n the NYT there is a story by Motoko Rich on how the internet is changing reading habits. “What we are losing in this country and presumably around the world is the sustained, focused, linear attention developed by reading,” said Mr. Gioia of the N.E.A. “I would believe people who tell me that the Internet develops reading if I did not see such a universal decline in reading ability and reading comprehension on virtually all tests.” In other words what is changing isn’t just reading, but critical thinking which demands “sustained, focused, linear attention….” This breakdown of depth involvement is part of the Postmodern lexicon. Surface, surface, surface…which plays in the art world like food pellets in a rat experiment. The highly refined and intricately manufactured surfaces and styles of Postmodernism, even when inflected with theoretical asides and historical assumptions, are scant on real engaging visual depth. To see, to look and understand takes no time – understanding is superfluous to meaning. There is no pleasure for the looking only the eternal signatory – the come hither gaze of crowd-pleasing Postmodern celebrity. We “get it” immediately and yet we can never be a part of it, never actually participate. Is it any wonder that so many of the surfaces of Postmodern sculpture are reflective, mirroring the wierdly warped images of ourselves as we stare at the objects in front of us? What you see is what you see.
But what if, when we are thinking critically, we discover that what we see is not what we see. Which brings me to another idea that Henri & Co. have been throwing around in regards to the state of the Postmodern. What is Popular Culture?Postmodernists are extremely fond of heaving this giant behomoth of contemporary creative fecundity straight into our faces as if it were a justification for what they do, but what does it mean, what does it do, what is it all about? We’ve had a few discussions, but I believe the answer lies deeper than Britney or Lindsey, reality tv and summer comic book movies, Koons and Murakami. Greenberg was adamant about kitsch – the mid century definition of pop culture. “Kitsch, using for raw material the debased and academicized simulacra of genuine culture, welcomes and cultivates this insensibility. It is the source of its profits. Kitsch is mechanical and operates by formulas. Kitsch is vicarious experience and faked sensations. Kitsch changes according to style, but remains always the same. Kitsch is the epitome of all that is spurious in the life of our times. Kitsch pretends to demand nothing of its customers except their money — not even their time.” You may preferVirginia Woolf’s discussion of the “middlebrow.” “They are neither one thing nor the other. They are not highbrows, whose brows are high; nor lowbrows, whose brows are low. Their brows are betwixt and between. They do not live in Bloomsbury which is on high ground; nor in Chelsea, which is on low ground. Since they must live somewhere presumably, they live perhaps in South Kensington, which is betwixt and between. The middlebrow is the man, or woman, of middlebred intelligence who ambles and saunters now on this side of the hedge, now on that, in pursuit of no single object, neither art itself nor life itself, but both mixed indistinguishably, and rather nastily, with money, fame, power, or prestige. The middlebrow curries favour with both sides equally. He goes to the lowbrows and tells them that while he is not quite one of them, he is almost their friend. Next moment he rings up the highbrows and asks them with equal geniality whether he may not come to tea.” But these are from discussions of culture based in the electric 20th Century. What about today, the electronic 21st century, are things really different and if so how? We’ll make an effort to puzzle this out in upcoming posts.