You are hereModernism and Post Modernism - revised March 28, 2015

Modernism and Post Modernism - revised March 28, 2015

By gmiller - Posted on 17 February 2011

Modernism is supposed to have ended sometime in the 1960’s. Much that has been written about this alleged transformation is confused, if not nonsensical, and, in any event is unhelpful to the working artist trying to situate himself or herself in the 21st Century.

It is commonly held that a work of any kind or quality is now acceptable. Anything from painstakingly executed technically demanding pieces to ephemeral actions requiring neither evidence of technical competence nor creative risk, can be deemed to be art.

I am still trying to understand art without product - conceptual art, performance art. I understand such manifestations as ideas or as performances, albeit not necessarily interesting ideas nor artful performances. People can take to a stage or get in front of a camera. They can move, speak, read, or roll around on the floor in their skivvies in a puddle of paint. However interesting or engaging, few are convincing to me as productions of art. I keep looking for the artifact or evidence of competence.

It comes down to whether the underlying performance or installation can stand as art.

The section Artistic Autonomy carries this discussion further.


This detail illustrates the richness and visual interest of the painted surface.

So does this reproduction of a 6' x 7' cloud painting.


It can be difficult to assess the artistic dimensions, if any are present, of performance and installation. Two other members of the Arroyo Arts Collective, Lt. Mustardseed and Seraphina Whitman, and I responded to a call for installation or performance pieces connected to images related to the local history of the Arroyo Seco, the core of early Los Angeles Bohemia and the home of the Arroyo Arts Collective. The basis of our effort was a snapshot of two women taken circa 1910 in the Arroyo. The setting for installations and performances was the Lummis House, home of a Los Angeles turn of the 19th Century historian and Bohemian.

Sometime around 1910, Alice Shields and Verda Ludy, cousins, were camping in the Arroyo Seco. They were photographed posing with revolvers.

The photograph, with its notation on verso “Alice and Verda when we camped in the Arroya,” was the basis for the performance/installation. The location where the photo was made was in the vicinity of the Arroyo Seco Parkway, appearing in a photograph elsewhere on the site.

The Parkway, completed shortly before the start of World War II, connected downtown Los Angeles with Pasadena, 14 miles to the north. It was the first limited access freeway built in California. It passes through an early residential neighborhood that is no longer suitable for recreational camping.

The documentation, which amounted to a short film, was done in the Angeles National Forest. The landscape somewhat approximated the landscape in the photograph, and, with Forest Service oversight, gunfire was permitted, something not practicable in 21st Century Highland Park.

On the day of the performance, cast and crew assembled on the grounds of the Lummis House in costume and with a wooden field camera, while the documentary film ran on a monitor in the museum. At intervals the costumed actors posed and we reinacted the making of the photograph.

"Alice and Verda in the Arroya"

Performers: L. T. Mustardseed, Seraphina Whitman, David Knott

Camera Operator: James Morez

Film Editor: Carmenzella

Music: Stefen Basho-Junghans, Samantha Miller

Producer/Director: Gurdon Miller

The film is an artistic artifact. The performance/installation we did, however, has many of the problems I have observed to be characteristic of performance/installation. I remain uncertain as to whether our day on the grounds of the Lummis House rose to the level of artistic production.

I saw Al Leslie's films PULL MY DAISY and LAST CLEAN SHIRT when he screened them for the life drawing class he taught in the summer of 1964 at UCLA. It seemed normal at the time that a painter would make movies. It still seems normal.

The performance/installation was somewhat of an historical enactment. Irrespective of whether it was art, its documentation - a short film made by a painter - rises to the level of art.


I took Modern Dance at Berkeley to satisfy the physical education requirement. The instructor had been a member of the Martha Graham company. I became, for that time, a moderately competent intermediate dancer. By the time I graduated I was attending four classes a week. For my final solo performance I painted and motorized a large box, played Swan Lake and did an improvised ten minute dance piece with the randomly gyrating box.

Taking up dance, performing with a motorized box seemed normal to me. Dance fitted in to what I understood to be Modern Art. It still does. Nearly 50 years later I am again involved with what is currently referred to as Contemporary Dance. I take classes and participate in pre-rehersal warm up sessions of the Upside Dance company in Healdsburg, California.

I get to interact with dancers and to closely observe how dancers move -- a manifestly sensory experience of perception -- an aesthetic experience. When performed by professional dancers, Dance is art.


Syndicate content