Learning from the Arts: Life After
The area in which postmodern thought arguably has had most impact is in the arts, which has led the way in calling into question the grand narratives associated with modernity – such as that of modernism. Modernism is a varied phenomenon (most commentators now speak of ‘modernisms’ instead, stressing its diversity),1 but whatever form it took tended to include a commitment to originality and experimentation – in effect, to the notion of progress. The past was to be treated as largely irrelevant: the goal for the modernist artist instead was continually to develop original forms and styles. In this respect modernism was also intensely competitive: as Peter Gay has put it in his large- scale survey of the movement, ‘perhaps half the joy of making a radical picture or house or symphony must have derived from the creator’s satisfaction to have bested the opposition’.2 That is a trait central to modernity, especially in terms of its commercial aspect, where besting the opposition is the route to the holy grail of increased market share.
Postmodernism has offered a sustained challenge to this mindset, through, for example, Charles Jencks’s concept of doublecoding, an idea that has been widely adopted by postmodern artists. It has become common practice in literature, painting, music, etc., to cultivate eclecticism, making use of elements from both the past and the present in order to challenge the norms of modernity.