Post Modernism



The guides to anthropological theories and approaches listed below have been prepared by graduate students of the University of Alabama under the direction of Dr. Michael D. Murphy.  As always, !Caveat Retis Viator! (Let the Net Traveller Beware!)

Postmodernism and Its Critics

Robert Stewart and Karla Wesley and Shannon Weiss

(Note: authorship is arranged stratigraphically with the most recent author listed first)

Basic Premises:

Postmodernism is highly debated even among postmodernists themselves. For an initial characterization of its basic premises, consider one of the founding postmodernists Anthropologists, Clifford Geertz: “anthropological writings are themselves interpretations and second and third ones to boot” (Geertz 1973).

A more detailed explanation, anthropological critic Melford Spiro’s gave a synopsis of the basic tenets of postmodernism:

“The postmodernist critique of science consists of two interrelated arguments, epistemological and ideological. Both are based on subjectivity. First, because of the subjectivity of the human object, anthropology, according to the epistemological argument cannot be a science; and in any event the subjectivity of the human subject precludes the possibility of science discovering objective truth. Second, since objectivity is an illusion, science according to the ideological argument, subverts oppressed groups, females, ethnics, third-world peoples (Spiro 1996)….”



By Ronald W. Neperud

"Postmodernism has led, in effect, to an examined questioning of artistic or other discourse, which runs counter to blind acceptance of expert pronouncements.
While postmodernism is linked to the outcomes of modernist practices, it differs fundamentally in its relationship to society; it is that difference that is at the heart of a postmodernist art education….
Postmodernism is about language. About how it controls, how it determines meaning, and how we try to exert control through language. About how language restricts, closes down, insists that it stands for some thing. Postmodernism is about how “we” are defined within that language, and within specific historical, social, cultural matrices….”

"Postmodernism demands that the audience of art become involved in the discursive process of discerning meaning. This postmodernist view of art means a very different approach to teaching about art than was contained in our previous misconceptions that meaning was given by the high priests—critics, aestheticians, and historians—who were the keepers of the truth or meaning. Instead, meaning is inextricably connected to the tangled and changing web of context to be constructed by the audience. This means that there is no single meaning or truth, but one that is constructed by all who seek to understand art….”
"1. The content of art studies is less likely to be accepted as directly given by experts (artists, critics, aestheticians, art historians, textbook writers, curriculum specialists, and other authoritative sources).

2. Knowledge is more apt to be socially constructed by teachers and students; knowledge is not accepted as given, but is interpreted according to student and teacher needs.

3. Content is historically and culturally situated and does not exist as a universal truth with no connection to life of particular times and places.

4. There is a willingness to accept subjective, personally oriented experiences with art as a legitimate source of information.

5. The singular focus on museum and gallery fine art has been supplemented by culturally diverse creations of “outsiders,” folk artists, people with disabilities, the institutionalized, people who make things at home, yard art, and others.

6. The concept of a linear foundational art instruction has been questioned: in particular, traditional basic design and drawing disciplines are no longer regarded as the sole prerequisites for creative development.

7. Studio-dominated art activities have been supplemented by aesthetic, art history, critical, and multicultural studies.

8. A focus on the meaning of art has supplemented, if not replaced, structural, formalist studies.

9. Teachers are increasingly regarded as legitimate interpreters, as well as creators and translators, of art instructional content; they are no longer the medium through which information created by others passes….”

There is little doubt that ours is an era of changes in which we are witness to a kaleidoscope of events that shift before our eyes.

At first glance, it might seem that the art teacher is continually buffeted about in the social and aesthetic hurricane of current events. But we need neither to preach universal aesthetic truths or to skip from one relativistic social revelation to another. An alternative scenario recognizes and makes sense out of changes and reconstructs new approaches to art education. We are always in a transitional stage, but this recognition allows us to intentionally recognize and accommodate both traditions and change in a new reconstruction through recognizing and engaging students in a search for meaning.

“Transitions in art education are reflective of both content and context. What we call content, whether it be design principles, the study of the things that people create, or particular aesthetic value, is historically and contextually situated, which means that context is always present in what we choose to label content….”