What Modernism Means

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What Modernism Means

By | November 2010
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Modernism describes an array of cultural movements rooted in the changes in Western society in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The term covers a series of reforming movements in art, architecture, music, literature and the applied arts which emerged during this period. At its most basic level, Modernism could be described as the experimentation and fragmentation of the human experience, characterized by deviations from the norms of society. Embracing change and the present, modernism encompasses the works of thinkers who rebelled against nineteenth century academic and historicist traditions, believing the "traditional" forms of art, architecture, literature, religious faith, social organization and daily life were becoming outdated; they directly confronted the new economic, social and political conditions of an emerging fully industrialized world. Some divide the twentieth century into movements designated Modernism and Postmodernism, whereas others see them as two aspects of the same movement. Historians have suggested various dates as the starting point of Modernism. The "avant-garde" was what Modernism was called at first, and the term remained to describe movements which identify themselves as attempting to overthrow some aspect of tradition. Separately, in the arts and letters, two ideas originating in France would have particular impact. Initially rejected from the most important commercial show of the time, the government-sponsored Paris Salon, the Impressionists organized yearly group exhibitions in commercial venues during the 1870s and 1880s, timing them to coincide with the official Salon. At the same time social, political, and economic forces were at work that would become the basis to argue for a radically different kind of art and thinking. The growing movement in art paralleled such developments as the Theory of Relativity in physics; the increasing integration of the internal combustion engine and industrialization; and the...

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