The (Postmodern) Art of Evolution (2022)

Niklas Ferdinand Carlsson | Linköping University

The so-called postmodern era that we are living in now is an era characterized by revolution and evolution. There are constant changes powered by the opportunities of technology and the cultural progression it allows for. Art, our cultural expressive trait, manifests this process effectively. As a phenomenon and as a concept, art has been in a constant entropic flow in parallel to societal development. Constraints have shaped its character, but as those are increasingly dissolving in our postmodern world, the term ‘art’ is in need of a redefinition.

Art is hereby called upon as an abstract means and a function, as a universal language with enormous inherent power; it is pure discourse as per Michel Foucault´s own description. Foucault pointed to how attitudes, beliefs and practices become embedded in society as norms that in turn govern people to act in unison and in accordance with reigning societal structures. People think they are free but are in reality only living in the facades of freedom inside language, norms and the power structures that command them. Art has become one of those manifestations of thoughts and ideas, and that is how it sustains itself in the world today. Already in 1964, American art critic and philosopher Arthur Danto announced that art in the traditional sense of the word was dead and buried in his essay ‘The Artworld’. It was during a visit to The Stable Gallery in New York City where American artist Andy Warhol exhibited his Brillo Box artwork that Danto got this impression. The Brillo Boxes consisted of white-painted wooden boxes with prints purposely made out to be carbon copies of the Brillo brand steel wool soap pad boxes. Warhol was of the attitude that "art is what you can get away with" and his original idea with the Brillo Box exhibition was to just buy some packages in a store, exhibit them in a gallery and sell them off as art. But Danto was unimpressed by what he saw, and he left the gallery with the conviction that he had just witnessed the end of Western art.

Photograph of the American artist Andy Warhol in Moderna Museet, Stockholm, before the opening of his retrospective exhibition, with his 'Brillo Boxes' in the background. (Public Domain)

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For what is art really?Obviously, it is a human manifestation, a process we create where constant movement, constant expression and adaptation to the present gives an entropic effect. Entropy because, like all states governed by the laws of nature, the manifestation of art is restricted by both stylistic and philosophical constraints. This, in turn, leads to the constant revision of the narrative or, if you will, the underlying meaning. The German philosopher Friedrich Hegel stated that “Art is the sensuous presentation of ideas”, and he argued that all of the aesthetic and creative art forms have essential purposes. We need them so that important insights can become understandable, powerful, and helpful in our lives. It is a language we can speak with our emotions and instincts as well as our reason. It is a truly universal language.Art has evolved from being a necessary visualization of people and events in a world without cameras into a religious force and subsequently into an ideological tool for propaganda. This development very much mirrors the way that society has evolved as a whole. Art then became a more personal manifestation in which our subjective attributes served as a mirror to both our inner and outer idiosyncrasies. Imagine Hilma af Klint's abstract visualizations of her innermost thoughts or Pablo Picasso's depictions of war and abuse, for example. But what is the constraint, and in the long run the dissolution of the constraint, in this final stage? Are we not still there in our postmodern era of subjective personal expressions? In line with the entropic idea of art, meaning is corrupted as the constraints are lifted around the creative visual desire for expression. It is a state of chaos wherein any interpretation will do.Warhol showed us in 1964 that anything can be art and thus anyone can become an artist. Meaning becomes the main proposition: what happens between the art and the audience, what we together and as individuals decide that the art is and should be. Art has thus become a language, a manifestation of discourse, a linguistic phenomenon. How do I, for example, make people notice social injustice between people in a particular societal group? By catching their attention. How do I get their attention? Through provocation. How do I provoke? By the language of art.The power of discourse has become multi-modal and multi-dimensional. Think of the French satirist magazine Charlie Hebdo or Swedish artist Lars Vilks. Art has become the means and function for a conversation, an exchange, and thus we can deduce art as a shibboleth, a way of bridging linguistic barriers to reach universal understanding. In principle, art has evolved from a one-dimensional one-way function with a solid-state to being two-dimensional because of the message conveyed to the viewer. It then evolved to become multi-dimensional, and in many ways non-dimensional(!), as it often is today. One interesting illustration of this non-dimensionality to art is to imagine how many people that have actually seen Lars Vilks roundabout satirical dogs versus how many people that have not seen them, yet actually still fully grasp Lars’s message and thus get an idea of the meaning.

