Essay modernism postmodernism

Photorealism has long been, is and will probably always remain something of a guilty pleasure, and any and every consideration such as, precisely, the present one of that peculiar moment in North American art in the and 70s will forever come swathed in apology. It must always answer the same questions - why photorealism now , why photorealism at all? Not that it is in any way the sole standard against which all art-historical thinking and writing should henceforth be measured though it certainly, if only by virtue of its size and agenda, aspires to that claim , but in the whole of the October team's formidable, page-plus Art Since Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism , for instance, I did not find a single reference to the entire Photo- or hyperrealist phenomenon.

This exhibition, titled 'Questioning Reality - Pictorial Worlds' this is all too often forgotten , was particularly important for its championing of a wide range of conceptually inflected art practices as belonging to the most vibrant, influential art 'movement' of the day, and we can assume Szeemann likewise understood the Photorealist program of Richard Estes, Ralph Goings et al. It is clear, however, that this sympathetic view of the movement didn't age very well, and as Photorealism went on to become a dependable source of income for a limited number of industrious US painters, it was gradually omitted from art-historical orthodoxy, and later also from art-historical heterodoxy - in short, from art history as a whole.

Some 37 years on - the genre was the subject of a modest survey show organised at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin in , and seeing that retrospective exhibition is what sparked most of my thinking on the topic 4 - Photorealism has been whittled down to something akin to proletarian s folk art, and the strong whiff of nostalgia for a long-lost, partly illusory idea of American-ness first and foremost that infuses its low-key reanimation continues to exclude it from a standardised art history. With this essay, which does not at least not in the first place set out to analyse the various reasons why Photorealism has been considered such a minor art, I want to reconsider this movement as one of the truly emblematic 'isms' of the s - much more so, perhaps, than many of the canonical forms of Conceptual art that now occupy our memory of that decade, and whose uncanny 'other' or mirror image Photorealism has so often been made out to be.

Back in the late s and early 70s, to be a real, hardcore Photorealist, to prove one's mettle in the already evacuating field of painting, one was required to focus almost exclusively on the hyperrealist rendition of shiny, glossy and glassy surfaces - on gleam : of the chrome body of a car, truck or motorbike the specialty of Tom Blackwell and Ron Kleemann in particular ; spotless shop windows and reflecting telephone booths the preferred motifs of Robert Cottingham, Don Eddy and Estes, the most widely known of the 'pure' Photorealists ; glitzy diners and immaculately wrapped foodstuffs Charles Bell, Audrey Flack and Goings's field of expertise ; the flickering skins of people and hides of animals prize stallions in Richard McLean's case, people's glittering eyeballs in the work of Chuck Close, women's torsos in John Kacere's paintings.

Mirrors, in short, as much as dizzying suggestions of a culture of transparency - represented by the ubiquity of glass surfaces in Estes's paintings - paradoxically remain resolutely opaque. At first sight, the Photorealist fetish for shiny surfaces may appear as a rather straightforward comment upon and, in the Pop spirit of a James Rosenquist or Tom Wesselmann to which it seemed heir, uncomplicated celebration of the consumerist frenzy of the s commodities boom. This paradox of a transparent opacity could be said to concern the 'mystery' of commodification primarily, in which the event of window shopping appears as the simulacral primal scene of all Photorealism.

But upon closer scrutiny, the Photorealist obsession with the blinding sheen of these various surface effects - apart from ironically! The building referred to by Jameson in this description is the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill in downtown Los Angeles, and although it did not, to my knowledge, become the object of Photorealist homage, the centrality given to it by Jameson in his account of postmodern architecture certainly intersects with the Photorealist fascination with impenetrable glass surfaces.

Both highlight the office tower block and similarly iconic sites of the burgeoning service industry shops, diners, entertainment centres as the primary exemplars of the profound transformation wrought upon the world of work in the mids to mids - and the 'world of work' truly is the crucial phrase here. Whenever I walk past the imposing row of identikit office tower blocks lining Midtown Manhattan's Sixth Avenue, I think not only of the hilarious comedy Nine to Five , starring Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin as three working women plotting to overthrow their insufferably sexist boss, but somewhere further along this stream of associations I also imagine none other than Richard Estes sitting down in the same diner where the Nine to Five women take their lunch, eavesdropping on their conspiratorial exchanges and preparing to commit this quintessential City of Glass scene to painterly memory.

