Why Art After the Postmodern Era is not a Real Art
by Cyrus Manasseh
The Development of art through time (briefly)
In this lecture I want us to question who are we as individuals. It is something that concerns me because when I look around I see that the art of today is not a real art. There are just no standards at all. I have chosen to give this lecture because I feel that if we understand why it is not a real art, we now know enough to change it and our conceptions for the future. In fact, previously, from ancient Greek times, the art identical with connecting to beauty (particularly physical beauty as a standard for aesthetic quality) via perfection, coherence, unity of form and content which was comprised of the unity of the limited whole - a self-contained work of art, was connected to believable ideas of beauty and the good as an empirical or ontological quality. Art and the traditional aesthetic extents of visual culture had principally been concerned with measuring the quality of the content of the work in relation to the idea of conventional beauty which was formed from the forming and making of a limited whole work of art. In museums and galleries for displaying art, art prevailed as a separate and separated limited whole inside a setting and location where an adequate critical physical separation between object and audience was arranged to inspire the general and total deliberately conventional beauty of the work, its genuineness and authentic validity. (Manasseh 2010, 3)
In very primitive times, when art had not yet truly developed, even before the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, it had often been something that had revealed a primitive form of expression, primary factors had been spontaneity in the depiction of the different observed objects, animals, activities witnessed, all of which had revealed a primitive expression of beliefs, and storytelling much of which seems to be something of an excuse for making money today. In Plato’s time in the fifth century BC, when the real purpose of art and things associated with art was finally being discussed we see that he didn’t have a very high opinion of anything related to art or poetry which he saw as popular entertainment. Art for him, was something that was merely made for popular entertainment. This mistrust of popular entertainment he had was for 3 reasons.
1. “It confuses the authentic with the fake.”
2. “It is …..suited only for representing vile….and violent matters.”
3. “It is capable of influencing even the best among us, to act in life as we would be ashamed to do if we hadn’t been exposed to art.” (Hewitt 2013)
He had said this in the fifth century BC- very early on. Later, not much later, in the fourth century BC, by the time we get to Aristotle, we see that Aristotle began to favour art/artists/poetry/theatre seeing a beginning, middle and end in the art and in the narratives inside the art. (Hewitt 2013)
For Aristotle, “The chief forms of beauty” had been “order and symmetry and definiteness, which the mathematical sciences demonstrate in a special degree.” (Hewitt 2013) This for artists had inspired a focus towards creating special masterpieces of beauty and symmetry, which were all related to producing the good. Because a system and logic had been properly set out, there was a focus and therefore a possibility to always improve on previous works by previous masters.
From this, enormous amounts of astonishingly great beauty were created in the world with master artists and craftsmen always striving for the very highest levels of excellence ennobling men and women and lifting up their spirits for a better good.
In mediaeval times after that, from the fifth to the fifteenth century, beauty and the good in art became intertwined with the importance of God, and this system continued in the Renaissance. Creating beauty and good in art became more focused on relying on and showing formal order, proportion and symmetry. Ever linked to harmony and perfection, artists could build towards increasing their creativity resulting in an art of astonishing beauty and meaning.
Following this idea of beauty and the good, in the eighteenth century, there was a further refining of these ideas. In fact, eighteenth-century aesthetics in England had been very important. It marked a period which saw the development of the foundation of aesthetics, and in England, in this period the appreciation of art was tied to it being an imitation of nature which needed disinterestedness and disengagement from what was being looked at. Moreover, for the aesthetic experience to occur, the viewer had needed to be knowledgeable and have a refined sensibility. Inside this time, morality had been central to both. Yet nonetheless, anything that continued to be seen as aesthetically successful still had needed to contain beauty and the good as the chief concept. These important things had been intelligently seen as one and the same and linked together, since beauty had conformed to moral pleasure.
As part of this, the moral sense had been innate, and inside the person - as an internal sense, which could register the phenomenon of beauty. Therefore, as such, the person was seen as having the beauty inside them which had been reflected in the work of beauty and harmony as they behold its appreciation, which can be innate and spontaneous. All of this was connected with rationalism, which, in the Enlightenment time of philosophical calculation and contemplation was the dominating idea. The focus on beauty and the good continued to become defined through the idea of nature being connected with human moral freedom. (Hewitt 2013) As we can see, a big part of it, was that there had always been a striving for the good, which, if we all try, we can try to bring it back now.
After this, within the Romantic period in the nineteenth century, paintings, showing nature or objects from a distance were often created to rise above and break away from the real world with the aim of coming as close as possible to the divine since the artists of this time believed “...that the painting of nature was a form of worship, a means of approaching the divine,” which had elevated “...nature to a kind of religion...”. (Blaney-Brown 2001, 123) In art museums, all the artworks were always favoured, endorsed and upheld by an historical framework raised up within a hierarchy of genres and styles which were valued and ranked from a distance and aligned to the notion of an individual’s observation in our minds. This idea of passive contemplation was enabled through the required and essential critical viewing distance between viewers of the artwork within hierarchical viewing environments of the classical museum setting structure identical with traditional aesthetic viewpoints connected and affiliated with modernist, pre-conceptual ways of viewing art. Artworks observed in this way, which were never meant to be touched, would always be displayed to encourage, stimulate and inspire a set of assumptions relating to ideas of traditional and customary beauty, truth, genius, civilization, form, status and taste. (Berger 1972, 11)
In the 20th Century all of this didn’t fade out- it was pushed out
When and why it went wrong: The excellence didn’t die out…instead it was kicked out (Watson, 2017)
Yet, in the second half of the twentieth century, artists refused to accept traditional definitions of art and chose to align themselves with new theories of language. (It all started with the Impressionists who rebelled against the Académie des Beaux Arts Classicism which had kept the classical standards alive.) Breaking powerfully with tradition had been Duchamp. Marcel Duchamp’s ready-mades from 1913, would help to raise new questions for an art practice that would undermine the validity of formal philosophical aesthetic positions and the criteria that would surround them relating to conventional beauty, truth and religion. Coupled with Duchamp’s artistic statement that anything can be art if the artist says so, in the early twentieth century, Malevich in fact, would avoid representing anything in his paintings from the outside world altogether.
