Table of contents:

Modernism VS Postmodernism: 6 facts about art movements that have been criticized over the years
Modernism VS Postmodernism: 6 facts about art movements that have been criticized over the years

From the point of view of art history, the twentieth century can be roughly divided into contemporary and postmodern art. Essentially, these are two aspects of the same movement. Both modernism and postmodernism were strongly influenced by the Enlightenment in their spirit. Thanks to the Enlightenment, science and reason triumphed over tradition and faith. Moreover, progressive industrialization brought with it an indefatigable belief in progress. But, unfortunately, all this ended with the First and Second World Wars, which entailed a number of irreversible consequences. How these and other events influenced the art of modern and postmodernism - further in the article.

1. Prehistory of occurrence

Funeral at Ornans, Gustave Courbet, 1850. \ Photo:

Often, it is extremely difficult to determine the time frame of artistic eras, as well as to draw an exact boundary between one era and another. However, it can be said that contemporary art is art that was created around the end of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century. At about this point, postmodernism replaced modernism.

Number 14, Jackson Pollock, 1951. \ Photo:

Translated into works of art, modernism can be seen as ranging from the realism of Gustave Courbet to the action painting of Jackson Pollock. Postmodernism emerged in the middle of the 20th century, around 1950, and gave birth to artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat.

2. Various types of art

Japanese footbridge, Claude Monet, 1899 \ Photo:

Contemporary art and postmodern art have a lot in common: both eras cannot be reduced to a single art form or style, or to a single theory. Rather, these two eras are famous for giving rise to different styles and ideas about art. Typical art forms of modernism are impressionism, expressionism, cubism, but also fauvism.

Andy Warhol Flowers, 1964. \ Photo:

In the postmodern era, new art forms have emerged such as land art, body art, concept art, pop art, and many others. This range of art can be showcased, for example, by an impressionist painting by Claude Monet and a painting by pop art artist Andy Warhol. Both are somewhat similar in their motive, technique, as well as colors, presented in completely different ways.

3. Postmodernism: Principles

Composition Proun, El Lissitzky, 1922. \ Photo:

Having survived the Enlightenment in the recent past, seeing progressive industrialization and a growing disconnect from artistic institutions, traditions and norms, modernism was particularly distinguished by its undeniable belief in progress. Artistically, this will for further development manifested itself in graphic experiments, as well as in the form of reduction, as, for example, was shown by the artist El Lissitzky.

I Shop So I …, Barbara Kruger, 1987. \ Photo:

It was Jean-François Lyotard's The State of Postmodernity (1979) that was supposed to end this belief in progress in postmodernism. In his writings, Lyotard replaced the universally valid and absolute explanatory principle (God, subject, etc.) with a variety of language games that offered various explanatory models. Jean-François opposed a certain historical form of rationality based on the exclusion of the heterogeneous. As a result, tolerant sensitivity to differences, heterogeneity and multiplicity increased, and with it the ability to tolerate incompatibility. A heterogeneous understanding of the world has also brought with it many critical works of art, including Barbara Kruger's Critique of Capitalism. Other works were influenced, for example, by the struggle for civil rights in the United States or the second wave of feminism.

4. Postmodern art

Signs, Robert Rauschenberg, 1970. \ Photo:

This heterogeneity initially manifested itself rather formally in postmodernism: the classical means of art, such as canvas or paper, were replaced by new means. More and more artists worked with everyday materials and mixed them with classical art forms. Collages, for example, were very popular in the 1950s and 1960s. But body art, which uses the body as a canvas, was such a new art form. More and more artists moved away from any object as a means of art. Thus, for example, the performing arts arose.

Luke, Marina Abramovich and Ulay, 1970. \ Photo:

Artist Marina Abramovich is still one of the most famous performers of all time. She began her performance work with a dedication to postmodernism. Marina also represented a somewhat nihilistic image of art, which can be seen as typical of postmodern art and the period of the second half of the twentieth century. In her play "The Energy of Peace" she performed with her partner, the performer Ulai.

Later, the artist explained her work as follows:.

5. Contemporary art

Photo of the Bauhaus building, Lucia Moholi, 1926. \ Photo:

Conceptual art, as defined by American artist Saul Levitt, provided a particularly radical approach to contemporary art. While in the early twentieth century art movements such as the Bauhaus in Europe placed the function of art above its form, Saul put forward a theory in which the idea is more important than art itself. In the text "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art" he writes: ".

One and Three Chairs, Joseph Kossuth, 1965 \ Photo:

In this vein, artist Joseph Kossuth has already pondered the different codes for the same chair in his conceptual work One and Three Chairs. The work of art itself is not unique in Kossuth's work, but it is the artist's reflection on Plato's allegory of the cave that plays a key role here, serving as the final touch to the work of art.

6. Rejection of the idea

Time delay room, Dan Graham, 1974 \ Photo:

Postmodernists such as Lyotard, Heidegger, Derrida, as well as phenomenologists such as Lacan or Merleau-Ponty, critically examined the concept of objectively perceived reality. Theorists like the aforementioned emanate ideas that suggest that objective truth and identity do not exist. New theories of perception have also been considered and processed in postmodern art.

Interesting work in this context comes from New York concept and video artist Dan Graham. In his intricate work, Two Retreat Rooms, made of mirrors and screens, Dan confronts visitors to his work with the function and the limits of their own perception. In his two rooms, each equipped with two screens and cameras, the artist plays with technical and human observation of his own existence. The time lag in the transmission of images from the camera to the screens mimics human perception.

The Pyro, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1984 \ Photo:

First, it is clear that the movement that modernism and postmodernism create in art in general is a movement in the sense of development. However, in these two eras, this movement takes place in different ways. The shape change is also the most obvious. While at the beginning of Modernism, artists were still painting on canvas, Postmodernism created works of art that absolutely fill space, as Dan Graham's latest work shows.


Autumn, Mary Laurent, 1882, Edouard Manet. \ Photo:

Modernism versus postmodernism is a belief in progress versus criticism of progress and a turn towards pluralism and heterogeneity. Simply put, it is the assumption that there is more than one objectively perceived reality. In other matters, each viewer understands and perceives any of the directions in his own way, because art is so multifaceted and unpredictable that sometimes it is difficult to understand its true motives and the originally intended meaning.

Read also about how dada became a popular movement and why this art drove people crazy, forcing to perceive what he saw in a new light, thereby pushing Marcel Janko to create a series of controversial works that turned the world upside down.

Popular by topic