What is Postmodernism? The 21st century has been hauled as the century of Postmodernism. But to date the here has been a little agreement on what is considered Postmodernism (2006, Cahoone) and when did it exactly started. Does an art has to be postmodernist when it’s created in the 21st century? In this paper I’m trying to explain what Postmodernism is, the thinkers behind it and designers who are considered post modernist and an analysis of some of their works, and hopefully does justice in explaining this topic that is still going on.
Before talking about Postmodernism we need to understand what Modernism is. Modernism started as an answer to Traditionalist art where art is perceived as only accessible to high class society. While Traditionalist usually depict thing at it is or in a hyper realistic manner. Modernism Modernism in design is more about clarity and simplicity relying heavily on order and grid while the art experiment with shapes and colours while in Architecture the shapes are getting straight and cleaning with the use of glass and concrete. (Design in a Nutshell, OUlearn)
The rise of Photography was also considered as the dead of traditional art where there was the need of realistic pictures or images Pablo Picasso was one artist that was the forerunners in the modernist era. Pablo Picasso used simplified shapes to represent humans in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1995, Appignanesi) something never seen during the traditional art era.
Modernisme is the death of realism that was prominent in the traditional era (2007, Berger). In some explanation the shift from doing religious paintings to more found objects or non religious themes marks the start of the Modern era in painting (What is Postmodernism/Modernism, Sommerset)
Jean Francis Lyotard was a French philosopher and sociologist, Lyotard argued that Postmodernism no longer tells a story (1991, Readings). He also mentioned that there was an attitude of skepticm toward modernism, that postmodernism is to question what modernism has to offer (2004, Hart). Further Lyotard describes Post-modern as “incredulity against Metanaratives” or Meta narrative or Grand narrative is what the story that explains the story. (dictionary.com).
The aim of postmodernism is to challenge what is called as social construct, no truth is absolute (Bonevac, accesed 2014). A social construct is something that is set as truth by the society it could as be term set by somebody to explain something and is accepted as the truth (Bonevac, accesed 2014). A chair is a chair because the society tell you that this certain object is a chair, while postmodernism might challenge that assumption.
Jean Baudrillard a French philosopher devised Post Modernism in several ways. According to Baudrillard we live in a reality beyond reality which he calls as a hyper reality. Our live are based on images that are manifestation of other images again and again. This hyper reality is more important than the thing that is represented by the image.
Saussare’s theory of signs where the sign represented something is annulled by Baudrillard who say that the sign and the reality are the same, the sign is the meaning ( 2003, Berger). Baudrillard also use the term Simulacrum often. Simulacrum according the Oxford Dictionary is an image representation of something. This simulacrum is projected to us through media such as television and advertising. There is also a shifting in the meaning of simulation where originally simulation was something that copies reality in Baulldrillard’s perception it becomes something that has no connection to reality. Reality in Baulldrillard’s become something has been replaced by the virtual that becomes difficult to separate.
Some examples of Baudrillard’s rejection to reality is when the Invasion to Kuwait by Saddam went on he argued those were just images projected by the Network that there was a war going on and it’s not real. (2003, Berger). The gulf war on TV was a Simulacrum a projection and not real. (1995, Patton, Baudrillard).
Jack Solomon, noted that in the Post-modern universe there are no such thing as the person, in this case “me” (2007, Solomon, Berger). Further Solomon explained that everybody is playing a role referring to Postmodern Pop artist such as David Bowie, Michael Jackson and Madonna prominent artis of the 80s. Most them are TV icons from the heyday of MTV era. In the modern era there should be a narrative or story to tell, a beginning – middle and end (2007, Berger), while Lyotard said the narrative is dead and replaced by images or simulation with no story at all.
Frederic Jameson from America is considered one of the important thinkers in post-modernism. Frederic Jameson explained that modernism needed a story or reason to legitimize another story, something that is called as a grand-narrative. The purpose is the create a sense of originality to the personal or individual style (2007, Berger). This personal style generated a void where the universal values are repeated again and again resulting in a parody.
In Postmodernism the individual style is dead according to Jameson, Jameson explained that the artist and the writers of the present can’t no longer produce new styles and worlds, because they all have been invented this causes art becoming an endless recycle of the past. (2007, Berger) In this case Post-Modernism will recreate what has been done in the Modernisme era, mix it, and create something ‘new’. Jameson argued the cause of this is because of capitalism and the change of what is considered as goods or ideas and usually not for sale become a commodity. This situation manifested into a disabled contemporary culture that can’t create unique statements. (2007, Berger).
