Modernism Was The Precursor To Postmodernism Cultural Studies Essay

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Modernism was the precursor to postmodernism so it is the logical starting point. There are three area's in which it's thought 'the modern world and it's culture has tended to revolve. ' (1) Modernisation is the first area which refers to a range of technological , economic and political processes associated with the industrial revolution and it's aftermath. The second, modernity, to social conditions and modes of experience that are seen as effects of these processes. However, modernism can fall into two categories. Most obviously would be a kind of dictionary definition of having modern tendencies, thoughts and being up-to-date. At the same time it implies a type of response to the notions of modernisation and modernity .

We can locate modernism at times between the late eighteenth century and early twentieth. The problem is that there appears to be differing views as to when it was initiated and whether it had or has run it's course. This lack of clarity in periodisation , J" occurs due to an overlapping from one period into another. Romanticism into modernism into postmodernism.

1 " It is widely acknowledged that Edouard Manet's painting Les Dejeuner sur I'herbe was the first modernist painting and he the first modernist painter. This was due to the 'frankness with which they declared the flat surfaces on which they were painted.'(2) We can define modernist art thus by reference to a particular style where shape, colour and exaggeration take preference to the subject itself. It is almost a value that we associate with modern art. The avant-garde were the first artists to show signs of these symptoms but it was 'the development of Cubism in the years after 1907 that most clearly marked a break with previous styles. '(3) At this point I think it necessary to mention the cubist artist Pablo Picasso. It is important to mention him and his work for two reasons which will become apparent in answering the question later. The first aspect I would like to raise is that of his collages from the years 1912 under the umbrella of Cubism. I don't feel it necessary to talk about any piece individually. What is interesting is that he employ's newspaper cuttings, music sheets plus other materials all on the same surface.

Around a similar time to Cubism other movements were emerging including Expressionists, Futurists, Vorticists and Constructivists. Many believe the work of these groups appears to be a reaction to both modernisation in terms of political and technological change, and modernity in terms of society and historical conditions. However, it is not so simple as it would have been hard for artists to comprehend what was modern in response to historical events. As well as this the values that we place on modern art , being for instance abstraction and obscurity , were not necessarily values that the artist relentlessly pursued. The achievement of abstraction was not without a struggle where artists would often return or reference artists of an earlier period.

This brings about my second point on Picasso. At a time when he was producing some of his most challenging work we see a return to conservatism and classicism. It is evident in his unfinished piece' The Artist and his Model' of 1914.

The critic Charles Harrison comments 'whereas a form of art may be identified as modern on the basis fo its style alone, to call a work of art modernist is to make a finer distinction.

2 , It is to register it's appearance as significant of certain critical commitments and attitudes /maintained by artists with regard both to the larger culture of the present and to the art of recent past. '(4) We can then assume that much of what we associate as modern art is far from a reaction to a wider culture. The constructivist movement does have it's basis in mechanisation and appears to replicate that but most modernists show little sign of this. Instead, and if we are to believe a number of art critics, modern art appears as a gradual abandonment of the commitment to realism which has been a necessary condition of aesthetic achievement. It is almost the story of a progressive flattening of the pictorial surface through the progressive loss of figurative form and content.

This now leads me onto the subject of postmodernism. It was Leo Steinberg who gave rise to the term 'postmodern' in a lecture early in 1968 and later included it in his book 'other Criteria '. Within his book he comments on the work of Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol from the early 1960's , commenting on the surface constructed.

of Rauschenberg , Steinberg observes that his "Flat bed surfaces of the 1950's in which newspapers, chairs, beds, photographs and paint marks were mixed as 'postmodernist' because they departed radically from the homogenous, crafted surface of the abstract expressionism."(5) Steinberg goes on to talk about the flat bed picture plane saying it, 'makes it's symbolic allusion to hard surfaces such as table tops, studio floors, charts bulletin boards -any receptor surface on which data is entered, on which information may be received, printed, impressed -whether coherently or in confusion.

Warhol conceived the picture as an image of an image -thus a deteriorated image which mirrors the arbitrariness and confusion of the city experience.' At the end of his discussion Steinberg says 'What I have called the flat-bed is a change in the relationship between artist and image, image and viewer. Yet this internal change is no more than a symptom of changes which go far beyond questions of picture planes, or of painting as such. It is part of shake up which contaminates all purified categories.'(6) What this last sentence is essentially implying is postmodernism is not principally about /art. We need to explore the bigger picture which includes film, architecture, visual arts amongst other factors in order for us to eventually see how they relate to modernism.

3 The architectural historian and critic Charles Jencks attempted to distinguish postmodern from the late-modern style in an article in Architectural Design in 1978. 'Postmodern architecture is that architecture which reacts against the international 'high' modernist style of the steel-and-glass box. '(7) Postmodernist architecture added decoration, impurity , colour , asymmetry of touch populism but fundamentally defines itself both negatively and positively at the same time.

