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POSTMODERNISM AND ARTS


MARKETING
Laurie A. Meamber

Introduction and overview


(Art critic) Because what you are witnessing today seems to me the situation of (the
1960s). Guy Debord talked about the society of the spectacle, and we are all on show
every single day so also this notion of doing performance, doing shows, is really growing.
(Meamber 1997: 289)
In the current experience or image economy, the arts are essential. The aesthetic nature of life
today is premised on our engagement with the arts, and with artistic material. Contemporary
consumers are surrounded by artistic content when consuming the arts, such as performances,
art festivals, fairs and auctions, films, and museums. Consumers are also embedded in design,
aesthetics, and visual matter (embodied in brands, books, and webpages for example) in everyday
consumption experiences. Consumers perform their lives by producing meaning via their
consumption choices. With reference to the quote above, the idea that we live spectacle is fundamentally postmodern. Given that the arts and artistic substance are central in the present age,
understanding multiple perspectives on arts marketing is more important than ever before.
The purpose of this chapter is to review scholarship pertaining to postmodernism and arts
marketing. Andreas Huyssen (1990) describes postmodernism as viewpoint within a historical
condition.Therefore, the chapter will focus on the marketing of the arts in the current era that
is, both on the relationship between postmodernism and the marketing of the arts (the viewpoint), and the marketing of the arts in postmodernity (the condition).The major topics that will
be addressed in this chapter are: (1) postmodernism and postmodernity; (2) decentering and
cultural production; (3) fragmentation and arts marketing; and (4) hyperreality and the arts.
Rather than describing all aspects of postmodern philosophy as it applies to the present, this
chapter will concentrate on interpreting postmodernism grounded within the arts themselves.

Background: postmodernism and postmodernity


Postmodernism, or more accurately, postmodernisms (plural) often referred to the collection of
postmodernist thought, consists of the cultural, philosophical movements and critiques that were
introduced in the second half of the twentieth century. These ideas have gained influence in
marketing primarily in the period from the mid-to-late 1980s to today. Postmodernism questions
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Laurie A. Meamber

modernist positions (grand ideas or metanarratives) on subjects such as the separation of production and consumption, the privileging of science and rationality over art and experience, and
the character of reality. Since there are many ideas and thinkers associated with postmodernist
thought, they will be organized in this chapter according to several key conditions that are critical to understanding arts marketing in the current period.
Postmodernity is a term that defines the present, an era that comes after modernity. Modernity
generally refers to the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries corresponding to the
Enlightenment period in Western culture, i.e., the age of the Renaissance. In this age, science and
rationality assumed importance in transforming our perspectives on the world and our place in
it. Other characterizations of this period include: postindustrial society (Bell 1973), the age of
multinational capitalism and the rise of consumer society ( Jameson 1983), and the society of the
spectacle (Debord 1967/1983). Some scholars prefer to use the term late modernity rather
than postmodernity to define this time in history, arguing that the features that define the current age also existed previously, although they were not as prominent or as recognized as they are
now (Firat and Venkatesh 1995). Other writers see the contemporary period as the beginnings
of a larger cultural shift (Bradshaw and Dholakia 2012; Firat and Dholakia 2006). These thinkers
believe that in the present day there is potential for combining both modern and postmodern
perspectives, allowing for a multiplicity of ideas, positions, and conditions.
Although there is debate on whether we are in the age of postmodernity or at the end of
modernity, postmodern tendencies are unmistakable. Rather than occupying merely a transitory
position in the context of modernism, writers such as Huyssen (1990) see a distinct shift in sensibility and practices from modernity to postmodernity. Postmodernity has given rise to postmodernist thought in which culture, language, narratives, symbolism, and the arts assume more
importance in life (Brown 1995, 1998). By implication, marketing assumes a prominent role in
the process by which the arts are produced and consumed in this day and age. Turning to this
cultural production process, the next section of the chapter will address the first of several key
postmodern conditions or tendencies, the decentering (of the subject).

