|"Ship of Fools" by Carl Dobsky|
A life of only questioning doesn't allow for the building and passing on of knowledge. Given the brevity of life, we don't have time to re-invent the wheel every single time. How would we build a chariot, a wagon, a car? It was arguably necessary to question the cultural assumptions of the aristocratic 19th century: slavery, gender prejudice, colonialism... but there were necessary values which were also thrown into the rubbish pile such as beauty, truth, skill, and a belief that humanity can better itself, that we can transcend our greed. And early modernism began in this vein, but after the atrocities of two world wars, many of the culturally influential in academia and the art world lost faith in our better selves, precipitating the relativism of Post Modernism to the market driven Contemporary Art.
In a nutshell, Contemporary Art is chiefly concerned with questioning, Post Contemporary proposes answers. Art historians define “Contemporary Art” differently than the dictionary. In art historical terms, “Modern Art" and “Contemporary Art" do not mean “art made now”.
Modern art is largely abstract art made in the first half of the 20th century. Likewise, “Contemporary art” is art made in the latter half of the 20th century and is characterized by Post Modern ideas - that is, it emphasizes the transient and often superficial issues of the present moment. Both emphasize a critique of the Classical fine art tradition and classical values such as quality, beauty, and skill.
Post Contemporary philosophy proposes that the art experience is universal to humanity, and that this experience can inspire healing, and transformation. So, what distinguished Post Contemporary art from Contemporary realism? Being a painter myself, I'll focus my analysis on what I know best, that is: painting. I'll leave other art forms to those who have more expertise in their practice.
The first painting above "Ship of Fools" by Carl Dobsky, is an example of a Post Contemporary painting. The second, entitled "The Old Fence" by John Currin, is an example of a painting that lies more in the category of Post Modern figuration.
|"The Old Fence" by John Currin|
While he presents the folly of mankind's foolish pursuit of beauty and truth into treacherous waters, we can't help but see this gesture as somehow heroic. For this swarm of butterflies, cascading into the maritime nocturne is an unusual occurrence, perhaps the focus of a zoological investigation? The dramatic baroque light, the Boschian expressions of madness and passion, demand that the viewer inquire deeper than the initial impression of humor. Does this not reflect our own search, each of us, to capture the ephemeral, the rare? Pushing the limits of our understanding requires braving ever greater dangers. Though it may seem that the life of a painter cannot be compared to the intrepid explorer, the astronaut - there are unexpected dangers and sacrifice in the life of the artist, there are murky depths into which we sail, distant from the shores of the people we love, and there we can sometimes lose ourselves in our passion, in our madness.
While I sincerely enjoy Currin's painting, I find it very much locked into the perceived zeitgeist of the time in which it was created. Currin's figures, with their fleshy rendering somewhere between a Cranach and a cartoon are painted with a modicum of skill - yet they are suggestive of playfully grotesque fashion models of the late 90's. His use of classical painting techniques and a hint of grace and beauty might make this work Post Contemporary, save for the fact that their use is rather tongue in cheek, which you can read in the expressions of the figures, the discord between the murky face of the woman on the left and the rest of the painting, and by observing the rest of Currin's work. His use of the European Fine Art Tradition is ironic, he has assembled this construction only to shoot holes in it and bombast the frivolity of art. This work is meant to be read through a post modern, linguistic lens, the technique and the figures are signifiers of an outside context, rather than expressing their meaning through the visual language of painting, mark making, and composition itself - what Vincent Desiderio calls "The Technical Narrative".
|"Twilight in Arcadia" by Adam Miller|
(Below is a rough sketch of the Post Contemporary compass, I've put together, to illustrate that these labels aren't black and white, but rather a gray scale. Sometimes the same artist may produce different paintings that fall in the Contemporary and the Post Contemporary categories. You may disagree with the specific placement of each artist, or who I've included or omitted, but I encourage you to make your own if you like.)
|"The Cycle of Terror and Tragedy" by Graydon Parrish|
Artists still make modern art today. Artists will still make contemporary art tomorrow. But now there is a place for artists who make work that expresses coherent ideas through a visual language, rather than through a text. Questioning is valuable and will always be an integral part of what the artist is here to do. And I would argue, to the chagrin of some of my dear colleagues, that Duchamp's urinal, which inquired into the very definition of art itself, was an excellent line of inquiry. However, the same interrogation has been repeated for nearly a hundred years now, and questioning alone forces us into a feedback loop, which the Italian poet Primo Levi describes as "the unstoppable and cyclical rebirth of the 'modernist' rhetoric".
In the course of a day, most of us don't have much time to reflect upon the deeper reasons why we do what we do. We act and react to countless events, and relying upon our instincts is often the most expedient way of getting through the day. But there are times when what we're doing isn't yielding the results we desire. If the goal of art is to have a positive impact on culture, such is the state of the market driven Contemporary Art world. We have asked a century worth of questions... some productive, some not. We have questioned our assumptions and the very foundations of our reality. But what has not been embraced thus far in the art world, is the attempt to formulate new answers.
Now we have the opportunity to move forward, to blaze new territories, but in order to succeed, we must abandon the century old battle between the classical tradition and the contemporary art world... between the questions and the answers. Why not embrace what each of us do best and build a dialogue between the two worlds? We have learned the mysterious inner workings of the clock, now let us embark together to build a better one. Together we might learn to ask better questions, and perhaps we might find a few answers.
Post Contemporary is not owned or originated by any one individual. Though, I am to blame for introducing the term to the world of painting, I do not propose to be the founder. I am merely trying to describe what I see already developing around me. PoCo emphasizes empathy for all, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, or creed. PoCo is not a movement, but an aesthetic philosophy within which many movements may take place - like modernism and post-modernism before it. PoCo values are not only expressed through the work of painters, but also in sculpture, architecture, literature, and film.