Vilks put the face of Muslim prophet Muhammed on a cardboard dog and placed it in a roundabout and thus managed to provoke millions of people, including the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They got the message, and they got the meaning, although most of them probably didn’t even see it because of the strict restrictions for depicting the prophet Muhammed. They didn’t agree with the idea and the act and were thus provoked.Today we find art in discourse, in people’s vocabulary, shrieks in social media, in media reports, and in our memories and perceptions. Art is a language without borders where we give ourselves permission to express what we cannot express in words and where meaning is completely analogous to how we give meaning to words. It is a language stronger than words, with more dimensions and with the ability to impact with both width and sustainability. The reactions to both Charlie Hebdo and Lars Vilks affirm, if anything, the enormous strength of this language and, of course, the risks involved in expressing oneself in a boundless medium, in a boundless language. Both have famously been forced to alter their lives following death threats and, of course, the unfathomable tragedy that hit the editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo, which saw twelve people murdered and eleven injured in a 2015 terrorist attack.Swedish artists Anna Odell and NUG can also be mentioned here as they both created art that was both abstract, concrete and only available in the moment it was made and, most importantly, had to be defined by the artist as art for anyone to understand it. NUG sabotaged an active subway train on film and Odell faked having a severe anxiety attack in central Stockholm. They were both making social commentary guised under the definition of art. Again, “art is what you can get away with”.Art as language incorporates words, meaning, images, sounds, actions and in reality, all information that can reach a human being at one and the same time. So, no wonder its force is hitting us with such power… In 2021 an Italian artist named Salvatore Garau even managed to sell a piece of invisible art. He called it an “immaterial sculpture” and in reality, it was nothing except the title (Io Sono), his explanation (he claimed that “according to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, ‘nothing’ has a weight”) and the price tag. Can art be more abstract than that?During a visit to a local art exhibition, I experienced this type of subjective co-creation of art myself as the exhibition showed films that, in different ways, portray identity and prejudice. A short film put on an endless loop showed a man sitting on a sofa talking in his native Montenegrin language on low, not really audible, volume whilst a narrative voice speaks over him in Swedish about how Montenegrins are dull and unwilling to participate in society. Consequently, the concept of the art was to perceive the message, to form an opinion of meaning, which in turn means that the real artwork becomes apparent and, in fact, IS the philosophical thought that is born when we intellectually grasp what we see. Otherwise, it is just a poorly shot short film set on endless repeat that no one would ever consider to be a work of art in itself.Remember Warhol's conceptually similar films Sleep and Empire (both filmed in 1964) and we thus realize again what an absolute historic key Warhol is in the analysis and understanding of the development of art and the dissipation of grand narratives. In a way, he was the death of art impersonated, the antichrist of artistic expression if you will and are feeling dramatic. Otherwise, we can just see him as an historic marker in time, a turning point whence modernism became postmodernism, where meaning became an individual concept instead of a collective understanding.

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Of course, an honourable mention must go out to the legendary French artist Marcel Duchamp who started all this already in the 1910s when he attributed artistic meaning to everyday objects manifesting his works Bottle Rack, and famously, Fountain. In reality, Fountain was a urinal that he, perhaps in disdain, submitted as art to a 1917 art exhibition by the Society of Independent Artists in New York City. Later in his career, Duchamp ventured to create a new artistic expression that counteracted art’s evolution through religious, moral and philosophical meaning by creating art that was only meant to appeal to the eye and not the mind. Imagine that.

