Typically, the term and concept of “postmodernism” assume some familiarity with its predecessor, “modernism.” Contrary to popular belief, these ideas did not originate in Europe or the United States, but rather in the remote periphery of Latin America. It is a surprising discovery that the term “modernism” was coined in this region to describe an aesthetic movement. Rubén Darío, a Nicaraguan poet, coined this term for a literary gathering in Peru in 1890, describing it for a Guatemalan newspaper. In the 1890s, Darío’s modest effort to declare cultural independence from Spain, which was influenced by various French schools of romanticism, parnassianism, and symbolism, sparked a wave of emancipation among Hispanic literary circles.

Curiously, while it took a while for the term “modernism” to catch on in the English language, it was already widely used in Spanish-speaking circles a generation earlier. In a similar manner, the concept of “postmodernism” emerged in the 1930s Hispanic interworld, preceding its emergence in England and the United States. Federico de Ons, an esteemed friend of luminaries such as Unamuno and Ortega, is credited with coining the term “postmodernism” to describe a conservative retreat within modernism itself. Faced with the formidable challenge of lyrical expression, modernist artists sought solace in meticulous perfection and ironic humor, resulting in the emergence of this conservative strain. Notably, one of the most consequential facets of this tendency toward conservatism was its capacity to create new avenues for authentic female expression.

In spite of the fact that Federico de Ons introduced the concept of a “postmodern” style to Spanish-language criticism, subsequent authors rarely employed the term with the same precision. In fact, it wasn’t until roughly two decades later that the term emerged in the Anglophone world, assuming a distinct context and the guise of a historical rather than an aesthetic category. Arnold Toynbee referred to the period following the Franco-Prussian War as the “post-modern era” in 1954, although his description lacked specificity. Nonetheless, this era was unquestionably marked by two significant events: the rise of an industrial working class in the Western world and the efforts of successive intelligentsias around the world to comprehend the intricate complexities of modernity and use them as a counterforce against the West.

Subsequently, between 1968 and 1970, a succession of brilliant minds, such as Robert Morris, Robert Smithson, Michael Heizer, Richard Serra, Walter DeMaria, Robert Irwin, Sol LeWitt, and Bruce Nauman, participated in an artistic milieu that transcended the boundaries of modernism in the United States. The once-defining logical parameters of the artistic landscape became obsolete, and the cultural realm underwent a profound structural transformation. To adequately capture the shifting paradigms permeating the art world and the essence of this historical rupture, a new term, postmodernism, was required. Given that this terminology had already gained currency in other areas of critical discourse, it seemed only natural to employ it in the artistic realm.

This juncture between 1968 and 1970 was a pivotal turning point, during which the established boundaries of artistic expression were forcibly shattered. In their pursuit of novelty and novel modes of engagement with the world, artists initiated a concerted effort to challenge the modernist orthodoxies and conventions. Collaborative efforts and interdisciplinary approaches have eclipsed the notion of the artist as a solitary genius, diminishing its significance. Therefore, the concept of art itself shifted its emphasis from the physical object to the underlying concept, adopting a more ephemeral and process-oriented nature. Abandoning the modernist framework necessitated the emergence of a new term capable of encompassing the complexity and diversity of the artistic practices that were unfolding before the collective eye.

Postmodernism, as a term, signified a departure from the linear progression favored by modernism and heralded a new perspective. It acknowledged the fragmented nature of the cultural sphere and lauded the proliferation of voices and perspectives that flourished during this era. In lieu of grand narratives and universal truths, the artists of the era advocated subjective interpretations and a steadfast concentration on individual experiences. Originality and authenticity were called into question by embracing appropriation, pastiche, and the deliberate blurring of boundaries between high and low culture.

In fact, the inherent paradoxes that characterized the postmodernist movement fascinate me as I reflect on this revolutionary era. It celebrated the dissolution of boundaries and the democratization of art, on the one hand, by encouraging active audience participation. On the other hand, it struggled with a sense of disillusionment because the act of deconstructing established norms exposed the lack of a cohesive framework. This dialectic between freedom and uncertainty fascinates me the most because it reflects the intricate complexities of the human condition.

As an artist navigating the postmodernist landscape, I am perpetually challenged to reconcile the plethora of influences and references that permeate our cultural milieu. I am compelled by the postmodernist ethos to embrace intertextuality and simultaneously critique and reinterpret the past. It liberates me from rigid definitions and enables me to explore ideas, materials, and mediums fluidly. As I attempt to carve out my own artistic identity amidst an ocean of possibilities, I experience both a palpable sense of excitement and a degree of apprehension within this dynamic and ever-changing framework.

The artists of this era enthusiastically embraced the principle of artistic freedom, relishing the chance to explore new avenues of expression and liberate themselves from the limitations imposed by traditional mediums. A vibrant tapestry of concepts and forms was woven from sculpture, painting, performance art, installation, and conceptual art. The previously rigid divisions between these disciplines gave way to a dynamic, multifaceted artistic landscape.

The postmodernist movement’s emphasis on the process rather than the final product was one of its most exhilarating characteristics. Artists immersed themselves in the creative process, embracing spontaneity, chance, and uncertainty wholeheartedly. They desired to capture the essence of the artistic moment, valuing the fleeting and ephemeral over the permanence of a material object. This departure from the meticulously calculated and preconceived notions of modernism heralded a revitalizing new strategy.

In addition, collaboration and collective action became central tenets of postmodernist ideology. By engaging in conversation, exchanging ideas, and undertaking collaborative projects, artists forged meaningful connections. This sense of community fostered a thriving environment for creativity, fostered by mutual encouragement and inspiration. It was an era marked by collective energy and a shared sense of purpose, in which artists drew strength from their unity.

In addition, the postmodernist movement embraced an irreverent and playful spirit. Infusing their works with humor, irony, and wit, artists defied the long-standing seriousness and austerity that had dominated the art world. They questioned the legitimacy of established institutions and questioned conventional notions of high culture. This injection of vitality and vivacity gave artistic discourse new life.

As an artist immersed in this postmodernist milieu, I am energized by the limitless opportunities that exist. The very concept of artistic identity becomes malleable and fluid, permitting constant reinvention and investigation. I have the authority to draw inspiration from a vast assortment of sources, to embrace the hybridity of influences, and to engage in a rich tapestry of cultural references.

Despite the enthusiasm and fervor, I am keenly aware of the profound questions raised by the postmodernist movement. Sometimes, the dissolution of boundaries and the destruction of established norms can cast us adrift in a sea of fragmentation and uncertainty. It forces us to acknowledge the lack of absolute truth and grand narratives. We must contend with the intricate complexities and inherent contradictions of our contemporary world.

However, it is precisely within this tension that postmodernism’s true beauty resides. It is an artistic movement that celebrates the interplay between disorder and order, as well as certainty and uncertainty. It encourages us to question, challenge, and embrace the constantly changing nature of art and culture.

Between 1968 and 1970, the art world experienced a profound turning point. The artists of that era propelled the cultural landscape into uncharted territory with their zeal and unquenchable thirst for innovation. They defied the limitations of modernism under the banner of postmodernism, ushering in a new era of artistic exploration. During this time of immense creativity, collaboration, and irreverence, the very foundations of artistic expression were shattered and rebuilt. As an artist navigating this dynamic and ever-changing environment, I find inspiration and embrace the opportunities that postmodernism affords for continuous 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: An Enquiry into 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)