Curvism: Beyond Postmodernism

Postmodernism killed and replaced Modernism in the mid-1960s. Postmodernism has been dying since the turn of the century. What comes next? What best describes the changes that are taking place in art and culture?

There are a number of developing art movements occurring that name the Post-Postmodern age that is emerging. Some of them are summarized below.

Remodernism was first used in 2000 by artists Billy Childish and Charles Thompson in their manifesto titled “Remodernism.” They see the postmodern “age of scientific materialism, nihilism and spiritual bankruptcy” coming to an end and advocate moving “towards a new spirituality in art.”  

New Sincerity has been used since the mid-1980s to describe the movement in cultural awareness away from irony and cynicism, and towards authenticity and sincerity. As a term to describe Post-Postmodernism, New Sincerity has been gaining popularity since Jesse Thorn’s 2006 essay “A Manifesto for the New Sincerity.” 

Pseudomodernism or Digimodernism were used by Alan Kirby in his 2006 essay titled “The Death of Postmodernism and Beyond.” Kirby argues that we have entered a new cultural period significantly changed by digital technology. Kirby describes humans interacting superficially in a virtual world in a “trance-like state” where “one phones, clicks, presses, surfs, chooses, moves, downloads.” Kirby sees Postmodernism evolving into Digimodernism leading to weightless humans, lost in cyberspace disconnected to reality. This new worldview is characterized by “consumer fanaticism” of technology, texts and products. Kirby is pessimistic about this cultural evolution.

Altermodernism was coined by art curator Nicolas Bourriaud in 2009 to name our new era. Bourriaud sees the altermodern artist as a nomadic traveler in a globalized world where everything, every place and all past history is available to assimilate and weave together to create a unique identity. Altermodern identity is an alternative to the uniformity of mass westernized culture or separated and radicalized traditionalistic subcultural identity. 

Transmodernism, as a term to describe Post-Postmodernism, is attributable to philosopher Enrique Dussel around 1995. Transmodernism is critical of aspects of Modernism and Postmodernism and believes culture is now moving into a time of renewed spirituality. This new spirituality is pluralistic and not western dominated or centered. It is rising out of the periphery, the outside, the previously excluded. Transmodernism embraces environmentalism, feminism and universalism while holding onto some traditional premodern values.

Metamodernism first appeared in 2010 in the essay “Notes on Metamodernism” by philosophers Robin van den Akken and Timotheus Vermeulen. They propose the concept of Metamodernism to describe an alternative shift beyond Postmodernism, occurring at the beginning of the 21st century. The postmodern outlook on life is described with the words: irony, cynicism, skepticism, deconstructivism, dismantlement, fragmentation, micro narratives, pluralism, relativism, and the end of the grand narrative. Metamodernism sees a cultural trend developing towards a renewed hope, an informed naivety, a shift to sincerity and authenticity, and to an affective, romantic view with a belief in the possibility of utopias. Vermenlen and van den Akker see Metamodernism as retaining the valuable postmodern criticisms of modernism and oscillating between sincerity and irony. Metamodernism wants to keep the spirit of both Modernism and Postmodernism alive.

Metamodernist poets Jesse Damiani and Seth Abramson use a philosophical concept associated with Friedrich Hegel to describe our cultural evolution. They see Modernism as the thesis and Postmodernism as the antithesis. They believe we are entering a period of synthesis where the best fragmented parts of Modernism and Postmodernism are reconstructed to create something new and improved.

Twenty-first century architecture is moving away from the mix and match appropriated styles from the past that characterized the postmodern style. Curved surfaces are being incorporated into architectural designs. The buildings of Frank Gehry, (for example the 1997 Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and his 2003 Walt Disney Concert Hall) look like Cubism with curves added. As the 21st century has progressed, a number of architects have been moving towards a more pure curvilinear style (for examples in 2005 Herzog and de Meuron’s Allianz Arena in Munich and in the 2007 Beijing National Stadium nicknamed the Bird’s Nest).

A change is definitely happening. Art is reflecting that change and trying to lead the change. For too long, there has been too much disappointment, irony and cynicism. The lessons from postmodern criticisms of Modernism have been learned and are being incorporated. Culture is shifting away from a purely manmade, western, patriarchic, scientific, and capitalistic definition of what it means to be human. The modern-postmodern worldview has created a crisis, putting the Earth in conflict and danger. We are in the early stages of a transition of values. Art and culture want to be and need to be more hopeful.

Curvism is the word I began using in 1978 to describe my art and philosophy. In 1981, I started having local art shows titled Curvism. I grew up immersed in nature. I could see the difference and conflict between the manmade world and the natural curved world. Early on, my artist statements and art gave voice and picture images of the difference. Curvism seeks to move out of the manmade worldview symbolized by the square, rectangle and cube and into the spiritual sphere symbolized by the curved line, the circle and the ellipse.        

Curvism views the world from a more female perspective. Curvism speaks of nature and the earth, the environment and the ecological. It is about wholeness and diversity and concerns itself with quality. Curvism values the senses and the sensual, the intuitive and the experiential, the emotions and empathy, caring and cooperation. Curvism is oriented to cycles and the nonlinear, to both spontaneity and reflection. Curvism is concerned with relationships and ultimately involves love. Those qualities are growing with the realization that the globalized worldview of science, technology and commerce cannot alone create the quality of earthly life worth living and passing on to our grandchildren. Science, technology and commerce have dominated nature and dehumanized humans and need to now be subservient tools to the repressed female qualities of humans in order to live in harmony and in balance with nature and each other.

My philosophy of Curvism is clearly summarized in my extended manifesto “Curvism: Art and Philosophy” written in 1997. Curvism had its first major solo art exhibition in January 1998 at Flanders Contemporary Art gallery in Minneapolis. Curvism continues to slowly evolve and emerge.        

Since the turn of the century, there has been a number of artists who have claimed to have discovered the term Curvism and have been using it to describe their art. They too recognize the visual difference between the manmade, cubed world and the curved world of nature. Most of the artists have a curvy cubistic style of Curvism. Two notable exceptions, Ricardo Chavez-Mendez (who has been using the Spanish word Curvismo since 2005) and Amaury Dubois (who has been using the French word Courbisme since 2005), have a more swirly surrealistic style of Curvism. 

My development of Curvism as a term, as a philosophy and as art predates the post-postmodern trends and art movements described above. Curvism is complementary to those trends. My vision of Curvism has been, and is, an effort to help art and the dominate cultural view move optimistically towards a renewed reverence of nature, a greater appreciation and inclusion of the female qualities of humans, and a revitalization of human wisdom and spirituality. Curvism offers a unified perspective of our times and a way forward beyond Postmodernism and into the future.

For a more in depth understanding of Curvism read Curvism: The Journey of an Artist (Thoughts on Art, Nature, Politics, and Spirituality) published in 2006 and available as an Amazon Kindle ebook, or visit curvism.com.

 

Steve Firkins  •  March 2015