Modernism is broadly defined as modern thinking, character or practice. Specifically, it outlines modernist reactions in the arts, a set of cultural tendencies associated with it, which arose from far and wide changes in the West from the late 19th century till the beginning of the 20th century. The development of industrial societies, the quick emergence of cities, and later the devastating effect of World War 1 are some of the factors that influenced modernism. Artistically, modernism opposes the ideology of realism. Contrary to realism, it uses past works through reprise applications, rewriting, revision, and incorporation into new forms. Modernist writers also oppose the probability of enlightenment thinking and the idea of a super-powerful creator (Banfield 45).
Generally, modernism involves all activities and works of artists who believed that the traditional forms of expression of art, religion, architecture, social organisation, and literature were outdated in the emergent socio-political and economic industrialised world. Poets and philosophers played a crucial role in this development. In 1994, Ezra Pound, a poet, introduced a paradigm shift “make it new,” an approach that has greatly influenced modern literature. Composer and philosopher Theodor Adorno, who opposed the idea of conventional coherence and the typical enlightenment thinking rationality, advanced another practical shift (Brown 56). The start of the 20th century witnessed massive modernistic movements. Before this era, the term “modernism” had been used only in the arts, rather than in political and military contexts. The origin of modernist literature is better understood by looking at the chronology of events and timelines that led to its development (Froula 36).
The current day perspective, historical events, the start of the 19th century, the late 19th century, the beginning of the 20th century, the explosion of artistic ideas, modernism, visual and performing arts, particularly, those that appeared after the Second World War, criticism, and hostilities are the key areas that have shaped modern literature. Most modern critics view modernism as a progressive trend, at least in the social context, that reinstates the human power to initiate, reshape, and improve the environment in which they live with the help of practical experiments and their knowledge in science and technology. From this view, modernism encourages the re-evaluation of each aspect of our very existence, from philosophy to commerce, with the aim of discovering what was holding back the modernist progress, and instead employing new approaches to achieving the same results. Yet, some other authors have focused on the aesthetic perspective of modernism.
The use of technology in World War 1, against-technology movements, and works of diverse thinkers and artists contributed to the development of modern literature. The use of technology was relevant in creating a better way for people to interact. Also, the use of technology led to a better resource allocation in businesses. Moreover, it facilitated better and more effective learning in schools. There was a simple way to research literature and other relevant materials that were essential in developing literature. The social media had a great impact on modernism. The youth were positively affected by the technology and are still affected. This led to a more efficient way of improving and creating a better learning ground for young people. They were able to exchange ideas pertaining to modernism in the social media. Finally, the technology informed people of any changes that took place around the world.
In the 18th century and the early 19th century, a rebellion against the results of the Industrial Revolution was known as Romanticism. It focused on individuals and their subjective experiences, powerfulness of nature, elements of art, revolutionary and radical additions of expressions, and individual freedoms. One of the icons of the romantic movements was J.M.W Turner (1775-1851), who was a great landscape artist of the 19th century. He was a member of the great Romantic Movement and was largely considered as a pioneer in the field of colour, atmosphere, and light. He foreran French impressionists and modernism by simplifying the then representation formulas. Unlike the greatest thinkers of his time, he was of the opinion that his works ought to always represent the most important mythological, historical, as well as other narrative themes in literature. However, by the mid-19th century, a comprehensive analysis of Romanticism ideas and political ideas appeared. This was in response to the failure of the democratic and Romantic ideas of 1848. Realpolitik of Otto Von Bismarck, as well as pragmatic and philosophical positivism ideas of Auguste Compte, reinstated this. The Victorian era in the UK witnessed this stable, political realism and aesthetic Romantic ideology. Pivotal to this analysis were common presuppositions, as well as institutional reference frames. Among them, there were Christian religious standards, scientific standards contained in classical physics, and the idea that to depict an external fact from an objective view is both possible and desirable (Marcus 148). Historians and cultural critics called this ideology realism, though the term is not used universally. The materialistic, positivist, and rationalistic outcomes led to the primacy of reason.
