Discuss the role of technology in expanding fine art practice in the postmodern era (with reference to three artworks and at least three key theoretical texts)
In order to begin the analysis of the role of technology in expanding the fine art practice, I have considered revising what postmodernism consisted of and its immergence, being that of approaches and controversies. From this, we can begin to analyse the function of technology based upon social constructs, economic issues and the immergence of advancement within technology which aided and encouraged practitioners into a cross-disciplinary approach, creating something new.
What is Postmodernism?
The genesis of the Postmodernism era emerged during what some might assume at the ‘end’ of modernism, however, it can be said that postmodernism is in a dialectical relationship with modernism; where ideologies consisted in fundamental scientific laws of reason and rational thought and art, practitioners during this era strongly believed life had a meaning until the senseless break out of World War 1 and other world-wide tragic occurrences, where all hope and faith crumbled, causing a widespread state of delusion within life, accompanied by the power of existing value systems and technological advancements, which had been taken on causing a beneficial change within society and the creative arts. This mind-set of disillusionment made way for the birth of postmodernist methodologies, gaining majority of its popularity during the 1950’s and dominating the literature and art by the 1960’s. Postmodernisms wave of movement influenced many disciplines, spanning across those such as religion, literary criticism, sociology, linguistics, architecture, history, anthropology, visual arts and music. However controversial these methodologies, may be perceived, no matter what, modernism will always be the foundation on which movements and disciplines will rely, form and construct upon. Rather than knowledge for its own sake, academic studies in education prioritised the pursuit of skills focusing on mastering and refining production techniques, becoming less interested in absorbing the traditional attributes of their subject, but through individual creativity and interpretation, becoming the fundamentality as opposed to attaining painterly skills, which was concentrated on during the modern era.
‘’Dennis Mumby suggests that it is best to think of modernism and postmodernism as existing in a mutually constitutive relationship (from Taylor, 2005: 115), and Bryan Taylor (2005) stating, “Each requires the continued existence of the other in order to appear—through opposition—distinct and coherent” (author’s emphasis: 116).’’
Understanding the methodologies of Postmodernism –
Postmodernism is characterized by “the critical questioning, and often outright rejection, of ethnocentric rationalism championed by Modernism” (Cooper and Burrell, 1988). Implying that within its approaches to understanding and knowledge, conveyed through an assortment of theoretical structures, is formed, relied and based upon opposing ideologies of the modernist eras’ modernity and modernist beliefs in knowledge and science, those such as formalism, materialism, metaphysics, positivism, realism, and reductionism, structuralism, but philosophical and critical methods consisting of the opposing constructivism, idealism, pluralism, and relativism. However consisting of these philosophical methods, postmodernism is not a method of undertaking philosophy nor is it a philosophical movement. Practitioners applied traditional ideas and practices but in a non-traditional way that digress from pre-set structural modes that exist. For this reason, postmodernism will always endure as a controversial indefinite concept.
Understanding the approaches of Postmodernism –
Postmodernists’ approaches often take into consideration the functions of social dynamics such as power and hierarchy as those effect human conceptualisation of the world which fundamentally effects the process of the way knowledge is constructed and applied. The quote below, aids in clarifying the relation of postmodernists perspective to the characteristics of Postmodernity’s methodologies.
‘’Postmodern discourse begins with the idea that systems have lives of their own which make them fundamentally independent of human control.’’ (Cooper and Burrell, 1988: 94).
This is in response to postmodernist theorisation, with beliefs that majority of realities are formed of social constructs which of course are subject to alter through time, they believe the way in which the socialisation perceive the world is subjective and accentuates the character of language, power relations and motivations in the form of beliefs – all being key cornerstones of social construct. The initial ideas that supported the sequence of events within modernism are deteriorating, as postmodernism absorbs the limelight with opposing and in direct opposition of expressive ideologies to modernist philosophical thought process, meaning and interpretation is not permanent and we are only observers of the world constructing interpretations in response to current factors and issues within society, and life in general with no actual prominence.
