06 January 2006

Yeah, I'm still here

Here's a real-life parable about the manifold follies of postmodernism:

Artist Accused of Vandalizing Urinal

I'll leave it to readers to work out the symbolism. But let me just say that I'd have a hard time arguing that one of these forms of "art" is more artistic than the other.

Read this recent article from BBC News if you don't get what's so ironic about the above story.

Note: I hate dissecting irony, but a few confused readers asked for help with this one, so here goes:

In the BBC item linked above, an "art expert" explains the theory behind Dadaism: Art "can be made of anything and can take any form"including, the argument goes, a urinal.

The postmodern performance artist who is the hero of our story simply took that idea to the next logical level, raising the question of whether "art" may therefore consist of a crazy guy making a critical public statement (with a hammer) about Dadaism, modernism, and all the other ridiculous modernist notions the postmodern mind rightly wants to turn away from but can't seem to find a way to shed.

I think the vandal actually has a point when he speculates (in the original story) that his performance "might have pleased Dada artists." It certainly suggests he took the philosophy underlying their art very seriously.

Anyway, I found it an interesting illustration of how postmodernism attacks modernism but can't really get away from modernist philosophies,. It encourages me to realize that all of pomoism is likewise bound to self-destruct, and probably sooner rather than later.

Speaking of irony, while looking for a graphic of Duchamp's "Fountain," I found this book of drawings offered by Cokesbury.com (motto: "Resources for the Christian Journey").

I'll try to post my first real entry on the cessationism issue before the end of the weekend. Sorry to keep people waiting after promising so much, but the first of the year is always hectic, and I'm trying desperately to juggle multiple responsibilities. My new broadband connection is certainly faster, but that doesn't necessarily guarantee that I will keep up any better.

Phil's signature


Juice said...

I remember when I first learned of Duchamp's urinal in school. I knew then, that with the Dadaists, modern art was in the word of Nero Wolfe "flummery".

anoninva said...

Personally, I am sick of what Christians in blogs consider humorous. Can we get our heads out of the gutter, please? I didn't go to the link, because I don't want to know. It puzzles me how we can go from Spurgeon to this in just a few days?

Rose~ said...

What have you done to Pecadillo's dog?!
Poor puppy...

Paul Lamey said...

Too many absurdities to choose from but my favorite is the "Fountain is estimated at $3.6 million."

Rebecca Stark said...

I had the privilege of seeing one of Duchamp's fountains once. And yes, there are more than one, so I don't know why they're so upset about this one.
Aren't all upside down urinals pretty much the same?

Ephraim said...

I have to say Phil that your dog picture really captures the the mood of the topic.

I suppose that is why scripture calls those who refuse to submit to the Law of Elohim "lawless".

Jeremiah Johnson said...

I must have missed something; when did "performance artist" become a synonym for "crazy guy with a hammer?"

Sounds like a career change is in store for me.

Jim Crigler said...

Francis Schaeffer wrote in one of his books that the designers of a supersonic airliner (I forget whether it was the Concorde or the Boing [sic --- I work for a competitor] SST that never flew due to worries about the wildlife at 30,000 feet above the ocean) were asked in an interview whether there had been an aesthetic element in the design of the aircraft, which was perceived as beautiful. Their reply was that when you are designing something that has to go faster than 2,000,000 furlongs per fortnight, there's absolutely no room for aesthetics because you have to account for the forces of nature.

The porcelain fixture shouldn't be considered art, but I want to ask a few ...

Miscellaneous questions:

What makes something "art" as opposed to mere "design"? Can something with utilitarian value be considered beautiful? Is everything that is beautiful art? Artistic?

Sunsets are both beautiful and useful (since they help regulate atmospheric conditioins). Are they "design" to us and "art" to God?

Phil Johnson said...

anoninva: For the record, we don't do "gutter" humor here at PyroManiac, and we never have. Anything I link to is (as far as I can reasonably assure) safe. I refuse to link to images, language, or jokes that gratuitously transgress the boundaries of good taste or the principle of Ephesians 5:4. Anything that might get a PG-13 rating in a movie is routinely considered out of bounds for a link.

So you can safely follow the links above, and if you do, you'll discover that my actual point is wholly serious. Aside from the humor that is inherent in irony, I'm trying to make a point here that is anything but "humorous."

PS: Incidentally, I share your contempt for the low level of material sometimes treated as "humorous" in the Christian blogosphere.

CuriousSaint said...

Point taken...oh, and nice dog pic. It really paints the scene quite well.

Daniel said...

I agree with Juice - "flummery" captures it well.

