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Early modern vs late modern vs post modern?

Early modern vs late modern vs post modern?

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I frequently come across these three terms, but I haven't been able to find a source that explains the difference between all three of them precisely.

Here's what I think I know now:

  • The early modern period is roughly around the 1500s - 1800s. It begins with European exploration and ends around the period of the French Revolution.

  • The late modern period follows the early modern period and ends around World War 2.

Now, here's where I'm lost:

1) Is the modern period defined by both the early modern period and late modern period?

2) How does "post modern" period fit into to the picture? It should logically follow the late modern period, but some sources refer to this period as the "modern era" as well. Which doesn't make sense to me because it's not the "modern era", it's "post modern".


This is a cultural rather than a historical science term. It refers to the contemporary line of reasoning which can be also called ultra-relativism, i.e., not just that any statement's veracity is relative, but its meaning is relative as well.

Modern et al

I think this terminology went like this:

  1. Pre-modern: 1500-1800
  2. Modern: 1800-WW2
  3. Contemporary: post-WW2

This terminology made sense until the fall of the Berlin Wall, but now, I think, the following division makes more sense:

  1. Pre-modern: 1500-1800 (the groundwork for the Western domination is laid)
  2. Modern: 1800-1910 (the West dominates the modern-looking world)
  3. WW: 1910-1945 (the West's domination crumbles as it wars itself)
  4. Cold War: 1945-1990 (the West is now divided along the ideological rather than purely national lines)
  5. Contemporary: 1990-now (many interrelated issues seems critical now, but we will know which were truly important only when this period ends)

The bottom line

If you make 4 typos in the word "milk", you could get the word "beer" instead. People feel free to redefine the terms they use to their hearts' content.

Apples & oranges.

I don't think there are official, or even conventional definitions for any of these terms; they vary depending on context. If you're talking to a paleontologist, the definition of the modern era will be very different from the definitions used by a historian specializing in "Democracy" or "women's rights", or whatever.

"Postmodern" isn't - at least in my opinion - a term with a solid meaning in history. Postmodernism has a meaning in art and in philosophy, but not AFAIK in history. A friend of mine has suggested the postmodern drinking game where every player attempts to define "postmodern". Everyone takes a drink unless any two definitions match. He proposes this because it is the only way of terminating any discussion about what postmodern means. (and the process of terminating the discussion is far more enjoyable than the discussion) The best definition I've ever read is in Perl the first postmodern programming language

Rule of thumb?

  • Pre-modern is the belief that I'm right and you're wrong.

  • Modern is the belief that I'm right and that when I've explained myself to you sufficiently, you'll realize that you agree with me.

  • Postmodern is the belief that we're both right, and that if we spend enough time talking about that, we'll never get anything done, so the best course of action is to ignore the problem. (and according to the rules above, unless you agree with me, we're both obliged to drink a shot now.)

In dutch it's a lot easier: 1500-1800 is the nieuwe tijd, wich translates to new time, and 1800 to now is the hedendaagse periode, wich translates to contemporary period. I've never heard of a distinction for the period after world war II.

I can maybe help you with the first question though: we define the start of the early modern period by events like the fall of Byzantium in 1453, the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg in the same period and the discovery of America by Columbus. The end is mainly defined by the french and the American revolution, and the fall of Napoleon.

I have heard of the postmodern period before but never in history classes, just behavior sciences (in high school). I just did a quick google and it seems almost all results are about literature, architecture and culture in general. I think it is rarely used in history.

Periods in these terms normally pertain to the arts (philosophy,drama,fine art, etc.) and how they are effected by all disciplines and fields of thought. Ideas that are invented during a period, reach a level of acceptance, and are incorporated into new thought as the decades pass, can help define a new period that follows by the fact that it becomes sewn into the work of the new/ensuing period.

For example, Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy - let's take his work on the aeshetic ideal, became incorporated into thought during the modernism period, and then emerged from literature in a new period, called post-modernism. It can be seen in 60 and 70s literature, and thereafter. Same with Einstein, who's thoughts on space/time, and Cezanne, who's paintings experimented with these ideas, was carried forward into Pablo Picasso's work through modern and into post-modernism.

This is a summary or perspective on how periods work. The more you studies these areas, the clearer it will be.

The terms tend to be reasonably well-defined within a field of study, but there's essentially no coordination between fields, at least not in the Anglosphere.

