What does postmodernity do to art?

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3.  What does postmodernity do to art?

Module code: SE3101

Student number: 0304705

Module title: Postmodernity I

As a topic that has been repeatedly and exhaustively debated in recent years there are many theories circulating as to what postmodernism’s real definition is. Although still largely undecided it is possible to isolate guidelines as to what cultural forms can be considered postmodern and what effects postmodernism has had on our culture. As knowing subjects we can identify postmodernism’s impact on art; possibly a cultural area where its impact has been most profound. In contrast to film, literature and other cultural forms the most famous pieces of art are usually the ones considered to be the most innovative and, therefore, at least in the artistic world, postmodernism has been thrust into the mainstream.

Jean-Francois Lyotard wrote ‘The Postmodern Explained to Children: Correspondence 1982-1985’ (1992) in which he made considerable attempt to define what postmodernism is and its role in culture and society. In this he stated that ‘simplifying to the extreme...I define postmodern as incredulity towards metanarratives’. In another attempt at a definition Dominic Striniti, cited in McGuigan (1999), identifies five defining characteristics of postmodern culture which include the breakdown of the distinction between culture and society; an emphasis on style at the expense of substance and content; the breakdown of distinction between high culture and popular culture; confusions over space and time and the decline of ‘metanarratives’. Such characteristics can be found amongst contemporary art and some certainly seem to support the previous definitions of postmodern. However, the central problem in defining postmodernism is that it is widely considered to be a theory which promotes the replacement of rules with ideas and that no one school of thought should be dominant. Therefore, an attempt to define it or apply its rules to a cultural object is fundamentally contradictory. It is possible to summarize postmodernism, with reference to contemporary art, as a convergence of styles, past and present including the use of nostalgia, the introduction of uncertainty, the presentation of the unpresentable, the provocation of debate and the challenge of the boundaries between piece of art and knowing subject.

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Art, like all cultural forms, has been in a constant period of transition since it first appeared on the walls of caves. As techniques developed art became increasingly developed and sophisticated. Lyotard states that ‘a work can become modern only if it is first postmodern. Thus understood, postmodern is not modernism at its end, but in a nascent state, and this state is recurrent’ (1992). Accordingly, each form of art as it emerged could now be considered once postmodern until it became accepted as the norm by society. An example would be the development of perspective painting and realism. ...

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