, , , ,

Art Transformed: The Rise of Postmodernism

Within the elusive domain of postmodernism, originating in Latin America’s obscurity, the appellation “modernism” predates its anglophone adoption. Federico de Ons birthed “postmodernism” in 1930s Hispanic realms, antedating its English debut. Between 1968-1970, avant-garde luminaries dismantled artistic norms, heralding a paradigm shift celebrated for embracing chaos and fostering ceaseless reinvention.


min read


The term and conceptual construct denoted by “postmodernism” inherently presuppose a certain level of familiarity with its progenitor, the paradigm of “modernism.” It is incumbent upon us, however, to dispel the common misconception that these notions sprang forth from the intellectual crucible of Europe or the United States; rather, their embryonic genesis unfolded in the obscure and remote periphery of Latin America. A revelatory revelation presents itself when one discerns that the nomenclature “modernism” was first minted within this geographical locus to characterize an aesthetic movement. The distinguished Nicaraguan poet, Rubén Darío, bestowed this denomination upon a literary convocation transpiring in Peru during the epoch of 1890, elucidating its contours within the pages of a Guatemalan periodical. It is within the crucible of the 1890s that Darío’s unassuming endeavor to assert cultural autonomy from the looming specter of Spanish cultural hegemony, itself animated by the variegated currents of French romanticism, parnassianism, and symbolism, precipitated a veritable surge of emancipatory fervor across Hispanic literary enclaves.

It is an intriguing corollary that, notwithstanding the protracted interval requisite for the term “modernism” to permeate the anglophone lexicon, it had already woven itself into the fabric of Spanish-speaking intellectual circles a full generation antecedent. Analogously, the germination of the “postmodernism” conceptual framework transpired within the labyrinthine recesses of the 1930s Hispanic interworld, antedating its ascendancy in the intellectual vanguard of England and the United States. This appellation, “postmodernism,” was ascribed to its existential being by the venerable Federico de Ons, a luminous comrade of intellectual stalwarts such as Unamuno and Ortega. To him is imputed the coining of this nomenclature, encapsulating a conservative retreat nestled within the bosom of modernism itself. Confronted with the formidable crucible of lyrical expression, the luminaries of modernist artistic perspicacity sought refuge in the sanctuary of meticulous perfection and ironic humor, thereby engendering the emergence of this conservative aesthetic strain. An aspect of paramount import, emanating from this conservative predilection, resides in its pivotal role as a catalyst for the engenderment of novel conduits for the authentic expression of the feminine ethos.

Notwithstanding Federico de Ons’ seminal introduction of the “postmodern” stylistic lexicon to the realm of Spanish-language criticism, subsequent wielders of the pen, regrettably, seldom wielded the term with analogous precision. It was not until the lapse of approximately two decades that this term, like a linguistic butterfly emerging from its lexical cocoon, fluttered into the anglophone discourse, assuming a distinct modality and garb, transmuting from an aesthetic to a historical category. Arnold Toynbee, in the annals of 1954, made a passing reference to the epoch succeeding the Franco-Prussian War as the “post-modern era,” albeit bereft of the requisite specificity. Be that as it may, this era undeniably bore witness to two salient events of historical import: the ascendance of an industrial proletariat in the occidental domains, and the collective exertions of successive intelligentsias across the global tapestry, laboring assiduously to decipher the intricate convolutions of modernity and harness them as a countervailing force against the Occidental hegemon.

Subsequently, within the temporal confines of 1968 to 1970, a constellation of cerebral luminaries, including Robert Morris, Robert Smithson, Michael Heizer, Richard Serra, Walter DeMaria, Robert Irwin, Sol LeWitt, and Bruce Nauman, partook in a fecund artistic milieu that transcended the delimited contours of modernism within the territorial confines of the United States. The hitherto sacrosanct logical demarcations circumscribing the artistic expanse fell into obsolescence, and the cultural terrain underwent a seismic metamorphosis of profound resonance. In order to adequately encapsulate the burgeoning paradigms inundating the art world and to distill the essence of this historical rupture, an imperative requisite emerged—the coinage of a neoteric term: postmodernism. Given its established currency in sundry precincts of critical discourse, it seemed almost providential to deploy this term within the artistic sphere.

The juncture encapsulated between 1968 and 1970 constitutes a fulcrum of transformative significance, during which the erstwhile immutable boundaries circumscribing artistic expression were forcibly sundered. In their zealous pursuit of novelty and innovative modes of engagement with the world, artists embarked upon a concerted endeavor to impugn the orthodoxies and conventions that had hitherto bedrocked modernism. Collaborative initiatives and interdisciplinary approaches supplanted the archetypal paradigm of the artist as a solitary genius, consigning it to the annals of artistic antiquity. Ergo, the very concept of art itself underwent a paradigmatic shift, transmogrifying its emphasis from the corporeal artifact to the substratal concept, thereby assuming a more ephemeral and process-centric character. The renunciation of the modernist scaffold necessitated the ontogeny of a novel nomenclature, endowed with the capacity to encapsulate the labyrinthine complexity and kaleidoscopic diversity of the unfolding artistic praxes.

The term “postmodernism,” in its semiotic manifestation, heralded a departure from the linear progression cherished by modernism, serving as a clarion call for a novel ontological perspective. It espoused a cognizance of the fragmented milieu of cultural manifestation and extolled the proliferation of disparate voices and perspectives that burgeoned during this epoch. In lieu of grandiloquent narratives and universal verities, the artists of this era proffered an advocacy for subjective construals and a steadfast focus on individualized experiences. The very pillars of originality and authenticity found themselves thrust into the crucible of interrogation, as the ethos of appropriation, pastiche, and the deliberate effacement of demarcations between high and low culture pervaded the artistic consciousness.