For example, in historical linguistics, Early Modern English is the period of the language from the start of the Tudor dynasty to the Restoration, when the transition to the modern form of the language began. Middle English, before the Tudors, is fairly difficult for speakers of Modern English to read. Early Modern English, such as the original language of the King James Bible and of Shakespeare, is quite comprehensible, although the spelling is often modernised nowadays. True Modern English was written from the mid-eighteenth century onwards and presents no problem, although it's often possible to tell approximately when something was written via changing fashions in word use and idioms.

So Modern English was formed before the end of the OP's Early Modern period, and there's no "post-modern" period in linguistics; as others have said, that's a cultural term, rather than a historical one.

Here is a chronological explanation for the above mentioned (Western) historical periods:

  1. Early Modern History: Begins with The Northern Italian Renaissance around 1400 AD/CE. The Early Modern period also includes, the rise of Iberia-(Spain & Portugal) during the 1500's, followed by the 1600's-(the rise of the Dutch Empire & Elizabethan England).

  2. Late Modern History: Begins with the 1700's, specifically, with the rise of the Enlightenment in France, followed by the emergence of England as a major financial and technological power, through The Industrial Revolution, the Victorian Age, whereby much of British colonialism expanded during this time under Queen Victoria, as well as The Romantic Age, which produced great Poets, such as Byron, Wordsworth & Keats. The Late Modern Age also produced some of the most significant Writers in History, such as Dickens, Marx and Darwin. And of course, much of the 20th century is also part of the Late Modern Age, ending with the collapse/implosion of Global Communism and its Epicenter, The Soviet Union in 1991.

  3. Post-Modern History: This is the Contemporary historical period, beginning in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. We have been living in the Post-Modern period since 1992, that is to say, a Post-Soviet/Post-Communist (and even Post-Industrial) era, which helped to spawn The Age of Information, as well as The Age of Globalization. The Information Age has and continues to "deconstruct" Modern conventionality through our modes of communication and thought and The Globalization Age has transformed the movement of capital and business into worldwide enterprises and industries. Both Information and Globalization have a symbiotic relationship whereby one necessitates the other. The Information age is inherently Global and the Globalization Age is enhanced by the worldwide access to Information.

Difference between Renaissance and Early Modern Studies

When we say Renaissance we simply mean the rebirth of classical knowledge and we try to approach this period from the viewpoint of classical Greek. But when we say early modern studies we are trying to approach this period in view of the developments that happened later than the Renaissance. However, we do not cancel out the importance of classical period but simply give more importance to the later developments in modernity.
The term Renaissance the period of fifteenth and sixteenth century was given only in the nineteenth century. But early modern is much more recent, associated in particular with the Annales School of Historians since the 1940s in France and later in England.
Both Renaissance and early modern are chronologically shifting, Renaissance points to European cultural phenomena, which started around the twelfth century. Renaissance scholars are less worried about the end of the Renaissance. Their concern is how to date Renaissance, how to link it to the ancient Hellenic culture and how to isolate it from its recent past. It puts for objective consideration of other historical epoch. Renaissance turns to the past and is concerned with the origin and influences. But early modern points out distinct objectives for historians. It has come as a reaction against the elitism and cultural myopia of Renaissance history. It points to a weakening of disciplinary boundaries. It questions particularized structure of literary study. It breaks the traditional segment of literary studies and destroys literary studies as an autonomous category of intellectual activity. Past and present are out of focus of early modern studies.
The shift from Renaissance to early modern studies shows the class realities of the Renaissance period, those realities which seem to be left out when we approach the age with the term Renaissance. But when we approach the age with early modern studies the prevailing class realities, even of lower class people, are included. The age starts to include the culture of lower class people. One of the implications of this shift is to have not just a literary approach to that age or one subject approach, but to have an interdisciplinary approach.
According to Lee S. Marcus, to look at Renaissance through the lens called &ldquoearly modern&rdquo is to see the concerns of modernism and postmodernism in embryo. Marcus says that the term Renaissance, because it means rebirth, suggests celebration, optimism, and a feeling of being upbeat. When we feel upbeat and when we are in a celebrating mood, we talk only about good things. In Renaissance, however, there were also ugly things. The killing of women in the name of witches, the killing of people who came up with new scientific ideas, things are not talked about at all. But if we study the age from the viewpoint of early modern all these things come under discussion. So, the writer replaces Renaissance with early modern.
Another difference is the word formation of the word &ldquoRenaissance&rdquo. We write Renaissance, the first word is capitalized to give importance to high culture. We capitalize its first letter because it gives importance to high culture. But the initial letters of early modern are not capitalized.
Marcus says that the writings and culture of Renaissance are aptly sponsored by the elites because the elites control the artistic production through patronage. So, Renaissance scholars they only pinpoint the glowing idealized pictures of cultural life during the period. But early modern approach privileges the lower class values over the elite&rsquos values, or it privileges margin over the center.
Another difference is that when we say rebirth it is also rupture, disjunction but we do not talk about disjunction when we study that period under Renaissance. But if we take the early modern approach we naturally tend to talk about disjunction.
Similarly, women writers are not included by Renaissance scholars. But early modern scholars encompass women writers as well as marginal group. It revives the marginalized women writers like Elizabeth Carey, Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Wroth.
There has also been a shift from high culture to low culture. By Renaissance we mean high or elite culture. The genres related to lower parts of society were not taught or included in the canon. Only the lyric poem, one of the elitist genres, was considered as good, but when we say early modern studies we do not deny the existence of high culture, we do also recognize the low culture in its significance.
Lastly, Renaissance reveals the possibility for objectivity whereas early modern develops concerns of modernism, postmodernism and textual indeterminacy.