Andrew said...

This story would be funnier (I did get a chuckle at the irony) if it didn't represent a microcosm of what is happening to western civilization. We are getting to the point where aberrant behavior--no matter how destructive--must be validated. The villains are the ones who would maintain absolute boundaries.

But I'm sure you already knew that.

Yankeerev said...

So...if we are ever arrested for "Preaching" can we hide behind the "I'm doing this as art, and as an artist I have no choice but to to what I am, by nature, created to do"?

Just a thought...

Dinsdale said...

Hey, is that Daniel or Mac Powell from Third Day?

Phillip M. Way said...

To me it is utterly ironic that you had to amend your post to explain the irony....

Do I need to explain why I found your explanation of irony ironic??


Char said...

Oh my gosh, this is so funny ...buddy with the hammer is correct, the Dadaists probably would indeed be pleased. This is just what the Dadaists were about, absurdity and anti-establishmentism (is that a word? Ah well).

Fountain is the ultimate joke on the artistic elite if you ask me. Imagine you created a parody and then had people you were lampooning take it seriously and even champion it.
heheh, I will laugh about this for awhile.

Jim Crigler said:
Whatmakes something "art" as opposed to mere "design"? Can something with utilitarian value be considered beautiful? Is everything that is beautiful art? Artistic?

according to the most prevalent strain of thought that I have seen, I would say intent is what makes the difference. Utilitarianism is just too simplistic a distinction.

Art(as I am fond of saying) tends to involve intent informing content-that is, the message you are trying to convey is the important thing. One uses whatever means necessary to get it across, and medium tends to be irrelevant except to the degree that it carries the message.

Craft (or design) by contrast is highly content oriented. If you are making something thinking of aesthetics or quality or process, etc, what you are doing is most likely high craft (at least we hope so because we have enough low craft in the world already).

this is too long already, but I just want to add that I view art and craft in their present forms as opposite ends of a sliding scale, and much creative work ends up somewhere in the middle. They really should not be separated in the manner that they have been, but what are ya gonna do?

suzi said...

ok, there are way too many "ist"s and "ism"s to keep up with. Maybe a spot with a mock dictionary that umm some of us could print might be helpful. ;)


Jim Dandy said...

Irony is a figure of speech in which what is stated is not what is meant. Thus the user of irony assumes that his reader or listener understands the concealed meaning of his statement. So for this story to contain irony wouldn’t the said hero actually have to believe and or say that he is indeed a vandal, and not a performance artist, and then only the in group would catch the ironical statement that the artist was indeed making? Because like you say the artist was acting in the manner of Dadaism (you say next logical level?). So at any level, if there is irony in this report, the irony must be in how you are reading it, there is no irony in the text itself.

The cultural critic E.D. Hirsch points out the irony in the following statement; that the way to cure over population is to eat babies, or the irony in Oedipus’s search to kill his father.

You then went on to say:

Anyway, I found it an interesting illustration of how postmodernism attacks modernism but can't really get away from modernist philosophies,. It encourages me to realize that all of pomoism is likewise bound to self-destruct, and probably sooner rather than later.

Postmodernism is a critique of modernism and as a critique its goal is not to win the day, but rather to show how modernism fails in what it states it can do. How does postmodernism fail to ‘really get away from’ modernist philosophies, that is a really interesting statement. Of course postmodernism is tied to modernism in that it is a critique of modernism, but if anything postmodernism has been a crucial element in bringing many to understand perspectivism more clearly.

You may not like the Dadaist artist, nor the performance artist, but the real irony is that a movement so interested in shock value and anti-establishment has been co-opted by the establishment. Now what does that tell you about the culture of late capitialism?

candy said...

It all goes back to the question. Does art influence society, or does society influence art?

Phil Johnson said...

Jim Dandy: I can't believe you seriously want to argue about this. It was a throwaway post making a point that the vast majority of rational earthlings would think incontrovertable.

Whatever. I'll take one last stab at it. Here's what the Oxford English Dictionary says:

"Irony: The expression of meaning using language that normally expresses the opposite; esp. the humorous or sarcastic use of praise to imply condemnation or contempt."

Now, in this case, the postmodern performance artiste used a physical form of deconstruction, which (to the rational mind) appears to be an expression of "condemnation or contempt," but there's a true sense in which he actually meant it as a tribute to the Dadaist philosophy of the "sculptor." That's irony.

In fact, the irony is so thick and so stark, only a devoted pomo bent on decontructing anything and everything could pretend to miss it.

