Here I’m gonna try to relate Artworld’s postmodernism to an individual’s postcareerism. Wish me luck.
Long ago, art making was a craft like any other. Painters and sculptors toiled alongside masons and carpenters, all equally anonymous. Their lives were better than those of a serfs or soldiers, but not by much.
Half a millennium ago things began to change; there was an epidemic of conspicuous consumption in the newly rich that possessing art seems to assuage. Nascent capitalism’s law of supply and demand upped painters and sculptors status above crafters. Some even became members of the newly rich class themselves, and remain so to this day.
But art was still more about the possessor than the creator until about a quarter of a millennium ago when with the birth of romanticism the emotions of the art creator began to count as much as the intent of the purchaser of the art object. Artists began to make art without a commission, i.e. for themselves, a truly revolutionary act.
Modernism—post-romanticism?—a movement without a name at the time, was flush with enlightenment—pre-romanticism?—era belief that things can get better if we observe and think simultaneously and act on what we’ve observed and thought. In other words try something new. But beyond allowing experimentation modernist critics and consumers actually required it, mandating each artist to be different from her predecessors to be better than them.
This all worked pretty well modernism grew from being a fringe approach in garrets to be all the rage in trendy galleries in a hundred years or so birthing a whole family of little isms itself. Until a little more than half a century ago, that is, when there appeared to be nothing different left to be. Realism revolted and was executed by totalitarianism; expressionism abstracted itself out of the picture. Minimalism imploded and surrealism woke up. Call this the end of [art] history…
… but not the end of art. Historians used to think of themselves as on a path, somewhere in the middle where they can look backwards and forward with equal skill. But that hasn’t worked for 50 yrs. or so. But they still try and their books are still fun to read, but the artists have, for better or worse, moved on. Call this the postmodern era.
Pop went the artist. What they now “created” could be anything or nothing. The only way you could tell something was art was to look at the price tag. The iconic has been usurped by the ironic. Art to Mr. PoMo himself, the talented and witty Andy Warhol can be money or what you can get away with. But you could laugh with Andy; these days PoMo has lost its sense of humor, there is too much money to be made to be joking about it.
Don’t despair, there are still modernists and crafters expressing themselves and making beautiful things. Buy their stuff if you can, if not a “like” will do. But pay no attention to celebrities and financiers playing the fine art game. It’s not a spectator sport and even if it were, good seats would be out of your league.
“Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent.” – Jim Jarmusch
Then there is post careerism. Imaging the above-mentioned half of a millennium of art compressed into a single lifetime. When young, our semi-fictional hero worked on his craft and accepted (more accurately tolerated for the sake of delayed gratification) the received wisdom from many gods. In his middle age, as a good little modernist, he acted on both that wisdom and what he observed and thought. He did well, good enough for him anyway, until the reality of a career—like modernism—was executed, abstracted and/or imploded. And our hero woke up old with just an empty concept to pay the bills.
There is something striking about the iconic yet ironic scene our artist/hero finds himself in. He seems to have set up, in classic modernist fashion, to paint, “en plein air,” its abstract beauty; the contrast between the costly man-made viaducts’ linear solidity and the free formless natural sky, blah-blah-blah, but he’s really sketching “in camera” a symbolic piece, a metaphor of his post-careerism: the dead cold hard concrete–his new home–vibrating with life that’s now out of his reach.
“Je suis Marxiste, tendance Groucho.” ― Jean-Luc Godard
For your reading pleasure…