MSB brainstorming

15 November 2016

Dr Great Art Podcast Episode 3: "Pluralism, PluralismS, Schmuralism"

Re-historicizing Pluralism in art. It is claimed to be a unique change and to reign right now, yet it is not so new and has a past. Pluralisms have occurred at least 7 times before.


Here is the script (NOT a transcript, as I change lements while recording).

Dr Great Art Podcast Three
"Pluralism, PluralismS, Schmuralism"

Hi this is Mark Staff Brandl, with the third "Dr (Great) Art" brief podcast. I hope you enjoy it and come back for each and every one.
Today we have a short historical overlook of Pluralism. Or rather 'PluralismS.' titled: "Pluralism, Pluralisms, Schmuralism"
(For those who do not recognize it, in the title I am using "Shm-reduplication" --- in this linguistic play the original word is repeated with the beginning 'shm.' The construction is generally used to indicate irony, derision, skepticism, or disinterest with respect to comments about the discussed object and comes from Yiddish and was subsequently transferred to urban American English.)
Pluralism? Schmuralism!

Thanks to poststructuralist theory (largely I would assert misunderstood by the artworld), some artworld aficionados assert that there WAS a linear progression in art history that has ended. After the end of this linear progress, anything goes. (I would argue against both premises that there WAS such a teleological line and that it ended, but I will do that another time.)

Pluralism reigns. There is much to discuss here, but I will limit myself to my own re-historization of pluralism and indeed progress itself as concepts in art.
There could potentially be a dynamic version of pluralism, were we to follow Diana L. Eck of The Pluralism Project at Harvard University, who suggests that pluralism is or could be "not diversity alone, but the energetic engagement with diversity." Unfortunately, I do not find this to be true of the current use of the idea in the artworld.
MOST IMPORTANTLY, though, pluralism is not unique. It has been used to describe many art periods in the past. Let me quickly historicize it. I have found at least 8 clear examples of pluralism, both as the animal and named as such, throughout art history from the ancient past till now. I discussed these extensively in my PhD dissertation, but now I present some sort elucidations.
Here are a few citations of scholars who have described the pluralism of these various periods of pluralism in art history.
1. Franklin Einspruch explained late Antique Greek art, Hellenism, in terms of pluralism: "The artistic achievements of Greece simultaneously peak and founder in Hellenism." This is so pervasive a description of this period that it has been used the other way round. Tim Muldoon claims that "we are living amidst a kind of postmodern Hellenism" now. Pluralism in Ancient Greece.
2. Francesca Tronchin, discussing Late Roman culture writes: "As the pluralism of Roman art itself rises in stock among scholars, however, such additive or syncretistic systems are now being paid fresh attention." Pluralism in Ancient Rome.
3. Susan von Daum Tholl in her entry on Carolingian Art in the Encyclopedia of Medieval Germany states, "Historians of the period have repeatedly uncovered a pluralism." Pluralism in Medieval times.
4. Judith Steinhoff demonstrates that Siena's Trecento, Mannerist, artistic culture of the mid- and late fourteenth century was intentionally pluralistic in her book Sienese Painting After the Black Death: Artistic Pluralism, Politics, and the New Art Market. Pluralism in Mannerism.
5. Franklin Toker claims that the period to most strongly evidence "different and even opposing art movements was the eighteenth century… in France and Germany with the Rococo movement." Pluralism in the Rococo.
6. Austrian art historian Hans Sedlmayr, in his book Art in Crisis: The Lost Center, claims pluralism for all the architecture of Historicism, the period(s) which painters know better as Romanticism and Neo-Classicism. Pluralism in Historicism.
7. Corinne Robins's book The Pluralist Era; American Art, 1968-1981 claimed the exclusive application of the term 'Pluralist' to the art of the 1970s and early 1980s, before the explosions of Neo-Expressionism and Neo-Conceptualism occurred. This was a common claim at that time, I remember, though Pluralism was actually often denigrated in order to promote either of the two named Neos. This was true until very recently, when the term 'Pluralism' appears to be in the process of being co-opted by the Neo-Conceptualists themselves. I lived through all of that and experienced it well. Pluralism in early and mid Postmodern times.
8. And then there is now. One example is Jim Auer's 1995 review "Seductive and Sensational: Art Museum Exhibit Embraces Pluralism," in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Pluralism now.

