Post #458 • January 20, 2005, 6:37 AM • 103 Comments
Lately we've been kicking around names for the movement that's following Postmodernism. I'd like to nominate Reconstructionism. This all but assures that it won't get adopted, but what the hell.
Looking into the names of the other stuff going on, I realized why we have such trouble with contemporary art terms. Modernism is generally held to be the pinnacle of Enlightenment thought, but one of its greatest exponents in the arts, Clement Greenberg, openly relied on an intuitive method that seems to directly insult Enlightenment rationality. Postmodernism ostensibly reacted to Modernism, but really just reacted to aspects of Modernism it didn't like. I was mistaken about Pomo and Deconstructionism having much to do with each other - I thought the former was a subset of the latter, then Dan Hopewell opined oppositely on this site, but most accurately one might describe them as frequently intersecting but separate paths, like asynchronous sine waves.
So no one can define Modernism exactly, no one can define Pomo exactly, and people have spent entire careers not defining Decon exactly. No wonder we run into so many problems around here.
Decon frequently employs two strategies. One is to challenge linguistic arrangements to show that they have no inherent basis. Another is to identify a dialectic, separate it into oppressor and oppressed elements, and privelege the oppressed element in an attempt to right the scales. If I understand it correctly, Pomo has often borrowed these strategies to react to Modernism (I'm confining this discussion to the art world). Sometimes this takes on a political flavor, reacting against the power structures that surround the making and presentation of art. Sometimes it takes on an aesthetic flavor, reacting to the relative visual coolness or blankness of Modernism. But I don't think anyone would argue if I said that generally speaking, Pomo and Decon both favor diversity and discontinuity.
Diversity and discontinuity are refreshing, of course, and there is no inherent problem with them. Even Clement Greenberg found Pomo's early appearances refreshing. But Pomo has simply exhausted itself. Most contemporary art does not react to Modernism as much as it draws on a tradition of older Pomo. Pomo generated a particular non-art look and attitude that has inspired imitators for four decades across the entire pluralist gamut. Of course, a tradition of discontinuity is hypocrisy. The categories, Pomo most of all, hardly apply anymore.
That's why so much contemporary art that aims to react to what-have-you feels tired, and why a list of current hot properties - John Currin, Matthew Barney, Inka Essenhigh, Laura Owens, Elizabeth Peyton, and so on - make work that has a discernable non-non-art look: an art look. They represent a transition.
Towards what? Well, on the other side of diversity and discontinuity lie unity and continuity.
Reconstructionism already exists as a term within religion. In Judaism, it refers to an effort to bring back the mysticism that was more highly valued in the past, such as among the masters of Hasidism, without the anachronistic rigamarole of Orthodoxy. (In Christianity, it refers to a bunch of theocratic whackjobs who would be happy to convert everyone in the world by means of economic, legal, or bodily force. We'll go with the Jewish version, thanks. Oy gevalt.)
Reconstructionist art (again, what the hell, let's call it Recon) will innovate based on inspirational examples from the past in an effort to express current inspirations. It will shed irony and jouissance in favor of sincerity and competitive play. It will not pretend that the past or the present doesn't exist, but invite both to the table. Instead of identifying dichotomies, it will identify shared experiences - ones that cross boundaries of race and gender and class because nearly all humans experience them. I don't know what it will look like exactly, and suspect it won't look like anything in particular because of pluralism. In fact, I don't think it will be a movement at all. It will be a great number of movements, and its masters will form a pantheon of little gods that differ while holding a few essentials in common.