Pluralism, Postmodernism, and Perplexed Art Pundits
Painters no longer live within a tradition and so each of us must recreate an entire language.
Well, thank God, art tends to be less what critics write than what artists make.
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.”