aestheticmovement – it is both a condition and a way of thinking “We are well past the age when we can merely accept or reject this new ‘ism’; it is too omnipresent and important for either approach. Rather we have to ask about its emergent possibilities, ask ‘What is it?, and then decide selectively to support and criticise aspects of the movement.” Charles Jencks, What is Post-Modernism? p6
“Postmodernism is not the name of a period, such asneoclassicism or postimpressionism; it is a condition ofresistance that can arise wherever modernist ideas are inplace. Postmodernism works like a dormant illness in thebody of modernism; when modernism falters and fails,postmodernism flourishes.”James Elkins, Master Narratives and Their Discontents,(New York: Routledge, 2005)http://www.jameselkins.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=226:master-narratives-and-their-discontents&catid=1:academic-books&Itemid=8
Modernism is related to but not to beconfused with Modernity. Modernityrelates to the massive changes in cultureand society due mainly to the developmentsbrought about by the industrial revolutionsand subsequent political unrest withinEurope.
TO UNDERSTAND POSTMODERNISM, FIRST YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND WHAT IS MEANT MY MODERNITY AND MODERNISMClementGreenberg(1909- 1994)
„Modernist Painting oriented itselfto flatness as it did to nothing else‟ Greenberg‟s „Modernist Painting‟ is a dominant account of modernism, which builds on the formalist theories of key 19th and 20th century writers, who believed that aesthetic experience was art‟s predominant aim and value, and explained the development of modern art as a progression towards an increasingly pure abstraction, characterised by a focus on form.
TO UNDERSTAND POSTMODERNISM, FIRST YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND WHAT IS MEANT MY MODERNITY AND MODERNISM Characteristics of Modernism -Formalism - Narrow in practice and theory -Each movement builds and improves on the previous -Cult of the Avant-Garde and Originality -Artwork for sale and created for viewing in museums and galleries - Belief in a Universal Truth
According to Rosalind Kraussthe ‘end’ of modernism isnot the ‘beginning’ ofpostmodernism, ratherpostmodernism is a form ofresistance that takes placewithin modernism.Arthur C. Danto locates thebreak between modernismand postmodernism in theappearance of Warhol’sBrillo Boxes in 1964.
Questioning modernismThe art practices of the 1960s reflected a broader questioning of the values underpinning society.In art, these questions would be directed against the conventions assuring modern art of it‟s “purity”: the autonomy of traditional disciplines (such as painting or sculpture), the separation of art from life or popular culture, the gallery system, the status of artist and role of the spectator, to name but a few.
MODERNISM POSTMODERNISMLanguage is a man-made tool Language is a social construct that “speaks” that refers to real things / & identifies the subject truths Truth is pluralistic, dependent upon theThere are universal laws and frame of reference of the observer truths Knowledge is contingent, contextual andKnowledge is objective, linked to POWER independent of culture, gender, etc. Values are derived from ordinary social practices, which differ from culture toI, the subject, speak language culture and change with time.I have a discernible self Values are determined by manipulation and dominationThe self is the center of existence
“In the art world, the idea of postmodernism first began tosurface in the 1960s, with the emergence of trends like Popart, Minimalism, Conceptualism and performance. (Inretrospect, nascent examples of postmodernism could bedetected much earlier in works by artists such as Duchamp,whose readymades spoofed the preciousness of the artobject, late De Chirico, who laid waste to the idea of theuniqueness of the artwork by cannibalising his own work, andeven Picasso, whose abrupt stylistic changes made a mockeryof the notion of signature style).Heartney, E. (2001) Movements in Modern Art: Postmodernism.London, Tate Gallery Publishing Ltd. pp.6-12
“One is not born a woman, but, rather becomes one.” Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (1973)RroseSélavy (Marcel Duchamp)1921Photograph by Man Ray
“What Warhol’s dictum [that anything could be art]amounted to was that you cannot tell when somethingis a work of art just by looking at it, for there is noparticular way that art has to look. The upshot was thatyou could not teach the meaning of art by examples.”(Danto 1992, p.5)
Clement Greenberg“The task of self-criticism [in modern art] became to eliminate from the specific effects of each art any and every effect that might conceivably be borrowed from or by the medium of any other art. Thus would each art be rendered ‘pure’, and in its ‘purity’ find the guarantee of its standard of quality as well as of its independence.”(Greenberg  2004, p.775)
Greenberg is considered a formalist critic - his assessment of thevalue of an artwork lay in its formal characteristics.Believed that although form was not the total of art, it providedthe only firm basis on which to make judgements on both thequality and character of different works of art, as it was too easy tomake contradictory assertions about subject matter.Greenberg: Concrete aesthetic encounters Sure of its own objectivity Form over content Purist media categories An evolving linear progression abstracted from artists’ lives and historic events Against the subjective nature of aesthetic judgement
Jackson Pollock (1950) 1950 Number One (Lavender Mist)Oil on Canvas(221 * 300cm)
Minimalism Frank Stella (1959) Marriage of Reason and Squalor
Minimalism Donald Judd (1966) Untitled. Stainless Steal and Yellow PlexiGlass Donald Judd (1974) Untitled [six boxes] . Brass.
