Postmodern Art versus Modern Art
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During a visit to New York City in March 2006, I toured many museums in Manhattan and set out to conceptualize the difference between modern and postmodern art. Two sets of defining characteristics help to differentiate these two great eras in the history of art during the last hundred or so years.

Role of Ideology in Modern Art versus Postmodern Art

First of all, postmodern art departs from modern art in its abandonment of political advocacy for a singular ideology. The modernist avant-garde viewed art as an agent of social change and even helped to shape many of the political movements of the twentieth century. Just look at the way futurism promoted Italian fascism with its aesthetic of the machine. By the nineteen-seventies, the political ideals that fueled modernism had given way to profound disillusionment with abhorrent wars such as Vietnam, ultra-utilitarian architecture, and academic minimalism. Artists began to use artistic styles independently of their original political agenda. This appropriation of historic styles irrespective of their original ideological contexts sets postmodern art apart from modern art. For example, Postmodern Elegy makes liberal reference to cubism, surrealism, and expressionism without adhering to the stylistic purity of modernism or striving to advance any singular ideology. Rather than using style to convey monolithic ideologies, postmodernism undermines the manipulative aspect of ideologies by exposing the artificiality of style.

Role of Interpretation in Postmodern Art versus Modern Art

Each separate movement endeavored, in its turn, to depict reality in terms of a singular fundamental truth that developed during the modernist era. Cubism, by depicting any object as a composite made up of fragmented and discrete views of itself, presented a new way of seeing time that echoed Einstein. Surrealism and abstract expressionism thought to resolve existence in terms of Freud. Social realism took Marx as its foundation. In contrast, postmodernism champions the value of individual and personal interpretations. Again, while Postmodern Elegy integrates elements of cubism, surrealism, and expressionism, the artwork does not try to elucidate the world at large in terms of an authoritative interpretation. On the contrary, Postmodern Elegy or Love and Art, like other postmodern works, requires that viewers add their own interpretations for the work to be meaningful. Rather than assert absolutes, postmodern works of art elicit individual interpretations, personal stories of responsive consciousness.

26 June 2006 Francis Berry

 Cleland Publishing