“An observer-community which constructs interpretations of the world, these interpretations having no absolute or universal status” (Cooper and Burrell, 1988: 94).
However ambiguous or controversial, one may find postmodernisms apparent methodologies, as Martin Parker (1995) debates, “the key problem raised by postmodernists is the impossibility of having certain knowledge about ‘the other’ (person, organization, culture, society)” (553). Meaning without the foundations of modernism, postmodernism, in not so many words, would have collapsed, or even so, had never even existed. The expansion of technology, current social status and economical changes, gave way and opened doors for the immergence of cross disciplinary approaches taken on by practitioners within the postmodern era.
Understanding the controversies of Postmodernism –
Involuntary, practitioners and theorisers within the postmodernist movement became increasingly aware of modernisms limitations when attempting to resolve real world crippling issues through practical solutions, and as those complex issues occurred, difficulty was initiated when attempting to resolve the issues based on the academic areas of specialization or disciplines, which are apparent due to the complexity in knowledge of the modern. Knowledge of engagement and comprehension of the traditional values of the ‘Renaissance Man;’ being an enlightened, well taught individual that outperforms in art, architecture, engineering and all those specialised divisions of practice that appeared during that time, now being distinct and separated within academic research circles. The aberrant condition of this Century is the “increasing breadth and width of knowledge that has resulted in the emergence of a myriad of disciplines or branches of learning” (Jeffery, 2003) coming to realise that these distinct specializations apprise one another to the extent that as a whole, they evidently perform a greater task than remaining distinct. ‘Complete interdisciplinarity,’ is a term derived from Julio Bermudez, who indicates the importance of the immersion of all the existing disciplines, which are essential and necessary in the process of resolving the end-to-end solution of a current problem at task.
“Interdisciplinary research is becoming more and more necessary due to the societal and scientific complexities of problems, which are insoluble by single disciplines or experts” (Durfee, in press).
The emergence of new image-based technologies –
Television, video, screen-printing, computers, the internet and LEDs, these emergences of new image-based technologies generated a colossal movement of film production and photographic imagery, where postmodern cinema film narratives had broken out the boundaries of linearity, becoming multi-pathed and the film production process itself became somewhat liberating from the already existing constraints due to innovative mass-produced film stock and apparatus. Bearing in mind, going back to black and white silent movies of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, where film stock duration was only a somewhat 26 seconds and multi-pathed narratives hadn’t been considered, due to its limitations, and being in black and white as colour film had not been developed. That, compared to postmodernisms cinema of colour film production directors Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 ‘Pulp Fiction’ and Christopher Nolan’s 2000 ‘Momento’ where in the course of post and the production, with the aid of innovative film editing software, the film is cut and placed, and narratives were capable to be executed as multi-pathed or non-chronological story lines, and the constraints of the 26 second film stock was not a concern, becoming something of the past, creating something new. As well as inventions of film editing software’s, this opened doors and pathways of cross-disciplined intentioned directors to implement animation into live action film, such as Robert Zemeckis ‘Who framed Roger Rabbit’ A 1988 American fantasy comedy-noir production which set the calibre and displayed possible pathways for aspiring directors and film makers of which were influenced.
Photography imaging broke out of the analogical traditional fine art painterly approach and processing and development of photography negatives gradually washed-out as digital photography emerged, becoming variously revolutionary; LEDs and light-painting, editing exposures in post-production and the use and functions of the digital single lens camera itself removed all constraints and became a liberated practice. Photography also inspired the use of screen-printing and painting, transpiring from developed negatives to textile hangings to printed images of photography on fabric, became enormously widespread due to its applications towards the personalization of creative design. From this point onwards, photography and screen-printing, not only was it birthed from the practice of Andy Warhol’s renowned response to the demise of Marilyn Monroe, where he produced a series of screen-printed portraits of Monroe (fig.1) Marilyn herself, was an original black print and the background is in colour, representing her hidden identity masked by her fame. Postmodernism played a massive role on expanding the growth of consumerism. Works of the Pop Art movement soon became a product of consumerism, as Warhol along with those practitioners within the Pop Art culture, created novelty visual works of art, gaining a demographic of Modern consumers, who were encapsulated by this approach in capturing not just ordinary portraits of social and documentation purposes, but focusing on the popular culture of the time, whether consumer products and international celebrities and icons of the time.