Minimalism Robert Morris, Installation at the Green Gallery, New York, 1964.
Jeff Wall Picture for Women (1979) ManetA Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882)
Cindy Sherman Untitled Film Still #54Sherman shows that to represent the self is to reproduce analready given type.
Lyotard in his book thepostmodern condition, clearlyarticulated the view thatpostmodernism is aboutpluralism and fragmentation.The modern period isbankrupt he said, because themeta narratives of the pastassume a progression towardsocial enlightenment andemancipation, meta narrativesbeing Marxism andFreudianism and all forms ofEnlightenment reason.
The philosophical revolution in art:You can’t tell art just by looking.The revolution Danto is talking aboutis that the difference between art andnon-art is no longer visible (eventhough it is still there).The difference must be conceptual, not visible. Thework raises a philosophical question about thedifference between art and non-art.
After Pop Art, artbecame eclectic orpluralistic and beganaddressing thecondition of latecapitalism.The art world todayreflects many of theideas, methods andmaterials initiated by Alexander Guy, Greggs (2010)Pop Art. http://www.alexanderguy.co.uk/
In his rejection of the distinction between low and high art, Koons is a typically‘post-modern’ artist. ‘Post-modern art’ is a reaction to the ‘consumerism’ thathas been made possible by the fact that manufacturing of products,distribution and dissemination have become very cheap. However, instead ofcriticizing the ordinariness and commonness of all these products, post-modern art just accepts them, and in Koons case somehow both celebratesand ironicizes them.
Reading listListed below is a selection of books and articles relating to the topics covered in thecourse’s sessions. It is by no means exhaustive; you may find other books in the libraryuseful that are not listed here. You should also not feel compelled to read every itemincluded. Instead it is intended to function as a guide to recommended reading. Forthose taking credits for the course you are advised to make use of this reading list whenpreparing your essays.Key textsHeartney, E, Postmodernism (London Tate Publishing 2001)Hopkins, David, After Modern Art (Oxford, 2000)Foster, H, Recodings - Art, Spectacle, Cultural Politics (Seattle: Bay Press 1985)Foster, H et al, Art since 1900: modernism, antimodernism, postmodernism,(London: Thames & Hudson, 2004.)Meecham P & Sheldon, J, Modern Art – A critical introduction’ (London:Routledge 2000)Owens, C, Beyond Recognition (University of California Press 1992)
Reckitt, H & Phelan, P, Art and feminism, (NY: Phaidon, 2001)Taylor, B, Art today, (London: Laurence King Pub., c2005)Nairne, S, State of the Art (London, Chatto&Windus 1987)Harrison, Charles and Paul Wood (eds.), Art in Theory 1900-2000 (London:Blackwell Press, 2000, 2nd ed.)Hopkins, D, After Modern Art (Oxford, 2000) pp. 197-233Connor, S Postmodernist culture: an introduction to theories of the contemporary. (Oxford:Blackwell, 1997). Pp. 80-100Featherstone, M, Consumer culture and postmodernism. (London: Sage, 1991.)Foster, H, Postmodern Culture (London Pluto Press, 1985) pp.7-15Wood, P et. al., Modernism in Dispute, (Yale, New Haven, & London: YaleUniversity Press and Open University Press, 1993) pp. 237-256Wood & Perry, Inside the Whale in Themes in Contemporary Art (London: Yale and the OpenUniversity 2004) pp. 5-45