Thursday, September 08, 2011

Best Art Blog Post Ever

Jonathan Jones has written the best art blog post I've ever read: "Was postmodernism born with Close Encounters of the Third Kind?" A beautifully concise critique of a heady art movement wrapped within an accessible essay on a popular film. This is a brilliant bit of art criticism in my opinion.

Mind you, his argument for why "Close Encounters" is a postmodernist work is also impressively sound:
What makes me call this film "postmodernist"? Partly it is the homely suburban world where Spielberg sets his story. American films have a long heritage of adventure. Big films before this tended to be set in big places with big characters – but Richard Dreyfuss plays a nobody who lives in nowhereseville to whom something weird happens.

In high art, postmodernism was the moment when the idea of the avant garde as a radical movement – rejecting conventional society and pushing perception forward into an ever more ambitious vision of the new – collapsed. The lofty idealism of a Rothko was suddenly unconvincing to advanced artists. The idea of artists as prophets or priests was abandoned. Artists were not special and neither was art. This was above all an American moment, for it was in America in the 1950s and 60s that modernism attained its loftiest heights and shaped a national culture, from skyscrapers to the space race.

Close Encounters marks this same moment in popular culture. Science fiction is a form of modernism. It shares modern art's belief in progress and meaningful change: it proposes a history of the future. 2001, the great modernist science fiction film, actually creates a model of history in which we evolve as a species under alien guidance. By contrast, Close Encounters does not offer any sense of history or progress or any theory as to what the alien encounter means. It is rooted in everyday suburbia and the revelation that unfurls is beyond understanding. In fact, it does not feel right to call it "science fiction" at all, for it refuses the genre's rationality.
As you know if you read here much, I am constantly in search of solid efforts to bridge the gap between the best of contemporary art and the ambivalent majority of the public who'd rather consume pop culture. Efforts likes Jones' here, give me hope. Read the whole thing.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"ambivalent majority of the public who'd rather consume pop culture" couldn't pop culture actually be the art? I for one believe some blogs are close to becoming an art. The juxtaposition and choice of images creates quite a powerful presence eg
http://reform.lt/. With so much visual and information overload maybe compilation presentation is the art

9/09/2011 12:24:00 AM  
Blogger markcreegan said...

Always fun to examine film in art historical terms, great post.
One of my favorite scenes from CETK (to my mother's chagrin) was when Dreyfus' character made the mashed potato sculpture. That and the shaving cream version were his first experiments, he consecutively became more materially precise in later versions. So, really he was a straight-up modernist at that early stage, having some inner drive to explore a form, meaning somehow lay within this form. Later, once he caught glimpse of that TV news alert about a chemical spill at the site he saw the real version and immediately became post-modernist. His actions from that point on were to find meaning in the narrative of this particular site, meaning existing not within the form itself but the referent space outside. He even could be deemed a political interventionist artist at that point. Then, at the end, our artist Dreyfus meets his adoring fans who carry him off into the blinding-white glory of art- stardom!

Another pop culture film I like to think of in terms of art is Star Wars, where a Minimalist sculpture (Death Star) laden with modular homogenous units (stormtroopers) is destroyed by a bunch of misfit, post-modernist rebels whose esthetic runs the gamut of female sidebun heads to hairy apes with bullet sachets to shiny, gold wire guts. The fact that this also happened in the art world at roughly the same time is pretty cool.

9/10/2011 10:46:00 PM  

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