"[P]oetry makes nothing happen: it survives, / [...] a way of happening, a mouth." -W. H. Auden

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Problem

Robert Rauschenberg, White Painting (Three Panel), 1951; painting; oil on canvas, 72 in. x 108 in. (182.88 cm x 274.32 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Purchased through a gift of Phyllis Wattis; © Estate of Robert Rauschenberg / Licensed by VAGA, New York

The problem with modernism and postmodernism is that their art and literature so often have as their primary aim being "modern" or "postmodern." "Il faut être absolument moderne [One must be absolutely modern]," said Rimbaud. This attempt to be "modern" or to be "postmodern" is ubiquitously evident in 20th-century art and literature. But this is an attempt that originates in the arrogance and blindness of believing oneself to occupy a unique and novel position in human experience. THIS IS NOT SO. The artist's manifesto should err on the side of brevity: instead of attempting "to be modern" or "to be postmodern," it would better serve simply "to be." An artist produces the most powerful and enduring work when she enacts her being rather than attempts to make propositions about it.


  1. Good point and interesting conclusion: "better... 'to be.'" Might I interject the possibility of "being" and/or "becoming?" The existential nature of "to be" answers one facet of the problem, while "to become" addresses another portion of the problem.