Lib Arts Forum (LAFF); The Problem With Post-Modernism, 1 (of 3): Post Mortem5:52:00 PMConstrux Nunchux
In last week's post, I took a side-step into a pointed critique of what we call Post-Modernism. Since it is such a large issue, one that riles me from my normally docile and tolerant self, and one that paradoxically stifles what we can accept as creativity. This is the first in a formally proposed series of essays attempting to either define or dismantle the current view of our art world. For the sake of this discussion, please consider all forms of creation under the umbrella term "Art."
James Joyce did not finish off the novel. Andy Warhol did not end painterly expression. Eliot did not paralyze poetry, etc etc etc The hallmark, however, of Post-Modernism which I intend to use as a blanket academic term for all Post War art, including and especially contemporary art--at odds with those who may want to consider the current era separate, giving it the equally generic label of Contemporary--The hallmark, however, of Post-Modernism, is to insist that we live in an age where traditional forms of art are antiquated and by the very means of each respective medium, lack the ability to communicate any remotely profound insight. From this springs forth the artificial question of how to be an artist in an age where all artforms are dead. From this, we've seemingly explored every region--mixed media, psychological manipulation, primitivism--but never end up any further. Authors are still writing and selling novels and asking the same questions as writers in the pre-novellic age (I want to take the time to ask why, as this concerns me somewhat personally, the novel, inarguably the youngest of the three major modes of artistic writing, was the first to be pronounced dead?) and painters still present annually at all the acclaimed halls and poets still obsess and pine.
What has occurred, though, is that in the wake of the casually nihilstic post-war/rocknroll age is that form has been abandoned. We all know stream of consciousness and abstract action painting and automatic drawing and --ugh-- free verse. It's clear that the need for human expression still exists. But the use for formalism of any kind has vanished. So how do we determine what's valid art, and what's opportunism, and what's simply a madman's scrawlings? It can't be what communicates more directly and poignantly to a person's emotions than other work, becuase that old Post-Modern insistence on Subjectivism dictates that all art has an audience. We are left to consider all submissions regardless of quality as viable forms of art.
What muddles this argument further is the musing that "art is everywhere" which is simply untrue. If we step back for a moment and think of what we mean when we say art, it's a truncated form of artifice, creation, labor, not accident, not vulgar expose of the ugly parts of the world. Art, by its very definition, demands strenuous exertion, intuitive knowledge bolstered by exploration of one's medium. But the post-modern age insist on barraging its audience with the profundity of everyday life, which is really no different than quaint pastoral dramas of an era most artists of the Post-Modern age would desire to distance themselves from.
So what is the result? Art lacking form but still accepted by a sponsor (be it a publication firm, an agency or a well-endowed individual) is defended on basis of veracity, whether through autobiography or deconstructionist intent--incidentally, a candidate the most misunderstood term of the postmodernage--if it lacks aesthetic appeal or an attempt at universality. I agree that beauty is everywhere, but it doesn't automatically make arbitrarily selected subject matter beautiful, or a story more interesting because it happens to be true.
Add to that the insistence that every story has been told or every song has been written, a falsehood of the most wicked design. I have encountered this protestation countless times and bristle more broadly with each snotty remark. It isn't that stories or melodies or aren't unlimited, it's that we have created such a finitie but broad classification system that we systematically take any unique idea and force it into a category.
More than anything, I believe it is all an excuse for laziness, due mostly to the majority of product I see offered in the postmodern/contemporary. The only safe territory is current topical observation or the empty, irreverent dismantling of a long standing idol. Our artists are all defult iconoclasts. On the now presumed "fact" that all art forms are dead or dead ends, the postmodern age is a parade of vapid revisionist critique. Artists now take aim even at themselves, wherein an entire work is one long setup for an ad hoc pratfall. How many times can we veil bad art with the supposedly incisive purpose of questioning the nature of art?
If indeed, there is truth that music, writing, sculpture, dancing, painting, are dead then why not start back at the beginning? Why is this the irreverible direction we must continue in, constantly breaking fourth walls and undermining our own assertions? Why not start back with the classical forms again? The Greeks didn't have laptops, so if we follow the path of previous (now deceased) artforms in our current political and technological atmosphere, the outcome could be radically different? When someone attempts that, it's pocketed away as an abberration, an exercise in neoclassicism. The easiest analogy is that parents can have multiple children and while one--the one that received all the attention--may turn out to be a drug-addled wreck, there are other children who may have vastly different lives. We, as an artistic culture follow such a linear path, which is currently in a state of self-rejection. And all this empty irreverence, what does it teach us? What is replacing these old, outdated modes of expression? They offer nothing, not even nothingness, but nothing.
So one of my biggest issues with postmodern thought is its arrogance, is that it exists as the summation of all previous though, either through exclusion of disproven ideas or confirmation of yet-to-be-disproven ones. Who are we to say that the world has led up to all that we do and create and produce now? We are one possibility and we speak with such a limited vocabulary for appreciating the world, and we're so happy to consider ourselves, as I'm sure every phase of every culture does, the very apex of sophistication and enlightenment. When encountering our artistic endeavors, I feel that nothing could be further from the truth, personally at least. I conjecture that it's from fear of openness, that saying that formal art is dead is easier than accepting one's inability to express oneself as well in a formatted venue as an unformatted one. That is half of art. Not just expression. But execution, creation. But if one ignores that part, then one can hide behind the total rejection of previous and current forms and scoff. As I said last week, no one wants to be rejected, and that's at the core of this transpiration of our culture. It's a way for no one to feel rejected, to say that all forms of all modes of all media are valid and it's simply luck, mysterious, effusive luck that dictates success or acknowledgement.
In the end, we are forced to ask what the criteria for art is, then? If art can be found everywhere, in every medium and in everyday life, then what sets it aside from someone intentionally creating a replica of everyday life or implementing anti-academic lack of technique. In short, most music writing painting fashion and cinema by way of example only serves to affirm the old and ignorant argument, "I could do that." And if it's the philosophy behind the work that qualifies it, then what kind of philosophy that Art (as we know it) is Dead. How does understanding, but not respecting and not working to elevate the act of creation differ from or illuminate the layman's stance? Why are some elevated to the status of genius and others left to wallow in humiliating failure? In short, if all forms of post-modern/contemporary art ask us what is art--as smoe abstract challenge--then we have the right to ask them the same question and expect a direct response.