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Development of Postmodernism

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Why is Warhol so ‘galling’? How do Freud and Lacan help us understand this idea?

In Hal Foster’s Return of the Real, he writes of Andy Warhols work as galling and begins with this idea by discussing one of Warhol’s screenprint collections. ‘Death in America’ was a collection of extremely graphic and tragic, repeated photographs depicting devastation, like car crashes, dead bodies, Jackie Kennedy after JFK was shot…. These pieces could accurately be considering ‘galling’, or provoking and disagreeable, especially being that they were created in the early 60s. Foster writes ‘Most accounts of postwar art based in photography divide somewhere along this line: the image as referential [internal] or as simulacral [external].’ However, Warhol’s ‘Death in America’ is both, referential and simulacral. The images bring up feelings of aversion, similar to a crash we drive by on the side of the road; we are almost forced to look out of curiosity, and even though there’s a body bag laying on the ground, we can’t look away because it isn’t us in that predicament. They also give us a sense of fear, as we do begin to think about mortality and how it could happen to us or our loved ones at any given moment.

Traumatic Realism is something Foster also relates to the artist’s work. As with most of his art, he uses his images in repetition. This repetition could possibly make the referential null because, as Warhol said, ‘When you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it doesn’t really have any effect.’ This brings up Freud’s idea that experiencing a traumatic event over and over, whether real or in dreams, it tends to integrate that trauma into a symbolic order in the psyche.

PTSD would be a good example of this. However, Foster disagrees that Freud’s idea of this repetition is fully applicable to Warhol’s work because those images, he feels, are defending against the traumatic while also creating it.

Lacan’s view on this trauma, however, is different than Freud. He defines trauma as a missed encounter with the real. Foster wrote of Lacan’s idea that repetition in Warhol is not reproduction in the sense of representation or simulation, but it serves to screen the real understood as traumatic. There is a sense of instant trauma, but then it brings us back to the real, so there’s also a feeling of confusion in this, which in itself is traumatic. Lacan calls this traumatic point the tuché, the confusion of the subject and the world.

Discuss the relationship between snake motif in Laocoon and in Warburg.

The serpents according to Lessing’s Laocoon are evil entities, as they cause suffering, shown by the faces of the sculpture of Laocoon and his two sons, as well as through the poetry mentioned throughout the book. Warburg goes into great detail of the serpent as various cultural symbols, from evil beings to positive rain-summoning totems. He also mentions Laocoon’s snakes as an example for the wicked. He writes of how the serpent from the Old Testament is a Christian symbol for evil, as it was a snake that led Adam and Eve to disobey God and be expelled from Eden, which essentially created sin for the rest of human existence.

Similar to the way Christians viewed the serpent from The Bible, Greek mythology also portrays snakes as a negative symbol. In Warburg’s words, serpents are ‘the merciless, devouring monster of the nether-world.’ He believes ‘Laocoon and His Two Sons’ is the most moving, tragic symbol in the worlds of myth and sculpture. The story of Laocoon and his two sons is that the Trojan priest angered one of the Greek gods, so two large serpents were sent for vengeance, as they strangled the three men and tortured them.

Differing from Warburg, in Lessing’s Laocoon, the story is essentially the same throughout, which differs from the varied cultural views on serpents in Warburg’s writing. Lessing focuses more on the differences created through sculpture and poem than what different cultures see through the two. One of the biggest concerns in his book is how the serpents are portrayed through the two artistic aspects. Through poetry, the story of Laocoon and his sons varies, which allows for different outlooks on the occurrence. However, when one looks at the sculpture, there is only one story to be seen, and it is in itself ‘a symbol of the antique Passion; death as revenge wrought by demons without justice and without hope of salvation’, as Warburg wrote.

What is the different relationship to the ‘law’ between Demos, Butt, and Meyer?

T.J. Demos, Gavin Butt, and Richard Meyer have various views on law. Demos’ The Migrant Image examines how recent art explores the global crisis, in which multitudes of people are reduced to the ‘bare life’, stripped of political identity and exposed to the unmediated application of power. Demos writes of crisis globalization, the era of economic inequality, facing the increase in migrants and refugees who are seeking a decent living and escaping repressive regimes, poverty, and zones of conflict. He also introduces corporate globalization, termed for transnational capitalism, indicating private sectors’ profit-led motivation, supporting denaturalization, structural adjustment, and privatization. In seeing this immigration crisis occur, artists have been investigating and documenting the lives of those refugees and migrants through photography, film, and video in hopes that these works of art are globally circulating and causing political stir. One example of this is Steve McQueen’s ‘Gravesend’, where he has composed a 17-minute film regarding the mining of coltan, a valuable mineral mined in the Congo. In writing of this issue, Demos is concerned with the laws of immigration and how it is affecting those refugees and immigrants, as well as contemporary artists to today.

