Postmodernism and Movements

So! I got to thinking about art movements and realised that I wasn’t sure whether there were any contemporary movements apart from the Stuckists at the moment. Mostly I would define a movement as a group of artists consciously working together at a particular point in time or at least all adhering to a particular unifying aesthetic/theoretical concept.

Postmodernism would most likely say that movements are no longer possible, or at least no longer truly discernible – if the world has lost faith in all its metanarratives then striving towards an artistic truth is a bit pointless – however, since I quite enjoy a little rebellion against the art theory behemoth of postmodernism I decided to conduct my own not-hugely-academic investigation of current art movements. Hurrah!

The first that sprang to my mind (as mentioned earlier) was the Stuckists who have a manifesto and everything. The name came out of an argument between Tracy Emin and Billy Childish – the former told the latter his art was ‘stuck’ – and the group of ‘Stuckists’ who emerged are pretty much characterised by their vocal opposition of stuff Charles Saatchi might like (not sure if this includes Nigella) and enthusiastic promotion of figurative over conceptual art. They also are unsurprisingly not keen on postmodernism either. (My own opinion of the Stuckists is that they spend an awful lot of time taking lazy potshots at bad art and sniping rather than furthering their own agenda by producing amazing figurative art. Being so blinkered as to assume all conceptual art is bad because you think Charles Saatchi is a knob is EQUALLY as stupid as paying hundreds of thousands for something with a YBA nametag.)

After that I got stuck (no pun intended) and consulted Wikipedia. The results were rather weak:

Massurrealism – a mash up of mass media and surealism – although James Seehafer who is credited with coming up with the name states categorically “I don’t think I should be credited with starting a new art movement”.

Street Art – the only unifying characteristics are that it takes place outside the gallery space and to a greater or lesser degree looks for social relevance. It’s more of a genre.

Digital/electronic/net art. Not specific enough to be a movement – it’s actually a choice of platform and what one actually creates using that platform varies wildly.

There are others but the same problem comes up again and again. They’re simply not cohesive or directed enough to form what I would call a movement. The closest of thos listed is possibly BioArt (which uses biotechnology to create artworks and raises all kinds of moral, ethical, and aesthetic dilemmas) but I would argue that BioArt is only even being referred to as a movement due to the relative lack of available technologies and legal, moral and ethical decisions. It doesn’t appear to take into account the hugely diverse output (theoretical and physical), plus none of the list of artists linked to the ‘movement’ self define as BioArtists. Again, I would say BioArt is a genre.

All this has led me round the houses and back to postmodernism. It seems to be that the only current movement in art which can be defined as a ‘Movement’ is the only one which explicitly rejects postmodernism. It seems quaint to have a manifesto now and naive – even infantile – to make sweeping generalisations like “Artists who don’t paint aren’t artists”.

To be a part of a movement is to have belief in a metanarrative – some totalising schema which informs the resulting artwork. Since at its core postmodernism rejects this (Lyotard states as much in his work La condition postmoderne: “Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity towards metanarratives”) and since the artworld is mired in postmodern comment and critique I would argue that movements – certainly as we know them – may be on their way out.

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