Postmodern condition 1: decentering and cultural production


Writers have long asserted the productive role of consumption in the lives of consumers. For
example, Simmel (1900/1978, 1903/1971) asserted that modern consumption allowed individuals to create meaning in their lives.The relationship between production and consumption
is a key issue for postmodernists and can be described by a process termed cultural production. Cultural production involves generating and consuming cultural products. Developed in
the realm of the arts, the traditional or more modernist (albeit cultural) view holds that producers of culture draw from the symbolic order (or pool of symbols specified by a culture) to
create cultural products, such as an artwork, a dance, a piece of music or other artistic piece
(McCracken 1986, 1988; Solomon 1988). The producers in a creative subsystem are the artists and creators, or more generally individuals who have been classified as arts entrepreneurs
(Fillis 2000).
In the traditional cultural production model, the meaning of cultural products is transferred
to consumers by cultural intermediaries or cultural gatekeepers, such as arts marketers in the
managerial subsystem and communication subsystem. Consumers are placed at the end of
the process, consuming the intended meaning of the cultural products, although there is a feedback loop by which these meanings are linked back to the cultural symbols which were available
for use at the beginning of the process. The separation of distinct spheres in this process,

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Postmodernism and arts marketing

production from consumption, is representative of the modernist order in which production


produces value, and consumption takes value and uses it up (according to the etymology of the
word itself ).
A postmodern view of the cultural production process reconfigures relationships in the context
of the arts, aesthetics, and culture industries more generally (Venkatesh and Meamber 2006). The
model is dynamic, in that the cultural product (arts), and the other cultural participants creators/
artists/entrepreneurs, marketers, and consumers are active agents which constitute art and its
meaning. In this framework, the artworks and/or artistic experiences also are actors as they shape
peoples perspectives on the world. Writers on the postmodern point out that objects (such as art
works) operate on consumers because of their importance in consumers lives in the current age.
Producers help create art and arts experiences using signs and symbols from various origins
including but not limited to: artistic imagination, and cultural, historic, and religious references.
Cultural intermediaries/gatekeepers attempt to inscribe the art objects and experiences with
meanings when marketing them. Scholarship suggests that cultural products are imbued
with particular meanings and associations formed and circulated by producers and marketers with conscious attempt to generate desire for them (Ewen 1988; Lash and Urry 1994).
Consumers can accept these intended meanings and consume these suggested meanings.
Consumers can also manipulate and/or reject marketer-created meanings, although marketers
may attempt to regulate and control meaning reception by co-opting countercultural artistic
expressions (Visconti et al. 2010) and consumer protests (Bradshaw and Holbrook 2008).
The rationale for this revised view of cultural production is linked to the postmodernist
notion of the decentered subject (Derrida 1976). Among other ideas, the decentered subject
refers to the idea that humans such as autonomous creators (artists) are not privileged above
objects (what they create). In the modernist narrative, individuals are driven by the power of
reason, but, in postmodernist thought, act as communicative agents. So, in postmodernist thought,
there are a variety of contributors that play an active role in the creation of art, including its
meaning. In postmodernist terms, the meaning of art is never fully present until negotiated by
artists, cultural intermediaries (such as arts marketers), and consumers. Central to this idea is
consumers using cultural products to further their identity goals and establish meaning in their
everyday lives (Firat and Venkatesh 1995).
In postmodernity, identity is a project that is constantly assembled, reworked, produced, and
re-produced via consumption (Shankar et al. 2009). Yet, in the construction of identity, consumers are not always free to ignore or subvert their individual histories, nor the cultural, social,
economic realities impacting their choices, including the cultural history, referents, associations
surrounding art. These actualities are reflected in some recent studies on the arts. For example,
Hesmondhalgh (2008) finds in his empirical study of music and self-identity that consumer
choice, while being self-representation (as articulated in the work of Larsen and Lawson 2010),
is inexorably embedded within socio-cultural actualities, such as poverty, deprivation, lack of
education or training, and the capitalist system in which cultural production takes place. Other
marketing scholars likewise find that the interpretation of a work of art is constrained by consumers backgrounds, motivations, and interests, including the embodied and social nature of
experiencing and interpreting art ( Joy and Sherry 2003b; vom Lehn 2010).
Arts marketers and other cultural intermediaries are critical in directing or orienting the
direction of the cultural production system today because they help to create the arts experience
itself. For example, Joy and Sherrys (2003a) work on the arts market illustrates how marketers
index the changing value of art and promote a discourse or language of this value for consumers
to adopt.

