What Comes after Post-Modernism?

“Tourist” — photo ©2017 by Allen Cobb. All rights reserved.

In brief, Post-Postmodernism (aka “whatever we call that which follows Postmodernism”) is characterized by an accessible infusion of the artist’s personal quest for growth. How “accessible” this is will, of course, vary widely. And what characterizes “artist’s personal quest for growth” will also vary widely. But the essential idea is that the creation of art is intrinsically a path of personal evolution, not a process for producing artworks. The artworks are nothing more than beautiful evidence of that growth, stepping stones left behind by the artist in his path to self-realization.

The art of the 21st century breaks from Postmodernism most simply by refusing to continue the tradition of derivation. Post-Postmodernism (PPM) is not based on, or even related to, Postmodernism. It is characterized by demanding that a work not only should reveal something or assert some aspect of content, but that it must offer something of value that can be discovered within the viewer.

PPM art is not didactic art, nor is it revelatory or even assertive — more realistically, it is an expression of inner discovery, framed in an aesthetic that seeks to open consonant doors of perception and discrimination in its audience.

Whereas Modernism reflected a broadly experienced conscious break from the comprehensive established aesthetic of the Victorian era, and emphasized the subjective aspect of perception, individuality and strong sense of self, and a growing cultural relativism, Postmodernism reflects a generation of artists growing up in a modernist worldview, where further penetration in that direction meant the obliteration of symbol and meaning, and the full acceptance of a kind of playful, experimental existentialism.

Post-Postmodernism, on the other hand, embraces the individualism, boundary-breaking, and playfulness of Postmodernism while also demanding (indirectly) that art nevertheless contribute something to the inner growth of its viewers.

The Self still reigns in PPM, but rather than being a rational self, it has transcended rationality — not to a heightened sense of existentialism or absurdity, but to a clearer recognition that the nature of the inner Self is supra-rational, non-analytical, simple yet effulgent, cosmic. The inner reality expressed in PPM art is divine, yet accessible; its celebration is valid both with or without ceremony.

Yes, Postmodernism still persists, though I can’t say with authority that it’s dominant in academia. What’s still most representative, it would seem, is works that fulfill some promise of being unique, in the sense that “nobody has done this before.” That might in fact define much of what passes for the “next” epoch in the continuing metamorphosis of art. But I hesitate to call this “evolution,” because I’m not convinced each new epoch represents progress.

Currently, Postmodernism appears to have succumbed to two mandates: Honor the Cult of the Original, and Be Collectible. To be Original, we must have never seen anything quite like it. To be Collectible, there must be enough recognizably similar material to support trading in the exalted mercantile galleries of the world. All the drivel written about what’s going on in art must take these two monstrous forces into account, or it’s little more than marketing hype. In fact, most of it is exactly marketing hype.

So Postmodernism has devolved somewhat, as it prepares to give way to the next epoch. No doubt some perceive this devolution to be the next epoch. My guess as to what follows is quite different, as outlined above, but being among the trees, I probably can’t see what is actually happening: only what I hope may gradually come to pass.

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