Essay: Modernism and Postmodernism (Question

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Modernism and Postmodernism (Question #2)

There are differing opinions as to the point in history that is marked by the advent of modernism. Clement Greenberg (1982) says that he identifies the modernist period as commencing with the philosophy of Kant (Frascina, Francis, Harrison, Charles, and Paul, Deidre, 1982, p. *). However, it's ending point is defined by some theorists as coming to an end with the onset of the "pop culture," in the mid 1960s (Harrison, Sylvia, 2001, p. 11). Even though modernism and post modernism encompass all art expressions, when it is referred to in terms of Kant, Nietzsche, and "pop culture," then it becomes easier to gain a sense of the era, and to gain a sense of the embodiment of the genres that is distinguished by the periods known as modernism and post modernism. The differences manifest in the cultural forms is in some way understood by the eras when the forms of expression become manifest. However, both periods are distinctly different, incorporating into the various art expressions philosophies consistent with the eras. Understanding those philosophies and expressions requires a close examination of the works, the artists, and the spectator of the work.


Greenberg says that the essence of modernism lies in the use of the characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself - "not in order to subvert it, but to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence (Greenberg, p. *). Looking at the body of work that falls within the period of time described as modernism, one finds that Greenberg's definition of the onset of the period, and of the "essence" of it is consistent with his description. James J. Sheehan (2000) cites as his idea of the onset of modernism as commencing with Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) (Sheehan, p. 140). Sheehan points out that Nietzsche criticized Kant for basing his theory of art on the spectator, rather than on the producer of the artwork (Sheehan, p. 140). What this reveals, of course, is that using Kant or Nietzsche as a marker for the onset of modernism, it is clear that since Nietzsche and Kant were 18th and 19th century figure, that modernism spans the period from the early 18th century, into the late 20th century. The era for modernism remains defined by the onset of "pop" culture, which commences in the 1960s (Harrison, Sylvia, 2001, p. 11).

Modernism, Greenberg says, is a self-criticism that arises out of the Enlightenment, but is not the same thing as the Enlightenment (Frascina, Harrison, Paul, p. *). Thinking of the different arts in terms of Kantian expression and philosophy, it becomes easier to develop, too, a sense of the philosophy of modernism. Modernism was a rejection of external criticism, and about internal criticism (, Harrison, Paul, p. *).

Each art, it turned out, had to effect this demonstration on its own account. What had to be exhibited and made explicit was that which was unique and irreducible not only in art in general, but also in each particular art. Each art had to determine, through the operations peculiar to itself, the effects peculiar and exclusive to itself. By doing this each art would, to be sure, narrow its area of competence, but at the same time it would make its possession of this area all the more secure (Frascina, Harrison, Paul, p. *)."

In the modernist paintings, this philosophy reveals itself in the late work of the artist Francis Hodgkins (Buchanan, Lain, Dunn, Michael, Eastmond, Elizabeth, and Hodgkins, Francis, 1994, p. 4). Hodgkins' work fits the philosophy, at least in its later years, because it is inspired by external stimuli, but by virtue of choices of medium and colors and subject matter is indeed an internal influence, and self-criticizing (Buchanan, Dunn, et al., p. 4). Critics of the era bear out the incorporation of the Kantian philosophy in the work of Hodgkins in the critical reviews of one of her successful exhibits following a visit to New Zealand (Buchanan, Dunn, et al., p. 4). Art critic Myfanwy Evans commented on Hodgkins' work, describing it in a way that showed it was less about the spectator, and more about what Hodgkins saw in the subject matter, and then interpreted in her own way (Buchanan, Dunn, et al., p. 4). Of Hodgkins' work, Evans said:

Hodgkins's colour 'has the same quality as some fine poetry.... She has no formula, but the colour of each picture is as indicative of a mood as a blushing and sensitive skin.' 18 the terms 'delicious' and 'delight' and the evocative physicality of Evans's analogy with skin provide a key to the unique effect of Hodgkins's art, and its qualities of buoyancy, vitality, sensuous jouissance have frequently been remarked (Buchanan, Dunn, et al., p. 4)."

