Theory and Criticism

For a long time a battle has been waging amongst art historians and critics. While it may not be apparent to the general public, it has affected the art community greatly, resulting in confusion and disagreement. It centers on the parameters of modernism and postmodernism. When you take an Art History survey class and ask about this dilemma your professor will almost certainly avoid the debate. You’ll probably get an answer that’s vague and insinuates that modernism ended in the 1960s. This type of response is a great disservice to the issue.

I personally began to think about this issue a few days ago when I was confronted about my earlier article, Graffiti, Abstract Expressionism, & Fabulous Auction Returns. Asserting that the criticism in the post was incomplete, he complained that I overlooked key issues. Specifically focusing on Dash Snow, he said that I failed to note that the artist had given up family fortune and fame (Snow hailed from the de Menil family) and had chosen to live a life on the streets. He, of course was right. This information makes all of Snow’s work highly personal, and some would argue completely personal. Because of this, each piece not only becomes testimony on the human condition or urban life; it’s a chronicle of Snow’s individual life and running evidence of a disassociation to privilege. Snow specifically chooses to ignore high-society (at least visually), elitist background of his family, instead opting to live on the fringes of society. And yet, even after I conceded these points, I wasn’t willing to admit that the piece I wrote was wrong critically. One of the main reasons was that I was simply trying to put a little historical perspective on graffiti. The second reason was because I really believe there are shared truths like the “urban plight” evidenced in Snow’s work. I think that the personal background does not preclude a piece from having what I often jokingly refer to as visual archetypes. My friend’s approach to the work was a traditional, postmodernist critique.

As I began to more deeply consider my own point of view, it struck me that this sort of logic was a little controversial; at least in the realm of art criticism. The vast majority of critics today take a post-modernist approach. It is my conjecture, however, that neither the modernist nor post modernist approach is fitting for artwork created within the past five years. I believe that a sort of highbred, global, approach is necessary due to tremendous changes in communication and the common impact of the global economic crisis. Historians and critics must begin reconcile some of the ideas set forth by modernism and postmodernism. Neither has to be mutually exclusive, and key ideas from both are necessary to create a more relevant critical approach. Postmodernism’s popularity has contributed to the downfall of recent criticism. With the elimination of universal truths and an inability to decisively determine what is good or bad, postmodernism has effectively take the criticism out of the critical approach. Ironically this has happened at a time when individuals are more inextricably linked than ever before. Communication innovation, social networking, and online news outlets have managed to make global conditions part of the human condition. For this reason, both modernism and postmodernism are outmoded.

Please stay tuned to Wednesday's post for further information. :)


Alan said...

It is my conjecture, however, that neither the modernist nor post modernist approach is fitting for artwork created within the past five years.

both modernism and postmodernism are outmoded.


Fascinating. I argue exactly the same in my "Digimodernism" (Continuum, August).

Matilda Anderson said...

I am really interested in reading your book once it is published. I think there has been little valuable critical analysis in the past few years because of this cultural gap.