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Laurie A. Meamber

Therefore, in postmodern terms, arts marketing helps to shape consumers (and the wider
cultures) experience of art. Bradshaw et al. (2010) point out that much of the media and
critics attention to Damien Hirsts 2008 diamond encrusted skull piece For the Love of God
focused on its economic value, rather than the experience of the work itself. Linking arts
marketing to wider cultural policy, other researchers point out that because arts production
and consumption are essentially shared communicative acts of cultural production, other
actors in the process, including policy makers and other stakeholders, also play important
roles in casting and directing the arts initiatives of publically funded arts organizations (Hayes
and Roodhouse 2010; Kirchner et al. 2007). As contemporary artists rely more upon institutional funding, grants, funded shows, festivals, and museum purchases, these agents assume
more prominence in the cultural production process. The boundaries between art and commerce, and art and government, and art and technology are not always distinct. In Europe and
elsewhere, governments are using the arts to encourage economic growth and contribute to
social causes such as community development and urban regeneration. Businesses sponsor
arts events and galleries, and use the arts to foster brands. The Internet helps art consumers
form social networks and fosters communication between artists and consumers directly
(Kerrigan et al. 2009).
In summary, the cultural production process by which art is produced and consumed today is
a dialectical, interactive process. Cultural production is predicated upon the postmodern condition of decentering, such that all of the cultural actors are recognized as being important in this
communicative process of artistic creation and meaning generation. Some postmodern thinkers
suggest that this means a reversal of production and consumption (Firat and Venkatesh 1995).
More to the point, underlying the postmodern view on cultural production is the recognition
that production and consumption are interrelated, and that meaning is being developed throughout the process, including in the act of consumption. In contemporary, postmodern consumer
culture, individual identities are shaped by consumers engagement with cultural objects.
Consumers interpret, rework, and transform art and artistic experience into meaning to further
their identity goals as they construct and negotiate their place in the world. Another closely
related postmodern tendency that impacts the creation of meaning in the arts is fragmentation,
the subject of the next section of this chapter.

Postmodern condition 2: fragmentation and arts marketing


In the present age, consumers can seek multiple experiences and self-identities and can find
pleasure in each consumption experience (Firat and Venkatesh 1995). Consumers can unabashedly and playfully choose multiple, contradictory consumption activities for example, consuming a professional ballet performance one evening, and the next day attending a rap concert or
visiting an art fair to enact different (or fragmented) self-identities. In postmodern thought,
consumer loyalties are not fixed and do not need to connect to a unified sense of self.
Fragmentation in the current period suggests that individuals do not have to commit to any one
theme, meaning, or identity (Meamber 1995).
The same can be said of the artwork or experience resisting any one classification or
received meaning. Instead, art objects and artistic experiences can be produced, interpreted,
and (productively) consumed in a fragmentary fashion. Artists can produce many disparate,
seemingly conflicting pieces of art and/or artistic experience without being labeled as schizophrenic. Fragmentation in the contemporary age has many implications for arts marketing.
Art, itself, while always changing, has never been more fragmented in terms of its subject

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Postmodernism and arts marketing

