Postmodernity and Postmodernism

postmodernism art

What do you understand by the terms ‘post modernity’ and ‘post modernism’? Do they still have currency today?

Postmodernism refers to a concept that describes postmodern movement that emerged after modernism and challenged the modernist architecture and design. It is a postmodernist movement in arts with a set of cultural tendencies and linked with cultural movements. It is an era that follows modernism. Modernism was a period that began in late 17th century in Western Europe and ended in 1960s. Postmodern is the period after 1960 to the current period. Some schools of thought also argue that modernism ended in 1980s and 1990s and was replaced by postmodernism immediately thereafter (Anderson, 1998). In general, postmodernism is a rejection of totality, wholeness and unity that were pursued during the modernism. Renewed historical matter, style and expressivity characterized the postmodernism of visual arts. Postmodernism also exhibits a lucrative art market. This is due to the commercial value of artworks since the economic boom of 1980s. The term has attracted skeptical interpretations of culture, architecture, art and design. It is also viewed as a form of post-structuralism and deconstruction due to the popularity of the post-structural thought in the 20th century when postmodernism was also emerging. Post modernism is the approval of postmodern philosophies in art, design, culture and society.

Post modernity is a post modern condition that describes the cultural or economic state of society after modernity (Anderson, 1998). Post modernity is therefore a way of life of people in a postmodern era. It describes the way people identify themselves in relation to cultural diversity, diverse natures and the entire universe. A spiritual project of post modernity is identifiable in art and design where artists and designers discover mechanisms of self-transcendence and avoidance of collectivism and exclusion from groups as noted in the modernity. This perspective is a theoretical view suggested by Fredrick Jameson in his interpretation of post modernity and postmodernism. In this case, post modernity can be considered as a personal rather than collective response to a post modern society. It is a state of being and conditions associated with a post modern society. As opposed to the universalism of modernism, post-modernism represents relativism.

From the definitions of post modernity and postmodernism above, it is clear that post modernity is the condition or state of being postmodern while postmodernism is the adoption of postmodern philosophies of art, design, culture and society. Postmodern art or architecture is a reaction to modern art. Modernity is associated with the progressive, enlightenment or industrialization era. Modernity involves the project of enhancing progress through incorporation of rationality and hierarchy principles into artistic and public life. Modernity characterized a period of constant change and progress. In post modernity and post modernism, this modern process of constant change and process has ended. Post modernity considers constant change as the status quo and progress as obsolete. Post modernity and postmodernism are used by social scientists and social critics to describe various issues of contemporary culture, economics and society. These issues are features of the late 20th and early 21st century which include authority fragmentation (Lyotard, 1984). Post modernity is often considered as a result of post modernism.

One of the features of post modernity and post modernism is the emergence of digital system. In this case, digital production of information through digital channels of communication such as fax machines, cable, high speed internet and modems has influenced post modernity significantly (Harvey, 1990). This digital system has influenced certain factors in art and design. For instance, the use of intellectual capital and intellectual property that is common in art and design nowadays is a result of the use of digital system. Intellectual property and intellectual capital have led to the creation of new economy. Information costs in art and design has also been enhanced by postmodern digital system. This has altered the society economically and socially. However, some schools of thought argued that postmodernism brought in new ways and history had come to an end; hence art ended with the emergence of postmodernism.

Lyotard (1984) suggests that contemporary society has moved into a post-modern phase that is completely distinct from modernity. This is one of three theoretical perspectives of postmodernism which is also agreed by Baudrillard (1984). The second group of theorists suggests that postmodernism and post modernity are developments of modernism and modernity. Postmodern society can be viewed in this perspective as a high society (Castells, 1996) or liquid modernity (Bauman, 2000). The third group of theorists suggests that postmodernism reflects a continuation of contemporary societies with the past.