In this sense, Photorealism, as an art form enchanted with the endless proliferation of shiny surfaces that render all questions of both origin and substance oddly irrelevant, could be said to function as North America's very own brand of s Socialist Realism: it obliquely reflects no pun intended! Just like the original orthodoxy of Soviet Socialist Realism, Photorealism primarily commented upon the world of work, albeit a very different world of work there is relatively little real domesticity or privacy in much Photorealist output, Robert Bechtle's family portraits notwithstanding - the movement's most persistent obsession was always the urban experience.

Of course the laborious production of a Photorealist tableau itself was definitely 'work' in a way that actively challenged the doxa of de-skilling then current in post-Duchampian avant-garde art. Responding to a question of whether there exists such a thing as a Photorealist work ethic, Louis K. Meisel, the gallerist who was the movement's most influential impresario, proudly remarked that 'Photorealists had to work eight or ten hours a day.

They were among the most stable people of any that I've ever seen, just making work that required stability and seriousness. That may have made them boring to people who expect artists to be troubled and dissolute. Already then, Photorealism must have struck many a viewer as deliberately nostalgic indeed - the works' elegiac tone easily recast as an expression of its perceived reactionary agenda: here was a picture of a world of sound American family values, among other things destined to go up in smoke.

But its emergence as a movement was also, indisputably, timely: it painted an accurate portrait if not outright reflection of the very processes through which this world was evaporating. Photorealist gleam as a cipher of the transition to postmodernism, then - much like Impressionist steam had been the symbol, a century earlier, of the alternately traumatic and exhilarating inauguration of a certain modernity, as T.

Clark has noted in an essay appropriately titled 'Modernism, Postmodernism, and Steam' Clark's essay begins with the author's admission that 'Over the past twelve months or so I found myself thinking about modern art and steam' - a stream of thoughts triggered by Tony Oursler's video installation The Influence Machine from , in which a ghostly oversized face was projected onto a cloud of water vapour in Madison Square Park in New York:. It was always also an image of power. Steam could be harnessed; steam could be compressed.

Steam was what initially made the machine world possible.

Essay on Postmodernism | Bartleby

It was the middle term in mankind's great reconstruction of Nature. Rain, Steam, and Speed. Steam is power and possibility, then; but also, very soon, it is antiquated - it is a figure of nostalgia, for a future, or a sense of futurity, that the modern age had at the beginning but could never make come to pass. Hence the trails or puffs of steam always on the horizon of de Chirico's dreamscapes. Fortunately, some of them already have. The phenomenon of confirmation bias is by now widely recognized. Correlatively, they ignore evidence that supports rival beliefs, while actively seeking evidence against them.

The mechanism is thus better known as myside bias , and the best scientific account of rationality—the Darwinian account of Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber—explains why it was advantageous for humans to develop it. On the face of it, myside bias in human reasoning presents a challenge to Darwinism. An orientation of reasoning toward truth would appear to be more advantageous only when we imagine an individual reasoning and trying to find the truth on his own.

An early man inquires whether he should move to higher ground.

Our distant ancestors, however, were rarely left to their own devices. Instead, they reasoned in groups. Rather than everyone in a group considering the problem—a collective, if you will, of individual reasoners—it was more efficient for camps within the group to argue for rival positions before an audience. One side, believing it imperative to move to higher ground before an impending flood, could articulate the best arguments for doing so and the best objections to not doing so. By contrast, the other side, believing this would be a waste of resources because the flood would not come, could marshal the best arguments to counter its opponent.

What would motivate them? Reason itself, whose purpose is social. When you can supply reasons, not to mention objections to rival views, if your arguments prove persuasive, people begin to trust you, you gain status within the group, and thus power. Your power will erode, by contrast, if the beliefs for which you have argued turn out to be false.