Jameson underlined that the result of a ‘mute culture’ has increased the volume of recycling, taking what’s from the past and making it into something ‘new’ which resulted in the disappearance of history. (2007, Berger). The blending of past elements by post modern artist to create something ‘new’ is what Jameson called as ‘Pastiche’ (2007, Berger).
Post-Modernism was an answer to all the disappointment caused by Modernism, Where science brought Weapons of Mass Destruction and World War II continued by the cold war and the arm race. Many argued when it started, but the demolition of the modernist building at 3pm on March 16, 1972( Postmodernism: Design in a nutshell, OUlearn).
Some characteristic of Post Modernism are the use of strange colour combination, usually bright and glossy, theatrically and exaggeration. The 80s is considered as the start of Post Modernism Movement with the rise of punk and post punk, new wave, consumerism. Strong examples are shown through MTV particularly through video clips and artists such as David Bowie, Madonna and Michael Jackson (2007, Berger). The artist each shows different personality or roles whenever their album comes out.
Post Modernism relies on complexity and contradiction as opposed to Modernist simplicity and clarity. Other characteristic of Post Modernism the re-use and recycle of the past through appropriation for example that gives new meaning to an art or new found objects.
Postmodernism in different countries takes different shapes, what was explained were mostly Post Modernism in the west. In the Southeast Asia Post modernism takes place in the form of fading between original product and counterfeit one. This Counterfeit products dominates 20% of the market and generates a lot of money. (1995, Appignanesi). As Bauldrillard said the reality is blend with hyper reality, the fading between the original and the counterfeit, nowadays its easy to find a counterfeit of almost any products especially DVDs, CDs, Fashion items, electronic items.
David Carson in my opinion is one of designers that can be categorized as a postmodernist.
All of David Carson’s designs challenges what most of modernist do, for example using a tight grid or using limited fonts to express the article.
David produced a layout of an article in his magazine ‘Raygun’ (picture shown above) where he used ZapfDingbat as the main font. Zapf Dingbat is a typeset mainly consisting of symbols, which if put in a sentence order doesn’t have any meaning. Although still using a grid the chosen font is clearly the opposite of modernism where understanding is vital.As stated by Wim Crouwel who said that the meaning is in the context of text not the the typeface (Helvetica, 2007). The reason of this unique choice of font is that David Carson thought that the interview was boring and not worth reading thus choosing the dingbat font. His argument was that something that can be read clearly doesn’t always mean it communicates something. (Helvetica, 2007).
Another example is David Carson’s book David Carson: 2ndsight. While modernist relies heavily on tight and consistent grids, David Carson has a different grid for every page and emphasizing extreme fonts (either large, small or the combination of both). Inconsistency is something that is considered Post-Modernism (2007, Berger).
David Carson tries to communicate with bright colours, weird layout, and sometimes pixelated images which asked the viewers to interpret the meaning. A postmodern art is open to interpretation since there are no narratives or grand narratives behind it. David Carson himself didn’t do this because he want to challenge modernism (2007, Helvetica). Only after learning about Modernisme he understood that he has been challenging modern concepts of graphic design and layouts.
Barbara Krueger is an American artist who In my Opinion shows strong postmodernism in her work. For example this work “Shop therefore I am”
She used a found image of a hand and a famous saying that is used in the Modern era “I think therefore I am”. Again the image is not important, the hyper reality is more important, the hyper reality of consumerism where people shop just to make a point they exist. Barbara Krueger tried to question the culture of shopping or excessive shopping something that Lyotard explained as not believing or put a suspicion on culture or questioning a culture.
Another example of Barbara’s work is this picture:
This picture is actually questioning the male dominance and empowering women. She is using and old poster and gave a new meaning to it. Women has been depicted inferior to man (2007, Berger) and attacking this grand-narrative is one agenda of what is called Post-Modernist. Both of these examples of Barbara’s work show what Jameson called as ‘Pastiche’ where Barbara takes elements form the past or existing photographs, old saying, and blend it into something ‘new’ where it is not necessarily new.
This work from Sagmeister can be considered as a postmodernist work of art. The poster is basically promoting an event called AIGA in Detroit. Stefan asked his assistant Martin to carve the letters on his body.
The poster is meant to convey or to inform an event supposed that are was tp be the image. But the image has become more important than thing captured by the image (2007, Berger).
The sign isn’t actually representing something (the event) it has no relation what so ever to the event. Something done also with United Colours of Benneton with their mind blowing advertising where there are no relation between the image and the product being sold.
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