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Postmodernism Characteristics

Feb 16 2012
{Articles >> Art History - Theory}
Postmodernism Characteristics
Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-76, photograph 1976, color photograph by Wolfgang Volz. National Gallery of Art, Washington

As discussed in Postmodernism Definition, it is challenging to the art student to define postmodern art. What is more useful when writing or talking about modern and postmodern art, is to identify the qualities of each. There are some characteristics that set postmodern art apart from modern art; if you start with a characteristic, and examine its implications and context in relation to the definition of postmodernism, things start to fall into place more easily.

Postmodernism characteristics might include some or many of these qualities:

  • expansive. Formally (eg, a Christo/Jeanne-Claude installation expands beyond a canvas to envelop a large terrain) and conceptually (eg, Chris Ofilli challenges the traditional function of portraits of the Virgin Mary)
  • complex
  • eclectic
  • response to surroundings. (eg, a postmodern building, unlike a modern one, will reflect the shape and history of its landscape)
  • artist responding to context. (eg, a postmodern art installation is designed for its site)
  • appropriation
  • juxtaposition
  • political
  • feminist
  • installation art
  • site-specific
  • non-traditional materials
  • mundane elements (eg, Tracey Emin's My Bed
  • kitsch (eg, Jeff Koons, Robert Arneson)

The characteristics of modernism, on the other hand, include qualities such as:

  • simplicity
  • rigidity (especially in architecture)
  • authority
  • reduction
  • uniformity
  • artist as visionary, apart from his or her context
  • anonymity (eg, faceless smooth skyscrapers)
  • minimalism
  • formalism (eg, artists such as Rothko reducing a painting to its formal elements of color and shape)
  • abstraction
  • emphasis on process (eg Pollock)
  • expressionism
  • order
  • separation between high and popular art (eg, Clement Greenberg on modern art)


Tags: Post Modernism