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Postmodernism is Anti-Mind (Literally) (steve-patterson.com)
42 points by StevePatterson on March 1, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 55 comments

Many of the examples in this post are great examples of 'Modernist Art' and are decidedly not postmodern. This is roughly the equivalent of writing a post on "Functional programming is Anti-Mind" and then demonstrating that with examples from the Gang of Four Design Patterns book.

The real issue with this is that most postmodern art is incredibly accessible. You don't need an art degree to think that Roy Lichtenstein's paintings "look cool", or that Campbell's Soup cans are "neat". One of the quintessential, textbook postmodern film directors is Quentin Tarantino; there are few directors more adored by the general public. Postmodernism is a descriptive term for artists who mostly reject the Western tradition of 'High Art'. Almost all the difficulty and "unintelligibility" lies in postmodern theory, but not in the art theorists consider postmodern. And I would argue that this is because theorists themselves are artifacts of Western high culture and are therefore unable to articulate a response to something that is outside this framework.

Almost all examples of "unintelligible" art fall into some subcategory of High Modernism. High Modernist schools of thought are almost always exploring questions within the context of Western high culture(ie the "What is art?" questions), and for many of these works you need to have a background in the art in question to really engage with and understand the piece.

If you want to critique postmodernism a good place to start is Fredric Jameson's "Postmodernism or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism".

Was going to say, Pollock falls firmly within Abstract Expressionism -- about as "Modern Art" as you can get.

This is great! Would you say Dadaism and similar rejections are also postmodern? What about Stuckism, which rejects the idea that art is about concept and intention and should just be about pretty pictures?

Honestly, I've never found a good explanation of what "postmodern" actually means, and your examples are helping.

While I agree with the reply on the whole, many of its examples are pop art, which is a kind of shared space between modernism and postmodernism as far as art is concerned but not quite postmodernism, which explicitly rejects modernism. _But_ postmodernism originated in architecture and is more broadly a kind of 'end of history' movement, expressed not through the singular view and notion of purity of classicism, nor the idealist/utopian/revolutionary views of modernism - but through an embrace and often shocking (e.g. to notions of taste) juxtaposition of incongruent sources (e.g. classical motifs mixed with tiki references).

Yeah, I find this article confusing precisely because of its focus on what seems to be modern and not post-modern art. Post-modernism definitely, as far as I (as a layman, tbh) understand it, rejects a kind of hierarchy and structure, but it's not the art itself that it insists has no structure but the artist-viewer relationship. Modern art insists that the artist is telling and the viewer is receiving, thus why an apparent lack of structure can still be "about something", but post-modernism insists that the audience is an active participant in the art.

And that's almost exactly the opposite of being 'anti-mind' to me. It gives the audience a kind of credit that a lot of other theories of art don't.

I love how so many of these comments revolve around the term "postmodern." This article's argument is not its title. It's the idea represented by a particular school of thinking.

Call it what you want: there is a school of thought which embraces the idea that the universe is senseless, and they claim the mind creates artificial order. You can see it in artistic work.

Obviously, this article is about that school of thought.

(which, I think you could make a very reasonable case is decidedly "post-modern." Not every representative of the school has to live in the same time frame, just like Beethoven could be called a Romantic artist, but he was a century earlier than Tchaikovsky. Nietzsche preceded the postmodernists, but his ideas fit squarely with theirs.).

When you say, "there is a school of thought which embraces the idea that the universe is senseless" the first idea that springs to mind is existentialism[0]. Are you talking about existentialism? You mention Nietzsche, he (along with Kierkegaard) are claimed to be the fore-runners of existentialism - the idea that life has no (intrinsic) purpose, senseless in the meaningful sense.

Their claim is that one can give meaning to life by imposing or constructing a meaning or a purpose of ones own. I think it would be a stretch to equate this purposeful overcoming of the futility and the absurd with the general pattern recognition and construction that the mind involuntarily engages in moment to moment.

Postmodernism, if it is anything, is the rejection of or going beyond the project of modernism (the clue is in the name). Modernists still believed in grand projects, ideals, and narratives - for instance, the implicit idea of progress. You could say that postmodernism paradoxically rejects over-arching grand narratives and in a way claims to bring to an end the grand intellectual epochs we've had from the renaissance onwards through the enlightenment and finally arriving at modernism. I've yet to come across a satisfactory account of postmodernism beyond the one I've just relayed.

[0] http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/existentialism/

Obviously, this article is about that school of thought.

This is not a school of thought of which I am familiar, who are its proponents? In fact, I have not heard of any assertion that the universe should either a) make sense; or b) have a motivation, outside of religious texts. Of course I don't really know what sense of "senseless" you're using without your defining your terms, so I'm using two common ones.

Words mean things, and if you can't be bothered to get your terms right, why should I bother to read your article?

