The insidious growth of nonsense

Postmodernism is an insidious beast, a multi-textual hydra spewing forth gibberish at an alarming rate. How else can anyone explain the rise of YouTube?

Beyond its main use as a container for all manner of copyright abuse, YouTube is at the forefront of pioneering the new media "artist"-savant.

An issue I've long been interested in, it came to my attention once more in a recent interview with filmmaker Rob Nilsson published in Res magazine.

Nilsson said:

"What has pop culture ever been? Post-Warhol opportunists decided to throw together Annette Funicello, Beach Blanket Babylon, Bobby Darin and the New York Dolls - and instead of Kitsch it was now Art. Since that time, the art schools, universities, galleries and museums have caved in to this and other puerile blather accepted and taught everywhere.

And he's right. I remember reading a copy of Wired about five or six years ago in which a filmmaker talked about how he'd photographed fish at a market and animated them to make some, no doubt hilarious, web clip.

And so the die was cast. Soon we were bombarded with so-called "virals" (I just call it advertising) and other assorted nonsense, ever-encroaching on the public sphere and privatising it as it goes, not to mention lowering our expectations when it comes to consuming cultural artefacts.

Much as I would love to pin the blame for the ongoing degradation of culture firmly at Warhol's feet, I fear that would be granting the late wigged one more import than he is in fact due. To be sure, Warhol, whether you consider him a genius or a poseur, pushed "popular" culture to the fore of the arts, but he would have found himself unable to do so if society had not already abandoned any desire - or ability - to discern between the good and the bad.

Postmodernism lionised the individual, the amateur, the childlike, the moron and even the mentally ill. Arriving in the sixties, a time of great cultural, intellectual and social flux, postmodernism suited the mood of the day by abandoning the rational in favour of mere novelty. Out went qualitative judgments and in came 'let it all hang loose'. Much that followed has been in this vein.

When art critic Robert Hughes criticised the late Jean-Michel Basquiat he ridiculed the idea of the "artist savant" or "artist-as-demiurge". Judging by what followed, no-one was particularly inclined to listen to him. Presumably they were too busy imitating Scrooge McDuck, swimming in the piles of filthy lucre that art's commodity value has "produced".

What lies at the centre of all of this is the doctrine of postmodernism. This non-ideological ideology was intended to set us free from the constraints of authority. Instead it has imprisoned us in a world of nonsense. Now, the only people bemoaning the lack of quality are arch-conservatives like Brian Sewell or putative professionals seeking to kick the ladder out from beneath themselves.

Well, George Bernard Shaw declared that professions were a conspiracy against working people and I am inclined to agree. I have no desire to hide behind a cloak of 'professionalism', if all that it amounts to is membership of some kind of creative priesthood. Growing up in Ireland I had my fill of sacerdotal pontificators, thank you very much.

But still, does this mean I have to throw my lot in with the purveyors or crap littered around the world - not to mention the web? I truly hope not.

I found myself at a dinner in a five star hotel recently - not, I should say, the kind of place that I regularly patronise, I was there in my capacity as a journalist. Never delighted at making idle conversation with perfect strangers, particularly not when suffering from a case of severe socio-economic self-consciousness (I was clearly the poorest person in the entire building, save for some of the staff - and I'm not entirely sure about them), imagine my delight when a woman sitting to my immediate left asked how I became a journalist.

I told them the truth: I studied fine art and sort of fell into it. The next inquiry was why I didn't become an artist. My answer was simple: there's enough bad art out there without me contributing to the pile.

Now, I'm not claiming to have saved the world through a selfless act. Doubtlessly the only pile my work would have been adorning would have been that of the also rans, but I do wonder why so few people recognise that their work is, at the very least, not ready for prime time. I still like to tell myself that someday, when I have more time, I will come back to art and do it properly this time. I just wish more people felt the same way.

There's a novel in everyone, or so goes the cliché. Perhaps in most cases it should stay there. Herbert Read was right: to hell with culture.

Note: We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site, at no extra cost to you. This doesn't affect our editorial independence. Learn more.

Read Next...