Sachs' 16th century inspired public
sculpture by Jurgen Weber in Nuremberg,
and Art: the
sideshow of distraction?
modernism and the myth of normal balance
clever underachiever who was ostracized at school and now has the
opportunity get back at society with unique visions of paradoxes and
emptiness through bazaar Art products that fascinate while claiming
high prices for their sales . . . Postmodernism provides golden
opportunities to defy the once seemingly ordered universe . .
. Postmodernism attacks the Atheist while dismissing religion;
but avoiding discussion on the matter of cultural / religious
sensibilities. Postmodernism creates from the God
Particle of nascent imagination in a seemingly uncontested void
through which nothing has ever gravitated . . . while knowing god is
a fiction and the particle a metaphor! Post Modernism defends
cultural and political positions antagonistic to dominant western
hegemony; while believing in none and feigning outrage when challenged.
for the post modern artist is that one doesn't get trapped into the
dogma and mind-set of particular religious and belief systems with
their sacred books. The downside of Postmodern approaches is that
everything is suspect; so the artist acknowledges his/her own
cynicism and creates works that carefully avoid any universal
suggestion while being filled with irony. Even the nature of Art
itself is seen as an ironic interplay with only a specific life and
time context; or even a joke on the artist / audience relationship! A
cultivated attitude of cool . . . or coolness!
Art cannot exist in a postmodern world; it must implode into
decoration and cluttering noise or "public Art" further
emphasizing the discordant nature of human inhabitation on a
romanticized planet. It cannot be anything more than a sideshow with
an in-built fear and skepticism about its very existence and reason
for being. So without the possibility to thrill or shock or create
awe, it has no value; yet huge sums are paid for conceptual Art with
no actual crafted substance at all. Consider the huge success of Damien
Hirst an artist who's wealth is now valued at over a billion dollars.
postmodernism cannot be seen as solely an artistic phenomena when its
real and more wide ranging effect is in public administration,
politics and social organization and discourse.
exalts the statistician because there is no supposed subjectivity in
statistical unchallenged conclusions. The political policy maker,
being the client of the statistician, feels confident of decisions
made on facts, evidence and not intuition, ideology and supposition.
The postmodern rejection of ideology, artistic insight and even the
possibility of any freedom of thought makes decision making a
managerial and technocratic problem solvable with constant
application of solutions based on statistical evidence. What might
have appeared as the artists friend and ally, has become its source
of destruction and relegation to the sideshow of human and cultural discourse.
is a giant chasing of one's tail; the great social entity of the
state is a dog chasing its tail as it wags evidence causing a
reaction. The more it reacts, the more exhausted it becomes and the
more it seeks ways to adjust to the wagging tail. But the analogy
with the dog isn't quite accurate as the policy maker actually
constructs the dog and then keeps trying to alter it's strange
behaviours. Not only is reality constructed within tightly
constrained parameters but so too is knowledge managed by statistical
realities that dominate the knowledge managers. Ironically, knowledge
itself is suspect! The problem for management of anything in a
postmodern framework is about containing and restraining those with
real knowledge and skills within a particular area. It is about
semantic games to quell and keep in place the potential of
knowledgeable people to subvert the system.
education system is a good example of this dog. In Australia, the
distrust of those with specific knowledge (ie. the teachers) is so
great that an elaborate statistical distancing is used to dismantle
judgements based on individual's knowledge within a given domain.
This is done under the auspices of the community need for
"fairness" and "accountability". The knowledge
managers rely on statistical circles within circles to produce
approximations of results based on statistical likelihoods rather
than teacher judgements. These likelihoods are based on the notion of
cohort ecosystems where a statistical balance is imagined to exist.
