Is postmodernity dead?

Postmodernity has to be one of the single most misunderstood, confusing, and widely thrown around words of the 21st century. Anyone who does a humanities degree will give you the stock answer quotation from Lyotard that postmodernism is an ‘incredulity towards metanarrtives’. Whatever that means…

Anyway, postmodernism has become its own metanarrative, and the art world has been actively building upon this metanarrative since its conception. Meaning maybe it was dead from the moment it was actualised, undergoing a living death (as Baudrillard might say) for the confusion of the display itself in.

And for us edgy artsy students with our postmodern surrealist meme humour and general confusion about the current state of the world, we are likely the best candidates to truly take postmodern art onboard as a genuine tool to question our material surroundings.

We live in an increasingly fast, bright, and complex system that is imploding inward, projecting itself onto the past and present. Objects and images are lost references to things we don’t even understand anymore. Memes are a crucial example of the strange balance between the absurd and relatable.  

So, what defines postmodern art? Well, for starters it uses things that we can understand from daily life in its composition. Multimedia, intermedia, appropriation, recycling, and contradiction. In some senses we are desensitised to this as our lives contain these elements in the form of our media consumption. But perhaps this enables us to better understand the work of the likes Damien Hurst or Tracey Emin, works that are canonised in the realms of pretention, division and, confusion. When we are alienated from understanding the everyday, perhaps we can seek refuge in its abstraction into the sceptic and ironic. Postmodernity then, for better or for worse, is not quite dead yet.

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Jack Warren

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May 2022
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