Postmodernism is almost more of a “meta movement”, in some ways it’s a movement about movements. It’s the way Indie is the alternative to Alternative. It’s the counter-counterculture (still not mainstream but a reaction to a reaction).
Once upon a time artists just did their thing and movements weren’t really named until after they’d happened. People weren’t pretentious enough to try to name the thing while it was the thing. But once it had gone from a “this” to a “not that” it then became okay to point their fingers to the moon, because it belonged now to the annals of art history and not art.
“Modern” and “contemporary” are names we give to things that are currently going on, because they are still happening, and we’ve not named them yet. It’s a placeholder for people who feel there should be a name.
“Postmodernism” was arguably the first major art movement that named itself while it was happening.
In many ways postmodernism is like a forced meme. Instead of letting something occur organically of its own accord, people so felt there needed to be a new movement that they insisted it was one and pushed it through.
Postmodernism wasn’t an art movement because it matched the criteria for being an art movement. Postmodernism was a movement because people said it was an art movement.
I first discovered postmodernism when I was a wee teenager “a million years ago, in the 90s” to quote Beckett.
Throughout high school and college I was quite obsessed with it, but, one of the side effects of forcing a movement before its time is to be left hungry for another movement, and another, and another.
People tried to force “post-post modernism”, “pomo 33”, “nü-pomo” and myriad others into movements and they all failed miserably (because you can’t be after a movement that hasn’t happened yet – er, you can, I suppose, but they failed).
Then for many years I simply didn’t hear anything at all about postmodernism.
Round about 2010 I met this brilliant young historian and art critic who brought it up in conversation and gave me a thorough explanation as to why postmodernism had finally ended. One of the main tenants of postmodernism is the idea that “there are no original ideas, the technique and technology has been perfected, we can now make a map more detailed than the territory, god is dead, art is dead, punk is dead blah blah blah and there is nothing left to do as a species other than dissect our own shit.”
Well, humanity had finally got done dissecting its own shit and it freed things up for people to start creating again.
Who cares if your inspirations are transparent? Who cares if every single thing you do has already been done before by someone else? We know that motifs are repeated, and we’re over it. We want to hear you do the thing
“Songs are eternal. Singers merely borrow them.”
BUT, post-modernism doesn’t have to still be going on for people to use it as a style or enjoy it. People still paint landscapes and portraits with oils on canvas and it’s awesome. People still make amazing contributions using the Dada or Absurdist or Surrealist styles and it’s great.
So that’s all I meant, is that post-modernism has been dead for so long that it’s now enjoying its 2nd run as a retro movement.
But then I realized that the double meaning of my comment was that as a movement, postmodernism made heavy usage of content that was considered “retro”.