Postmodern Art - Defining Postmodern Art

Defining Postmodern Art

Postmodernism describes movements which both arise from, and react against or reject, trends in modernism. Specific trends of modernism that are generally cited are formal purity, medium specificity, art for art's sake, authenticity, universality, originality and revolutionary or reactionary tendency, i.e. the avant-garde. However, paradox is probably the most important modernist idea against which postmodernism reacts. Paradox was central to the modernist enterprise, having been introduced by Manet. Manet's various violations of representational art brought to prominence the supposed mutual exclusiveness of reality and representation, design and representation, abstraction and reality, and so on. The incorporation of paradox was highly stimulating from Manet to the conceptualists.

The status of the avant-garde is particularly controversial: many institutions argue that being visionary, forward-looking, cutting-edge, and progressive are crucial to the mission of art in the present, and therefore postmodern art contradicts the value of "art of our times". Postmodernism rejects the notion of advancement or progress in art per se, and thus aims to overturn the "myth of the avant-garde". Rosalind Krauss was one of the important enunciators of the view that avant-gardism was over, and that the new artistic era is post-liberal and post-progress. Griselda Pollock studied and confronted the avant-garde and modern art in a series of groundbreaking books, reviewing modern art at the same time as redefining postmodern art.

One characteristic of postmodern art is its conflation of high and low culture through the use of industrial materials and pop culture imagery. The use of low forms of art were a part of modernist experimentation as well, as documented in Kirk Varnedoe and Adam Gopnik's 1990-91 show High and Low: Popular Culture and Modern Art at New York's Museum of Modern Art, an exhibition that was universally panned at the time as the only event that could bring Douglas Crimp and Hilton Kramer together in a chorus of scorn. Postmodern art is noted for the way in which it blurs the distinctions between what is perceived as fine or high art and what is generally seen as low or kitsch art. Whilst this concept of 'blurring' or 'fusing' high art with low art had been experimented during modernism, it only ever became fully endorsed after the advent of the postmodern era. Postmodernism introduced elements of commercialism, kitsch and a general camp aesthetic within its artistic context; postmodernism takes styles from past periods, such as Gothicism, the Renaissance and the Baroque, and mixes them in a fashion which ignores their original use in their corresponding artistic movement. Such elements are common characteristics of what is defined as postmodern art.

Fredric Jameson suggests that postmodern works abjure any claim to spontaneity and directness of expression, making use instead of pastiche and discontinuity. Against this definition, Art and Language's Charles Harrison and Paul Wood maintained that pastiche and discontinuity are endemic to modernist art, and are deployed effectively by modern artists such as Manet and Picasso.

One compact definition is that postmodernism rejects modernism's grand narratives of artistic direction, eradicating the boundaries between high and low forms of art, and disrupting genre's conventions with collision, collage, and fragmentation. Postmodern art holds that all stances are unstable and insincere, and therefore irony, parody, and humor are the only positions that cannot be overturned by critique or revision. "Pluralism and diversity" are other defining features.

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