It occurred to me while riding my bike this morning that ever since the 20th century, artists have had an additional level of self-consciousness. What I mean is that at the crux of postmodernism was the notion of breaking from tradition because it had all been done before. And while artists have always viewed themselves as successors to a tradition, the naming of the era in which they live is a relatively modern development. John Keats wasn’t aspiring to define Romanticism with “To Autumn.” Especially in the fine arts, movements like Bauhaus and Fluxus offered manifestoes that differentiated their artistic practices from the norm. That never happened before Modernism.
In Ancient Rome, there was no artistic movement called originalism. They simply referred to the art of the Greeks as their precursors, and the Greeks referred to the Etruscans. Today, my very attempt at using post postmodernism as one of the keywords for my blog is an example of the way artists deal directly with tradition. Today we are increasingly aware of the tradition. Paradoxically, however, tradition has become increasingly hazy as the canon has been restructured over the past 30 years. Also, contemporary writers who have received approbation may view themselves as inheritors to the writings of Mailer, Roth and Updike. That’s okay, but only time will decide the best of the best.
For our current era of what is not yet named, but which I think of as Millenialism (using post postmodernism because that’s what people search for, and that’s why it’s in all the titles of my posts) it is about striking a balance of new and old. We must remember the best works of yesterday and read the best authors of today, of whom I cannot yet fairly inventory. Let’s not get all James Joyce avant garde art on the readers, but don’t make it Dan Brown easy. It’s all about striking a balance.