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What are the key differences between Modernism and Postmodernism as art movements?

What are the key differences between Modernism and Postmodernism as art movements?


Thank you for your answer!
I have a 'stupid question' is Modernism the same as Modern Art? If not, what is the difference?
Hello Nicole,
I don't think that's a stupid question. Actually, it's a great question. There is a difference between "Modernism" and "Modern Art." I'll try to explain as best I can.  "Modernism" refers to the view that cultures, societies, and individuals should seek ways to "improve" or "update" society by getting rid of old conventions and replacing them with new ones, and hopefully, improved ones. This goes for just about anything in society. An example of a culture that rejects "Modernism" is the Amish. They ride in horse-drawn carriages and attempt to maintain other "traditional" ways of living. The idea that an automobile is an improvement over a carriage is just an idea. For religious and/or cultural reasons, a society or subculture may decide that modernism is dangerous while most societies consider modernism an asset. In religion, there are factions that try to keep traditional ways intact, while others in the same religion might approve of modernism. Another example is a ruling, when the Catholic Church decreed that it was all right to hold a service in English (or any other vernacular language) as opposed to Latin. A modernist would say there's no point in having a Mass conducted in Latin if no one can understand it; a traditionalist might say that because of tradition, the Latin Mass captures the spirit of Catholicism, and so people should learn Latin.
"Modern Art" is one aspect of "Modernism." It is not an entire way of looking at the world. It is a way of thinking about what is worth creating in terms of art. So, you could apply all the ideas of modernism to "Modern Art," the difference being that modern art is more circumscribed, i.e., it involves one's view of what artists should be attempting in their art, which is to make things new.
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3 Answers

If you still are seeking a clear answer to your question, I think I can answer it more clearly than a lot of website sources.
Modernism began at the end of the 19th Century and was influenced by the new technologies and ideologies that permeated the period (automobile, airplane, telephone, radio, telegraph, theory of relativity, theory of evolution, Marxism, and Freud's views about the unconscious). The result of these influences was that artists felt they no longer had to adhere to strict conventions of what needed to go into creating a painting, sculpture, architecture, music, and so on.  In other words, "tradition" was no longer a sacred cow.  While traditional art and all tradition, for that matter, emphasized the importance of continuity -- that is, one generation should more or less maintain the same standards and practices of the previous ones, modernism suggested art must be investigative, similar to the way new technologies and ideas were investigations, so that the arts and what artists did could now be greatly expanded -- basically to art became 'whatever you could get away with.' 
Postmodernism was a response to decades of modernist art. What postmodernism asserted (during the second half of the 20th Century) was that there were no new ideas or forms to be found in art, as 100 years of experimentation were enough to explore new forms, so that creating something "new" or "modern" would simply be a benign and insignificant variation of something that was already investigated or created.  Thus, postmodernist critics claimed newness was "exhausted."  They did claim, however, that the next logical progression in the arts and for the activity of artists was to borrow, combine, refer to, imitate, comment on, etc., previous works of art. So, postmodern artists should no longer seek entirely new means of creating art, but artwork would now become an investigation of what was already new. A secondary idea of postmodernism is/was that the creator or artist should no longer be considered as being "creative."  Rather, creativity was a natural aspect of being, so that an artist, if she/he tuned into this vast pulse of creativity, would be more of a vehicle for transmitting principles of art.
That's the short version, anyway.
; < )


I appreciate the beauty and eloquence of your explanation.  Thank you. James Halifko
Glad that I could be of some help.
I am a nursing student and I was having extreme difficulties understanding the definitions of postmodernism and modernism. It's terrible when you have to look up the definition of the words to understand the definition of another word. Thank you for clarifying this. 

Dear Amy,

This article probably answers your question.


Kindest regards,


Modernism rejects the idea of realism, as in not making things look real-life. Modernism painting, for example, simplified the human figure from realistic portrayals to basic line drawings or geometric shapes. Postmodernism is completely new and strays from anything art knew before. It is completely wild and sometimes doesn't really make much sense in its content. It was a reaction to current culture and what was happening in the world