The innate paradoxes permeating the fabric of the postmodernist movement elicit profound fascination as one contemplates this revolutionary epoch. On the one hand, it celebrated the dissolution of boundaries and the democratization of art by fomenting active audience participation. On the other hand, it grappled with an undertow of disillusionment, precipitated by the deconstruction of established norms, which, in turn, laid bare the lacunae of a cohesive framework. The dialectical interplay between freedom and uncertainty, this sylvan grove of antithetical forces, captivates my ruminative faculties most acutely, as it mirrors the intricate convolutions endemic to the human condition.

In my capacity as an artist navigating the undulating terrain of the postmodernist landscape, I find myself perpetually assailed by the imperative to reconcile the multitudinous influences and references that imbue our cultural milieu with a multifaceted tapestry of resonances. The postmodernist ethos beckons me to embrace intertextuality, to concurrently critique and reinterpret the hallowed precincts of the past. It liberates me from the constrictive shackles of definitive categorizations, affording me the latitude to explore ideas, materials, and mediums with an exuberant fluidity. As I embark upon the endeavor to carve out my own artistic identity amidst the vast ocean of possibilities, I am animated by both a palpable sense of excitement and a modicum of trepidation, ensconced within the dynamic and ever-mutating framework of this epoch.

The artisans of this era fervently embraced the precept of artistic autonomy, luxuriating in the prospect of exploring nascent avenues of expression and emancipating themselves from the strictures imposed by traditional modalities. A kaleidoscopic tapestry of conceptual frameworks and artistic forms burgeoned forth, intertwining sculpture, painting, performance art, installation, and conceptual art in a dynamic and multifaceted artistic tableau. The erstwhile rigid divisions demarcating these disciplines capitulated to a maelstrom of artistic cross-pollination, reconfiguring the very fabric of the artistic landscape.

One of the most exhilarating hallmarks of the postmodernist movement was its emphasis on the process, eclipsing the primacy traditionally accorded to the final product. Artists, with an almost reverential commitment, immersed themselves in the crucible of the creative process, espousing spontaneity, chance, and uncertainty as venerated touchstones. The endeavor to capture the quintessence of the artistic moment, venerating the ephemeral over the enduring material artifact, represented a palpable departure from the meticulous calculations and preconceived notions that characterized the mores of modernism, ushering in a rejuvenating and invigorating new paradigm.

Moreover, collaboration and communal enterprise assumed the role of central tenets within the rubric of postmodernist ideology. Through the engagement in dialogic interplay, the exchange of ideas, and the collective undertaking of artistic projects, artisans forged meaningful bonds of interconnectedness. This communal ethos engendered a fertile environment for the germination of creativity, nurtured by reciprocal encouragement and mutual inspiration. It was an era animated by a collective energy and a shared sense of purpose, wherein artisans drew sustenance from the nexus of their shared unity.

Furthermore, the postmodernist movement embraced an irreverent and ludic spirit, infusing their creations with a potent admixture of humor, irony, and wit. In so doing, these artists effervescently repudiated the longstanding gravitas and austerity that had, for eons, cloaked the precincts of the art world. They assailed the legitimacy of entrenched institutions and interrogated conventional pieties associated with high culture. This injection of vitality and vivacity, akin to a gust of bracing wind, breathed new life into the discourse of artistic endeavor.

In my vocation as an artist ensconced within the capacious bosom of this postmodernist milieu, I am invigorated by the boundless vista of opportunities that unfurl before me. The very notion of artistic identity metamorphoses into a pliable and mutable entity, permitting ceaseless reinvention and interrogation. I am endowed with the prerogative to glean inspiration from a boundless array of sources, to embrace the hybridity of influences, and to traverse a rich tapestry woven with cultural allusions.

Yet, amidst the effulgence of enthusiasm and ardor, I remain acutely cognizant of the profound existential queries summoned forth by the postmodernist movement. The dissolution of boundaries and the obliteration of entrenched norms, whilst liberating, can, at times, consign us to an aqueous expanse of fragmentation and uncertainty. We are compelled to confront the stark verity of the absence of absolute truths and grand narratives, entangled within the intricate skein of the contemporary world’s manifold complexities.

However, it is precisely within this crucible of tension that the authentic beauty of postmodernism resides. It is an artistic movement that exalts in the dialectical interplay between chaos and order, as well as certainty and uncertainty. It beckons us to question, challenge, and embrace the ceaselessly undulating nature of art and culture.

Between the temporal coordinates of 1968 and 1970, the artistic cosmos bore witness to a profound epochal transition. The luminaries of that era, with their indomitable zeal and insatiable thirst for novelty, propelled the cultural landscape into uncharted realms. Defying the shackles of modernism under the imprimatur of postmodernism, they heralded a new era of artistic exploration. Amidst this epoch of exuberant creativity, collaboration, and irreverence, the very bedrock of artistic expression was sundered and refashioned. As an artist navigating this dynamic and ever-metamorphosing milieu, I discover inspiration and embrace the opportunities that postmodernism affords for perpetual growth, experimentation, and self-expression.

Perry Anderson, “The Origins of Postmodernity” (United Kingdom)
Charles Jencks, “The Language of Post-Modern Architecture” (United States)
Hal Foster, “The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture” (United States)
Jean-François Lyotard, “The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge” (France)
Fredric Jameson, “Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism” (United States)
Linda Hutcheon, “The Politics of Postmodernism” (Canada)
David Harvey, “The Condition of Postmodernity: The Origins of Cultural Change” (United Kingdom)
Andreas Huyssen, “After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism” (Germany)
Rosalind Krauss, “The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths” (United States)
Brian McHale, “Postmodernist Fiction” (United States)
Simon Malpas, “The Postmodern” (United Kingdom)