Postmodernism 4 - Art

Posted with permission from Sunesis.

Art brings philosophy down to earth. While this writer is not artistic, he does understand to a limited extent the philosophy of art. Modern artists believe in several concepts. First, modern artists believe in the uniqueness of the artist. The artist is the creator. Because of the emphasis on the individual, the modern artists are highly trained and elitist; there are only a small number of true artists. Second, modern artists believe in the integrity of the art itself. The product of the artist is singular, a unique product different from all other art works. Modern art is absolutist—pure form and disembodied beauty. Art exists for the sake of the product. Third, the art of the modern artist is a vision of truth. There is some connection between the art and the world around us. It may not look like truth to the viewer, but the artist himself had some intention of linking his art to the world.

Because artists tend to be countercultural, not every current artist is postmodern in his or her philosophy. Some artists today have reacted against modern art by using past styles and going back to human values, but postmodern art is distinctively different. First, postmodernism plays with art. There is no longer a distinction between what is artistic and what is not. Second, postmodern art is not individual. The postmodern artist is not concerned about himself, but focuses on the viewers’ reactions. Third, postmodern art rejects any concept of truthfulness. It makes no necessary connection to reality. It seeks for disunity. There is no truth; everything is fiction. Since postmodernism rejects any moral absolutes, art becomes political, not moral or philosophical.

Postmodernism combines various forms of art with interesting results. For instance, postmodernism can combine Mona Lisa and Donald Duck in the same painting. Cable TV is a postmodern experience, for the viewer has the ability to watch Jackie Gleason from the 50s, Dragnet from the 60s, and Bob Newhart from the 70s, along with everything more contemporary. A movie can present Robin Hood as suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, accompanied by a feminist Maid Marian, in opposition to the Sheriff of Nottingham’s multinational corporation, and aiming to save the environment of Nottingham Forest.

Postmodernism also includes “performance art.” Some postmodern art is not designed to last. Performance art is a one-time event. Some examples are spelling “sea” on the seashore with pebbles, wrapping a building in paper, or an “artist” screaming profanities at the audience. The goal of this kind of art is to bring the audience into the art; if the reaction is shock, distrust, or outrage, all the better! This is the power game that postmodern art plays by contrasting the demons (white males, multinational corporations, the middle class) with the saints (women, homosexuals, the poor, minorities, and all victims, including the artist).

Postmodernism dehumanizes art. The individual is no longer important, so individualized art is rejected. Andy Warhol, for instance, turned soup cans into art. He silk-screened photos of gruesome accidents, but used the same bright colors he used on his Campbell soup art. Reproductions are part of the process. There are a total of only 17 paintings by Da Vinci, but nearly every art museum has a Warhol “original.” Interestingly, Warhol’s works are avidly collected by the very museums and collectors that he mocked. This part of postmodern art is attractive to this writer—it demonstrates the hypocrisy of the modern mindset and the futility of a materialistic worldview.

Rock concerts are also a postmodern event. They are multicultural. They are tolerant and morally permissive. They often mix the medium. For instance, at a live performance, singers lip-sync the words. Giant screens allow the audience to see the live performance via technology. Reality and reproduction are hopelessly confused.

Postmodern art emphasizes improvisation rather than sticking to the script; for example, audiences vote on the conclusion of the story. Postmodern art surrenders meaning to the culture, repudiates the human, and rejects authority.

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