The 20th century was conditioned by Modernism. All aspects of culture and society seemed to get caught in a current of ideology; to purify any cultural output in a pursuit to understand something fundamental to existence.
Scientists had been demonstrating the exciting potential of using our logic and our senses to satisfy that yearning to really know things. They developed complex equations and invented machines; things we could learn to use; empirical things that demonstrated our progression; things we would want to own for ourselves. Ultimate Truth didn’t necessarily come from god anymore.
This kind of materialism was also reflected in painting. Various groups of artists each adopted a different 'ism', but all with the same ideal to redefine painting, no longer as representation, but the substance, paint, instinctively applied to a surface. Gaugin's questions: 'Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?' were relentless.
This approach to art exposes an unsettling relationship between the progressive abstraction of art and the purist pursuit of the Nazi Party. The irony and pastiche of Postmodern sensationalism has to be a symptom of the resulting confusion and existentialism. Postmodern art is honest not heroic. It is evidence. It's the closest we can get to history. It is the most promising clue to understanding ourselves, each other, and the repercussions of what we've done and what we are doing to our world. Art is our language and we need it.
Gradually, throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s the questions became more insular.
That interrogation of material reality seemed to backfire, sponsoring the materialism of the artistic elite. A wave of pretension emerged that Pop Artists despised, giving way to Postmodernism. New artists looked at society as a whole, everything we buy in to, and, given the veneration of celebrities and other commodities, they were doubtful that humans had the capacity to know the answers to such intense philosophical inquiries. But did it matter? Was that even what art is about? Shouldn't we first question ourselves? Andy Warhol forced us to look at the vacuous tat that mass consumer society so admired.
The Modernist search for these universal answers had managed to alienate people, and we're still feeling the inevitable repercussions. 'Art is beyond me. I don't belong in a gallery.' Postmodernists have suffered plenty of criticism, but to me they sought to refamiliarise society with culture. They turned the question from 'what are these things that populate the earth?' to 'where do I fit within all these things? How do I relate to society? What kind of person am I? What is the nature of my identity, my gender, my nationality if it can't be defined by it's fundamental essence?' The pursuit of universalism became a celebration of individuality.
Although this new movement was defined largely by pessimism and its doubt of the human capacity to know, I think it did wonders for empowerment of the underclasses and spreading the word of art. Art became this mode of communication; a chance to make proclamations about who we think we are, based on how we experience the world. And the artists weren't too proud to crack a joke or two either.
Probably the biggest advocate of this kind of artistic outlook was Charles Saatchi, but his 1997 exhibition 'Sensation' managed to piss a lot of people off. It was made up of images that we weren't supposed to admit we wanted to see. Pornography, murderers, blood, dismembered limbs, now all under a new classification: Art. Some people were disgusted that art would condone such interest, other people saw it as necessarily human. Many of the folk we lost to abstraction did not feel inclined to resume faith in art.
Now we seem to be at a point where we want to believe in something again. This relatively new term ‘Metamodernism’ takes a step back from the provocative performativity of Postmodernism and the impossibility of that Modernist utopia. It treats individualism as the constant oscillation between constructing and deconstructing our identities, and intensifies the value of experience in that formation. As our understanding of ourselves constantly fluctuates, it recognises that to make any valuable meaning we must focus on the present. We must be sincere and we must be willing to share. We must have always hope.