Faceless Masses

Modern and Postmodern Art

Most artists make sculptures out of clay or stone. But a French artist named Orlan sculpts her own body.

Orlan has undergone plastic surgery seven times to alter her face. She vows to submit to the knife repeatedly until she has the forehead of the Mona Lisa, the chin of Botticelli’s Venus, and the nose and lips found in other classical paintings.

This is not just a matter of vanity. For Orlan, it is “art.” She says she is remodelling her face to throw off her own identity and take on a ready-made identity from paintings. In her own words, I’m not doing this “to improve, or rejuvenate, but to erase my previous image.”

That’s an unusual goal for an artist. Most people think of art as a means to express yourself, not to erase yourself. But in his book Postmodern Times, Gene Edward Veith says contemporary artists have adopted an entirely new philosophy–a philosophy called postmodernism.

Modern art celebrated the individual. But postmodern art embraces cultural determinism–the idea that people are shaped by their culture. Modern art aimed at expressing your unique personal perspective. Postmodern art aims at erasing your uniqueness and simply reflecting cultural forces.

A German artist named Joseph Beuys [boyz] puts his signature on manufactured items taken right off the store shelf–and then sells them. His art is a direct attack on the idea of personal expression and personal uniqueness. The artist affixes his name to whatever his society produces.

Art becomes merely the expression of a consumerist society.

This explains why the multicultural movement denounces the great artists of the past as Dead White Males. Works of art are no longer judged by their individual insight and creativity. Instead they’re treated as the expressions of class, race, and gender. Postmodernist critics diligently deconstruct works of art for signs of sexism, racism, and class prejudice.

Because of this group mindset, postmodern art often veers off into sheer political activism. Several months ago the National Endowment for the Arts funded an art project that consisted of handing out $10 bills to illegal immigrants. The purpose of this crazy stunt was to protest government policy toward illegal immigrants–and turn them into a politicized victim group.

This emphasis on group identity has been bemoaned by pundits and social commentators. But few understand where it came from. Its roots are in a postmodernism that reduces the individual to a web of cultural forces.

You and I can use postmodern art to illustrate the truth that only Christianity gives an adequate base for individual worth and dignity. Francis Schaeffer used to say the death of God would mean the death of Man. His words were prophetic. The Western heritage of individual dignity rested firmly on the Christian belief that God created and loves each person.

But as modern culture rejects the Christian heritage, it is losing its basis for individual rights and dignity. Today’s postmodernism dissolves the individual into the social group.

And it is symbolized by artists who find ways to erase their individuality–even if it means using plastic surgery to sculpt and resculpt their faces.


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