Modern, postmodern and conceptual – a date with the ‘now’

Let’s imagine that they met as actual beings – the ‘modern’, the ‘postmodern’ and the ‘conceptual’ – at a round table in a cafeteria. The ‘modern’ is classically beautiful yet it wears rebellious clothes, there is a spark of a charismatic idealism in its eyes; the ‘postmodern’ is the ‘modern’s twin sister, yet it does everything to look bleak and ugly, the ‘conceptual’ is a thoughtful man, who looks like he lost before even he had started for good… They are apparently on a date – the three of them… You cannot be aware of what is going around today without meeting them – and where one name is mentioned the others follow like shadows. But the date lasts for the last hundred years of more… Our trio would like sometimes to perform a cold-blooded murder in order to get rid of, at least, the one of them… c’mon, who would stand a love-hate relationship for a hundred years?…

Did conceptual art mark the end of Modernism? Is Modernism really “gone” – since we still use terms interchangeably – those of the ‘modern’ and the ‘contemporary’ (just look to any modern (!) dictionary of English), and we still live the dream of Matisse’s passions for painting’s powers or Picasso’s gutsy genius of the revolt? If it’s not ‘gone’ – why is – the ‘postmodern’ so tempting and unavoidable in a sense, that even in order to mock the vices of that cynical, deliberately ‘ugly’ twin sister we are bound to use its own way of reasoning, which is never purely ‘logical’ or ‘innocent’ but always syncretic and questioning? What about the ‘conceptual’ (‘Art’) condition of today? How is it (if at all) defending itself against ever-growing accusations of its complete ideological and ontological failure? And – why on Earth – why still do these three keep our contemporary minds under the spell, so it seems impossible to think, feel and create beyond the world of their ongoing date?

In 1994 speaking in the Independence Hall, Philadelphia Czech Republic’s “philosopher-president” Vaclav Havel defined our times as those where”‘everything is possible and nothing is certain”… But – wasn’t it, after all, our grand-grandfathers’ intuition and our fathers’ truth? And what exactly – if – again – anything at all – has finished or underwent a substantial metamorphosis after the trauma of the last century bloody wars? Is our ‘human condition’ different today than it would be at the turn of the 19th and 20th c.? What is it what we undisputably share with the engineers and ‘shakers’ of the last century? Wouldn’t be that never truly expressed, yet always painfully alive sense of the new and forever Paradise Lost – of a serious and one-way Exodus from the Great Romantics sublime universe of the perfect unity, profound meanings and a superior order. This is what the human genius in its pure Kantian, Nietzschean, Darwinian, Freudian, Einsteinian form, exploding on different fields and within comparatively short period of time has left us with – with our world and our human condition as a multifaceted, ever-changing, mighty storm… But the storm in itself is illuminating and a huge step forward (as it appears to be even on a purely scientific basis), yet – in most cases it has been used to wash people’ brains, to throw them into lives, which they are – themselves – the least controlling factor of…

Is there any way to make us – on a bigger scale – to discuss it all, to become aware and to foster a change, a turn ?… anything what would bring us back to ourselves, to what we really are (or used to be), what we are truly capable of ?… Would art be one of the possible answers – art, which – just as at our above-mentioned ‘date’ – sits at the same table with the past, which always refuses to go and with the present, which always refuses to become?… Can art be any answer at all? You are right to doubt seeing some of the most popular artistic ‘mascots’ of today, celebrated the way Matisse’s least significant apprentice would refused to be engaged in…

But ‘the date’ is on – we can mock it, we can join it, we can invent an alternative. But first of all – we cannot be afraid of thinking on our own. We have to come back to the true value of a disciplined thinking, because – as one of the F. Scott Fitzgerald’s characters puts it: “Either you think or others will have to think for you – and they will take all the powers from you”…

For further reading, for fun as well:

A World History of Art, (ed.) Honor, H. and Fleming, J., 5th Edition, Great Britain, 1991
Baudrillard, J,. The Hyper-realism of Simulation, 1976 in Art in Theory 1900-1990, (ed.) Harrison, Ch. And Wood, P., Oxford, 1993, pp. 1049-1051
Hopkins, D., After Modern Art 1945-2000, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2000

Godfrey, T., Conceptual Art, Phaidon Press, London 1997

Kosuth, J., Art after Philosophy, 1969 in Art in Theory 1900-1990, (ed.) Harrison, Ch. And Wood, P., Oxford, 1993, pp. 840-849
Sokal, A., Bricmont, J., Intellectual Impostures, Economics Books, New Ed edition, 2003


About kasia

Born in Poland. Lives in Ireland, Cork. Visual artist. View all posts by kasia

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