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date: 26 February 2024

Visual Arts: Postmodernismlocked

Visual Arts: Postmodernismlocked

  • Meredith MunsonMeredith MunsonDepartment of Art, Sam Houston State University


Postmodernism is notoriously difficult to define in any concise manner. Its start dates (and end dates, for that matter) exist in a state of flux, often varying by decades in the historiographies of major disciplines. In an attempt to begin to understand postmodernism, many theorists, art historians, and philosophers choose to take a rather apophatic approach by describing that which it is not, namely starting by understanding modernism. After all, that is embedded into the term postmodernism itself; at its core, postmodernism is connected to modernism. Essentially, modernism as a movement was predicated upon an avant-gardism that envisioned modern art as the cure-all for the broken world, working toward a utopian ideal. In understanding art’s engagement with religion in the postmodern era, it is also necessary to consider the shifting social landscape of institutional religion and politics at this time. The culture wars of the end of the 20th century both shaped and were shaped by postmodern art, with famous clashes between artists and the emerging religious right and/or prominent political figures dominating the headlines. Largely because of these events, many critical narratives have promoted the idea that art and religion had little to do with each other in this period. While secularization theories are gradually unraveling in the field at large, these ideas still figure prominently in many discussions of modernism and postmodernism. Regardless, artists have continued to engage with religious subject matter throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. The appearance of secularization is imperative to note, particularly as a number of postmodern artists (indeed, some of the most recognizable names in the art world) have engaged with religion in their work. This is not to say that postmodern artworks with religious themes all celebrate religion uncritically, nor do they all examine religion from outside the realm of belief in a strictly anthropological manner. One of the main difficulties in interpreting postmodernism’s rather vexed relationship with institutional religion is the multivalence of many of the artworks. Multiplicity of meaning in both artistic intent (if such a thing is granted) and reception is common in postmodernism, which should caution critics from attempting to make concrete assertions about any presence of pure religiosity or pure secularism. Trends in postmodern artistic practices, such as the mixing of high and low art forms and media, the use of appropriation, pastiche, institutional critique, and more, along with the increasing diversification of artists and contexts, have resulted in the examination of religious subjects in ways that are particularly postmodern.


  • Religion and Art

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