We can move on with these impressions with newfound insights on prejudice, colonialism, gender, class, and everything else we relate to philosophical thought. The message reaches us in the end, and there is also where we find the actual work of art, which is something completely different from its original form and this also depicts an evolutionary entropic process even in the experience itself. It literally changes in front of (and behind) our eyes as we participate. In the traditional sense of art, of course, it is no great artistic experience to watch a dubbed film portraying a middle-aged man traversing a couch. Or sleeping... and thus we are back in the company of Arthur Danto and Andy Warhol's Brillo Boxes. Art is dead, but the thought is alive, it is participatory, and it is in constant motion. Just like everything else.

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Niklas Ferdinand Carlsson is a librarian and teacher at Linköping University in Sweden, a behavioural scientist and a published and cited researcher. His research explores the postmodern deconstruction of modern society and how the library is an integral part of this evolution

FAQs

What is considered postmodern art? ›

What Is Postmodern Art? Postmodern art rejected the traditional values of modernism, and instead embraced experimentation with new media and art forms including intermedia, installation art, conceptual art, multimedia, performance art, and identity politics.

Is Andy Warhol postmodern or modern? ›

Andy Warhol (1928 – 1987)

Pop artist Andy Warhol created some iconic artworks that were defined as part of the Postmodernism era of art.

What is the purpose of postmodernism art? ›

Postmodern art drew on philosophy of the mid to late twentieth century, and advocated that individual experience and interpretation of our experience was more concrete than abstract principles.

What are the 5 characteristics of postmodernism? ›

However, after World War II, a new school of literary theory, deemed postmodernism, began to rise.
...
5 Characteristics of Postmodern Literature
  • Embrace of randomness. Postmodern works reject the idea of absolute meaning and instead embrace randomness and disorder. ...
  • Playfulness. ...
  • Fragmentation. ...
  • Metafiction. ...
  • Intertextuality.
7 Jun 2021

What are 3 characteristics of postmodernism? ›

postmodernism, also spelled post-modernism, in Western philosophy, a late 20th-century movement characterized by broad skepticism, subjectivism, or relativism; a general suspicion of reason; and an acute sensitivity to the role of ideology in asserting and maintaining political and economic power.

What is the main idea of postmodernism? ›

Postmodernism, born under western secular conditions, has the following characteristics: it emphasizes pluralism and relativism and rejects any certain belief and absolute value; it conflicts with essentialism, and considers human identity to be a social construct; it rejects the idea that values are based on ...

What is a simple definition of postmodernism? ›

A general and wide-ranging term which is applied to literature, art, philosophy, architecture, fiction, and cultural and literary criticism, among others. Postmodernism is largely a reaction to the assumed certainty of scientific, or objective, efforts to explain reality.

Does postmodernism still exist today? ›

Since the late 1990s there has been a small but growing feeling both in popular culture and in academia that postmodernism "has gone out of fashion." However, there have been few formal attempts to define and name the era succeeding postmodernism, and none of the proposed designations has yet become part of mainstream ...

What's next after postmodernism? ›

Metamodernism is the cultural code that comes after postmodernism.

What influenced postmodernism? ›

Radical movements and trends regarded as influential and potentially as precursors to postmodernism emerged around World War I and particularly in its aftermath.

How does postmodern art differ from modern art? ›

pop culture: Modernism focused on simplicity and elegance with color, shape, and form. Modernist artists worked toward an idealized version of artistic beauty. By contrast, postmodernism rejects the idea that there is a right way to make art, and it blurs the lines between high art and low art.

What is the difference between modern and postmodern? ›

“Modern” and “post-modern” were terms that were developed in the 20th century. “Modern” is the term that describes the period from the 1890s to 1945, and “post-modern” refers to the period after the Second World War, mainly after 1968.

Who is the father of postmodernism? ›

FOLLOWING the great American modernist poets of the first decades of the 20th century -- Pound, Eliot, Williams -- Charles Olson is the father of the "postmodernists" of the second half of the century, bridging Pound & Co. to such major poets as Robert Duncan and Robert Creeley.

How does postmodernism affect society? ›

Postmodernism affects views and lifestyles, which in turn affects the young adult's performance of roles and his interactions within all his different social systems. A strong attachment to family and home, as well as the importance of roles as sons/daughters were found.