matter, form, and expression. In fact, fragmentation is the core of what arts scholars consider
postmodern art.
The term postmodernism itself came into being in the 1950s in the field of American literary criticism to describe a reactionary position within modernist art ( Jencks 1987; Venkatesh
1989). However, it was in the 1970s that the notion of postmodernism gained currency when
describing a break with modernism within the arts (Van Raaij 1993a, 1993b). Modernism in
visual art was thought to have been advanced by artists like Picasso and Czanne who experimented with anti-representational forms, and yet, because modernity subsumes the period from
the sixteenth century onwards, some writers position representational art as being modernist in
its quest to present reality and the rational order of life. Representation in this sense is the capturing of reality through direct observation and artistic transformation (Venkatesh 1992).
Anti-representational modern art did not seek to represent reality, so much as to construct
reality, such as inner states of being and the nature of art itself. The so-deemed modern art
movements which followed anti-representational art Dadaism, Surrealism, Abstract
Expressionism, Minimalism, and Conceptualism continued experimenting with exposing the
techniques and foundations of art in pre-Modernity (Appignanesi and Garratt 1995). These
traditions experimented with the illusory aspect of art to depict emotional reality and/or artistic constructions of reality.
Postmodern art broke with Modern art by exposing the exclusionary nature of art. Postmodern
art, such as Pop Art, embraced non-art and previously ignored subjects such as the commercial
language of consumer culture (Hebdige 1988). Various media, styles, and idioms can be found
intermixed in postmodern visual art, and meaning is not fixed, but changeable. Postmodernism
allows for new forms of art in which a diversity of styles, forms, and messages can thrive.
In dance, Levin (1990) classifies the postmodernist period into two phases coming after modernism: a modernist postmodern period (extending from the early 1960s through the 1970s);
and a postmodernist postmodern phase (beginning in the 1980s). According to McGlynn
(1990), the first postmodernist phase with reference to the arts began with the intent to disclose
the traditional essence of the art. In the second phase of postmodernism, according to these
scholars, meaning is reintroduced; various media and styles are intertwined. Levin (1990) writes
that this second phase of postmodern dance called into question, challenged, and deconstructed
dance subjects that were previously taken for granted.
More generally, arts scholars view postmodern art in the early twenty-first century as a continuation of what is termed as pastiche ( Jameson 1983), replete with recombinant styles,
experimentation with new materials, contexts, scales, and subject matter, but with particular
leanings towards embracing and intermixing themes from both larger cultural and political history, and local subjects. Pastiche allows for the juxtaposition of opposites, another postmodernist
condition that characterizes paradox to be central in postmodernity. In general terms, postmodern art cannot be defined according to a certain style, but is an occurrence in which meaning is
destabilized, undecidable, and open to multiple interpretations (Kaye 1994). It is fragmentation,
the postmodern tendency in which all things are disconnected and disjointed, which drives this
uncertainty of meaning.
The postmodern thinker Jean-Franois Lyotard (1984) is most closely associated with the
notion of fragmentation. In his writing on science and the breakdown of grand ideas, fragmentation involves not only the breaking up of unities, but multiplicity in terms of perspectives and
realities that become legitimized in contemporary social life. Different viewpoints and realities can
establish their own acceptability. In terms of arts marketing, fragmentation implies that marketers
and other cultural intermediaries can create and draw upon various and unrelated sources for

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Laurie A. Meamber

positioning art. Researchers find that in art galleries and art centers, the role of cultural intermediary is becoming more important in terms of relationship building and shaping consumers perceptions of art and social inclusion (Durrer and Miles 2009).The same is true for performance, where
arts marketers are seen as crucial relationship builders with audiences, acting as guides, and facilitators of co-production of meaning (Conway and Leighton 2012; Osborne and Rentschler 2010;
Ryan et al. 2010) so that consumers can actualize their fragmented selves via momentary
experiences.
In addition, while consumers can enjoy fragmented consumption moments today, they
frequently do so in communion with others. Contemporary consumption, including arts consumption, often takes place in temporary consumption communities, both face to face and virtual (OReilly and Doherty 2006). These consumption communities (or consumer tribes)
connect upon the basis of shared emotions, styles of life, and consumption practices, including
the arts (Cova et al. 2007; Maffesoli 1988/1996). Thus, there are retro-music brand communities in post-Apartheid South Africa centered around the marketing of protest music (Drewett
2008), and communities of consumers in the United Kingdom that gather to commune and
consume rave music and dance (Goulding et al. 2002). In the postmodern sense, all arts audiences act as temporal communities of consumption (OSullivan 2009). Therefore, research finds
that arts marketers play an important role in fostering arts communities, providing a linking
value to connect artists, artworks, experiences, and consumers together so that consumers can
create individual and shared meanings in their lives (Cova 1996).
In summary, fragmentation in terms of the arts suggests that consumers are able to select
disparate artistic consumption experiences in which to participate in order to enact their
identities. In the arts themselves, fragmentation is the nature of postmodern art which combines different subject matter and styles, in which meaning is never fully determinate, but is
negotiated by the actors within the cultural production process. Arts marketing can assist
consumers interpret meaning through art, and connect communities of art-centered
consumption.

