Yet there is also an underlying sense of cynicism or jadedness that seems to accompany the postmodern view. Sarcasm and irony are part and parcel of the movement. Most people would consider a statement like “all that can be created has already been created...” as being cynical. After all, no boundaries to creativity have ever been discovered. There are only seven colors in the rainbow, no one is inventing any new ones, and yet infinite paintings arise from new combinations of colors. There are only twelve notes in the musical scale, yet new songs and stylizations of sounds flow without end. However, the postmodern framework contends that all of this new work is derivative and that originality has been precluded by all that has gone before. It is almost a lament of the death of originality.
By the late twentieth century, the cynicism of this lament had evolved into an embrace of the death of originality. A painter friend of mine joked that originality is passé to which I responded that originality had all been done before. To some extent this is an affirmation that derivative works are OK. The guilty pleasure of the movie remake of Starsky and Hutch, replete with leisure suits, mustaches, and gold chains, is at once a celebration of the quirkiness of the 70’s and a good-natured ridicule of it at the same time. At the other end of the postmodern spectrum are the remakes of older works that are an homage to their greatness, cast in the new light of the third millennium. Rewriting Shakespeare to modern situations, or performing the works of Bach on electronic instruments are not done as a pastiche, and yet are also not devoid of irony.
There have been many brilliant works that are profoundly postmodern. But there is an inherent limitation built into the theory that runs the risk of being overtly self-conscious. Feeding on the products of media to create more media is quite like feeding the bone meal of cattle to cattle until mad cow disease sets in. It is an inbreeding of culture that mirrors the genetic defects that arise from incestuous populations. It can be seen as an empire that is consuming itself.
Certainly all of nature derives itself from its preceding generations, but once certain populations reach a particular threshold in their evolution, they make a gestalt transformation of expression. Mushroom spores blow on the wind like little diatoms in the ocean. When they lodge under a dark wet log, they transform into cottony fibers until all the space under the log is filled. At this point they have nowhere else to grow and must face the light. They again make a complete transformation of expression by the familiar mushroom shape we see in the woods. We will be no different. And though timetables for change are so unpredictable, evolution is inevitable. Nothing changes (postmodern indeed).
© 2009 vhcle
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By Tim Sunderman
It  is always difficult to see the prevailing style of the present moment without the perspective of historical distance. However, even without that perspective, it is still broadly acknowledged that we remain firmly in the social-artistic movement called postmodernism. In overly general terms, the postmodern style is directed by a couple of broad concepts. Firstly, everything that can be created has already been created and the best that we can hope to do is to recombine those elements in new ways, oftentimes in a humorous manner that both pokes fun at the original art, and at the same time, is self-effacing. Secondly, there is a general embrace of an aesthetic that accentuates the aging, wearing, decay of the real world, or the over-industrialization effects exaggerated in the generation of the artwork itself.
Clearly, postmodernism is conceptually more complex than that brief synopsis. But the most common examples of postmodern expression in the world at large are the reuse and rehashing of previous work. In the movie industry, it seems almost more common to see sequels and the remakes of sequels than the release of new titles. Is it really necessary to make Halloween 2 (2009) — the remake of Halloween 1, as opposed to Halloween II (1981) — the sequel to Halloween 1?
In the music business, the sampling of older songs, the remake of songs, and the countless remix variations of the same song, all are a direct expression of postmodernism. Of course, it is not likely that the latest hip hop stars are sitting down in the studio discussing how they are going to borrow from the past to make a new sweeping postmodernist statement. The process is not that contrived. Artistic expression has always been a product of the modality of the time and the viewpoints of the culture that created the artist that creates the art. We reflect our surroundings. So, the recording artist that samples others’ music may be completely unaware of the postmodern implications of that style, but may simply be conforming to the expected sounds that define the genre.
Print design, however, does seem to be quite a bit more conscious of the postmodern movement since most designers have attended art school and have invariably been involved in discussions regarding modern design theory. Old classical typefaces have been “frankensteined” together with modern fonts in glaringly disharmonious ways to specifically direct attention to the irony of the new context. There are other uses of type that allow letters and words to be cut off by the edge of the page in an acknowledgment of the over-propagation of text. Some have even argued that text is not meant to be read. At first, this sounds absurd, but in an urban environment, it is estimated that we see approximately fifteen thousand printed pieces each day, certainly more than we can ever stop to read. So, type becomes an environmental element, almost like the leaves on the trees in a forest. We do not see each leaf individually, yet their collective effect does much to create the atmosphere of the forest. And so it is with type. As it is cut off by the edge of our vision in the world around us, so it is on the page.
Additionally, the exaggerations of the peculiarities of our modern technology - overlaying the scratches and pops of an old record onto digital music, running grainy filters on video to emulate old film, or enlarging the pixelization of an image - all becomes a reflection of and a comment on our social media. Our adaptability develops a taste for these details of over-industrialization.
Tim Sunderman is an illustrator who is also a full-time college graphic design instructor in the San Francisco Bay Area. Never content in a single medium, he has experimented broadly with photography, video, writing, and even marble sculpture. But graphic design still pays the bills.
“Most people would consider a statement like “all that can be created has already been created...” as being cynical. After all, no boundaries to creativity have ever been discovered...“
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