What is postmodernism culture? ›

Postmodern culture is characterized by the valuing of activities, events, and perspectives that emphasize the particular over the global or the fragment over the whole. This reversal of a modernist ideology necessitates a valuation of variation and flexibility in the cultural sphere.

What are postmodern techniques? ›

TECHNIQUES IN POSTMODERN LITERATURE. Techniques in Postmodern Literature. Language creates meaning—language is seen as having power to create truth; somehow what is said matters more than how we might usually define "reality." A postmodern approach often emphasizes language over transcendent “truth.”

When did postmodernism begin? ›

Postmodernism had begun as a radical fringe movement in the 1970s, but became the dominant look of the 1980s, the 'designer decade'. Vivid colour, theatricality and exaggeration: everything was a style statement.

Is postmodernism a philosophy? ›

Postmodernism is a philosophical movement that began in the late 1970s. The postmodernist philosophy rejects traditional concepts of logic, objective truth, and human nature. Postmodernists believe that there are no universal truths or objective realities and all meaning is constructed by each individual.

Does postmodernism believe in God? ›

Eclecticism and non-dogmatic theology

Postmodern religion considers that there are no universal religious truths or laws. Rather, reality is shaped by social, historical, and cultural contexts according to the individual, place, and/or time.

What is the criticism of postmodernism? ›

Criticism of more artistic post-modern movement such as post-modern art or literature may include objections to a departure from beauty, lack of coherence or comprehensibility, deviating from clear structure and the consistent use of dark and negative themes.

What are the weaknesses of postmodernism? ›

Postmodernism had flaws from the beginning (as do all aesthetic theories.) For one thing, conceptions of “high and low” culture (and music) are not very descriptive. They are vague, create confusion, and provoke unnecessary ideological tension.

What are the main characteristics of postmodernism art quizlet? ›

Accordingly, postmodern thought is broadly characterized by tendencies to epistemological and moral relativism, pluralism, irreverence and self-referentiality.

Is surrealism a postmodern art? ›

While surrealism is certainly a strong component of Abbott's works, they are also fundamentally postmodern.

What is another name for postmodernism? ›

In this page you can discover 16 synonyms, antonyms, idiomatic expressions, and related words for postmodernism, like: post-modernism, post-structuralism, postmodernity, poststructuralism, postmodern, postmodernist, modernism, structuralism, primitivism, and relativism.

Why is postmodernism hard to define? ›

Postmodernism is hard to define, because it is a concept that appears in a wide variety of disciplines or areas of study, including art, architecture, music, film, literature, sociology, communications, fashion, and technology.

Which is an example of postmodern culture? ›

TWO EXAMPLES OF POSTMODERN POPULAR CULTURE

I will consider here two prime examples: pop music and television.

When was the end of postmodernism? ›

Some art historians believe the Post-Modern era ended at the beginning of the 21st Century and refer to the following period as Post Post-Modern.

Is the 21st century postmodern? ›

In contrast, the '21st century' is a postmodern period – the 'post', in this sense, means 'after' modernity.

What happens to a person at death in postmodernism? ›

In postmodern settings, dying, like much of the rest of social life, becomes more individuated. However, the individuated person turns into an assembly of abstracted attributes. As a result, persons with identical “scores” may have little else in common and may be living vastly different lives.

Who is the founder of modernism? ›

Modernism in the visual arts and architecture. In the visual arts the roots of Modernism are often traced back to painter Édouard Manet, who, beginning in the 1860s, not only depicted scenes of modern life but also broke with tradition when he made no attempt to mimic the real world by way of perspective and modeling.

What is Metamodern art? ›

Metamodernism refers to a broad range of developments in art, culture, society, philosophy, as a historigraphical between-ness that appears after and gestures beyond postmodernism, and at the same time attempts to meaningfully render emerging periodized post-postmodernism coherent.

What is metamodernism and why does it matter? ›

What's metamodern are aesthetic mannerisms that protect interiority against the self-doubt that potentially comes with multi-perspectivalism. An uncomplicated embrace of positivity: The postmodern sensibility often made it embarrassing to express positive emotions, such as hope, enthusiasm, glee, and so on.

