Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Modernism and Postmodernism Research

Research I've gathered online and from tactile reference materials.

I also have some photographic research of reputable pieces of architecture, graphic design, music, furniture, industrial design and Literature that is popularly associated with each period. I just haven't sorted them out into specific categories yet.
The same goes with Massimo Vignelli and Cathrine McCoy articles, quotes, design philosophies, works, bio's and interview. Along with their fellow designers opinions on them and on the following movements.

So far, I've been researching all aspects of Modernism & Postmodernism that relates from a succinct style and motivation of: music, architecture, literature, graphics, furniture, industrial, and even fashion design that relates to the culture and society of the era's. I am trying to get a solid foundation of knowledge over all the elements, then the narrowing of directions will occur. Massimo Vignelli and Katherine McCoy have given a good observation over their experience with both movements and attitudes of modernism and postmodernism. Although they both are eternal optimists and believe design has a responsibility to improving our culture and society, they differ greatly within their definitions of what constitutes that responsibility and the characteristics of the best pathway to reach that utopia.

MODERNISM 1860s - 1950

The Modernist Period can be traced all the way back to the 1860s where French painter Edouard Manet rejected the traditional rules and guidelines of perspective, color, form, material, etc. The British Arts and Crafts period built upon this new revolution continued to the American Arts and Crafts period by the great William Morris. The modernist attitude, which is where the phrase "Form Follows Function" birthed. In this sense, traditional techniques to retain a comfortable society were regarded useless within the new economic industrialized world; they were outdated. This often led to experiments with form, and work that draws attention to the processes and materials used and to the further tendency of abstraction. The Bauhaus and De Stijl schools were the pioneers who helped to create a modern philosophy and guidelines for the modernist movement. Through these new changes to Western society, enlightenment thinking was rejected to create new opportunities of movements that would strengthen the modernism era: Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Expressionism, Constructivism, De Stijl, and Rationalism.

I have found a variety of lists that define the characteristics of modernism and postmodernism.


Formal characteristics

    •    Open Form
    •    Free verse
    •    Discontinuous narrative
    •    Juxtaposition
    •    Intertextuality
    •    Classical allusions
    •    Borrowings from other cultures and languages
    •    Unconventional use of metaphor
    •    Metanarrative
    •    Simplification of form
    •    Elimination of ornament
    •    Fragmentation
    •    Multiple narrative points of view (parallax)

Thematic characteristics

    •    Breakdown of social norms and cultural sureties
    •    Dislocation of meaning and sense from its normal context
    •    Valorization of the despairing individual in the face of an unmanageable future
    •    Disillusionment
    •    Rejection of history and the substitution of a mythical past, borrowed without chronology
    •    Product of the metropolis, of cities and urbanscapes
    •    Stream of consciousness
    •    Overwhelming technological changes of the 20th Century

Literary characteristics

    •    a reaction against Realism
    •    a break with traditional forms
    •    rejects society: traditional values and assumptions
    •    a sense of alienation, of loss, and of despair
    •    emphasis on the individual and inner being rather than the social being
    •    celebrates passion and will over reason and morality
    •    asserts that individuals create the world in the act of perceiving it
    •    discusses the inadequacy of words and language
    •    a movement toward character complexity
    •    experiments with language
    •    a distortion of perception
    •    a rejection of causality and plot; unordered, discontinuous narratives

Architectural characteristics

    •    a rejection of historical styles as a source of architectural form (historicism)
    •    an adoption of the principle that the materials and functional requirements determine the result
    •    an adoption of the machine aesthetic
    •    a rejection of ornament
    •    a simplification of form and elimination of unnecessary detail
    •    an adoption of expressed structure
    •    odernist architecture has these features:
    •    Little or no ornamentation
    •    Factory-made parts
    •    Man-made materials such as metal and concrete
    •    Emphasis on function
    •    Rebellion against traditional styles

Contributors to the Modernist Movement:


    •    James Joyce
    •    T.S. Elliot
    •    Gertrude Stein
    •    Marcel Proust
    •    John Steinbeck
    •    Franz Kafka
    •    Virginia Woolf
    - to name a few.

Design (architecture, graphic, furniture, and industrial):

    •    Mies Van Der Rohe
    •    Phillip Johnson
    •    Le Corbusier
    •    Herbert Bayer
    •    Josef Albers
    •    Henry Van de Velde
    •    - the list goes on and on and on...