Chronology's a bitch. Talk about authoritarian structure.

I also love how some people think this article is a defense of anti-structuralism, while others think it's a dismissal.

As to chronology, I'm afraid history isn't on your side. One era does not end sharply as another begins. There's significant chronological overlap between schools of thought and movements in general.

"To put it simply: not all structure is arbitrary. Sometimes, the mind creates structure, but other times, the mind recognizes structure."

Unfortunately, the author is materialist, which causes them to miss the point that all structure is created. If the author were to remove time and space from their world view and only focus on present moment experience, it becomes impossible to find true objective structure.

Ceci n'est pas une article

Cute, but this actually was an article. And Magritte's pipe wasn't really a pipe. I get the reference, but it kind of misses the point of what Magritte was trying to say with that painting.

Thanks for sharing this Steve. It hits home just at the right time. Which is to say that my mind is attempting to recognize patterns within the chaos (whether they are there or aren't there).

It also touches on a few themes from one of my favorite books, "I am a Strange Loop" by Douglas Hofstadter...And you mention Derrida who had a profound impact on my thought process and development. La Différance did a lot for my understanding of the world. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diff%C3%A9rance

"Before I had studied Chan (Zen) for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and rivers as rivers. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and rivers are not rivers. But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest. For it's just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and rivers once again as rivers."

Could someone TLDR what is it all about?

I stopped reading at empty canvases, this is hardly original, first empty canvas exhibition was 90 years ago in Paris.

It's dumb, but serious. You bugged out at the right point.

TLDR: postmodernism says every structure is just an arbitrary social convention created/learned by the mind; article writer says no, there are actually structures which are objectively real and tied to the physical world, and the mind is capable of observing and grasping them to some extent.

It's based on a faulty premise that modernism and postmodernism are the same thing and seemingly ignorant that postmodernism is a rejection of modernism. Ergo author wasted time writing the article and you saved time reading it.

Would upvote!

I don't really know if this is a fair characterization of postmodernism or not, but I have to wonder about the circumstances under which a total lack of structure would actually be useful in a human life? It seems like to me an interesting but not very profound observation to make that our minds traffic in structure and patterns. What alternative, I wonder, is proposed to solving problems using logical constructs?

For those that need an introduction to the finer points of POMO, don't miss this: http://www.elsewhere.org/journal/pomo/ (don't miss the footer!)

>I have to wonder about the circumstances under which a total lack of structure would actually be useful in a human life?

I surmise it can serve as a contrasting backdrop to structure, to better the understanding of the latter.

On the other hand, it could be simply a childish rebellion against the paternalistic oppression of structure and reason.

Or... it can also be a method for newcomers to dislodge the old guard - by undermining their work, you might be able to undermine their social stance and gain some of it for yourself.

Postmodernism is more insidious than rejection of authority/structure. Authority tends to be straightforward. Postmodernism says there is no authority, but you know very well there is authority but you have to find it out yourself and be sure you are correct in your conclusion of authority or structure.

It's like when you ask someone for an appropriate gift for an occasion and they say, 'oh, you'll figure something out' instead of telling you what would work. I mean, it's not as though 'anything' would be accepted, but now they are putting the onus on you to get it right.

So rather than being liberating, it can be debilitating.

That 'It's all equally meaningless, so here's some cultural irony' shtick gets wearing after a while.

It had its day in the late 80s and early 90s. Only academia is keeping it alive now. You pretty much have to be able to quote Derrida, Lacan, and Foucault to get a humanities professorship - which is, not nearly ironically enough, not a good thing, IMO. (See also: Postmodern Critical Theory.)

But I think rest of world, including rest of art world, has moved on already.

Have you read any Derrida, Lacan or Foucault?

Too much. Far, far, too much. :)

I prefer Bourdieu, who seems to be tragically underrated in academia.

> All of our thoughts require language

No. A very concrete example of this for me was when my dad and I designed a ladder-chair(1). We both had pencils and drew the views and measurements on a single piece of engineering paper over the course of 45 minutes, I think with maybe a dozen sentences spoken. But clearly each hand was responding to the other's lines.

(1) https://www.flickr.com/photos/niels_olson/sets/7215759452966...

Hilarious when people still write articles declaiming postmodernism when it has been dead in continental philosophy for at least 15 years.

Oddly the article is mostly attacking a style of art that doesn't even have anything to do with postmodernism in philosophy, and predates it by decades. Jackson Pollock is mainly a 1940s painter developing and responding to early 20th century trends in painting, not some kind of time-traveling artistic disciple of Jacques Derrida. You might as well throw in Picasso, Malevich, and Kandinsky if you want to criticize the 20th-century trend towards abstraction and non-representational painting.

He's wrong about music too. A postmodern composer would certainly not ignore traditional harmony.