Andy Warhol once stated ‘Okay, let’s play around with this nonsense. We accept that life and art no longer have any obvious intrinsic meaning, but so what? Let’s experiment, make art more interesting, and see where it leads. Who knows, maybe we can be famous for 15 minutes!’ Warhol’s idea justified postmodernism and its intentions, which are clearly evident within his works, where he also implemented a cross-disciplinary approach within the fine art practice, ranging from screen prints to short films, 3d installations and acrylic paintings. Warhol had this idea to break the current traditions and boundaries of art, using the technological advantages at hand and refining skills and techniques to excel in practice in conveying his subject and its meaning. In response to this idea, Warhol, along with many other artists, curators and other professions had taken the idea of art and transforming it into a product, for instants installations and video made way for the audience, or the consumers in this case, to experience art in a pro-active manner, feeding their hunger to be astounded and stimulated.
Due to the industrial revolution, Postmodernists broke out of the constrained and limited traditional boundaries of painting and with the mass-produced use of plastic emerging after the Second World War, acrylics became a popularised demand alongside with new materials and apparatus, causing the natal of innovative mediums. Artists began working with space, 3d structures, 2d reliefs and collages creating pro-active installations, some artists would use the function of video to show the practice and function of the body in relation and in response within the working space of the subject. These short fine art documentaries created an innovative approach in narrative of cinema within postmodernism, somewhat abstract, experimental as well as experiential, where videos or short documentaries would cause one to pause for thought and observe their own relations to their current surroundings. However, the practice of painting, whether traditional or non-traditional seems to be declining, as new technological innovations are introduced, those such as computer art, or generated computer aiding software design, similar to the alteration of photography and screen printing, the ability to manipulate and control images has become a world-wide spread popularised demand, due to its endless possibilities of application towards the personalisation in creative designs. Artists work for example such as Richard Hamilton’s 1956 (Fig. 2) ‘Just what is it that makes todays homes so different, so appealing?‘ clearly displays his use of application, using collage manipulating and juxtaposing photo cut outs to create one representational image to replicate that of a living room during the postmodern era.
So with the consumers’ satisfaction of desire of wanting to be stunned and stimulated, by new artistic subject matter, whether it would be of Damien Hirst’s life size shark in a giant tank, demonstration of flies or multi-coloured circles on a canvas, there is still debate as to whether these banal approaches and wild intentions can constitute as art forms under the term ‘art’, the avant-garde conceptualists agree, where as those traditionalists, disagree. However, besides the point of whether these art forms do constitute as art, art in general since the emergence of postmodernism, has lost its rawness, becoming banal, and rather than creating works with depths, applying a deeper layer of meaning, postmodernists simply and purely focus on the surface, and rather than creating a controlled design, artists create works just by ‘chance’ in the hope that the consumer will buy into this system of Novelty art, becoming a product of consumerism, therefor tarnishing the traditional expectations and values to some extent, that one would find within the modernism era. However, similar relations to that of political factors, social constructs and individual ideologies and methodologies are all based upon personal preference, there is no control in which direction contemporary art may follow or lead, all we can depend on is the determination and sophisticated skill of a non-traditional ‘Renaissance Man’ to experiment with technological advancements and industrialisation of machinery and mediums to carry out developments and refine techniques that have been conceded by the postmodernist movement, cutting short traditional processes involved in ‘’making art’’ and still constructing something fresh and innovative.