Postmodern condition 3: hyperreality and the arts


As highlighted in the previous sections of this chapter, in cultural production, there is a continuous refashioning of meaning. In semiological terms, meaning creation involves the relationship
between two parts of a sign, the signifier and the signified (Barthes 1972). The signifier is the
representation of an object (the referent), either verbal or visual. The signified is the meaning or
cognitive imagery associated with the signifier; it is what is understood as the object. For example, the word art is a signifier for the signified, a cultural understanding of the tangible expression of creative skill or imagination (the referent). In postmodernity, the relationship between the
signifier and signified has been effaced; that is, the signifier is representing the referent with no
logical connection through a signified. Thus, the signifier art can be attached arbitrarily to any
object; much as words such as natural, can be labels for many types of consumer products, most
of which have no true claim to the signified, or the original or accepted meaning of the signifier. Taken to the extreme, postmodernist thinker Jean Baudrillard (1983) writes that our culture
has gone from a world of signifiers attaching arbitrarily to referents into a world of free-floating
signifiers that suggest a reality beyond the real, or the hyperreal, a world of self-referential signs.
Hyperreality, in terms of the arts, translates into art being consumed for its sign value without
regard to what it may or may not represent. In postmodern thought, presentation is the dominant
mode of communication, rather than representation. The arts present themselves to consumers

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Postmodernism and arts marketing

who consume them to create their own meanings. Arts marketing becomes critical in presenting
art today that is, in promoting appealing images (Askegaard 1999).
Hyperreality also characterizes postmodern art that plays with the notion of reality and unreality. For example, in 1960s theatre, new forms were developed out of happenings. Happenings
were spontaneous performances that evolved into simulation. Actors came together with spectators to create a piece choosing to be real or simulating a character and/or story. In the
1970s and 1980s, performers created performances involving real people by leaving objects in
public places and watching how people would react. These hyperreal performances that broke
with the reality/illusion dichotomy continued to evolve in the 1990s up to the present. For
example, there exist spectacles that break down the illusion barrier by integrating the audience
into the performance (Ryan et al. 2010). According to postmodern scholars, technology is accelerating the disappearance of the distinction between the appearance and the real (Vattimo 1992)
and, therefore, new postmodern art forms such as live movies combine live performers with
virtual or mediated performers, environments, and audience (Malone and White 2006). In contemporary life, we can indeed live spectacle via the arts and our immersion in artistic content.
In summary, hyperreality suggests there is an illusory separation between the real and the
simulation, and that we live in a society of signification. Marketing plays a role in the creation
of hyperreality, as marketers as cultural intermediaries, in the process of cultural production, take
the cultural product (including art that plays with fiction/reality) and assist in marketing sign
value to consumers.

Summary
Postmodernism, a collection of thoughts on the conditions of life and art we are experiencing
at present, provides a rich foundation for discussions of arts marketing found in this Companion
volume. Postmodernism as a perspective can elucidate some of the tendencies witnessed in arts
marketing, such as co-production of meaning (decentering), facilitation of meaning creation
and of arts consumption communities (fragmentation), and the communication of sign value
(hyperreality). It remains to be seen if we are in or will fully enter the age of postmodernity, and
if the conditions associated with postmodernity become more pronounced or evolve. Future
research can continue to enlighten future arts marketers on postmodernist ideas manifest in arts
marketing.

Further reading
Baudrillard, J. (1995) Simulacra and Simulation, Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. (The work
includes an expansion of some of his earlier ideas on hyperreality found in Simulations.)
Firat, A.F. and Venkatesh, A. (1995) Liberatory postmodernism and the reenchantment of consumption,
Journal of Consumer Research 22, 239267. (A classic overview of postmodernist thought with implications for marketing, consumption, and the consumer.)
Foster, H. (ed.) (1983) The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, Seattle, WA: Bay Press. (This collection includes pieces written by leading scholars on postmodern thought including Fredric Jameson
and Jean Baudrillard, as well as chapters on various art forms such as sculpture, museums, and book
audiences.)
Jameson, F. (1991) Postmodernism, Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Durham, NC: Duke University
Press. (This authoritative volume contains chapters on culture, theory, video, architecture, reading,
space, economics, and film.)
Lyotard, J.-F. (1984) The Postmodern Condition, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. (The
seminal book that introduced postmodern terminology such as metanarratives/grand narratives, and
fragmentation.)

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From: The Routledge Companion to Arts Marketing, O'Reily, D. et al.
Copyright 2013 Routledge, reproduced by permission of Taylor & Francis Books UK.