Postmodern art is elusive. There doesn't seem to be a way to visually recognize it (outside of postmodern architecture), which was not the case with movements like Minimalism or Abstract Expressionism. It's the philosophical underpinnings of the art where the postmodern-ness of the work comes in.We talked about a few key characteristics in class. One of the aspects that I find interesting is the idea of introducing irony into art work. Irony is saying something in a way that means something else (often the opposite of what appears to being said). You see that in Mapplethorp's photographs, such as Self Portrait with Whip. What at first glance seems to be a sexually graphic image of the artist with a whip up his butt, is actually a tonally beautiful black and white image. Formally, it is a lot like a Modernist image, but it's the content and the reasons behind the creation of the image that takes it into the postmodern sphere. The irony being that is a depiction of graphic sexuality is done beautifully in a traditional sense. One would think the image would be shocking or inappropriate to the viewer, but the image, in terms of technique and finish, is very traditional, even conservative.
The idea of plurality versus singularity is brought up with Postmodernism. The Moderns were trying to create a singular image, a reduction of everything into one thing. Artists reacted against this by bringing the world back into art, only this time, the world would have associations to artist's social class, race, origin, sexual orientation, etc. This meant that each artist's world would be vastly different from the other, leading to a multitude of visions and versions of what reality looked like. In Mapplethorp's case, dealing with issues of sexual identity. I find the idea of plurality kind of ironic in itself. The fact that each artist has their own view (which is unique or singular to them) which is then placed into the pluralist realm of art: a multitude of unique views. It takes many singular views to create a pluralist ideology.
I think the trickiest part about understanding what it means to be Postmodern is the idea of multiple truths. In terms of art, one artist's depiction of reality being just as valid as another artist's depiction which may be contradictory. As an artmaker, how do you decide which is the truth that you want to depict? How do you know what you are depicting is the truth? Is it important that it be truthful?
Part of me thinks that Postmodernism is just bullshit, but then I see the irony in that statement because that's my own truth that I'm expressing, which is Postmodern in itself. It becomes this weird cyclical argument leading to much anxiety when trying to decide on what to paint or make. Perhaps it's the expression of this anxiety which is at the heart of contemporary art?
|Flowers, Robert Mapplethorp|
|Self Portrait with Whip, Robert Mapplethorp|