If this happens often, your power will be gone. So reason must heed reality to work its purpose. But its purpose is not to heed reality. Its purpose is to acquire status and power. For even if our claims to knowledge and truth are all justified within social institutions, even if they are all proposed by humans guilty of myside bias and greedy for honor, they are not all thereby illusions.


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Some of them are wrong, to be sure, but some of them are right. Such exaggeration has cost postmodern philosophy much credibility among circumspect thinkers. Nevertheless, good science has again confirmed its central tenet, at least when it is soberly qualified: science itself functions to some extent like any other human practice; its practitioners reason in order to secure status and power.


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  4. Foucault wrote histories that exposed practices, institutions, and ideologies of truth and justice as in fact regimes of power. In other words, he showed them to be pretentious and hypocritical, and he was very often right. The modern American prison system, for example, pretends to rehabilitate criminals in its so-called correctional facilities, rather than subject them to the cruel and unusual punishments prohibited by the framers of the American constitution e.

    In fact, however, it throws them into an environment designed to torture them in soul as well as body. Accordingly, to call for a return to modernism, as if postmodernism has simply been a temporary fit of cultural madness, is itself an illusion. Those who make this call, such as Aaron, are showing myside bias on a grand scale.

    They are not alone. A mirror image of this bias can be found among advocates of postmodernism.

    Development and Impact of Postmodernism

    Both sides are focusing on what is good about their own camp and bad about its rival, while ignoring what is good about its rival and bad about their own camp. Advocates of modernism, on one hand, would have us focus on the wonders of empirical science, along with the rights and freedoms of constitutional democracy. These are the two proudest legacies—the first theoretical, the second political—of Enlightenment philosophies. They should be praised, defended, and preserved. And yet only now, and still not widely enough, are proponents of this tradition coming to terms with the racism and sexism integral to it.

    You can still make a decent living trying to solve the theoretical puzzles introduced by the philosophies of the 17 th and 18 th centuries. If the world is composed ultimately of inanimate matter, as many of them proposed, it is still hard to see how it is possible to have animate minds capable of knowledge, let alone choosing freely to act rightly in such a world. For decades in Anglo-American philosophy it was acceptable to ignore these critiques, dismissing Nietzsche as a madman or a proto-Nazi, but those dismissals now appear defensive.

    Surveying the failures of modern philosophies, advocates of postmodernism have shown a myside bias of their own, focusing on its sound critiques of modern theories and practices, while ignoring its own theoretical and political weaknesses.

    After all, any philosophy that rejects the notions of truth, knowledge, and goodness, while presenting itself as true, known, or at least better than its predecessors, soon appears as hypocritical as it showed them to be. Yet if advocates of postmodernism are not saying that its philosophies and politics are at least better than their modernist rivals, what are they saying? Even when this theoretical problem is ignored, the egalitarian pretenses of its advocates are belied by the politics of both its founders and its recent permutations. Nietzsche was a proto-fascist, celebrating war as healthy for a state, slavery a requirement for its greatness.

    Nor should it come as a surprise that postmodern rhetoric—which rejects moral judgments—has been adopted by violent right-wing counterparts.

    Modernism, Postmodernism and Gleam: On the Photorealist Work Ethic

    Apparently new to street-brawling, Spencer is more accustomed to quarreling with left-wing intellectuals. He was, after all, a doctoral candidate in the humanities at Duke University, a center for postmodern philosophy. There he absorbed the identity-politics that characterize the humanities in such places. There are thus assets and liabilities to both philosophical approaches—the modernist, on one hand, and the postmodernist, on the other.

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    Recognizing this is not to call a draw, nor to propose an incoherent compromise. Remembering the purpose of reasoning from Mercier and Sperber, what we need to adjudicate this dispute is something like a massive cultural council, a forum in which the advocates of these two alternatives may present their cases, a forum where their evidence would be evaluated and their arguments would be assessed for their soundness. Simply to call for reasoned assessment is to prejudice the contest against postmodernism.

    So be it. Does modernism thus win by default? Only if there are no other alternatives. Science exerts a strong pull on the conscience of everyone who values reasoned assessment.