Early American (1640 to 1700)

The Early American period was really the first period where a distinct style began to appear within furniture pieces in the colonies that went beyond mere practicality. Ornamental carvings, finials, raised panels and woodturnings were hallmarks of this period. Most joinery was of the mortise and tenon variety, with pine, cherry, birch, maple, oak and fruit woods such as apple comprising the majority of the hardwoods and softwoods used for these pieces.

Difference Between Modernism and Postmodernism

Each person has his own beliefs and philosophy in life, and each has a mindset of his own. When he meets other individuals with the same views as his own, they can create a school of thought and share a common philosophy, belief, opinion, and discipline. Throughout mankind’s history, several schools of thought existed with modernism and postmodernism being more relevant and influential to the people of today.

Modernism is a school of thought or a movement that took place in the late 19th century and early 20th centuries. It involved a reform movement in art, music, literature, and the applied arts. It was based on rational thinking, logic, and the scientific process. It aimed at creating a clear and rational view of the world believing that through science and reason mankind can advance and grow. It advocated the belief that there is much to learn from the past that could be beneficial to the present.

Modernism supported the belief that there is a purpose for life and that it should be viewed objectively. Modernists had an optimistic view of the world and believed that there are values and ethics that need to be followed. They were not very concerned about politics and gave more thought to significant things. The era of modernism was a time of artistic and literary advancement. Great works of art and literature were abundant as well as of music, architecture, poetry, and science. Modernist works were admired for their simplicity and elegance.

Postmodernism, on the other hand, is a school of thought or a movement that took place after the Second World War, but it gained popularity in the 1960s. It was a chaotic era hard to comprehend and apprise. It advocated the belief that there is no universal truth. It used an unscientific approach to life and believed that all things are irrational. Postmodernists believed in chance and transience. They questioned the rationality of modernism, its principles and thinking. They believed that there is no connection between the past and the present and that past events are irrelevant in the present.

The postmodernist era was characterized by the advancement of technology and its use in music, art, and literature. Very few original works of artists can be found during this time, and previous works were copied. Postmodernist artists get their inspiration and basis from the original works of modernist artists.

1.Modernism is a school of thought that took place in late 1800s and early 1900s while postmodernism is a school of thought that took place after World War II.
2.Modernism advocated rational thinking and the use of science and reason for the advancement of man while postmodernism believed in the irrationality of things.
3.The modernist era was characterized by the simple and elegant original works of gifted artists while the postmodernist era was characterized by the advancement in technology and its use in different media.
4.Modernists believed in universal truth while postmodernists did not.
5.Postmodernists were very political while modernists were not.

The Similarities

There are similar characteristics to be found in both styles as well. This is likely where much of the confusion stems from when trying to distinguish them. Both styles tend to favor simple, uncluttered spaces with smooth, clean lines and artistic flair. This imparts a comfortable and calming feeling in a room that is very inviting.

Neither style prefers ornate designs or heavy elements. Contemporary spaces can, however, bend this rule frequently as the trends change. In both styles, sofas, chairs, and ottomans have exposed legs. They each tend to gravitate toward reflective surfaces such as exposed metals and glass. You will also find plenty of exposed wood in both styles, from structural beams to raw wood end tables with metal bases.