This new movement of Postmodernism birthed from architecture as an answer to Modernism's so
called "bland and aggressively minimalist forms and effects." Postmodernism rejected the essence
of modernism's 'pure' form or 'perfect' architectonic detail, instead fathers of postmodern
architecture conspicuously drew from all methods, materials, forms and colors available to

I found the most useful definition of Postmodernism through my research:

This departure called postmodernism Postmodernism is an aesthetic, literary, political or
social philosophy, which was the basis of the attempt to describe a condition, or a state of
being, or something concerned with changes to institutions and conditions (as in Giddens,
1990) as postmodernity. In other words, postmodernism is the "cultural and intellectual
phenomenon", especially since the 1920s' new movements in the arts, while postmodernity
focuses on social and political outworkings and innovations globally, especially since the
1960s in the West.


    •    There is no absolute truth - Postmodernists believe that the notion of truth is a contrived illusion, misused by people and special interest groups to gain power over others. 

    •    Truth and error are synonymous - Facts, postmodernists claim, are too limiting to determine anything. Changing erratically, what is fact today can be false tomorrow. 

    •    Self-conceptualization and rationalization - Traditional logic and objectivity are spurned by postmodernists. Preferring to rely on opinions rather than embrace facts, postmodernist spurn the scientific method. 

    •    Traditional authority is false and corrupt - Postmodernists speak out against the constraints of religious morals and secular authority. They wage intellectual revolution to voice their concerns about traditional establishment. 

    •    Ownership - They claim that collective ownership would most fairly administrate goods and services. 

    •    Disillusionment with modernism - Postmodernists rue the unfulfilled promises of science, technology, government, and religion. 

    •    Morality is personal - Believing ethics to be relative, postmodernists subject morality to personal opinion. They define morality as each person’s private code of ethics without the need to follow traditional values and rules. 

    •    Globalization – Many postmodernists claim that national boundaries are a hindrance to human communication. Nationalism, they believe, causes wars. Therefore, postmodernists often propose internationalism and uniting separate countries. 

    •    All religions are valid - Valuing inclusive faiths, postmodernists gravitate towards New Age religion. They denounce the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ as being the only way to God. 

    •    Liberal ethics - Postmodernists defend the cause of feminists and homosexuals. 

    •    Pro-environmentalism - Defending “Mother Earth,” postmodernists blame Western society for its destruction.

Literary characteristics

    •    Whereas Modernism places faith in the ideas, values, beliefs, culture, and norms of the West, Postmodernism rejects Western values and beliefs as only a small part of the human experience and often rejects such ideas, beliefs, culture, and norms.
    •    Whereas Modernism attempts to reveal profound truths of experience and life, Postmodernism is suspicious of being "profound" because such ideas are based on one particular Western value systems.
    •    Whereas Modernism attempts to find depth and interior meaning beneath the surface of objects and events, Postmodernism prefers to dwell on the exterior image and avoids drawing conclusions or suggesting underlying meanings associated with the interior of objects and events.
    •    Whereas Modernism focused on central themes and a united vision in a particular piece of literature, Postmodernism sees human experience as unstable, internally contradictory, ambiguous, inconclusive, indeterminate, unfinished, fragmented, discontinuous, "jagged," with no one specific reality possible.  Therefore, it focuses on a vision of a contradictory, fragmented, ambiguous, indeterminate, unfinished, "jagged" world.
    •    Whereas Modern authors guide and control the reader’s response to their work, the Postmodern writer creates an "open" work in which the reader must supply his own connections, work out alternative meanings, and provide his own (unguided) interpretation

Architectural characteristics

    •    Aesthetics to support function
    •    Ornamentation that serves as a practical function
    •    Roofs are slanted at an even angle from one wall to the other
    •    Styles Collide
    •    Form is adopted for its own sake
    •    new ways of viewing familiar styles and space abound

Contributors to the Postmodern Movement:


William Burroughs
Alexander Trocchi
Kurt Vonnegut
Paul Auster
J.D. Salinger
Joseph Heller
Harper Lee
Isaac Asimov

Design (Architecture, graphic, furniture, and industrial)

Norman Foster
Michael Graves
Helmut Jahn
Robert Stern
Robert Venturi
Peter Eisman
Charles William Moore
Terry Farrell
Luigi Colani
Hans Hollein









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