In this day and age, the search for "newness" is, perhaps, the most difficult task for the serious artist. I'm reminded of a quotation I saw the other day (wish I could remember the source), a takeoff on Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken," something to the effect, "TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both...so I struck out cross-country." The analogy is apt. To take EITHER road would be to follow the lead of others. To strike off cross-country is not just to take the "...road less traveled", but to take the road UN-traveled...to make your OWN road.
Yesterday, an artist friend found a site on the internet created by Ben Mahmoud, a 63-year-old professor emeritous of Northern Illinois University. She seemed fascinated but disturbed by his work, questioning me as to what particular "ism" she might be seeing. Basically, he was juxtaposing small, framed, "icons" (for lack of a better term) next to paintings done in a highly refined, surrealist painting manner. The easy answer to what she asked is that his work is Postmodern, which is not very descriptive. It's like saying Impressionism is nineteenth century art in that Postmodernism is an ERA more than a style. His most obvious stylistic element is Surrealism, but again with a Postmodern twist. Recently there has been a concerted effort to blur the lines between art media, which I applaud. These "lines" have always been artificial--traditional, but nonetheless manmade.
Mahmoud's work is a classic illustration of Postmodernism, pulling up the past--Surrealism, icons, photo-realism, etc.--then breaking down old, artificial barriers, adding to that some kind of never-before-seen twist, which is probably what my friend found disturbing about it. (Real "newness" is more often than not disturbing.) That's what Ben Mahmound is doing by relating framed icons employing real objects to his painted work. Simply revisiting a successful style from the past is what we call "retrograde" art. Mixing these past STYLES while also mixing MEDIA, and knowing when, where, and how to "break the rules" is Postmodern. On a personal note, along this sme line, I've considered creating a still-life of objects in a shadow box (archival objects of course) which would be physically attached to a framed still-life painting of the same objects; something like an artist attaching the photo(s) from which he worked to the final painting. (Something I sometimes do with portraits BTW.) Even though I'm a "realist" painter, so far, I've not had the "guts" to invite that close of comparison, but it's a "cross-country" trek I may take sometime in the future once I "get in shape" and find my compass.