Her work was also described as free from convention, and that her world of intuitive freedom created for her realism a unique expression embodying her greatness (Buchanan, Dunn, et al., p. 4). Impressionism was in fact a rejection of the Victorian classical training, and this, says Norman F. Cantor (1988), was a rejection that indicative of the modernist thinking (Cantor, p. 35).

In literature, the modernists were authors like James Joyce, Ezra Pond and Ernest Hemingway (Wagner-Martin, Linda, 1998, pp. 4-25). Linda Wagner-Martin describes the literary circles self-criticism as being fueled with alcohol (Wagner-Martin, p. 9). Indeed, when considering what is known of these authors, that is perhaps an accurate assessment, especially since self-criticism often is more free flowing when the inhibitions are unleashed with alcohol. Wagner-Martin quotes critic John Crowley as saying this about the group:

Frequently in this author's fictions, the best and most noble of personae are the good drunks. And drunkenness carries with it "the threat of gender uncertainty...the male rummy is as unmanly as Brett [in the Sun Also Rises] is unwomanly." What makes Crowley's assessment significant for Hemingway critics is that he locates drinking as one of the essential male bonding devices, a means by which Hemingway's characters stave off the threats of homosexuality, but then concludes that "the strongest bonds among men are formed less by means of alcohol than in spite of it. Drinking as a proof of manhood is ultimately motivated for Hemingway by the power and presence of women beyond the charmed male circle." As critics pose new issues, and re-interpret texts readers thought they had heard the last word about, we are reminded of Tompkins' earlier comment that "works of literature lead a life of their own, which they receive, in part, from each generation of readers that comes to them (Wagner-Martin, p. 9)."

It is, in summary, possible to define modernism by the era it held in time, and by the elements of artistic expression encompassing self-criticism, and a rejection of the Victorian classical period.

Post Modernism

If the post modern era commenced with pop culture around 1964, then there is an inexhaustible body of work that quickly comes into the definition of the pop culture. The pop culture has been examined, with intensity, by psychotherapists, but its artists reject the psychotherapy that prevalent in the lives the modernists (Lowenthal, Del and Snell, Robert, 2003, p. 1). Social researchers Del Lowenthal and Robert Snell (2003), say this:

The post-modern challenges, and through this, potentially stimulates, in a variety of ways. Crucially, it attacks the 'modernist' ego-centric/person-centred approaches of much psychoanalysis, counselling, psychotherapy and psychology. Post-modern Continental philosophers suggest that we are 'subject to'. For example, for Lacan we are subject to language, for Levinas we are subject to the other and to difference, for Foucault we are subject to power/knowledge relationships, for Derrida we are subject to undecidability and the constant deferral of meaning, for Kristeva we are subject to strange, disruptive and potentially creative forces. In that he insisted that we are subject to the unconscious, Freud himself is a foundational post-modern thinker (p. 1)."

Indeed, the pop culture is one of sex, gender, race, ethnicity, age, religion, spirituality, and any other number of "self" expressions. Take the early musicians, the Beatles, and we see the Beatles move through each of the aforementioned expressions in their lives, and in their photographic biographies as evidenced by their album covers. Pop culture, post modernism, is sexually charged artistically and musically. Post modernism is really more than culture; it is layer upon layer of subcultures that are represented by evolving artistic expressions as is evidenced by the evolution of the Beatles, as an example.

The art work contributed by Salvador Dali is an example of the paranoia and chaotic surrealistic self-expression of post modernism.

In this way it expresses the pure form of production, taking upon itself, as art does, the value of the finality without end. Art and industry may then exchange their signs: art can become a reproductive machine (Andy Warhol) without ceasing to be art, since the machine is now nothing but a sign. Production can also lose all its social finality as its means of verification, and finally glorify in the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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