Modernism is a term referencing a wide range of cultural developments from philosophical concepts and social morays to aesthetic styles and artistic movements. The cultural era of Modernism, particularly in the literary forms that it took, are considered to have begun in the late 19th century.
The Modernist movements of architecture and music were largely between the turn of the century and World War II. Much of the most notable Modernist work in the visual arts and some genres of literature and performing arts were actually produced post World War II, although some believe the modernist era ended in 1939. It all depends on who you talk to and what exactly you are talking about.
There is a great deal of debate over the dates of when the Modernist era began and when it gave way to Post-Modernism, or indeed if it did at all. Depending on the discipline you are talking about, the timelines may range anywhere from the late 1800’s to the 1960’s and beyond.
For a local, desert timeline of Modernist historical events, see PSModCom’s Desert Modernism Timeline.
Modernist architecture is still as prevalent as ever. Interior and industrial design, graphic design, and fashion all have heavy modernist influences still coursing through their veins today. On the other hand, modernist literature and music didn’t really catch on so much and had kind of drifted to the fringes by mid century, although the sixties saw a revival of some of that work.
In the academic music world, contemporary styles still reflect much of the sentiment of early modernist composers, as far as the idea of music being free from definition or distinction by would be critics. The actual content of contemporary music compositions are more or less unbound to any particular style or instrumentation, tonal system or standard of notation. It could be said that modernism actually made it’s greatest impact in this field as it managed to open it completely to all forms of experimentation with the generation and processing of sound, and music scholars have probably the most freedom of any of the arts in the academic realm.
There are a great number of genres, movements, and scenes that are considered part of the modernist era. To this day stylistically modernist design remains highly popular in many fields and disciplines, such as architecture and interior design. Events like Palm Springs’s Modernism Week are a testament to the enduring popularity of the style and the great efforts now being made to preserve and restore historic modernist style structures.
|You will notice there is an enormously broad range of stylistic variation across all of these movements and scenes. For instance, Art Deco has very little in common with Photorealism, the former being mostly abstract or abstracted forms simplified to a geometric ideal, and the latter being an attempt mimic the function of photographic equipment, capturing every detail exactly as it would in photo, but with paint and canvas.
And take the comparison of Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art for example. The two genres could not be more different. The former being an attempt to capture raw emotion or a momentary mental state by turning the processes of creation into an athletic and raucous activity using large scale canvases and throwing, dripping, or smearing the medium onto it. The latter, on the other hand, is a mimic of mass produced, printed images such as comic books, magazine ads, or product packaging.
How is it such conceptually and technically diverse artistic movements share the umbrella of Modernism? Well, this is because the concept of modernism goes far beyond its mere expression through the arts. Modernism was a breakthrough of cultural evolution brought on by technological advances. It was about leaving the assumptions and standards of the past and forging into new, unexplored territory in every aspect of human existence.
It was different from almost any other cultural movement in that it was not driven by or centered around any particular place, or people, or ideology, or form, or technique, or aesthetic. It was all about doing what had not been done before, or doing things in new and novel ways that disregarded tradition and established measures of quality or value. Modernism was about redefining the bounds of humanity, going beyond what is safe and familiar and seizing the endless potential and possibility that the modern world had to offer.
So, it fits that the movements spawned by the Modernist mindset would be diverse, wildly variant, and even contradictory to one another. They reflect interpretations, reactions and commentaries of various aspects of the modern world, which are also diverse, wildly variant, and often contradictory of each other.