Ask an Expert: What is the Difference Between Modern and Postmodern Art?

All trends become clearer with time. Looking at art even 15 years out, “you can see the patterns a little better,” says Melissa Ho, assistant curator at the Hirshhorn Museum. “There are larger, deeper trends that have to do with how we are living in the world and how we are experiencing it.”

So what exactly is modern art? The question, she says, is less answerable than endlessly discussable.

Technically, says Ho, modern art is “the cultural expression of the historical moment of modernity.” But how to unpack that statement is contested. One way of defining modern art, or anything really, is describing what it is not. Traditional academic painting and sculpture dominated the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. “It was about perfect, seamless technique and using that perfect, seamless technique to execute very well-established subject matter,” says Ho. There was a hierarchy of genres, from history paintings to portraiture to still lifes and landscapes, and very strict notions of beauty. “Part of the triumph of modernism is overturning academic values,” she says.

In somewhat of a backlash to traditional academic art, modern art is about personal expression. Though it was not always the case historically, explains Ho, “now, it seems almost natural that the way you think of works of art are as an expression of an individual vision.” Modernism spans a huge variety of artists and kinds of art. But the values behind the pieces are much the same. “With modern art, there is this new emphasis put on the value of being original and doing something innovative,” says Ho.

Edouard Manet and the Impressionists were considered modern, in part, because they were depicting scenes of modern life. The Industrial Revolution brought droves of people to the cities, and new forms of leisure sprung up in urban life. Inside the Hirshhorn’s galleries, Ho points out Thomas Hart Benton’s People of Chilmark, a painting of a mass of tangled men and women, slightly reminiscent of a classical Michelangelo or Théodore Géricault’s famous Raft of the Medusa, except that it is a contemporary beach scene, inspired by the Massachusetts town where Benton summered. Ringside Seats, a painting of a boxing match by George Bellows, hangs nearby, as do three paintings by Edward Hopper, one titled First Row Orchestra of theatergoers waiting for the curtains to be drawn.

In Renaissance art, a high premium was put on imitating nature. “Then, once that was chipped away at, abstraction is allowed to flourish,” says Ho. Works like Benton’s and Hopper’s are a combination of observation and invention. Cubists, in the early 1900s, started playing with space and shape in a way that warped the traditional pictorial view.

Art historians often use the word “autonomous” to describe modern art. “The vernacular would be ‘art for art’s sake,’” explains Ho. “It doesn’t have to exist for any kind of utility value other than its own existential reason for being.” So, assessing modern art is a different beast. Rather than asking, as one might with a history painting, about narrative—Who is the main character? And what is the action?—assessing a painting, say, by Piet Mondrian, becomes more about composition. “It is about the compositional tension,” says Ho, “the formal balance between color and line and volume on one hand, but also just the extreme purity of and rigor of it.”

According to Ho, some say that modernism reaches its peak with Abstract Expressionism in America during the World War II era. Each artist of the movement tried to express his individual genius and style, particularly through touch. “So you get Jackson Pollock with his dripping and throwing paint,” says Ho. “You get Mark Rothko with his very luminous, thinly painted fields of color.” And, unlike the invisible brushwork in heavily glazed academic paintings, the strokes in paintings by Willem de Kooning are loose and sometimes thick. “You really can feel how it was made,” says Ho.

Shortly after World War II, however, the ideas driving art again began to change. Postmodernism pulls away from the modern focus on originality, and the work is deliberately impersonal. “You see a lot of work that uses mechanical or quasi-mechanical means or deskilled means,” says Ho. Andy Warhol, for example, uses silk screen, in essence removing his direct touch, and chooses subjects that play off of the idea of mass production. While modern artists such as Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman made color choices that were meant to connect with the viewer emotionally, postmodern artists like Robert Rauschenberg introduce chance to the process. Rauschenburg, says Ho, was known to buy paint in unmarked cans at the hardware store.

“Postmodernism is associated with the deconstruction of the idea, ‘I am the artistic genius, and you need me,’ ” says Ho. Artists such as Sol LeWitt and Lawrence Weiner, with works in the Hirshhorn, shirk authorship even more. Weiner’s piece titled “A RUBBER BALL THROWN ON THE SEA, Cat. No. 146,” for example, is displayed at the museum in large, blue, sans-serif lettering. But Weiner was open to the seven words being reproduced in any color, size or font. “We could have taken a marker and written it on the wall,” says Ho. In other words, Weiner considered his role as artist to be more about conception than production. Likewise, some of LeWitt’s drawings from the late 1960s are basically drawings by instruction. He provides instructions but anyone, in theory, can execute them. “In this post-war generation, there is this trend, in a way, toward democratizing art,” says Ho. “Like the Sol LeWitt drawing, it is this opinion that anybody can make art.”

