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ARTH209: 20th Century Art

Unit 11: Postmodernism   Postmodernism is a notoriously slippery term and numerous art historians and critics have defined it in slightly different ways. Most would agree, however, that postmodernist works either revise or critique the values associated with modernism. These modernist values include originality, authenticity of expression, individuality, purity, and the fine arts’ ability to transcend the material world. Many postmodernist artists instead privilege the idea of the copy over the original; they argue that all expression is culturally determined rather than a matter of individual creativity; and they reject the hierarchy that places the fine arts above all other forms of human production.

The readings in subunit 11.1 will help you gain a better understanding of postmodernism in general. Subunit 11.2 examines the works and ideas of several major postmodernist artists. As you work through this material, note the various strategies that each artist uses and think about what makes these works postmodernist. What do these works convey about originality or the possibility of individual expression? What do they suggest about the relationship between high art and popular, consumer culture? 

Unit 11 Time Advisory
Completing this unit should take approximately 3 hours.

☐    Subunit 11.1: 0.5 hours

☐    Subunit 11.2: 2.5 hours

Unit11 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, you will be able to: - identify and discuss the values associated with modernism and postmodernism; - identify and discuss the postmodernist elements in the works of specific artists; - demonstrate knowledge of the individual artists’ contributions to the development of postmodernism; - explain the difference between “constructive” and “deconstructive” postmodernist approaches; and - explain why individual postmodernist artists appropriated elements from past art or popular culture in their works.

11.1 What Is Postmodernism?   - Reading: The ArtStory: “Modern Art Theory—Postmodernism” Link: The ArtStory: “Modern Art Theory—Postmodernism” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read this essay that briefly defines postmodernism, identifies the “destructive” or “constructive” approach to modernism that postmodernist works may take, and introduces some of postmodernism’s major theorists.
 
Reading this material should take approximately 15 minutes.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Reading: Smithsonian Magazine: Megan Gambino’s “Ask an Expert: What Is the Difference between Modern and Postmodern Art?” Link: Smithsonian Magazine: Megan Gambino’s “Ask an Expert: What Is the Difference between Modern and Postmodern Art?” (HTML)

    Instructions: Read this article. Megan Gambino and Melissa Ho discuss the differences between modern and postmodern art and refer to specific works to explain their points.
    Please pay particular attention to the values associated with each type of art.
     
    Reading this article should take approximately 15 minutes.
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

11.2 Appropriation and the Pictures Generation   - Reading: The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: Douglas Eklund’s “The Pictures Generation” Link: The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: Douglas Eklund’s “The Pictures Generation” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read this essay, and then click on the images at the top of the page and read brief descriptions of each of the works. Pay particular attention to the relationship that each work has to contemporary culture as well as to traditional ideas about artistic originality.
 
Reading this material should take approximately 1 hour.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Reading: WYNC: “Sherrie Levine’s ‘Mayhem’: A Retrospective of The Original Fake at The Whitney” Link: WYNC: “Sherrie Levine’s ‘Mayhem’: A Retrospective of The Original Fake at The Whitney” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Read this article. It presents an overview of Levine’s working method and has good illustrations of several of her works. As you read, think about how Levine’s works critique traditional notions of authorship and originality.
     
    Reading this material should take approximately 15 minutes.
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Reading: AfterSherrieLevine.com: “The Anxiety of Influence—Head On: A Conversation between Sherrie Levine and Jeanne Siegel” Link: AfterSherrieLevine.com: “The Anxiety of Influence—Head On: A Conversation between Sherrie Levine and Jeanne Siegel” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Read this essay to learn more about Sherrie Levine’s ideas and working methods.
     
    Reading this material should take approximately 30 minutes.
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Reading: Hirshhorn Museum: “Directions: Cindy Sherman: Film Stills” Link: Hirshhorn Museum: “Directions: Cindy Sherman: Film Stills” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Click on the link “Cindy Sherman: Film Stills Brochure (PDF)” from the menu on the right side of the page to read about this artist’s work and to see images. Consider the ways in which Sherman’s photographs make us question traditional notions of identity and femininity.
     
    Reading this material should take approximately 15 minutes.
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Reading: UbuWeb: “The Death of the Author/Roland Barthes” Link: UbuWeb: “The Death of the Author/Roland Barthes” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Click on the first link on the page, “The Death of the Author/Roland Barthes,” and read this essay. This is a challenging essay, written in 1967 by one of the most influential theorists of the 20th century. Take your time and take notes. Barthes was a French semiologist, that is, he studied signs, symbols, and systems of representation, such as language, literature, and the visual arts. In this essay, Barthes claimed that traditional criticism mistakenly viewed the author or producer of a work of art as the creator of the work’s meanings. Critics, he said, looked to the biography and personality of the author in order to explain the text or to find clues to its meanings. Instead, Bathes privileged the reader as the ultimate interpreter and definer of meaning. Furthermore, Barthes suggested that there is no such thing as true originality, as each individual is simply a product of his or her language and culture. Although this essay focuses on literary works of art, his ideas were very influential on many visual artists and critics.
     
    Reading this essay should take approximately 45 minutes.
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Assessment: The Saylor Foundation’s “ARTH209 Unit 11 Quiz” Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “ARTH209 Unit 11 Quiz” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Complete this assessment to gauge your understanding of the topics covered in this unit. The correct answers will be displayed when you click the “Submit” button.

    Completing the quiz and reviewing, if necessary, should take approximately 30 minutes.