Postmodernism is the new Academic Art

Last month I reluctantly attended an art opening in a small town far from a major population center, and even further from a major art center. The gallery was in the downtown area long ago abandoned by retailers, but was now in the process of a slow renovation. Most of the buildings were vacant and boarded up, and the signs of drink and drug abuse were evident in the walk of the few people that wandered the sidewalks.

I opened the door of the gallery and looked around. I could have been in any major city or university art gallery, and the usual suspects were there. The college age crowd were dressed in their ‘I am unique and creative’ uniforms, all pretty much looking the same. The intellectuals also wore their identifying uniforms. Everyone was dressed for their part. In small groups of circles holding their glasses of wine, they were discussing something very profound, I am sure. They are after all, very clever.

A few were looking at the art, but not many, and not for very long. And why should they spend time looking? They already understood it. They “got it”.

I recalled an entry in my journal from 1990 by Eric Bookhardt, a New Orleans writer and critic:

“Post modern art seems pointedly inscrutable – you pretty much have to know the theory to “get it”. In other words, this is a kind of literary art, and to know what it is “about” you have to know literature. It takes itself seriously. It is utterly enmeshed in quasi-scientific, academic theory. University art has increasingly become a discipline as specialized as, say theoretical physics. This then is the deep secret: Postmodernism is the new academic art.”

I didn't bother to look at the art for very long, or read the lengthy artist’s statement. I didn’t even note the name of the artist, but as I was leaving the show I overheard a young woman addressing the artist as “professor”.

Yep, I understood it. I “got it”.

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