Labels like “modern” and “postmodern,” and trying to pinpoint start and end dates for each period, sometimes irk art historians and curators. “I have heard all kinds of theories,” says Ho. “I think the truth is that modernity didn’t happen at a particular date. It was this gradual transformation that happened over a couple hundred of years.” Of course, the two times that, for practical reasons, dates need to be set are when teaching art history courses and organizing museums. In Ho’s experience, modern art typically starts around the 1860s, while the postmodern period takes root at the end of the 1950s.

The term “contemporary” is not attached to a historical period, as are modern and postmodern, but instead simply describes art “of our moment.” At this point, though, work dating back to about 1970 is often considered contemporary. The inevitable problem with this is that it makes for an ever-expanding body of contemporary work for which professors and curators are responsible. “You just have to keep an eye on how these things are going,” advises Ho. “I think they are going to get redefined.”

What is Late Modernism?

Welcome back to Critical Eye, Alexandra Lange's incisive, observant, curious, human- and street-friendly architecture column for Curbed. In this edition, Lange pinpoints the next era of preservation-worthy architecture, now that modernism (midcentury, International Style) has become an accepted cause célèbre. First things first: What defines this so-called “Late Modernism,” anyway?

If non-architects know the Citicorp Center—New York’s youngest landmark when designated at 38—they know it for its flaw. Shortly after its completion in 1978, a student called the office of its engineer, William J. LeMessurier, and asked about the four 24-foot-square, 100-foot-tall “super” columns, unusually positioned at the center of each of the skyscraper’s facades, that help to hold the building up.

In designing the building’s innovative structural system, LeMessurier had correctly calculated the strength of the wind hitting each face of the building straight on, but had failed to reckon with the extra strain of the “quartering” winds which hit the building’s cantilevered corners. In responding to the student’s questions, he realized he had made a mistake—one compounded by the substitution of bolted structural joints for welded ones, which are much stronger. By his calculations, a storm strong enough to topple the building hits the city every 55 years.

The Citicorp Center. Norman McGrath

LeMessurier alerted Citicorp, who hired Leslie E. Robertson, engineer of the Twin Towers, to perform an ex post facto fix, “welding two-inch-thick steel plates over each of more than two hundred bolted joints,” a task which took two months. A press release issued at the time shows masterful use of the passive voice: “A review of the Citicorp Center’s designation specifications was recently made . . . [it] caused the engineers to recommend that certain of the connections in Citicorp Center’s wind bracing system be strengthened through additional welding . . . there is no danger.”

All this would have remained hidden by that bland language, were it not for some loose party talk. “The Fifth-Nine Story Crisis” was the title of Joe Morgenstern’s thrillingly written 1995 New Yorker story on the fix a 2004 99% Invisible episode also told the tale, with the important update of the identification of the student—a woman, as it happened—named Diane Hartley.

But those “super” columns, now strong enough, the engineers say, “to withstand a seven-hundred-year storm,” did much more than give the engineers heart attacks.

Under Citicorp’s 72-foot cantilevers lay one of New York’s first mixed-use complexes, a city in the shadow of the tower, with a sunken, terraced public court, a three-level, 277,000-square-foot market topped with a (still-missed) Conran’s, and a gem-shaped, granite-clad church, St. Peter’s, that looks a little like a chip off the 59-story satiny steel-clad block.

Interior of the Citicorp Center. Norman McGrath

Citicorp Center was architect Hugh Stubbins’s first major commission, and would be his only skyscraper in New York. Up top, the building looks lopped off at a 45-degree angle, making it instantly recognizable on the skyline. That simple slant was originally supposed to hold stepped apartments— like a beachfront resort in the sky—and then a solar array. In the end, it is just an angle, but that’s enough.

The brawny columns and structural derring-do, the strikingly smooth shaft, and the somewhat crude geometry make Citicorp an ideal example of Late Modernism—a style with a boring name that you are going to be hearing much, much more about, now that its buildings, like so many of us, approach age 40. (In New York City, buildings must be over 30 to be considered for landmark status the National Register of Historic Places generally considered “historic” sites to be over 50.)