However, apart from this popularity, there were some other ideas; some of them resulted from the Romantic way of thinking. Supporters of these ideas were English painters and poets who were part of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Also, they were viewed as proto-modernists. In fact, the Pre-Raphaelites foresaw Manet, from whom Modernist painting unquestionably began. They appeared as a result of the dissatisfaction with the painting of their time, claiming that its realism was not real enough. The late 19th century witnessed the opposition to Rationalism. In particularly, there was the reaction to Hegel’s dialectic view (1770-1831) and history and civilization (1844-1913). Altogether, these reactions opposed comfortable ideas of validity derived from civilization belief, history or just plain reason. In fact, from the late 19th century onwards, the belief that civilization and history were inherently progressive, as well as that progress was generally good, was met with scathing criticism. Prominent among the critics were composer Wagner Richard (1813-1883) and philosopher Schopenhauer (1788-1860). In his The World as Will and Idea, philosopher Schopenhauer brought back the previous optimism. His ideas had a significant influence on some late thinkers, Nietzsche included.
Other significant thinkers of that time were Charles Darwin, the founder of the evolution theory and the theory of natural selection, as well as Karl Marx, a political scientist of that time, who authored Das Kapital. Although Darwin’s theories of natural selection and evolution were a slap in the face to the certainty of religion and the human uniqueness, religious diehards had difficulties trying to reconcile with Darwin’s assumptions that man had evolved from lower forms of animals, like the primates. Karl Max, on his part, contradicted the capitalist system of governance, insisting that workers in such systems were free and not subjected to the authorities. In fact, both thinkers made a major contribution to the development of modernism.
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The investors were also free. They did not experience any pressure from the government. They produced what they were able to produce given the resources, constraints, and other economic factors. They set the price for their own products based on the cost they incurred in the production process. They also took control over the quantity to supply in the marketing depending on the demand of customers. They were able to maximise their profit, as they were to enter any business of their own choice. The issues of the prices of goods and services were not controlled by the government. The forces of demand and supply were left to take care of that. This was a booster for modernism. The price was in equilibrium, as the demand for goods by customers was equal to the supply of goods by sellers. That was the price that was used in the market and anyone was free to set it without the government influence. Each of the above media is a direct product of capitalism as per Karl Max. He argued that the modernism that was based on capitalism arguments would help eliminate problems that were likely to emerge in the future. Finally, his arguments were relevant in the establishment of new political and economic reforms.
Different historians and writers mention different dates of the beginning of modernism. For example, some of them, like Everdell William, argue that modernism commenced in the 1870s; during that time, metaphorical continuity started yielding to statistical thermodynamics. Also, some schools of thought are of the idea that modernist painting started in 1885-1886; at the time, Seurat used dots to paint “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” At the same time, others refer to the works of Immanuel Kant as the first real modern artist, though he believed that the first modernist writings must have started somewhere in the mid- twentieth century.
In France, Baudelaire is considered the father of modern literature, while Manet is considered the father of modern painting, and Flaubert is believed to be the father of modern fiction. Later, modernism appeared in other fields, such as architecture and music. Cabaret is considered to have influenced the introduction of modernism art. It is believed to have begun in France, with the official inauguration of the Black Cat, Montmarte, as well as the beginning of the ironic monologue. It is also believed to have founded the Society of Incoherent Arts.
The start of the 20th century was a very important period, as it marked the “avant-garde” the first time ever in the movement of arts. This term had been previously used only in the political and military contexts. The term remained to outline movements that had been previously considered as trying to outdo some traditional aspects, in other words, the status quo. Later, Surrealism became famous for being the most extreme modernist form.
Also, two other forms separately developed in France. First of all, among them was impressionism. This genre of painting initially focused on outdoor works, rather than indoor works, for example, in studios. The idea behind this genre was that people could see light itself in objects rather than objects themselves. This school of painting had many adherents, although there were a lot of disagreements among the leading practitioners. It later became very influential. Although the government considered it an important commercial show, Paris salon, which was government-sponsored, initially rejected it.
Impressionists organised annual group shows in business avenues in the 1870s and the 1880s, a strategy that made the shows correspond to official Paris Salon. Emperor Napoleon the third of France was very influential in displaying all those paintings that Paris Salon rejected. Manet’s works had standard styles, though he was considered inferior. Nevertheless, his works attracted great attention and opened ways to commercial movements (Miller et al 56).
