• Bryan Warner

Style as Mullet: How Modernism and Post-Modernism have influenced the art that I make.

Business in the front, party in the back. The mullet as a hairstyle seems to have many different takes. It has been glorified ironically by hipsters at different points in my life and has been paraded earnestly by various eras and or cultures/regions. The mullet seems strange to me. Perhaps because it attempts to hold on to the luxury of long hair without the inconvenience of having hair in one’s eyes. One can bask in the glory of windswept locks, and still make a great meatloaf without contaminating it with random strands of hair.

I feel the strangeness of the mullet connects to my own artistic influences. I have a strong connection to artists characterized as Post-Modern like Duchamp, Bruce Nauman, Lisa Yuskavage, Philip Guston, and Luc Tuymans. However, I am also drawn to Modern artists like Manet, Cezanne, Paul Klee, Picasso, and de Kooning.

A recent conversation about my art sparked the question: how do I reconcile these Modernist influences with a Post-Modern view of art/world? I wasn’t sure how to answer that question. I think because it never occurred to me that they shouldn’t be combined. I don’t necessarily feel as though I am adopting a world view for either. I think of both movements and philosophies as material to manipulate when creating art.

First I guess we should look into defining the terms:

Modernism is both a philosophical movement and an art movement that arose from broad transformations in Western society during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The movement reflected a desire for the creation of new forms of art, philosophy, and social organization which reflected the newly emerging industrial world, including features such as urbanization, new technologies, and war. Artists attempted to depart from traditional forms of art, which they considered outdated or obsolete. The poet Ezra Pound's 1934 injunction to "Make it New" was the touchstone of the movement's approach.

Modernist innovations included abstract art, the stream-of consciousness novel, montage cinema, atonal and twelve-tone music, and divisionist painting. Modernism explicitly rejected the ideology of realism[a][2][3] and made use of the works of the past by the employment of reprise, incorporation, rewriting, recapitulation, revision and parody.[b][c][4] Modernism also rejected the certainty of Enlightenment thinking, and many modernists also rejected religious belief.[5][d] A notable characteristic of modernism is self-consciousness concerning artistic and social traditions, which often led to experimentation with form, along with the use of techniques that drew attention to the processes and materials used in creating works of art.[7] (Wikipedia)

To apply this definition of Modernism to painting, there was an interest in finding new forms and celebrating stylistic individuality/originality, along with a desire to make the process of painting more obvious to the viewer. A painting should look like a painting. I also feel as though with Modernism there is a sense of belief in the possibility of progress or the inherent value of an artistic project. When Picasso or Klee began making art that mimicked the art of children, I believe they were doing this because they felt that they were making their art more expressively pure.

Postmodernism is an intellectual stance or mode of discourse[1][2] defined by an attitude of skepticism toward what it describes as the grand narratives and ideologies of modernism, as well as opposition to epistemic certainty and the stability of meaning.[3] [4] Claims to objective fact are dismissed as naive realism.[4][5] It is characterized by irony, eclecticism, and rejection of the "universal validity" of binary oppositions, stable identity, hierarchy, and categorization.[6][7] Postmodernism relies on critical theory, which considers the effects of ideology, society, and history on culture.[8]

Various authors have criticized postmodernism as being meaningless, as abandoning Enlightenment rationalism and scientific rigor, as promoting obscurantism, and as adding nothing to analytical or empirical knowledge.[9][10][11][12].[13][14] Those who employ postmodernist discourse are prey to a performative contradiction and a paradox of self-reference, as their critique would be impossible without the concepts and methods that modern reason provides.[3][15]

Postmodernism developed in the mid- to late-twentieth century across philosophy, the arts, architecture, and criticism as a rejection of modernism[16] [17][18][19] and was then extended to other disciplines, including political science,[20] organization theory,[21] cultural studies, philosophy of science, economics, linguistics, architecture, feminist theory, and literary criticism, as well as art movements in fields such as literature and music. Postmodernism is associated with deconstructionism and post-structuralism[4] and is characterized by tendencies to self-referentiality, epistemological and moral relativism, pluralism, and irreverence.[4] “(Wikipedia)

Defining Post-Modernism is a challenge, which would explain the awkwardness of Wikipedia’s attempts to summarize the movement. Part of the problem is that Post-Modernism isn’t necessarily a style that rejects another style, but rather it is a philosophy or world view that is rejecting or critiquing a timeline that holds many styles and movements. This ambiguity of this definition is perhaps like discussions of what is un-American.

I will take on a fools’ errand and attempt to define Post-Modern art. I see it as having an inherent skepticism. Skepticism towards originality, there’s often an interest in how language impacts art, collage or a collage aesthetic happens a lot. I see Post-Modernism not so much as a rejection of Modernism, but rather a belief that Modernism has failed. Post-Modernism is what artists do when we realize that Modernism’s promises never delivered. What does art look like when our leaders, authors, artists, and art historians are fallible and human? What does art look like when people have been raised by televisions or the internet?

How does all this relate to my artwork? I am greatly influenced by Marcel Duchamp. I find my inspiration through collecting imagery, objects, and the art of other artists. My painting is inspired by found imagery and collage. However, I rely on the history of painting, especially Modernist painting in the Clement Greenberg vein to drive the work. I often think of Hans Hoffman’s theories when working. To illustrate just how messed up my brain is let me tell you a story about how I came to love Marcel Duchamp. I was delighted to see his “Fountain” in art history class, and I loved the irreverence and humor of it. But his more labored work is what has kept him in my mind. “The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even,” “Etant Donnes,” and “Why not sneeze Rose Selavy?”

I didn’t really dive into these works until I saw an interview of Clement Greenberg talking about Duchamp and trying to dismiss him as an artist. He was talking about “Why not Sneeze…” and explaining the cynicism of Duchamp using marble to make the little sugar cubes in the cage. The idea of using a classical material to hand carve something disposable and manufactured. To Greenberg this was a minor artistic gesture, but for me it opened a whole new way of thinking about art. How strange for the Modernist gatekeeper to provide me with a doorway to the Post-Modern. My mind is a strange place though.

If you’re still reading this thank you, and wow! You’re probably wondering about the mullet. So which art movement is the business, and which is the party? Maybe the Modernist side is all business with its love of distinct categories and styles, and adherence to the Modernist grid. If that were true, the playfulness and decentered skepticism of Post-Modernism would be the party. But what if Post-Modernism is the business with its love of research based practices and critical theory. Warhol’s factory seems like a poster child of a Post-Modern corporate chic. Does that mean the real party is happening in the Modernist’s studio? The artist reveling in their material-based explorations, Pollock’s splatters, Klee’s playful lines going for infinite walks? Or perhaps the transition from party to business is not so clear cut. (Sorry!) We often refer to the spectrum to explain very complex phenomena like visible colors, Autism, human emotions, etc. What if the transition from Modernism to Post-Modernism is equally subtle like the movement of hair shifting from short to long after a visit to the salon? A world where Ad Reinhart was making political cartoons along side his rather stoic abstractions, or a world where Duchamp was selling the work of Brancusi to support his life of art and chess without having to work a day job. This is the world of art that I want to exist in. Sounds like a great party, but perhaps I should mind my business.

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