Victor Burgin claims that "the category of the postmodern is our first glimpse of the historical emergence of a field of post-Romantic aethetics. The cultural theory of the 1970s - drawing predominantly on femisnism, Marxism, psycho-analysis and semiotics - demonstrated the impossibility of themodernist ideal of art as a sphere of higher values, independent of history, social forms, and the unconscious; the same theory has undermined the modernist dogma that visual art is a mode of symbolization independent of other symbolic systems - most notably, language; Modernist pretentions to artistic independence have further subverted by the demonstration of the necessarily intertextual nature of the production of meaning; we can no longer unproblematically assume that Art is somehow outside of the complex of other institutions with which it is contemporary."
This book identifies these themes and develops its argument with deft and panache, intrepidly invoking the ministrations of a new theoretical paradigm now overdue. A concise rendition of such themes is rare and marked the birth of debates twenty years later still gaining currency.
The Postmodern has become a major issue for both the visual arts and cultural theory. However the art worlds has mostly tended to understand postmodernism in purely domestic terms, as literally, any form of art to emerge after the crisis of confidence in modernist aesthetics. Even the recent vogue for neo-expressionist paintings has been assimilated to the postmodern. In cultural theory, however, the project of postmodernism has involved dismantling the philosophical apparatus which supports both modernism and neo-expressionism alike. First assembled in the Enlightenment, this apparatus still provides the terms in which art is largely conceived to this day: "genius", "expression", the "purely visual", the "work" (and its apotheosis, the masterpiece) and so on.
Refusing such terms, Victur Burgin's essays in this book are the result of his continuing attempt to root visual art in contemporary cultural theory, rather than in traditional art history and aesthetics. He refuses to think art in isolation from the political, or to conceive the "political" in purely socio-economic terms, without a theory of the unconscious. He refuses to consider the visual outside of language ( a task he will repeatedly return to in his critical ouvre), or to venerate such hierarchies as "fine art", "vernacular art" and "mass media". He similarly disregards the supposedly inviolable specificities of the various media; his essays cut across a diversity of fields - photography, film, painting, advertising - in the contemporary landscape of representational practices.
In sum, Victor Burgin argues that "art theory", understood as those interdependent forms of art history, aesthetics and criticism which began in the Enlightenment and culminated in the recent period of high modernism, is now at an end. In our present so-called "postmodern era" the end of art theory now is identical with the goals of a general theory of representations: an understanding of the modes and means of symbolic articulation of our forms of sociality and subjectivity.
This book is essential reading for anyone interested in getting a synoptic look at art theories of the past, and a rationale for its inadequacy, the changes demanded and those incurred as a result of a social cpondition vastly altered. This piece was written in 1986 and the oncept of globalization is still in its initial stages. Burgin will assimialte a critique of globalization in later writings but here we find the debate wanting, but the writing is no less outstanding for it.