Postmodernism: Experimental Form of Contemporary Art

Postmodernism Postmodernism emerged as an experimental form of contemporary art in 1945, it breaks down the boundaries of art by challenging the audience’s perceptions through the use of several art traditions with reference to the contemporary society. Artist’s unrestricted approach to their work relates to issues in today’s society through views, which usually doubts the authenticity of accepted beliefs. They link past, present and future through the blending or looking back to past art styles integrated with technology and the use of shock tactics to provoke controversy.

Postmodernism works often draw from several art traditions and refer to contemporary culture with each artist’s point of view challenging the idea of art as unique and precious. This is similar to the Dada movement of the 1920’s and is evident in the works and concepts of Anselm Kiefer, Stelarc and Anne Zahalka. Postmodernism can be seen as a division from modernism. During the 1960’s societies approach to creativity, history, literature, architecture, science, values and society in general began to drastically change.

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Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s the art style grew and was greatly influenced by the end of the Vietnam War. Artists and writers began to challenge the conventions of Modernism and societies reaction to the works they created, thus Postmodernism can be seen as a split from Modernism which was influenced by the social changes of the time. Globalization, advances as technology does, and feminism were also one of the strong factors in the artists split from Modernism. The conventional tradition of art being seen as precious and unique was abolished by the concepts and viewpoints of the postmodern artist.

Previous to the Postmodern and modernist period’s art was created to be aesthetically pleasing and the artist required great technical knowledge to produce works of high enough quality as to reach the standards expected by the society. The unique and precious face of art is typified by the audiences’ personal opinions and beliefs systems. Together with societies market forces such as, fashion and popularity as well as the rarity, age and beauty for example The Mona Lisa by Leonardo De Vinci painted during the higher Renaissance period is an invaluable artwork viewed by thousands every year.

Other conventions of precious or unique fall under the power and prestige of the subject along with the originality and skill required creating the work, an example of which is the burial mask of Tutankhamen which is several thousands of years old and made from solid gold and decorated with precious stones. The postmodernist artists break these listed conventions; their opinions and concepts destroy the boundaries between art and the world thus eliminating the thought of art as being precious and unique.

The revolution of postmodernism can supposedly be said to have occurred twice in the recent history of art. During the 1920’s the Dada art movement erupted after the chaos of World War I, artists stripped down the conventions of traditional art; influenced greatly by the industrial revolution. Dada creations were disordered, absurd and satiric in nature, commonly taking the forms of performance, ready-mades, self-destroying machines and mystifying abstractions. Marcel Duchamp was the entrepreneur of the Dada movement who challenged the status quo and provoked controversy.

Similarly postmodernist challenge the existing state of affairs, they confront the traditional viewpoint of art and literature as beautiful, unique and precious. Often taking existing artworks and attempt to make fun of, or satirize an image. Artists believe the concept behind each work is more important than the aesthetics and technical expertise typical of art from earlier art movements such as, an exemplar of which is Anne Zahalka’s piece ‘The Cleaner’ which uses the stylistic techniques typically used by the postmodernist to represent the key issues they are trying to portray; appropriation, parody, pastiche, irony and satire.

Anselm Kiefer, Stelarc and Bill Viola who were artists who broke away from the traditional conventions of art, they saw art as expressive and as a means of communicating a concept to the audience. These artists no longer saw art as unique or precious, they experimented with mediums and styles to further emphasize their feelings and emotions. Kiefer grew up during World War II; his art is an expression of his feelings and views to the war and to German action.

His work symbolizes and expresses his response to how he strongly and obviously feels about the war and the horrors of the German Nazi Party. Kiefer’s 1974 piece, ‘March Heath’ portrays the rolling green hills of a German landscape; the use of pastiche portrays the destruction of nature and the environment through the stark erosive force of the automobile over the landscape which places a scare on the land almost permanently.

Kiefer uses obscure mediums including hay and gravel to intensify the scar created by man, this can be seen as symbolic of the Nazi party as in parts the hay is burned forming an ash symbolizing terror and death created by the Nazi Party. This work by Kiefer is expressive, bold and desolated in appearance; it depicts the artist’s emotions, provoking controversy and thought in the audience. This work can be seen as breaking the conventions of traditional art and portraying Kiefer’s postmodernist viewpoint to the world that art is no longer unique and precious.

Anselm Kiefer can be seen as the entrepreneur of the postmodernist movement, his unconventional forms of art greatly influenced other artists in their media and thoughts, which lead to the changing views and opinions of art. Nearly all of the recent postmodern artists could be said to be influenced by Kiefer’s artwork. For example, Stelarc was influenced by Kiefer’s new and extremist ideas. He created works that concentrated on the suspension, simulation and technologies of the human mind and body, relating to how the body and mind is confronted in contemporary society.

Although his focus and technique differs from Kiefer, Stelarc took a new approach to art making that had never previously been explored, his work are primarily performance art or installation art that was designed to shock the ‘cultured’ or ‘civilized’ art community into personal thought and reflection about their society and the issues that they face which was a reversal of the previous viewpoint of art. Stelarc is hypnotized by the possibility of immortality and the impact of technology on the body and mind.

He challenges the repute and cultural beliefs of the restrictions of technology on the body. His works are commonly performances expressing his views of the future and the possibility of the cyborg or virtual body. His work ‘Amplified body, laser eyes and third hand’ – 1990, involved him strapping machines to his body and demonstrating an interactive view of the future. The work suggests that if the human body will no longer be constrained by its natural physical boundaries and that we now have the ability to let robots take control.

Stelarc is looking at the possibilities of genetic technology in the future, identifying the modifications that can be done to the human body in order to increase durability, efficiency and even the possibility of new senses. His performances are an optimistic view of how he feels the future will manipulate the human body. His works, like Kiefer’s break free from the previous artistic constraint of art as precious and unique in order to create a higher level of thinking in the audience.

The definition of postmodernism differs with each citation, as the postmodern artist Craig Judd said, “Art is a form of information exchange. Art tells stories. Art makes people think and ponder about themselves and their world. Art is both entertaining and infuriating” this statement reflects one artist’s opinion of postmodernism. However the diverse nature of postmodernism is such that each artist’s opinion varies under the common restraints mentioned previously.

The artists Anselm Kiefer and Stelarc all use different forms of media and styles to put forth their feelings and ideas in order to accelerate public thinking as a means of bringing about change. It is these methods of creation that proves that a postmodernist artist focuses on the concept of their works rather than the rendered finish of the each creation, justifying that a postmodernist point of view challenges the idea of art being precious and unique.

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