Live Chat
1-888-369-5603 44-20-7183-0318 61-28-014-8214

Breaking with the Continuum

This paper presents the artistic shifts of Modernism and Postmodernism, and their effects on the traditional thinking and constructs in the world of art. Firstly i shall present the defining features of the eras in question with appropriate evidence. In the conclusion, i will determine the overall effects that Modernism and Postmodernism have had on the artistic process and the world at large.


Modernism was a truly revolutionary change, noted by many scholars who research artistic history. It was a wholesale rejection of the traditional formalisms and Historicism, and was characterized by new experimental trends that began in the middle 19th century and through the 20th century, with new individual and original artistic styles and techniques (, n/d, para.1). It was this rejection of tradition that highlights the unique nature of modernism.

While all new artistic movements in some way reflected and conformed to movements that had gone before it (Post-impressionism using the basic constructs of Impressionism, for instance), the Modernist movement however completely rejected all of the established artistic principles that had come before. This is reflected by the term itself, which implies a lack of regard for history. In effect, the point of Modernism was to ignore previous artistic trends and to completely transform and reform the artistic process and the artistic experience. But it is important to note however that in retrospect, and even without, no element of artistic history can ever be left unused. Certain traditions were well disregarded however, such as Romantic and religious subjectivism, and Classical and Neo-classical objectivism, in favor of placing faith in the ordinary world, and the experience (, n/d, para.3).

Another defining characteristic of Modernism was experimentation for the sake of experimentation. Modernists strive to create new forms and constructs, and ways to form and present art, for no other purpose or reason than for the novelty of it (Keep, McLaughlin & Parmar, n/d, "Defining Postmodernism," "What is postmodernism?", para.1). Form was of intrinsic importance for Modernism, and took precedent over meaning, with Modernism exploring subjective experience, while simplifying what we see by usage of form. This usage of form has the effect of rejecting the previous strenuous attention to detail and realism, in favor of much more simplified work. The aim for clear communication was also of critical importance in this paradigm shift (, n/d, para.9).

Modernism was moved along quickly, thanks to the flood gates of artistic expression opening without boundary, and to fast occurring technological advancements. The rise of other forms of media, such as photography and film, rendered objective art, and its purpose of clear representation obsolete, and this had a large effect on the direction of Modernism at the start of the 20th century (, n/d, para.7).

While the world of transport, commerce, finance, science and communication were evolving at a bewildering rate, it seems that the forms of Modernism, and the overall desire to by impactful yet clear and simple, was done in the desire to make a statement of this. The world was increasing in complexity, and so the Modernist movement strived for clarity, while at the same time embracing the evolving world (, n/d, para.12).

Many Modernist movements, such as Art Deco and De Stijl each in their own way defied previous artistic traditions. This serves to prove how innovative Modernism has been, in that all of the sub-movements within each made their own response and presented their own highly distinctive artistic styles.


The concept of Post-Modernism is not as easy to define as its predecessor, though the term suggests a continuation of the Modernist effort. Postmodernism was first applied to architecture in the middle 20th century, and was defined as a rejection of things Modernist and Avant Garde. The novelty of Modernism was obviously a source of disdain for members of the Post-Modernist movement, because elements of non-Modernist formalisms were highly useful and should not be disregarded. The following definition is far more eloquently done than any attempt by me:

"[Postmodernism is a] rejection of the sovereign autonomous individual with an emphasis upon anarchic collective, anonymous experience. Collage, diversity, the mystically unrepresentable, Dionysian passion are the foci of attention. Most importantly we see the dissolution of distinctions, the merging of subject and object, self and other. This is a sarcastic playful parody of western modernity and the "John Wayne" individual and a radical, anarchist rejection of all attempts to define, reify or re-present the human subject." (Keep, McLaughlin & Parmar, n/d, "Defining Postmodernism," "What is postmodernism?", para.5).

So it can be seen that Postmodernism rejects the Modernist tradition and embraces anonymous experience and the negation of the individual, and also the many practical elements of artistic traditions that had gone before. The focus of this meaning was on reaching a different way to create, and to present different meaning. It is important to note that Postmodernism still remains difficult to describe because we are still in the middle of it, and without a retrospective angle, there is no bearing with which to define it clearly.


Modernism opened the way for an explosion of new experimentation in Western art at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, and the hunt for new forms of expression. Postmodernism emphasized collective experience and the merging of individuals, and changed the relationship between the subject and artist. Both of these movements have given a very impactful response to a modern world which has been quickly evolving.


  1. Modernism. June 11, 2005.
  2. Keep, C., McLaughlin, T. and Parmar, R. Defining Postmodernism. The Electronic Labyrinth. June 11, 2005.