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19: American Art in Flux, 1980-Present

  • Page ID
    • Angela L Miller, Janet Catherine Berlo, Bryan J Wolf, and Jennifer L Roberts
    • Washington University in St. Louis, University of Rochester, Stanford University and Harvard University
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    TODAY AMERICAN ART is in flux. Although the history of American art has often been marked by efforts to stabilize the nation's cultural identity and produce permanent monuments of a shared historical tradition, this has not been true of the recent past. In order to understand American art of the past three decades, we must think in terms of dynamism, dialectics, and difference.

    During the 1980s, Postmodernism became the dominant mode of thought in American intellectual circles, and artists and critics cast doubt on the validity of Modernist ideas about progress, objectivity, originality, and agency. The notion of the unique, self-determining person or "self" was challenged by a model of the individual as an entity constructed dynamically by social forces. Qualities as seemingly natural and inarguable as gender, race, and nationality were imagined to be contingent effects of continual social negotiation. Even the possibility of originality came under question, as "original" ideas were seen as having been patched together from borrowed thoughts circulating through culture at large. Along with this general rejection of the tenets of Modernism came a redefinition of the meaning of history. The concept of memory, the role of the monument, and progressive narratives of American history were all radically challenged. In the place of monolithic, enduring forms, the memorial arts substituted emptiness, change, and ambiguity.

    Postmodernism's de-centering of American traditions has been amplified, from the 1990s onward, by an accelerated process of globalization. While international connections have defined American culture from the outset, the scale and speed of the globalization process have increased drastically since the end of the Cold War. The globalization of finance, production, marketing, and consumption; the development and entrenchment of worldwide digital communication networks; the rapid spread of AIDS and other diseases; and the increasing awareness of the transnational implications of climate change have made it increasingly difficult to separate American interests from those of the wider world. The process of globalization has also made it impossible to isolate some unchanging kernel of a specifically ''.American" art. At the beginning of this textbook, we identified a web of global relationships that defined the arts in what would someday become America. Now, at the end, we will look to a globalized art to imagine what America will someday become.

    Thumbnail: IÑIGO MANGLANO-OVALLE, Carter; Anna, and Darryl (from the Garden of Delights), 1998. C-prints of DNA analyses to Plexiglas, edition of 3, 60 x 74 in (152.4 X 187.9 cm). Courtesy of Max Protetch Gallery, New York.

    This page titled 19: American Art in Flux, 1980-Present is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Angela L Miller, Janet Catherine Berlo, Bryan J Wolf, and Jennifer L Roberts.

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