The second French school of thought was Symbolism, which is seen by most literary historians as the onset of poetry. Poets, among whom are Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud, known as symbolists emphasised the fact that suggestion and evocation should be given priority above explicit analogy and direct description. Also, these poets were specifically interested in musical aspects of the language.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the development of modernism dominated art scenes across Europe to the point that traditional modernism became derided as a form of art. Most of the 20th century witnessed myopic views of the modernist period, where progressive modernism received greater attention than conservative modernism. Academic painters of the 19th and 20th centuries were conservative modernists who believed that their works would improve the world in one way or another. Unlike progressive modernists, conservative modernists created paintings that depicted better and conservative moral values, images that showed virtuous behaviours, or pictures that offered Christian inspirations. Conservative modernists employed subject matters that showed examples of good conduct and respectful sacrifices set as standards of appropriate behaviour that good citizens ought to imitate.
A painting of Jean-Paul, for instance, depicts the puppet emperor before his execution through a firing squad in Mexico, 1867. His work is in contrast to Manet’s one that showed the events in a way which was challenged by conservatives as critical of the foreign policy of Napoleon the third. Later, conservative critics officially censored and disdained the painting. “The Unbecoming” of Lauren was his representation of the emperor as a noble gentleman, consoling his hopeless confessor while his faithful servant is on his knees and clinging to his left hand. All the while, the Mexican execution squad is on standby and is in bewilderment of the emperor’s composure and dignity.
Progressive modernists were in support of the status quo, which was viewed as a treatment. The kind of future they offered was just a present perpetuation. The conservatives generally hoped to uphold the existing institutions. If there was any change, they believed it would be gradual. On the other hand, the progressives criticised institutions, both religious and political, because such institutions restricted individual liberties and freedoms; all they wanted was a radical change. They placed their beliefs in goodness for all humanity. However, the goodness they believed in was corrupted, starting in the 18th century with Rousseau, by things like the emergence and growth of cities.
Other people would definitely argue that the rapid upheaval of capitalist industries during that period made man a selfish and competitive being, whose inhumane nature was becoming more obvious in the wake of the ugly industrial revolution landscape. Rousseau loved nature; many modernists were also fond of the idea of an idealised country life. Thomas Jefferson supported this idea. He loved nature so much that he wanted the United States to be an exclusively farming state. On the other hand, he loathed cities so much that he called them ulcers on the politic body. As opposed to the conservatives, who remained glued to old ideas and who were bent towards supporting the status quo, the progressives adopted an opposite attitude to society and institutions in it. In any case, this challenged the massive authority; this was camouflaged as freedom, whether intentionally or not, and as the affronted values of the middle class.
In general, progressive modernism was bent towards social and political issues, bringing to attention the most troubling aspects of modern society, such as grievances of the poor and the ugly face of prostitution, which the progressives felt should be discussed and remedied in an amicable manner. Through their works, in their drawings and paintings, they depicted the political and social ills that were increasingly becoming comfortable and complacent for the middle class and which they chose to ignore.
The fundamental intention was to educate the public and stay alive in the wake of conservative forces. These they considered the fundamentals of the enlightenment ideal of equality and freedom that would make the world a better place for all humankind. This position came to be known as avant-garde, which is simply translated as “advance-guard.” As opposed to conservatives who concentrated on traditions of the past, advance-guard artists rejected traditions with all consciousness. They chose not to refer to the past, not even in some recent manifestations of tradition, stretching into the past.
The progressives viewed themselves as being at the beginning of a new dawn, a new society, a new tradition that are targeted at the future. The progressive modernist ideas were focused on the future, while conservative modernists mostly concentrated on the past. The concept of the avant-garde refers to artists, writers, composers, and thinkers whose work greatly opposed mainstream cultural values and the trenchant social and political edge, which was very important in modernism.
Many of the writers, theorists, and critics made a lot of assertions concerning the vanguard culture in the formative years of modernism. They did their best to educate people about the required standards of modernism. They made use of the new and former criticism, which was relevant in ensuring that society was educated. They used their works in improving and creating a better basis for the enrichment of cultural differences that existed among members of society.
It was one of the main objectives of the movement to convince and educate members of society as a whole. The artists had much impact on political and economic positions. They encouraged members of the state to improve the economic activities that would generate more benefits to the nation as a whole. The government was also encouraged to introduce new programs that would guarantee peace and unity between nations. Also, the artists in their works created more awareness for the government of the best ways to undertake economic activities in order to encourage individuals to invest in the most profitable areas. Strong relationships were established between every member of society. They were motivated by works of the artists, which resulted in a positive improvement in the introduction of modernism.
