The Social implications of Modernist Syntax: The Radical Meaning of Non-Determinism
It is my intention to show that the syntax of modern art, the way our era structures its use of visual language, reflects a new cultural attitude of anxiety. This instability is an essential aspect of our culture.
Today's art remains compositionally and emotionally fragmented and disorienting, deriving from Cubism, Surrealism and Dada. Fragmentation is the very essence of our pictorial language. Despite the apparent changes in Post-Modernism, from the idealism of High Modernism, to the political and social realism of Post-Modernism, underlying the various stages of Modern art, is the philosophic concept of uncertainty, chance and accident, as a means of understanding and structuring our language and our reality. This primary acceptance of uncertainty as a means of structuring culture is unique in the history of Western Culture.
Relativity and uncertainty are deeply understood principles of modern thinking. The uncertainty principle is central to modern physics. Quantum theory stresses the uncertainty of sub-atomic events which can occur without clear cause. In philosophy, existential thinking suggests that there are no deterministic meanings in life. In biology, random mutations are the essence of evolution theory and in politics and social organization the moment now determines and reinterprets reality. This is radical because most individuals in western cultures believe in a 'deterministic', a priori or causal system of thought.
Nevertheless, we live in a Modernist, non-deterministic reality in which a breakdown occurs between cause and effect. Logic gives way to a new continuum of uncertainty and chance becomes the central contemporary creative understanding. This is the central meaning of Modern syntax. Not until the language of Modernism and the implications of these values on our culture is understood by the larger public can a deeper harmony with our society evolve.
Keywords: Non-Deterministic, Fragmentation, Instability, Visual Syntax, Chance
Professor, Studio Arts Department, College of Charleston