Even if you know nothing about art, you only have to look at Wikipedia to find out more about postmodern art and how it differs from modernism.

What's the latest in continental philosophy?

Speculative realism

I thought you were being funny, Reddit-style. Then I searched.

Adapted relativity.

I searched. Then I found you were being funny, Reddit-style. You thought you were the 2nd in the chain though!(?)

Yep. I did. I must admit I didn't even search the parent's post as I immediately dismissed it as a joke based around an oxymoron. That's why I tried to create a subtle oxymoron myself.

Oh well...

On the other hand, can't you still say most of new art around us is post-modern?

Because else what would it be? Have we got anything after postmodernism?

This is what makes article hilarious. It is a post-modern piece bashing what it claims to be postmodernism.

UPD: In that respect, saying "I don't like postmodernism" looks as "I don't like air" That's what you've got. For today.

> On the other hand, can't you still say most of new art around us is post-modern?

No. Well, you can, but its equivocation: its certainly something that arises in the period after the height of the movement called "modernism", hence, it is "post-modern" in that sense, but its not part of the particular movement which has been labelled "post-modernism".

> Because else what would it be? Have we got anything after postmodernism?

Yes, in both art and philosophy, there are a number of contemporary movements that are active, many of which postdate postmodernism in their origins.

You don't have to label yourself postmodernist. Your own opinion about the direction of your art is irrelevant.

The thing is: we haven't got anything that is not post-modern. Postmodernism is about going in circles in my opinion, and that's what we do. Can't break out.

It's not postmodern, it's a pastische of half-expored received wisdom. Saying Jackson Pollock is about the line is like saying Quentin Tarantino movies are about dialogue. He calls himself a philosopher but does not appear to ever ask "why?"

No doubt the author would respond to criticism by saying they were only trying to start a conversation. In other words: trolling.

"A pastische of half-expored received wisdom that nontheless presented to unsuspecting public" is "postmodern" in my book.

What this essay says more than anything is that anybody can have a personal definition of postmodernism.

Yea, so maybe it doesn't exist yet. And us talking about it is like pre enlightenment era humans talking about Modernism when Modernism is basically all the ideas that have happened as a result of the enlightenment period.

Here's a set of graphs showing the decline of certain academic fads (viz. postmodernism) that corroborate your claim: http://goo.gl/XgzkUG

I don't know. By this logic ("Who's to say what is art and what is not art?") even my pictures of stick figures can be considered art. Except that no, sorry, they're not art, and I'm not an artist.

Roy Lichtenstein asked himself "What is art?". And when he took pictures out of instruction manuals and newspaper advertisements (and, later, comic books) and reproduced them on canvas he said "Ok, I took something mundane, something mass-produced, something you see every day all around you, and I reproduced it here on canvas, using tools and techniques that artists use, I painted each of the Ben-day dots by hand, and is this now somehow not mundane? Is it now art?". And when I see one of his pictures a voice in my head says "Yes, this is art."

When I see a canvas painted black (or a shark in a tank, for that matter), that voice says "no".


How about blue? No? What about International Klein Blue[0][1]? Maybe yes? Just goes to show. I would say that the first deliberate black canvas, yes. After that, no. Derivative :)

Shark-in-a-tank[2]. The contemporary work of art people don't think is a work of art. I wonder why that is? The title alone is intriguing, "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living". The formaldehyde gives it a distinctive hue. The vitrine is divided into three rather like a triptych. It's outrageous something gave its life in the creation of this work though people have been worked to death for far more mundane tasks. I don't like shark-in-a-tank, but it's art I'm afraid.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Klein_Blue

[1] http://www.themilanese.com/?p=6939

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Physical_Impossibility_of_...

Just to clarify, you don't have to be called an 'artist' to create art.

I qualify the code that ran the machine carrying humans to the moon as gloriously beautiful art - in it's own flawed way.

I consider my personal programming projects as art. I try to build beautiful and functional 'things' that at the end I can stand back and admire.

You can qualify much as art, but you can qualify a lot more as crap art. A lot of stuff is dismissed as 'not art' because it is completely stupid and rubbish. For example, that moronic screaming lady - or those once-popular paintings of meticulously detailed cans with labels. Ah, so many hundreds of thousands spent and now completely worthless as the wool is lifted.

> I mean, upon analysis, postmodernism tries to escape or reject the traditional function of the human mind.

I mean, upon analysis, postmodernism tries to escape or reject the traditional perspective on the human mind.

This article seems to posit that being "anti-mind" is a bad thing. I don't know that it is the case.



What comes after postmodernism? Postmodernism++?

There are multiple schools for thought currently vying for that position, but transmodernism seems to have the most traction.

Based on his picture, Steve Patterson is one of the younger grumpy old white men I have seen. He has also rediscovered that “Screw you, rules. I’ll paint whatever I damn well choose" is an attitude contained inside of art.

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