The worth of the ecosystem is constructed via some moderating tests
with scores to be standardized. Once established, all subsequent
scores achieved by the average of the cohort must be scaled to the
is that a balanced and static universe of statistically valid data
can give a more accurate indication of students' value in relation to
other students than any teacher can attempt. The problem is that if a
cohort increases or decreases its net statistical value it will still
be scaled back to the initial determination. The statistics are not
used to suit reality and define it; rather reality is manipulated to
simulate and confirm statistical constructions of reality.
doesn't even consider the question of WHY it is so important to find
statistical and numerical representations of student work in the
first place? Why? Why, apart from the need to quantify and commodify
student comparative abilities! Even if such comparison is useless!
The teacher meanwhile is caught between statistical determinations
and having to actually converse with and engage with real students.
Because of the clouding of a direct interface between the two, the
result is a strange ennui and alienation that leads to a potential
disintegration of the very nature of teaching and learning into
irrelevance. All knowledge gradually being subsumed by corporate
culture for specific measurable outcomes that bear little resemblance
to the real values and needs of individuals and communities.
is not unique to education. The reductionist concept of reducing all
human action, emotion and dynamism to statistical data and thus to
manageable machine-like operations is part of a wider conceptual
paradigm that has dominated Western thinking for the past forty
years. We see it thriving in the political domain with policy framed
by focus groups and polling to establish the construction of
political reality. Political reality is one where the politician
attempts to be at one with the constituent by learning details of
that constituent and then framing all communication in terms of
statistically gathered concerns and semantics.
artist, writer or creator of anything caught in this process of
constant abstraction and reductionism, the difficulty is going to be
in breaking through the boxes so neatly being ticked to ensure
compliance. These are the reductionist boxes that attempt to order
and control perception. Reliance on any form of state or corporate
funding for artistic endeavour runs the risk of succumbing to the
self censoring and constraining effort that accompanies the resultant
ironic that state agencies tend to fund "post modern Art"
alongside traditional multi-cultural offerings. Both provide safe
options politically and culturally. Postmodern artistic operation and
aspiration runs comfortably with big business, big money and
government bureaucracy. It ticks the right boxes for innovation,
partnerships, equity and various other domains that appeal to
bureaucracies, business and government. The true postmodern artist is
actually more comfortable around big money and power than with
"alternative" arts scenes and presentation . . .
"Cool" is an important ingredient.
really wants to be a hungry Kafka, crazy Artaud, dead van Gogh or
that delusional writer or musician who just won't stop in spite of
everything going against them? Cormac McCarthy must have been crazy
to keep writing for next to nothing until he was an old man when he
finally found success. Nothing very postmodern there! Steven Berkoff
achieved great artistic success and acclaim in the theatre yet he was
constantly savagely attacked by postmodernist critics attacking his
personality as much as his artistic achievements. More than this,
postmodernism abstracts all discourse into semantics and statistics.
were no other role for Art and theatre in the twenty-first century it
would be to expand human vision from the hemmed-in tightly controlled
and limiting ways of viewing the world and experience that are the
unexpected bi-products of post-modernism. Rather than expanding the
possibilities for new vision that resulted from the loosening the
grip of medieval religious dogmas through the advent of the
"Enlightenment", postmodernism has had the opposite effect.
with technology, postmodernism has partially eradicated aspects of
language as a process of carriage for ambiguity, mystery and
discovery. By being so overly concerned with avoiding cultural bias,
practitioners from within a postmodern arena have bled so much of
communication from its richness while claiming to defend cultural
differences as cultural equality. In theatre, the Absurdist approach
can be a useful tool for cutting across the boxes; while still
working from a post-postmodern attitude. Artaud's "shock
treatment" as articulated in his Theatre
Of Cruelty writings is still a valid tool for such working. The
possibilities for live performance are still open . . . it is more
than possible that to be effective, artistic endeavour may need to
become illegal and outside any sanctioned and ticked box. Or, as in
the case of Charlie
Brooker's "Black Mirror", create narratives
that push the abstraction, reductionism and dehumanizing effects to
their extremes so as to reveal and make evident those forces that are
essentially invisible yet so prevalent in what constructs our reality.