There are a few more layers of irony in this tale (not to mention the presumably unintentional irony in Jim Dandy's remarks), but I'm going to leave it at that. Irony is like a joke or a beagle: you can't do an autopsy on it and then bring it back to life.

bp said...

My brother Damian is a huge art buff and has actually gone to see this toilet. When he returned home with pictures to show me he was giddy with excitement. I enjoy art myself but even I was embarrassed tp admit that he was my brother after this.

bp said...

Avast! Toilets as art! That be the stupidest thing I have ever heard of... and did I read correctly in someone's comment that this toilet is upside down?

pgepps said...

Postmodernism cannot possibly make more sense than modernism, which it inhabits even as it tries to energize the questions modernism has neutralized with "answers."

The interesting thing about this, to me, is that so many folks will feel the need to justify the "commentary" or to defend the "work" of art, as if these two things were opposed. They weren't and the fact the money, time, and effort has been spent to display, view, secure, arrest, try, report on, and debate the "art" and "artist" is all that Dadaists could wish to say about us.

That's the funny thing (irony) about pomo--it really is working, even when we don't think we're buying it.


pgepps said...

apologies for the typos (missing comma, and "the fact *THAT*") in the above. where's an editor when you need one?

Oh, hi, Phil!

Jim Dandy said...

Just having fun Phil. I do see the many layers of irony, but I wasn’t sure how the said ironies, related to your leading statement, so I was hoping for clarification (I figured if I asked you would give me the beagle bit); but alas now that I see the irony, how does this bit of irony relate to your leading statement about the manifold follies of postmodernism?

The irony I thought you were going after was the fact that this man was arrested for doing the very same thing the Dadaist artist would have been proud of. But then it would follow, or at least could follow, that your critique of the manifold follies of postmodernism was really a critique of modernism. But that can’t be what you were on about?

So how does the irony of seemingly being destructive, but in truth being appreciative, dovetail into your leading statement.

FX Turk said...

Is it me, or does Daniel change his avatar more often than Paris Hilton changes cellphones?

And potty humor is cheap. People with a vocabulary larger than 4,000 words ought to be able to make a funny without refering to the possible contents of a diaper.

Habitans in Sicco said...

The most obvious irony in all of this is the spectre of postmodernists, who profess to love paradox, irony, and self-contradiction (and who think they see it everyhere) but who just don't get it when the spotlight is turned on their own self-refuting principles. But there's nothing really new about that.

However, Jim Dandy's appeal to a dictionary definition while critiquing a critique of postmodernism was fresh and inventive, and I didn't see it coming. That has got to be one of the most hilariously ironic circumstances in this whole exchange.

Well done, Jimbo!

FX Turk said...

Phil: the "autopsy" analogy is priceless. It just gets better as I contemplate it.

A R N O L D said...

I think the only people talking about postmodernism are those who are railing against it - postmodernism was over before it started. Plenty of other things are out there to attack - like Barna's revolution, Wagner's Apostolic movement (should be dead but he's still at it) - let's see, there's also the biggest threat to Christianity imho which is the watered down seeker friendly church (which isn't postmodernism, it was around long before that word) - the "postmodern" church is now the emerging church, but of course that's a passed fad as well -let's just call a wayward fad this the "MacArthur would NOT appreciate this movemment" church - then we wouldn't have to worry about what the heretics were calling themselves these days.

pgepps said...

I quite agree that potty humor is cheap. Also that pomo "statements" necessarily self-destruct, since anyone who tries to make pomo into a constructive, axiom-driven philosophy is pretty much missing the point.

I do take issue with "habitans in sicco," though. Are the police who arrested this guy, the judges who try him, the reporters who report on it, the museum curators who profit from the publicity, etc., representatives of postmodernism? I very much doubt it, unless you take so broad a view of what is "postmodern" that it includes the entire culture--at which point, you've pretty much agreed with most postmodernist critics.

That remains the great thing: a pointless, idiotic "work" of "art" provokes an equally pointless, idiotic "work" of "commentary," which itself claims to be "art," and all the resources of modernity are at work to shore themselves up and attempt to demonstrate that this whole situation belongs to them--they possess the "work," it's under their control, the situation is under control, Nothing To See Here.

But there never *was* anything to see, here. Just a signed urinal. And a bunch of people arguing over who will profit from it, and in what way.

It's silly, but it's even more silly how such foolishness can expose the folly of the wise-in-their-own-conceits.

Preaching does it better, of course, because preaching does not merely expose for curiosity, reflection, or ridicule--it lays us bare before the God Who, in our denying, we wound; and Who, in His love, heals us.