Monday, July 4, 2011
Postmodernism: Good for the Arts, Bad for the Sciences
This was a really interesting interview with Ophelia Benson, who writes the blog, Butterflies and Wheels, and hits on topics that I have been thinking about lately. Foremost among those topics is the reflexive stance of the progressive movement to accept the postmodernist idea that all ways of thinking are relative to the individual person and their cultural background. The idea that no one outside that culture can criticize that culture's practices... I think this kind of cultural relativism completely breaks down and is indefensible when it comes to real-world human rights issues such as female genital mutilation, honor killings and genocide.
But I also think the topic of postmodernism has a very divided good side and bad side...
I believe that when the philosophy of postmodernism tries to step into the sciences, such as math, astronomy, physics, sociology and biology it automatically gets itself into trouble... On this side, there really are facts and non-facts and things that are true and things that are simply not true. It doesn't matter what culture or socioeconomic background you come from; two plus two will always equal four, the speed of light will always be a universal constant, and killing an innocent girl because she was raped will always be a bad thing...
But on the other side are the creative arts, such as literature, poetry, music, film and visual art... These are the things that are derived purely from the human imagination.... I think the difference here is between what is knowable versus what is imaginable.
Early twentieth century modernism in painting began as an incredible leap forward. It was seeing the sciences of the time reducing itself to a very tidy series of laws and principles and was trying to do the same for the arts. The reductivism of modernist abstract art was trying to hone in on a similar abstract truth that Einstien was focusing on with his theory of relativity.
It is very interesting that postmodernism in the arts came about roughly at the same time that the unpredictability of quantum physics, but that doesn't change the fact that the sciences are in the quest for what is knowable in reality and the arts are in the quest for what is possible in the human imagination.
I think the crux of my argument is that the two are entirely separate endeavors. That doesn't change the fact that the arts can be greatly influenced by the findings of the sciences and, in turn, the sciences can see paths unimagined if it were not for the creativity of the arts... But the fact remains that one area is about what is real and natural, and the other is about what is imaginable.
The idea of postmodernism was like a giant explosion in the world of the visual arts. To a visual artist in the 1960s, modernist abstraction was a set of rules that was almost a tunnel that was getting smaller and smaller... The movement was literally painting itself into a corner. To us artists, the idea that references could come from comic books, from the point of view of another gender, from graphic design, other cultures, or even from grandma paintings was a completely refreshing idea. The ironic thing about it all is that the postmodern change that happened in the arts feels very similar to the change a country under dictatorial rule feels after a change to a democratic state... It does feel like the possibilities are endless...