Gavin Butt wrote Between You and Me: Queer Disclosures in NYC 1948-1963 to ‘explore the consequences of approaching gossip…for producing queer understandings of the art and artists of this period.’ This gossip strategy seems to be the ‘law’ the author refers to throughout the book. In the 50s and 60s, it was considered slander to speak of homosexuality, and even today, at times, it seems to be the same. However, this is an important historical aspect of art. He writes of how Reva Wolf, professor and author, used gossip to further enquire into the works of Andy Warhol. Jasper Johns and his famed Target with Plaster Casts were also a topic of the book, as he dealt with backlash from several people, including one who refused to buy the piece because of the cast of a penis. Butt also writes of how Johns actually rose to fame through an exhibition because MoMA purchased three works from the show.

Having actually dealt with various press companies refusing to publish the book itself, Richard Meyer’s Outlaw Representation is a picture-filled work telling the story of the conflict of gay artists, such as Andy Warhol and Robert Mapplethorpe, and how they responded to the attacks and censorship of their art. For example, Mapplethorpe dealt with organizations, such as the Christian Coalition, who distributed a red-enveloped letter from 1989, warning citizens that they had contributed to the (intentionally overly-hyped) ‘photographs too vulgar to print’ through their tax dollars. This one act caused a nationwide controversy over the limits of creative freedom, and quite the show of a series of hearings developed. Rather than the law being represented by a metaphorical form, as was Butt’s, Meyer was interested in actual government law in his book.

What is Postmodernism? How does it differently relate to the arguments built by Appiah and Singerman?

Postmodernism is a moment in the 20th century in which, essentially, the ideas and concepts beforehand were being abandoned, or several concepts being combined, and artists began to depart from the modernism they knew. The beginning of postmodernism began with the Dada movement in which artists mocked the establishment post-World War I. Artists like Duchamp and Man Ray began to emerge with their appropriations, ready-mades, and photomontages. Performance art also became more popular and widely accepted and understood, as those postmodern artists began to create works that challenged the viewer to respond. Because of the devastation caused by the World Wars, the center of the art sphere began to shift to America, rather than Europe, and particularly into a main hub of today, New York.

In his Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Postcolonial?, Kwame Anthony Appiah writes to attempt to sum up this definition with this statement: ”postmodernism’ is a name for the rejection of that claim to exclusivity, a rejection that is almost always more playful, though not necessarily less serious, than the practice it aims to replace.’ Appiah also goes on to write that ‘Postmodern culture is the culture in which all postmodernisms operate, sometimes in synergy, sometimes in competition; and because contemporary culture is…transnational, postmodern culture is global….’ ‘Man with a Bicycle’ is the central piece the author uses to make his argument that the production and reproduction of art is an important part of the postmodern culture. The traditional, wooden sculpture has a strong Western influence, especially the machine he sits on. He writes that the bicycle is a ‘white man’s invention’ that is ‘now as African as novelists…and as fabricated as the kingdom of Nakem.’ He seems to argue that trade, and standing out from other works, is imperative in the postmodern era, as it opens up the eyes and minds of others, most importantly other artists to create works that have the ability to become global. This postmodern globalization idea from reproduction leads to one of Howard Singerman’s similar thoughts.

In his Art Subjects, Singerman discusses how the university has changed throughout the years and how it has helped to shape postmodernism. He believes that the theory and research of graduates are just as important, if not more so, than the skills and techniques required to create art, and it is this research aspect that makes a university exceptional. One of the most important topics he brings up regarding research is of visiting artists. Those artists that travel to various universities, as well as other locations, to speak about and show their work are educating artists from other cultures and opening their minds to new ideas and concepts, just as trade does. Singerman shares art critic Lucy Lippard’s thoughts on the vital necessity to have the artist discuss his work to others rather than to have those viewers experience the art for themselves, as he quotes her saying ‘The artist is traveling a lot more, not to sightsee, but to get his work out…. Even if we get the art works out of New York, even if the objects alone do travel, they alone don’t offer the stimulus that they do combined with the milieu.’ Both men, Singerman and Appiah, seem to view postmodernism as an important movement in history, as it assists in mingling education of artists around the globe.

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