Eli5: What is modernism and post-modernism?


Eli5: What is modernism and post-modernism?

In: 81

Modernism: As time passes, we will solve the problems of the world, we’ll have technology and stuff and move towards an enlightened future

Postmodernism: We have technology and stuff now, but the world still seems to have problems, it wasn’t that simple

(ungodly oversimplification ofc, it’s an ELI5)

Forget the terms themselves as they both insinuate a sort of “Now” that can be confusing.

“Modernism” was a style across multiple art forms that looked to ignore prior styles and attempt to interact with the audience in a “Fresh” way. It was intentionally confusing and “deconstructed” a sort of “back to basics” sort of way, and the intent was largely to find a new way for an audience to interact with the art. A simple example might be comparing a beautiful still life of flowers and fruit, painstaking crafted to be beautiful and natural looking (old art) to a bunch of lines and squares on an abstract canvas. What are you even looking at? It forces the audience to “see” what they imagine it is, one person sees a still life again, a different person sees a dog chasing a kite, a third sees The Battle of the Bulge from WWII. None of these interpretations are “Wrong”, it’s that the art is sort of *half complete* by the artist and the viewer needs to contribute the missing half from their imagination and lived experience. In doing to so that audience is a vital part of the art and they are more deeply involved in it. A literary example might be a Victorian author devoting 20 pages to describing a particularly vibrant sunset exactly as they see it vs. James Joyce only even mentioning a sunset by alluding to a conversation the characters had that isn’t even in the book.

“Post-Modernism” came later in which the same techniques were now mixed with prior art styles and created a fusion of old and new, using masterful traditional techniques to interact with audiences in new and different ways.

Despite the term “modern”, both genres were most popular in the early and mid 20th century and would be considered “old” genres in a contemporary sense.

Modernism broadly refers a set of beliefs that became dominant in the late 19th century and continued through most of the 20th century. These beliefs were generally that logic, science, and reason could help us learn from the mistakes of the past, and using what we learned, come to a deeper understanding of ourselves and of the meaning of human life. There is usually some sort of vibrant optimism in modernism, at least as far as the idea that if we just think hard enough and look deeply enough, we can make things better (at least understand things better).

Modernism took a pretty hard hit following World War II. Titanic changes occurred in everything everywhere all at once: there was widespread economical and political restructuring as great empires vanished and new nations were born. From that point through the rest of the 20th century, there was widespread reshuffling of the world order, with technology gradually emerging as the primary force in society. With this, there gradually came a set of ideas that are suspicious of logic and reason, particularly in the sense that they are sometimes used to merely rationalize some pre-existing social order.

Modernism thinks human civilization can be perfected, but postmodernism is a lot more doubtful about this.

Modernism thinks that eternal concepts like truth and beauty can be investigated and defined if we work diligently, but postmodernism thinks this is a pointless exercise and mostly doubts that such things really exist at all, or at best are defined only temporarily.

Modernism is *Star Trek*. Postmodernism is *Cloud Atlas*.

The answer will vary depending on what field you are talking about.

But assuming philosophy, which I guess is the root of their manifestations elsewhere.

Modernism is a philosophical movement that came out of the Industrial Revolution and the rapid advancement of scientific progress, especially with Darwin’s theory of Evolution. Quite tangibly the material wealth and wellbeing of the world was improving rapidly thanks to our greater understanding of science and ability to manufacture goods. This led to philosophical movement that through embracing industrialization and understanding humanity we can create a utopian future. Basically it was a period of optimism about the future for humanity with a lot of ideas about how to achieve that utopian future.

Post-Modernism is the reaction to that following WWII, in which it was brutally demonstrated that these ideals can lead to terrible places. The Nazi’s plan for the world was repulsive and the Socialist vision of the future had thoroughly been captured by Authoritarianism. For example Eugenics is a thoroughly modernist idea, through selective breeding we can create better people, that though the late 1800’s to 1940’s was a common intellectual hobby until the Nazi’s demonstrated where that idea goes.

Post-Modernism is a far more cynical philosophy that rejects a lot of the foundational Enlightenment ideas that Modernism was built on. That there is an objective truth to some conclusions, that humanities progress was assured as we developed scientifically, that it is possible to completely understand societies, there is a ‘human nature’ etc. Overall its a skepticism of Modernist ideas and ideology leading to a lot of varying strains of thought.

These are loaded words that can mean very different things in different contexts. The use of the word modernism in philosophy, literature, architecture, visual art, etc has different meanings and the respective modernist movements happened at different times. Same with post modernism. I know this doesn’t answer your question, but without giving what context these words are being used in it is difficult to give an answer that won’t be misleading.