What historical events led to postmodernism? ›

As implied by its name, the Postmodernist period occurred directly after the Modernist period. Events that inspired this movement were the end of World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, the Cold War, and the Civil Rights movement. Postmodernism works were characterized by multiple qualities.

When was postmodernism most popular? ›

The basic features of what is now called postmodernism can be found as early as the 1940s, most notably in the work of artists such as Jorge Luis Borges. However, most scholars today agree postmodernism began to compete with modernism in the late 1950s and gained ascendancy over it in the 1960s.

What is postmodern style? ›

Postmodernism is an eclectic, colourful style of architecture and the decorative arts that appeared from the late 1970s and continues in some form today. It emerged as a reaction to Modernism and the Modern Movement and the dogmas associated with it.

What is a simple definition of postmodernism? ›

A general and wide-ranging term which is applied to literature, art, philosophy, architecture, fiction, and cultural and literary criticism, among others. Postmodernism is largely a reaction to the assumed certainty of scientific, or objective, efforts to explain reality.

How is art presented postmodernism? ›

There are several characteristics which lend art to being postmodern; these include bricolage, the use of text prominently as the central artistic element, collage, simplification, appropriation, performance art, the recycling of past styles and themes in a modern-day context, as well as the break-up of the barrier ...

What are the main characteristics of postmodernism art quizlet? ›

Accordingly, postmodern thought is broadly characterized by tendencies to epistemological and moral relativism, pluralism, irreverence and self-referentiality.

What are the key principles of postmodernism? ›

Postmodernism, born under western secular conditions, has the following characteristics: it emphasizes pluralism and relativism and rejects any certain belief and absolute value; it conflicts with essentialism, and considers human identity to be a social construct; it rejects the idea that values are based on ...

What are the characteristics of postmodern design? ›

Postmodern design is often characterised by saturated colours, loud patterns and strong contrasts. Designers never intended their objects to be part of an everlasting fashion; rather they were flashy, faddish and ephemeral. Like these stairs, postmodernism catches your attention rather than blends into the background.

What is the difference between modern and postmodern art? ›

Modernism held logic and reason as central values for seeking universal truth. In reaction to the idea that art should highlight an objective truth, postmodern art focuses on the artist's unique perspective and subjective reality.

Who is the father of postmodernism? ›

FOLLOWING the great American modernist poets of the first decades of the 20th century -- Pound, Eliot, Williams -- Charles Olson is the father of the "postmodernists" of the second half of the century, bridging Pound & Co. to such major poets as Robert Duncan and Robert Creeley.

What is example of postmodernism? ›

Postmodern movies aim to subvert highly-regarded expectations, which can be in the form of blending genres or messing with the narrative nature of a film. For example, Pulp Fiction is a Postmodern film for the way it tells the story out of the ordinary, upending our expectations of film structure.

Why is postmodernism hard to define? ›

Postmodernism is hard to define, because it is a concept that appears in a wide variety of disciplines or areas of study, including art, architecture, music, film, literature, sociology, communications, fashion, and technology.

Does postmodernism still exist today? ›

Since the late 1990s there has been a small but growing feeling both in popular culture and in academia that postmodernism "has gone out of fashion." However, there have been few formal attempts to define and name the era succeeding postmodernism, and none of the proposed designations has yet become part of mainstream ...

When did post modern art end? ›

Some art historians believe the Post-Modern era ended at the beginning of the 21st Century and refer to the following period as Post Post-Modern.

Which of the following is an example of postmodern architecture? ›

One of the first examples of postmodern architecture is the Vanna Venturi House, which was built between 1962 and 1964 and designed by Robert Venturi for his mother, Vanna Venturi.

What is true of postmodern architecture? ›

Which is true of Postmodern architecture? A hallmark of postmodern architecture is visual complexity, the extensive use of historical references, colorfulness, and fun.

What is a major difference between modernist and postmodernist architecture quizlet? ›

A difference between postmodern architecture and modern architecture is that: Modern architecture tends to have a cohesive design theme, while postmodern architecture does not.

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