Meaning that they employ styles from the modernist movement at the same time cross- fertilizing them with previous historical elements. Jencks lists thirty different parameters by which postmodern can be distinguished from modern. These include traditional versus Zeitgeist; eclectic versus purist; semiotic versus functional; ambiguous versus /transparent etc. .. We can also adopt a similar analysis to postmodern film in that it doesn't present a coherent and unified world view compared to it's high modernist classics. Postmodernist film appeared to use ideas and meaning from past genres referring at best to the materiality of film and hardlyat all through the medium of film to the real world itself. 'Postmodernist films have no truth content, but consist of sheer surface or superticiality.'(8) This thinking can also be closely associated to literature and especially through the writing of Frederic Jameson. Jameson talks about the works of the classical modernist writers such as D.H Lawrence and Faulkner. He comments on the change from the works of the classical modernists 'to a new point of view which sees them simply as 'texts' which can be studied for their world-view and then dropped in favour of an alternative picture.'(10) Modernist writers were much revered, they were taken as the ultimate basis of reality , where there work could be absorbed and learned. Then came the crisis of modernism says Jameson. 'When it suddenly became clear that D.H Lawrence was not an absolute after all, not the final achieved figuration of the truth of the world but only one art-Ianguage among others, only one shelf of works in whole dizzying library.'(11) The postmodernist writer could now only function as redistributor of someone else's texts and be unable to claim the mantle of prophesier .

4 In the visual arts it's thought that culture turned a corner at around 1955 or 1960 in the United States. Some critics argue that postmodernist art is only concerned with, and offers, depthlessness and superficiality. The work of Warhol could be seen to compliment this view where he adopts an anti modern stance. Some would say that he shows no interest in anxiety , is obsessed with commercialism and finds alienation as a healthy and reassuring condition. The works of Rauschenberg , Johns and Warhol are all essential to the idea of a postmodern era. They all roughly mark the end of modernism and the beginning of postmodernism through there use of mixed art styles and use of nostalgia. Jameson is again at the forefront of postmodern critique. Jameson asserted a number of ideas on the subject. Its thought that if culture is in a postmodern phase then art must inevitably be symptomatic of this. He argued that cultures destiny was inextricably bound to capitalism's. Art was beginning to be sponsored by commercial companies. Technology had become a source of reproduction and had replaced technologies of production. Jameson also uses Warhol as an example for his ideas. He talked of an emotional numbing or 'waning of affect' as characterising postmodern subjectivity. 'Whereas modernism had frequently invoked the artists inner depths as a bulwark against an alienating external world, a new depthlessness seemed to haunt recent art. '(12) The emergence of representation, the signifier and in Jameson's words 'pastiche' were also major factors to postmodernism. Cindy Sherman is a prime example of someone who used these in her work. The American artist produced a sequence of 69 Untitledfilm stills which loosely referred to 1950's American B-movies. She appears as a number of differing personalities including a nurse, housewife and college student. Sherman is a key figure in the feminist debate but is her 'assertion that representation itself is already pre-coded that seems to gel with Jameson's talk of pastiche, surface effects and disconnected signifiers.'(13) Her images are extremely representational and so photography thus became the ideal postmodernist medium, ./ where it can replicate the apparently real as a sign. - However, not every artist in the period for which it is claimed is postmodern can fit so easily into this category .Come the early 1980's it appears that postmodern art had split 5 into two camps. There were those artists such as Sherman who were concerned with the signifier. Alongside this were artists who had returned to a reassessment of modernism and a return to painting. A number of exhibitions appeared in the 1980's with two of the most important being' A New Spirit in Painting' at London's Royal Academy and 'Zeitgeist' in Berlin. A curator for the London show asserted that 'the subjective view, the creative imagination, has come back into his own. '(14) It also represented a shift in the art world where Europe had now become the dominant over America. This was to be only a temporary shift however. The artist Francesco Clemente emerged around this time. Clemente used much unrelated subject matter in a broadly expressionistic manner borrowing bits and pieces from past and present. He looked to Giorgio de Chirico whose work from the early twentieth century was particularly influential due to his obscure combinations of classicism and modernism.

The return to painting seemed to be short lived or thus photography was seen to precede it. The work of artists such as Jenny Holzer , Barbara Kruger and Sherrie Levine came to prominence. There appeared to be a call for a 'deconstructive' art from critics such Craig owens, rather than a characteristically postmodern. Jenny Holzer was thus backed by these critics due to her situationist style of art. She would place indeterminate statements in public which included posters, t-shirts and bus tickets. From 1982 Holzer even paid to have messages on electronic billboards. one message inparticular read 'Protect me from what I want' in Times Square designed to confuse passing shoppers. Barbara Kruger was similar in her approach to her work using parodic advertising, whilst mixing photography and text. It marked an attempt from some critics to distinguish a postmodernism of resistance from a postmodernism of reaction so as to claim a departure from modernist assumptions.