In many ways, this new course for art from the early twentieth century had also been able to develop because of a capitalising on the new space made for it by the Cubist artists, who had abstracted away from their paintings the depiction of reality from the world outside. (Wood 2002, 11-12) Operating as a kind of “visual manifesto,” (Wood 2002, 11) this would move art towards becoming a fully abstract art ‘purified’ of narrative or any descriptive features which would be meant to act on the spectator like a ‘visual music.’ (Wood 2002, 10-11)
Yet although Duchamp’s great Dadaism was important, it was utterly not post-modernist, though we, in the post-modern era and after have misguidingly used it. In fact, Duchamp’s works really belong to a very specific experience in history and in time. By contrast, we, in the post-modern era have created a post-modernism “filtered through the lens of social justice” (Watson 2017) which is something destructive and a culture favouring some lesser characters in cultural industry.
Regardless, via the post-conceptualist artists of the 70s although Dadaist in origins, much of Duchamp’s attitude and ideas have ‘indirectly’ been misconstrued and were aligned to post-modern art with the idea of art not needing to have any meaning. This was even though Dadaism originally had nothing to do with post modernism, which is an entirely contemporary brain operation.
But we must see that at the beginning of the twentieth century, the historical conditions were completely different, Dadaism was really an exclusive and privileged movement, since it was born and pushed forward by artists and intellectuals, who had created and brought forward some very deep positions of thought. Beginning from the spontaneity of the artist in art, which was an extension of previous primitivism which would become a fixed theme.
Therefore, we, in the post-modern era have all misunderstood and have not cared enough about how and where we have taken our inspirations from. Instead, we perhaps were more interested in what might be our misguided perceptions of what artists and theorists felt to be an inherent nihilism in Dadaism, and are not sufficiently interested in the modernist significance of the Dadaists - or anything in the modernist period.
Instead, far too much of our inspiration has come from the conceptual and post-conceptualist artists of the 60s and 70s who had reconfigured the original intents and meaning of Dadaism. In other words, we have interpreted it all in the way we have wanted to interpret it. This was with a strange inverted and perverted connection between Duchamp and post-modern art. Yet, though Duchamp had his moment in time, which had been a great time, we in the post-modern era as post-modernists ‘filtering everything through the lens of social justice’ have not read the history of art with a historical method.
In Duchamp's time, post-modernism always ‘filtered through the lens of social justice’ was a non-existent category, and so, if anything, we should read this narrative as opposed to how we have made it. In fact, many Roman ruins were incorporated into subsequent architectures, but the buildings thus created are not defined as Roman. We all must see that the post-modern is the daughter of a largely consumerist culture without a root.
We must be careful and take into account that though we, in the post-modern era have disregarded modernism, we nonetheless have taken Dadaism which had belonged to a specific historical period as an inspiration, and in our post-modern era with a non-rooted culture we have disregarded all rules. In the past, modernist artists experimented with form, technique and processes rather than focusing on subjects, believing they could find a way of purely reflecting the modern world. While modernism was based on idealism and reason, post-modernism ‘filtered through the lens of social justice’ was born of scepticism and a suspicion of reason.
In fact, the 60s was okay but in the 70s mistakes were made. In fact, the destruction of the work of art was not part of the revolution of the 60s. The real problem was that careerists in the 70s were responsible. Philistines with no sense of beauty. As Camille Paglia points out, it was the, “...intellectual midgets who seized on to Lacan, Derrida and Foucault…”. (Paglia, in Peterson 2017) “It is absolute nonsense as post-structuralism maintains, that reality is mediated by language, by words. Everything we can know including gender, it’s absolute madness…”. (Paglia, in Peterson 2017) “what we in the post-modern era have tried to do is keep to a pathetic attempt to continue the old heroism of the avant-garde. The avant-garde was genuinely heroic from the early nineteenth century. Where we are talking about … whether Corbet, the realists, … we are talking about Monet and the Impressionists, people who genuinely suffered for their radical ideas - their innovations and so on. Going right down to Picasso, and down to Jackson Pollock who … truly suffered … for his art.” (Paglia, in Peterson 2017)
Yet the cognitive over the concept of traditional beauty and religion became the most important way to allow non-art, which was searched for. For artists, all that had been associated and connected to former ideas on art that could be limited and controlled inside institutional structures such as MoMA, whose scholastic and educational white cube ‘iconographic’ display design and schedule presented separated limited whole artworks placing and situating them scrupulously and conscientiously on plain white walls in an invariable pedagogical and ceremonial sequence would be banned and pushed out. Instead, through “...discontinuity, shock and paradox” (Murdoch 2003, 7) anything could enter the galleries intended for pulling to pieces everything that had been built up and created. In this way, formal and traditional philosophical aesthetic positions previously linked to pre-modernist and modernist views on art and conventional beauty proclaimed by such reasonable theoreticians of the visual arts as Alberti, Leonardo, Winckelmann, Greenberg, Fried and Shapiro were pushed out.