Mediocrity or How to Explain Postmodernism to Your Children
After more than a century of 'Modern Art' some critics could not bear it any longer. In order to put a definite end to the languishing avant-gardist approach they made a seemingly clear distinction between those great artists from the beginning of the 20th century and those who followed them after World War II. by calling the first ones 'classics' and the latter ones 'modernists'.
Of course, there are Minimal, Concept, Hard Edge, Pop, Video, Land and other arts as labels for the descendants from the great classical period. But fifty years later contemporary art has not yet got a substitute lable of its own. Thus it became more and more urgent to terminate the epoch at least verbally, which resulted in inventing Post Modernism in the 1970's, a term that was mainly occupied by philosophers, not so much by art critics.
In the field of the arts the term does not say anything else but that the time of ancient 'modern art' has come to an end. Of course, a new name is not enough, but there were some signals that indeed indicated that something new had come into existence, especially in architecture, which in the 1980's began to tear down the functionalist Bauhaus taboos and resort either to deconstruction or traditional decoration like ledges, sills, pillars, bay windows, and other nonfunctionalist devices. Suddenly the rectangular boxes with their meticulously arranged window patterns looked very old. It was something more modern than classical 'Modern Art'. Nevertheless many artists continued with the methods which they had adopted from the classics, i.e. experimenting for the experiments sake, overstepping lines, introducing new media and shocking decent citizens. Well, that is what I understand by modernist, neither classic nor 'modern', but just carrying on in the wake of classical modern art.
Since the eighties so-called post modernists in art, literature, architecture and even music have inundated their works with allusions, quotations and reminiscences from wherever they found them - probably they wanted to emphasize their traditional ties with the past, which had been radically severed by the classics - like the pop artists claimed popular acceptance that had got lost by the ‚litist approach of the modernists.
The term "postmodern" does not denote a style, it is a provisional substitute for something that is not quite clear yet but is to come somewhen in the future. Post Modernism is 'a sea of styles' the critic and architect Charles Jencks once said(by the way, Jencks' book 'Post-Modernism. The New Classicism in Art And Architecture' renders a very competent account of art and architecture of the 1980s with lots of excellent pictures).
Let us take an example from postmodern painting. Peter Hall's "Have a Nice Day, Mr Hock- ney" at the Tate Gallery is a wonderful postmodern picture, but may we really regard it as a new contemporary approach to painting? After all, Courbet's 'Bonjour M. Courbet' is much more lively, shows more strength and spontaneity. Although there are two roller-skaters to be seen in Hall's picture, I would regard Courbet as the more topical one because there is more truth in his picture. Some artists think when they use skateboards, computers or videos, which the classics did not have, they are making new art. But this is absolute nonsense. The most ridiculous example is set by the well known artist who has made numerous sculptures of old TV sets, e. g. a Brandenburg Gate of several dozens of them with colourfully glimmering screens.
Why the modernists of the 20th century were not able to free themselves from the overwhelming impact of the great artists of the beginning of the century is not difficult to explain: The genius was missing that would have been required for such an emancipation. Take Minimalism for example: even the most minimal minimalist cannot exceed the examples set by Mondrian or Malevitch. Pop star Madonna was absutely right when she ridiculed this year's Turner Prize ceremony at the Tate. Post Modernism is nothing but a sigh: "For God's sake, have mercy and put an end to this kind of modernism!"
So what is modernism but mediocrity in art ? This may sound a harsh judgement. It is a shame but it is no catastrophy. The omnipresence of the media nowadays aggravates the dilemma. There are no good reasons to do anything against bad taste. Don't people just get what they want ? I mean, the other media are not better off at all! And as far as I know, Madonna also said that she supported artists who not only had something to say but also 'had the balls' to say it!
Probably it is the media together with commercialization that suppress art. It is a paradox: artists today are more handicapped by excessive permissiveness than they were by strict control and censorship in former times.
The illustrations are way back from my "modernist" years.