Sherrie Levine was also an important figure in the postmodern era. Levine began to 're-present' works including Duchamp , Van Gogh and photographs by Walker Evans. It questioned the value system of the modernist notion of 'authenticity' and 'originality' which was introduced by Rosalind Krauss. Richard Prince was another artist who, like Levine, took previous works and images for their own use. He 're-presented' classic 6 images used by Marlboro cigarettes in their advertising. They were essentially questioning modernist art but also associated itself with the decentering of authorship. A death of the author as it were, where works exist independently. They also spoke of / the impossibility of being 'outside representation.' I have given a very brief account of postmodernism here as there is alot more that can be written about. I believe that I have picked up on some of the most important aspects and artists. I would now like to jump to the present day where I have found something that I believe to be very interesting.

At the moment within art we seem to have reached a point where we have no name or category for the type of art being produced. A recent article in 'The Daily Telegraph' talked of the artist Liam Gillick's Structure The Wood Way. It is 'a bizarre hybrid that seems to have been partly assembled from sections of a modernist school or hospital designed around 1955. ' The structure is made up of separate panels where some are mounted over your head to give a bus shelter effect. A section of the structure is made of planed pine but also made of such materials as aluminium, perspex and formica. All of these things belong to a category half-way between architecture and sculpture. The reason why I believe this to be important is that the different elements within Gillick's structure all seem to relate back to certain artists of the modernist era. These include Mondrian , architect Mies van de Rohe and the Bauhaus. Martin Gayford , the critic here proposes that Gillick's work is about how perhaps the modernist dream went wrong, ,./ where they were searching for a new perfected modern world. This information may help to explain the relationship between modernism and postmodernism.

As I pointed out previously postmodern architecture reacted against the international high modernist style of the steel-and-glass box. However, it also defined itself both positively and negatively meaning that it employed elements of the modernist movement. So here we could probably say that postmodern architecture has elements of continuation and critique. on the one hand it reacts to modernist architecture which could be seen as criticising. We could also see this as being a continuation as it is taking parts of modernist styles and adapting them to suit needs and possibly trends. Another point that can be made is that postmodern architects looked back to previous styles which relates to modernist artists. Picasso for example returned to classicism and conservatism and so this begins to show a possible pattern or cycle of continuation and criticising.

Postmodern film can also be given a similar analysis to that of architecture. Although postmodern film didn't give a coherent and unified world view like that of the high modernist classics it still used similar ideas to that of modernism. The fact that it moved away in some quarters gives to some extent the impression of criticising. Again I would like to point out the idea of referencing back to previous genres.

As with postmodern literature it is much the same as before. Where the modernist writer was once taken as 'absolute' it was proved not to be. The postmodern writer could now only be the redistributor of someone else's ideas. This doesn't say it as clearly as film and architecture but writers could now only use ideas originated from past texts which included modernist writers. Thus a type of continuation is inevitable and perhaps a critique in that they would have to adapt these texts to make them their own.

When we come to the visual arts things start to become slightly more confused. The first point that I would like to make is that of Picasso's , and the cubist's collages. As I mentioned before his collages are of particular importance to the question. Picasso 8 employed materials such as newspaper cuttings and musical sheets. This relates to the works of Rauschenberg and Warhol who themselves used similar techniques which were thought to depart radically from the modernist era. They are supposed to mark the end of modernism and the beginning of postmodernism because of this method of work. However this does not seem to equate and so appears that a continuation is taking place in that they have used similar styles and not departed radically. However I it can also be seen as a critique due to the subject matter. Rauschenberg and Warhol were not concerned with the ideas of the modernists and instead concentrated on nostalgia and commercialism. Warhol appeared to replicate culture and inparticular the rapidly advancing technologies of the modern world.

The work of Cindy Sherman to me seems at first as one of the biggest departures from modernism. It is concerned with replicating the real as a sign. The signifier was a significant departure from previous styles and subject matter and this showed as photography became an ideal postmodern medium. This could be seen as a critique as it depar1s from modernism. Again there is the issue of referencing back for which Sherman did with her photos so is perhaps a continuation As I mentioned earlier there was a return to painting at the same time of Sherman's work Francesco Clemente was the prime example of this who borrowed bits from the past and present. This is a continuation and critique which is in the same vein as Picasso who did the same thing himself The works of Holzer and Kruger who were part of the call for a deconstructive art can easily be seen in the category of a critique. A continuation is not so easily to come by but we could establish links between Jameson's talk of 'pastiche' and there work which incorporates different elements onto the same picture plane. Picasso's collages again spring to mind.

Another question we could throw into the equation is whether modernism actually began but this would be unwise at this point due to the nature of this question So in brief feel that referencing is an unavoidable trait of art and so will always have elements of continuation. Artists will, most of the time, strive for originality and so will be seen as critiques. The two can and should be seen to be linked in what I believe to be a cycle within art. In conclusion and because of these factors I would say that postmodernism is both a continuation and critique modernism

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