"The heyday of postmodernism in art was the 1980s and 90s. Modernism had become stale by the 1970s, and I suggest that postmodernism has reached a similar dead-end, a What next? stage. Postmodern art was a game that played out within a narrow range of assumptions, and we are weary of the same old, same old, with only minor variations. The gross-outs have become mechanical and repetitive, and they no longer gross us out.
So, what next?"
For a long time critics of modern and postmodern art have relied on the "Isn't that disgusting" strategy. By that I mean the strategy of pointing out that given works of art are ugly, trivial, or in bad taste, that "a five-year-old could have made them," and so on. And they have mostly left it at that. The points have often been true, but they have also been tiresome and unconvincing--and the art world has been entirely unmoved. Of course, the major works of the twentieth-century art world are ugly. Of course, many are offensive. Of course, a five-year old could in many cases have made an indistinguishable product. Those points are not arguable--and they are entirely beside the main question. The important question is: Why has the art world of the twentieth-century adopted the ugly and the offensive? Why has it poured its creative energies and cleverness into the trivial and the self-proclaimedly meaningless?
It is easy to point out the psychologically disturbed or cynical players who learn to manipulate the system to get their fifteen minutes or a nice big check from a foundation, or the hangers-on who play the game in order to get invited to the right parties. But every human field of endeavor has its hangers-on, its disturbed and cynical members, and they are never the ones who drive the scene. The question is: Why did cynicism and ugliness come to be the game you had to play to make it in the world of art?
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