Today, we define progressive modernism, the “advance-guard,” as politically neutral in its pursuit of the freedom of expressions and in its demand for equality. From the 18th century till now, modernist beliefs in freedom have been manifested in the art through lobbies for freedom of choice. It was through such works that artists drew to attention the aims of progressive modernism.
With the progress of the 19th century, artistic freedom was paramount in progressive modernism. Progressive artists sought freedom from public expectations rather than from the academic rules. Art supports a person’s own intrinsic values and should not be made to satisfy values or moral functions of another person. In fact, in one of his influential editorial reviews, a French progressive novelist believed in the independence of art and proceeded to promote a slogan that art is not for the public sake; art should be for art’s sake.
Art for art’s sake was a lobby gimmick; it was a demand for art’s possession of meaning and purpose. Progressive modernists viewed art for art’s sake as a way to further exercise freedom. They also considered it to be a ploy, a deliberate bourgeois sensitivity. From a progressive modernist’s point of view, it was a further exercise of freedom. James Abbott Whistler, a progressive modernist writer, suggested that art ought to be independent of any criticism; it should appeal to our artistic sense of hearing and sight, without approaching these with entirely foreign emotions. These emotions could be pity, patriotism, love, and so on. Not all these emotions are concerned in any way with it, though.
In 1891, Oscar Wilde wrote in his essay that artistic work is the outcome of unique temperament. The beauty of a work is derived from the fact that its author is who they are. They do not have to create their works to impress other people, as other people need what they need. In fact, when artists become too focused on what other people want, as opposed to their own wants, and yield to their demands, they stop being artists. Instead, they become dull, boring artisans, realists or unrealistic tradesmen. They can no longer claim that they are artists (Stephen 78).
However, art for art’s sake was a gimmick that failed. This was because the very middle class whose ideas and tastes Whistler confronted was quick to turn ‘Art for Art’s Sake’ into their favour to neutralise further the ideas and gross results of the progressives. From then, people have discussed arts in formal terms only. They discuss lines, space, colour, shapes, and composition. This was effective in removing the purpose and meaning from consideration and allowed whatever political, social or progressive statements the artist had hoped to make in their works to be played down.
The attitude was prevalent to the degree that performers, both weak and even strong ones as they became older, lost vision of their modernist purpose and became engrossed in this formalist way of treating art. In order to defend this attitude, critics argued that, since the purpose of art is to reserve and improve the morals and feelings of civilised people, art ought to attempt to continue being indifferent to the malevolent impacts of modern culture that was increasingly becoming stiff and degraded. Ultimately, there appeared a view that modernist fine art was to be practiced wholly within a secure formalist scope that it was essentially detached from, so that it became tainted through the material world. In his editorial first issued in 1965 and titled “Modernist Painting,” Clement Greenberg, a formalist critic, viewed modernism as the ability to realise a self–referential independence. Artistic works were then understood as a secluded spectacle administered by some internal rules of stylistic growth. Art stood isolated from the selfish world and routine affairs of regular people.
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The fundamental assumptions at work first speculate that a pictorial artist, by quality of special gifts, can express the finer details of humankind through ‘virtuously visual’ expression modes. This ‘morally visual’ distinction of art made it a self-sufficient scope of activity, which is very separate from the daily world of political and social life. The self-decisive nature of the visual art meant that the questions enquired should be properly addressed and responded to. The history of modernism was built through mention only to itself. Impressionism, for instance, gets much of its artistic historical connotation through its place within a structure of literary improvement, with its origins in the past Realism of Courbet and Manet. Through this, it provides the central impetus designed for the consecutive charms of Post-Impressionism.
Under the influence of the traditionalist establishment, formalism developed into a very effective mechanism of control over uncontrollable and disorderly art. Most art movements spawning in the first half of the 20th century may be perceived as a number of efforts to break the formalist grasp on liberal modernism. This system, though, created by further academic art critics and historians working hand-in-hand in the art marketplace who were only attracted to money and not meaning, absorbed all efforts of subversion and rebellion into an unbiased, pleasant, only occasionally slightly offensive antiquity of art of the type that can be found today in art history texts.
