Modernism and Postmodernism – tutorial notes


Modernism can be described as a movement of the ‘avent garde‘ – a movement that was all about pushing the boundaries. It was a revolt of the old academic tradition.

Modernism encompasses so many art forms, and also other areas of life. The social aspect of Modernism, for example, had a huge impact on history. This aspect relates to the idea of a central authority broadcasting to the masses. In other words Modernism appreciated the importance of a grand narrative. Is Marxism part of the Modernist project?

Modernism was also about an appreciation of industry, a praise of the Industrial Revolution, a celebration of mass production, design and industry and this lead to the distinctive style of Modernist architecture with all its glass and steel.

In terms of literature and art, Modernism praised the individual perspective. The individual experience was highly lauded, and created an interesting and new way of narrating reality.

Modernism’s many art ‘isms’ believed in individual exploration of life experience, emotions, states of mind and spiritualism.  Modernists wanted to step outside of the self in art and creativity.


Differing from Modernism in one important respect, Postmodernism rejects the idea of the grand narrative.  Instead of the grand narrative explaining reality (such as God), nothing can explain reality. In fact there is no reality. So you may feel as if you are having an original thought, but you really aren’t. You are influenced by what has come before you, what is around you, the authority who feeds you.

Postmodernists believe that there are no big theories.

The notion of pastiche is an important notion to consider when discussing Postmodernism. Pastiche relates strongly to the concept of a lack of original thought. There is no reality, instead pastiche uses fragments of the past, but not in the way of a parody which makes fun of the past, but in an almost respectful way. It takes elements of the past and creates a type of nostalgia for the past. Star Wars presents a perfect example of pastiche: taking elements of film genres of the past and putting it in space. There is success to be had in non-originality.

Luke, I am a Postmodernist

Luke, I am a Postmodernist

The idea of experiencing life in the moment is also an important Postmodernist element. The immediate experience can be intense. The surface is paramount over in-depth thinking and self-reflection.

Postmodernist art is about celebrating art for arts sake. It takes away the concept of the elevated value of certain artworks. High art and low are art blurred. There should be no distinction. Art is art for art’s sake. A urinal can be art, anything can be art.

Postmodernist science is about the ‘teeny tiny possibility‘ theory of current theories on science not providing the explanation for everything. A good postmodern scientist is a scientist who doubts and quests to keep finding new explanations, someone who accepts that they might not be right.

I'm not denying evolution, I'm just saying that it is one of the possibilities.

I’m not denying evolution, I’m just saying that it is one of the possibilities.

What comes after Postmodernism?

Francis Fukuyama stated in his book The End of History and the Last Man (Free Press, 1992) that the end of Postmodernism came in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall. He postulated in this book that the end of Communism signalled the success of Western liberal democracy over all other social and political systems. He stated that since the French Revolution democracy had repeatedly proven itself to be the superior political system. Interestingly, Fukuyama later conceded in the book Our Posthuman Future (2002) that his original thesis was incomplete, stating that the end of history can only come with the end of science and technology.

Postmodernism is replaced by Supermodernity and Transmodernity. Transmodernity provides a nomadic explanation for reality. The real world is now in a liquid form, brought about by the globalization of culture, economics and society. Everywhere is composed of transient places, such as airports, capital cities and Costa coffee shops. We are all travellers. Is there in fact something we could call a hyper-reality? Is Disneyland more real than the real world? Is Las Vegas more real than the real world? I can visit China in America without actually going to China.

Mickey welcomes you to the real world

Mickey welcomes you to the real world

Is the virtual reality of the Internet more real than the real world? I’m sat rather comfortably in it now as I type.


Tutorial Notes

Wikipedia on The End of History and the Last Man, [last accessed 21 January 2013]



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