There are many examples of postmodern art, but perhaps the best is the collage. With its scope for bringing together disconnected images, the collage has become a powerful symbol of the disjointed worldview at the heart of Postmodernism.
Peddling in the Past
Postmodernism is a peddler in various genres of the past. However, it draws on historic genres, not as a way to understand or appreciate other traditions, but in order to debunk them in the same way that it self-consciously debunks itself. Howard Fox puts it like this:
“At root Post-Modern art is neither exclusionary nor reductive but synthetic, freely enlisting the full range of conditions, experiences, and knowledge beyond the object. Far from seeking a single and complete experience, the Post-Modern object strives toward an encyclopaedic condition, allow a myriad of access points, an infinitude of interpretive responses.” (Howard Fox, “Avant-Garde in the Eighties,” in The Post Avant-Garde: Painting in the Eighties, ed. Charles Jencks (London: Academy Editions, 1987), pp. 29-30.
Postmodern art relishes in anachronism. I saw a vivid example of this when I visited the Tate gallery in London. There was no organization to how paintings were displayed on the walls, with the consequence that Pre-Raphaelite work was randomly mixed up with modern and Postmodern artifacts. This was not an accident since a central plank of Postmodernism has been to wave a hand at all of history and say, “there’s really no difference between what they were doing then and what we are doing now. There is no essential difference between a Michelangelo sculpture and a pile of bricks.”
Postmodern art is eclectic, fluid, elastic, pastiche, disjointed and anachronistic. It spurns the differences between various genres as it does the distinctions between fine art and mechanical art or between high art and low art. All distinctions are deconstructed with the same vigor that narrative structures are denied. The result is a kind of artistic schizophrenia, where radically different and even contradictory categories can be meshed together with no cohesion or meaning. As Terry Eagleton writes:
"There is, perhaps, a degree of consensus that the typical postmodernist artifact is playful, self-ionizing and even schizoid; and that it reacts to the austere autonomy of high modernism by impudently embracing the language of commence and the commodity. Its stance towards cultural tradition is one of irreverent pastiche, and its contrived depthlessness undermines all metaphysical solemnities, sometimes by a brutal aesthetic of squalor and shock."
The Deconstruction of Art
We have already seen that Postmodernism rejects overarching stories in favor of random disconnected stories. “Stories” in this sense can include any and all categories which give continuity or meaning to particulars. In Postmodern art this plays out in the rejection of all external norms of the craft, all external ideas of what it means to be an artist, all external ideas of what it means for an artifact to be beautiful or even to be art.