Let me summarize, Pluralism is nothing new.
It has historically arisen within and/or been used to describe the cultural experimentation and fumbling about after any given "strong" period of art history and before the next one arose. At this art historical moment, the shadow of High Modernism hangs over us, much as that of the Renaissance did over the Mannerists. In place of Donatello, Leonardo, Raphael, etc., — and most of all Michelangelo, --- we have the School of Paris, the Action Painters, Pop, the Conceptualists, Minimalists, etc., — and most of all Duchamp; or, in comics, the shadow of Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Harvey Kurzman,
Osamu Tezuka. Pluralism is a standard condition of transitional periods and is most often taken to be an end point, yet never was. As New York painter David Reed said to me, "We must get over trying to be the first or thinking we are the last. We are in the midst of a long line of artists. There are those before us and there will be many after us."

I have heard it contended that this time, there has been a "sea change," as the saying goes. This new period of Pluralism, or whatever else it may be, has changed everything. This is both true and false. Every change in art history has made this claim, and in fact has changed everything afterwards, that itself is, thus, not uniquely true. This claim of a "sea change" has been made, and I believe is indeed true, just not uniquely so, of the Renaissance, Modernism, Cubism, Dada, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop, Conceptualism, Neo-Expressionism, and others. Most importantly, there will be other such "sea changes" in the future.
My response, in short, is that I do not feel that we now have an end of either art or art history. It is the death of one western, reductivist master narrative: that single, simple march-of-history idea which was taken for granted until recently. This is also a history of art which has ignored vernacular art such as comics, the contributions of women, the entire world outside Europe and North America, and much more.

Philosopher David Carrier writes, "unlike Danto, I think that there is more than one way to tell the story of art’s history." While this would seemingly call for multiple histories, my friend Carrier terms such a position "posthistorical." Numerous and divers stories are not necessarily "post-story;" I assert, they simply embody the amendment of one dominant tale into many narratives.
Art history could have many narratives or even narrative climaxes other than ontology or formal reduction; and multiple ones at that. Or best, NO climax. The future of both fine and comic art might NOT be posthistorical, but rather polyhistorical. This also does NOT mean we should give up modeling art history, in some version of poststructuralist lazy nihilism.
I see a solution to the "timeline inadequacy problems" in a model of art history as a braid, a theory indeed called the "Brandl/Perreault Braid Model of Art History," as I and John Perreault came up with it together, but that will be the subject of another podcast. 

For now: Pluralism is nothing new.
It has historically arisen within and/or been used to describe the cultural experimentation and fumbling about after any given "strong" period of art history and before the next one arose. At this art historical moment, we are in one such weaker transitional period. But let us look at it as a potentially positive cultural brainstorming and stop the repetitive, naive statements that because things are not like earlier, like Europe in some specific time, or what-have-you, then everything is over. That is cloaked lazy thought, chauvinism, even racism.

Thanks for listening. That was "Dr (Great) Art" podcast number 3. If you wish to hear more cool, exciting and hopefully inspiring stuff about art history and art, come back for more. Also I, Dr Mark Staff Brandl, artist and art historian, am available for live custom Performance-Lectures. In English und auf Deutsch.
I take viewers inside visual art and art history. Entertainingly, yet educationally and aesthetically, I analyze, underline, and discuss the reasons why a work of art is remarkable, or I go through entire eras, or indeed through the entirety of art history. The lectures often take place with painted background screens and even in my painting-installations.
You can find or contact me at ("dr etc.")
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