Postmodernism has a great influence in art. Postmodernism movement began with architecture. The movement reacted to the hostility, utopianism and blandness of modern movement. Architecture in the modern era pursued ideal perfection, harmony of form and function, and rejection of lighthearted ornament (Tafuri, 1976).  Proponents of Postmodernism movement argued that perfection and minimalism are subjective terms and modernism is full of anachronisms. Postmodern architecture including the work of Robert Venturi dismisses the aspect of pure or perfect architectural details. It utilizes all methods, forms, colors and materials that can be easily accessed by architects. Postmodernism also challenges modernism by terming it as a totalitarian and antiquated process. It prefers personal choice and variety to ultimate truths, principles and objectives. Therefore, postmodernism and post-modernity aesthetic is generally distinguished by emphasis of difference, and skepticism and criticism of unity.

Postmodernism also criticized the opinion of modernism that planning and architecture result in social reform. The failure by modernism to realize differences was also considered by postmodernism as a way of eroding urban living and architectural objects and designs. Literature is also part of art that was influenced by postmodernism movement. There are several literary work written in the perspective of postmodernism is depicted. For instance, Raymond Federman started using past tense to describe postmodernism (McHale, 2007). In terms of art, postmodernism is also characterized by post modern music. Postmodern music refers to music of post modern era or music following the aesthetic elements of postmodernism. Post modernity bears postmodern music to postmodernism. Postmodern music is mainly influenced by eclecticism and freedom of expression that is common in postmodernism.

Post modernity has also led to a new perspective in art whereby artists no longer respect the originality of their artworks. Appropriation is a strategy for postmodern artists and considers the stealing or plagiarism of other people’s work from the past. Postmodernism suggests that originality does not exist in most traditions of art. In postmodernism, artists are not identified personally despite their gifted nature. For example, the original photograph or artwork of an artist may not be important if only a few people can access them. The reproduction of such artworks brings image to millions of other people who could not have accessed them in their original form (Harvey, 1997). For instance, Sherrie Levine is famous for appropriating artworks from the past. Levine appropriated a photograph of Walker Evans and named it “After Walker Evans”. Critics of postmodernism suggest that this process of appropriation by postmodernists is an indication of envy and resentment.

Harvey (1997) suggests that postmodernism/post modernity represents a move from epistemology to ontology in art, literature and culture. This means that postmodernism is a shift from modernistic perspective that gave meaning to complex but singular reality, to the contemporary view that different artistic veracities may coexist, interpenetrate and collide.

Postmodernism can also be viewed from the perspective of graphic design. Post modernism and post modernity did not influence graphic design until 1980s when design was thought of as a way in which designers no longer hide behind their designs, or exclude themselves from the problems they are trying to design. This new way of designing involves the aspect of visibility. Designers in the post modern era prefer not to be anonymous like in the modern era, but if they should remain anonymous, at least they should be visible. An example of a post modern designer is Jan Tschichold who proposed modernist asymmetric typography that preceded today’s postmodern typography (Barret, 1997). Jan’s work represented diversity in style and ideology, which indicates an aspect of post modernity. W.A. Dwiggins also transformed traditional values and aesthetics in design into modern sensibilities. He experimented with form tirelessly and borrowed his design techniques from eastern cultures, new technology and history. This is an example of a postmodern perspective to design because it considers variety and diversity, which has earlier been noted as key aspects of postmodernism.

In conclusion, it is clear that postmodernism and post modernity are terms that came out of a resistance movement that opposed modernity and modernism. It includes all aspects that question modernity. They challenge the collectivism and rationalism of modernism and modernity and propose a new way of identifying diversities and encouraging personal development rather than collective change and progress. In art and design, postmodernism has gone to the point of appropriation and visibility. In this case, post modern artists appropriate artworks of the past and post modern designers remain visible in the designs.


References list

Anderson, P. (1998). The Origins of Postmodernity. London: Verso.

Barret, T. (1997). Modernism and Postmodernism: An overview with Art Examples. In Hutchens, J. and Suggs, M., eds. Art Education: Content and Practice in a postmodern era. Washington, DC:  NAEA.

Baudrillard, J. (1984). Simulations. New York: Semiotext.

Bauman, Z. (2000). Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Castells, M. (1996). The Network Society. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Harvey, D. (1990). The Condition of Post modernity: an enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change. Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers.

Lyotard, J. (1984). The Postmodern Condition: A report on knowledge. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

McHale, B. (2007). What Was Postmodernism? Electronic Book Review

Tafuri, M. (1976). Architecture and utopia: design and capitalist development. Cambridge: MIT    Press.

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