Unluckily for the art history, in the course of defusing progressive modernism, talent historians had to counterbalance other arts from previous periods, besides from elsewhere in the flora and fauna. They used the same reductionist attitude across the board generating an antiquity of art, which was essentially lacking any real connotation unique to the artwork. The critics largely decided that the artistic quality would have priority in determining the purpose of art as a substitute of political or social relevance.
Formalism, however, could as well be used to the benefit of the progressives who were able to use it in defence of modernism, abstraction in particular, which was open to criticism. Similarly, formalism merged in the early 20th century with an additional goal of progressive modernism, which was universalism.
In order for art to be an operational instrument of social advancement, as many people as possible had to be able to understand it. On the other hand, it was not a matter of simply using images; it was the ‘real’ art behind the images that was considered important. Art involves many effects and one piece of art may look quite different for two people. Nevertheless, something known as ‘art’ is universal for everybody. Whatever this ‘true’ art was, it was universal; like the scientific ‘truth’ of the Enlightenment. All art obviously possessed this quality.
Other artists kept on looking for ‘art.’ As of an Enlightenment argument, that was a search concerned with the ‘truth’ or heart of art, and it was delivered by means of a kind of pictorial perceptive. The initial step was to discard all distracting elements like recognisable objects, which were wont to hide the mutual ‘art’ thing.
An example of this methodology was Russian visual artist Kandinsky Wassily who, in his Masterpiece VII, for instance, done in 1913 and now preserved in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, condensed his works to colour arrangement, shapes, and lines. He believed that colours, shapes, and line could exist separately in paintings devoid of any link to noticeable objects. He achieved this by using oil on canvas.
Another fundamental approach involved reducing the non-recognisable to the recognisable by using the most elementary colours, shapes, and lines. This approach was employed by Dutch artist Mondrian Piet in his work “Red, Blue, and Yellow,” painted in 1921, which is now in the Tate Art Gallery in London, where the three colours, as well as black and white, are arranged like rectangular shapes on a grid.
Nonetheless, sometimes it is assumed that according to artists who carried out this search, there was something more at stake than the unearthing of this ‘truth’ of art. Still, to others, abstraction was another aim. Both Kandinsky and Mondrian had profound interest in the spiritual, and they supposed that art ought to serve as inspiration or a guide. Maybe it should reawaken in the viewer the spiritual aspect that they and others felt had been lost in the overwhelmingly materialist modern world. Abstraction consisted in shedding the material world and instead generating the potential to reveal, describe, or just allude to the spiritual world.
Also, various artists explored new dimensions of the content and form in literature and music. For example, French musician Claude Debussy tried exceptional harmonies in short masterpieces like Pr?lude ? l’apr?s–midi d’un faune (largely encouraged by Mallarme’s Symbolist poem), initially conducted in 1894. In this piece, the emphasis is on melodious sound and tonal feature (Russell 123). In 1912, Debussy’s harmonies were used in a ballet performed with Vaslav Nijinsky, a Russian dancer for the Ballets Russes, in Paris, France. In 1913, again, Nijinsky choreographed and performed the ballet in the Le Sacre du Printemps. The original music had been created by composer Igor Stravinsky, from Russia. Through intricate rhythmic organisations and with the help of dissonance and Nijinsky’s radically exceptional choreography, the ballet baffled and scandalised the public and conservative critics. In any case, this event established the foundation for the development of modernism in music.
Just like in the pictorial art, music became less ‘representative’ and evocative (that is, concomitant with material subjects, places, events, objects, ideas, or emotions), and more expressive and abstract (Roebbelen 94). Arnold Schonberg, an Austrian composer, initiated atonality, in which music is composed without a tonal centre or key. At the start of the 1920s, he established the dodecaphonic–tone system of composition.
Until now, supporters of progressive modernisation have succeeded over conservative supporters of modernism. During the next half century, the practices and ideals of liberal modernism will dominate American and European history. The current modernism has come a long way, as has been evidenced. The transformations are overwhelming. Today, the world is what it is due to invaluable contributions made by various painters, thinkers, and philosophers. These people communicated their feelings through their works. They opposed what had been previously considered ideal and the status quo. Some of them even lost their lives along the way in their pursuits of freedom.