Smacking Down Postmodern Art

First published by The Atlas Society.

It is rare in our contemporary postmodern culture that its representatives get a smack down. But that is what happened with the Tyler Shields’ photoshoot with Kathy Griffin holding a realistically-rendered decapitated head of Donald Trump. Massive public and professional fallout ensued, and no one was going to let it go because it was “art.” This event finally enraged a public that for decades was so desensitized you could fling shit at them from a stage, as performance artist G. G. Allin did, and they would either take it or ignore it.

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Kathy’s miscalculation is understandable with a century of postmodern precedents: Duchamp’s The Fountain; Burden’s Crucified on a Volkswagen Beetle; Manzoni’s can of shit; Quinn’s Self-portrait carved from his frozen blood; Serrano’s Piss Christ; Creed’s farting audio loop at the Tate; and Millie Brown, the vomit painter. On the other hand, Kathy exceeded where these other postmodernists didn’t; she managed to piss off a lot of people.

Millie Brown, the vomit painter

MAKING FUN OF POSTMODERNISTS

Rand was aware of the early stages of postmodern artists. She ridicules them brilliantly in scenes in The Fountainhead. Lois Cook, a writer who didn’t bother with grammar or meaning; an architect that took a commission to create the ugliest building possible; and an artist that “did something with bird cages and metronomes.” But Rand couldn’t imagine that her sendups would pale in comparison to the postmodern artists our contemporary institutions have made status quo.

Don’t set out to raze all shrines—you’ll frighten men. Enshrine mediocrity—and the shrines are razed.

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But what Rand did manage to do is convey the motives behind postmodern practitioners. Toohey, one of the evilest characters in literature, and the mastermind behind the artist councils, has a moment of self-indulgent excess. He shares with Keating his game plan for taking down authentic artists. “Great men can’t be ruled. We don’t want any great men. Don’t deny the conception of greatness. Destroy it from within … Don’t set out to raze all shrines—you’ll frighten men. Enshrine mediocrity—and the shrines are razed.”

I would go further: These postmodern artists are not merely mediocrities, they are shells filled with bile and disgust for humanity. How they have managed to be the most influential and esteemed artists of recent decades can only be due to good people having “thrown out the baby with the bathwater.” In other words, good people have seen the horrible postmodern art projects and simply walked away from art. I can’t blame them. But that leaves us nowhere. What is the antidote?

Scorn works pretty well. Look what happened to Kathy Griffin; she was reduced to tears and cried: “He broke me, he broke me, he broke me.”

That is one down, but to change the culture and replace pathetic postmodern artists we need to offer better alternatives, better artists, better ideas, and better aesthetics.

The Atlas Society has been doing that by publishing perceptive authors like philosopher Stephen Hicks, Why Art Became Ugly, and Walter Donway, Sense of Life — Who Are the New Romantic Novelists? And in rewarding artists like Abiodun Olaku, first place for his landscape, Silhouettes of Labour. His stunning landscapes have more skill, visual knowledge, and heart than PM artists could ever hope to attempt.

Michael Newberry is Artist-in-Residence at The Atlas Society. He has exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Athens, and Rome. Follow him on Instagram at @artnewberry.

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