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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: June 2012

16 - The State of Advanced Art: The Late Twentieth Century and Beyond


Pluralism, Postmodernism, and Perplexed Art Pundits

Painters no longer live within a tradition and so each of us must recreate an entire language.

Pablo Picasso

Well, thank God, art tends to be less what critics write than what artists make.

Jasper Johns

In 2005, Peter Schjeldahl wrote in the New Yorker that “The contemporary art world of the 1980s blew apart into four main fragments…Eventually, even the fragments disintegrated, becoming the sluggish mishmash that has prevailed in art ever since.” The idea that advanced art had become fragmented in the late twentieth century was not a new one. In 1984, for example, the art historian Corinne Robins titled her survey of American art during 1968–1981 The Pluralist Era, and on the first page observed that “the Pluralism of the seventies…effectively did away with the idea of dominant styles for at least a decade.” Over time, another term gained currency to describe the situation, as in 2000, Jonathan Fineberg explained in his textbook, Art Since 1940, that what had emerged in the seventies was postmodernism, “an inclusive aesthetic that cultivates the variety of incoherence.”

Whatever name they give to the situation, there is widespread agreement among art critics and scholars that they have lost the ability to provide any convincing overall narrative or explanation for the art of the late twentieth century and beyond. The critic Arthur Danto, for example, remarked in 1997 that “contemporary art no longer allows itself to be represented by master narratives at all.”

Appendix to Chapter 16
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Archer, Michael. 2002. Art Since 1960, 2nd ed. London: Thames and Hudson.
Arnason, H.H. 2004. History of Modern Art, 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Bell, Cory. 2001. Modern Art. New York: Watson-Guptill.
Bell, Julian. 2007. Mirror of the World. New York: Thames and Hudson.
Buchholz, Elke Linda, et al. 2007. Art. New York: Abrams.
Collings, Matthew. 2004. This is Modern Art. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
Cottington, David. 2005. Modern Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Cumming, Robert. 2005. Art. London: DK Publishing.
Davies, Penelope, et al. 2007. Janson's History of Art, 7th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Dempsey, Amy. 2002. Art in the Modern Era. New York: Harry N. Abrams.
Fineberg, Jonathan. 2000. Art Since 1940, 2nd ed. New York: Harry N. Abrams.
Foster, Hal; Krauss, Rosalind; Bois, Yve-Alain; and Buchloh, Benjamin. 2004. Art since 1900. New York: Thames and Hudson.
Honour, Hugh and Fleming, John. 2002. The Visual Arts, 6th ed. New York: Harry N. Abrams.
Hopkins, David. 2000. After Modern Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hunter, Sam; Jacobus, John; and Wheeler, Daniel. 2004. Modern Art, 3rd ed. New York: Vendome Press.
Kemp, Martin, ed. 2000. The Oxford History of Western Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Lucie-Smith, Edward. 2001. Movements in Art Since 1945, new ed. London: Thames and Hudson.
Parmesani, Loredana. 2001. Art of the Twentieth Century. Milan: Skira.
Richter, Klaus. 2001. Art. Munich: Prestel.
Taylor, Brandon. 2005. Contemporary Art. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.