relationship between Art, theatre and culture is such that while it
can be suffocated by the overly cerebral processes and mindplay
associated with postmodernism, it can have a direct bearing on
cultural development. Unfortunately, it needs the courage of
illegality on many levels. Have a look at this video from Iran and
read the comments that follow on the Your Tube page (click the
YouTube icon to view on YouTube):
that the young Iranians are dancing to Israeli trance music . . . in
a situation where dancing and cultural participation could cost your life!
modernism's flirtation with the notion of human beings and indeed all
the facets of the earth and the universe are in fact machines and so
act like machines makes interesting viewing in Adam Curtis's
documentary "All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace Part
2. Access here:
covers territory that is complimentary to Brooker's fictional work.
Curtis shows how viewing human beings as machines has embraced the
fatalistic theories of determinist selfish
gene theories which take out the intervention of human will from
explanations and possibilities of human progress.
In light of
this, artistic endeavour can only be seen as a frill on the edge of
societies without any credibility in the area of enlightening or
revealing anything of substance about ourselves; a trivial exercise
in the education and cultural spectrum. It might appear to occupy the
same ground as religion;
regarded as practices in primitive expression and even as
superstitious and irrelevant clutter! In the world being cautioned by
Brooker and the world of thought to which Curtis is alerting, human
decision making and judgement is hardly relevant. The politician and
the educator are reliant on the computer to make the ultimate
decisions regarding what it is to be human.
Trinculo a postmodern
dead angel pontificating
postmodernism rose on the debunking of all dogmas new forms of
explanation for existence have risen. Human judgements needed
removing from all power bases in relation to decision making. No
philosophy, world view, religious thinking or culture is any better
or worse than any other. Questions of beauty or the 'good' are
culturally bound questions with no valid answers. Critical thinking
means analytical and reductionist thinking that reduces concepts to
core non-value based elements. Any Art that is valued must be judged
within its own terms or must be unashamedly narcissistic. This
naturally makes it dangerous for anyone to promote an idea or a
position on ethical questions. At the same time, it becomes difficult
to express views on anything relating to the position of others. So
language itself begins a process of implosion.
Theatre struggle in order to prove how far they have adopted the
postmodern agenda. Each struggles with the corpse of the other to
redefine itself and awaken lost spirits; though neither have realized
their own death. As Academics control the flow of dramaturgy and
institutions adopt the curriculums of bureaucrats and focus groups
and the corporate world is the sole judge of success, Art and Theatre
play out their horror in sequences of controlled reality, Art prizes,
visual slight of hand amid an atmosphere of callous disregard.
It is no
wonder some artists and arts advocates look back to a time more than
thirty years ago when the arts seemed to have a priority of place in
cultural esteem. Where once there was a correlation between healthy
communities and societies and the quality of their Theatre and Art
and the health of the nation, such focus on healthy communities has
transferred to the medical sedation through interventions of drugs,
laws on safety, community health programs of promotion, mental health
empires, drug companies involvement with education . . . Certainly it
isn't the core focus of community! Postmodernism has deconstructed
the arts to such an extent that the short lived prominence of thirty
years ago is being consigned back to the sideshow where it previously
played. All this as the architecture of arts buildings has continued
Art and Theatre with perhaps something that looks like it, acts like
it and defines itself as artistic . . . but is more its double.
Action is needed if Artists still feel the need to create Art that
has meaning and need within society. Look at the dancers from Iran in
the video above. Look at the comments on the You Tube page. And
whenever the test tube is presented for you to jump in ... RESIST!
the "soldiers" in Charlie Chaplin's great final speech in The
Great Dicatator, one may implore the artists and theatre
practitioners to stop being daunted by the Machine; move away from
being ticks in a "partnership" with those who derive
pleasure from performing monkies at the behest of insensitive and
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