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Postmodernism is Dying: Now What?

December 16, 2011

I know I should be careful here as outside of certain sociology departments where postmodernism is often either shrugged off or laughed off (one of which I was a student) as an extremely outdated theory, it still seems all the rage in academic departments of all stripes as well as within a good portion of the art world. It’s often described as the hot ‘new’ thing but just how new can a theory that’s been around since 1870 as a theory and term that was first used to argue for moving beyond Impressionists really be? Why do we chain ourselves to this theory as the end all be all?

Don’t get me wrong, PoMo was and is important as it hammered home the point that the optimism, colonialism, reckless imperialism, and so many other -isms of modernity had come to a bitter and rightful end but its recent propensity toward deconstruction and toward a sense of meaningless has too often ended up promoting a hyper-individualism when combined with the oft misunderstood notions of cultural and moral relativism. The great irony here is that over the years PoMo has itself become a meta-theory–one of the major things it criticized regarding modernity.

“La Loge (The Theater Box)” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Put simply, it left us all wondering what the point of anything was and left us in a void of meaning and all without bothering to offer much other than a method of criticizing the world around us. Is it really a good idea to take a methodology that aspires to criticizing the worst of modernity and promote it to the status of a world view–one so well embraced that we’re left with little incentive to even think beyond it; to question it?

And what does this do to our ability to innovate–to produce social commentary that does stake out a stand? To move beyond great artists like Rothko or Pollock in terms of developing new schools? Would the initial rebellions against the academe and the subsequent invention and embrace of modern art ever have happened if those early artists had been so constrained by such a theory?

Can innovation truly happen if we don’t believe that what we do matters?

Prior generations of artists produced school after school within the same generation but it would appear this is sorely lacking nowadays. Isn’t the whole point of what Impressionists and so many of those who followed fought for and indeed much of what is PoMO promotes itself about artistic freedom?

It’s time to break free once again.


From → Art

  1. Postmodernism is over. Maybe what we do ‘metas’ after all. Have you come across the metamodernist position? see

    • Hi Andy. Your mention is the first time I’ve come across metamodernism and I very much look forward to delving into it via your link. I’ve looked at other attempts such as Stuckism, and while I agree with a lot of their criticism, I’ve found that it still doesn’t fill the void PoMo has placed us in — not the way I would like.

      I think we’re in an exciting time regarding the toppling, perhaps full deconstruction of PoMo (heh) as a theoretical frame. Artists, academics, students, and the educated public are finally asking, “Is there anything more?” and finding that PoMo doesn’t offer much more, **actively** looking for a replacement.

      I think it’s way past time for those multiple schools –all different but all challenging the old paradigm– to pop up and I very think (hope) contemporary artists will be the ones to do it.

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