My nine-year-old is learning the five-paragraph essay this year, and the teacher insists that each paragraph have evidence. Here is my evidence for Late Modernism’s claim on our attention: Citicorp’s landmark designation I.M. Pei’s Glass Pyramid at the Louvre, which just received the AIA’s 25-Year Award Gio Ponti’s little-known, castle-like 1971 North Building for the Denver Art Museum, being restored to expand gallery space and give visitors access to the top floor and its gorgeous views, as Ponti always intended Pei’s 1978 East Building for the National Gallery of Art, renovated and looking better than ever.

These buildings exhibit beefy bold shapes, wrapped in singular materials, sticking their sharp corners in our faces. More refined than Brutalism, less picturesque than Postmodernism, Late Modernism is what happened in the 1970s and early 1980s and, 40-ish years later, it is history.

Clockwise from top left: Glass Pyramid at the Louvre Pittsburgh Plate Glass Place Seattle Public Library 100 Eleventh Avenue East Building for the National Gallery of Art North Building for the Denver Art Museum W.R. Grace. Edward Berthelot/Getty Images Paul Frankenstein/Flickr David/Flickr Kristina D.C. Hoeppner/Flickr View Pictures/UIG via Getty Images Jesse Varner/Flickr Peter Miller/Flickr

British architecture critic Charles Jencks celebrated Late Modernism in a 1980 book called, appropriately, Late-Modern Architecture, emphasizing the era’s architects’ pragmatism (willingness to work on large-scale corporate projects), their commitment to order (grids), their dramatic interior sections (balcony upon balcony). The designers of the day were committed to the “covering of this space with flat membranes of an homogenous material whether glass, nylon or brick: the tendency for polished surfaces whether these are brown, blue or, most appropriately silver.”

That blue is telling, because while I am leaning heavily on New York examples, Los Angeles has rightful claim on some of the finest examples of Late Modernism: Cesar Pelli’s 1975 Blue Whale at the Pacific Design Center, to which he added green and red siblings over the next four decades. (The blue and green buildings were both made City of West Hollywood Designated Cultural Resources in 2003.)

Pelli and Anthony Lumsden were colleagues in Eero Saarinen’s office, where they worked on the ur-Late Modern Bell Labs, a.k.a. “the biggest mirror ever.” Lumsden had been unable to convince Kevin Roche to use a reverse mullion for that project, which would have made its surface skin-smooth. Lumsden recalled the idea when working with Pelli at DMJM, in L.A., referring to their subsequent buildings as “the membrane aesthetic.”

Late Modern’s West Coast proponents briefly grouped themselves for a 1976 UCLA exhibition as the Silvers, shininess, reflective glass and metal cladding all being dominant players in its execution, in contrast to the austere Corbusian planes of The Whites and the historicist shingles of The Grays. For brown, there’s the Ford Foundation, right on the cusp, and the long grey-brown balconies of Edward Bassett for SOM’s 1971 Weyerhaeuser Headquarters, meant to be obscured by spilling vines.

Late Modernism is a style without theory, practiced by architects who were trying to build their way out of the diminishing returns of Miesian copies. Where a Mies tower (and its numerous knockoffs) seems to suck in its cheeks, the Late Modern tower fills itself edge-to-edge, visually pressing its mirrors out while staying within the lines. Those lines include triangles, chamfers, stair-steps and the occasional curve, but rarely bilateral symmetry.

Late Modernism shades into Postmodernism with projects like Philip Johnson and John Burgee’s Pittsburgh Plate Glass Place, which directly references Gothic architecture. The pressure on the skin creates tension in a sliced-away corner, or a narrow gap like the one between the two trapezoidal towers at Johnson and Burgee’s 1975 Pennzoil Place in Houston.

One of Late Modernism’s problems, preservation-wise, may be its large scale and oft corporate clientele. As Kazys Varnelis has pointed out, “Modernism was no longer revolutionary for the late moderns. Instead, they worked to give physical form to big business and big government. As these would come under scathing criticism in the 1960s, the late moderns would be tarred along with them.” At 99 Percent Invisible, Kate Wagner recently called attention to a latent criticism of Late Modern embedded in popular films: big, unreadable buildings without clear entrances often serve as HQs for Evil, Inc.

It is helpful to have an emotional argument to accompany the historical one when fighting for a building’s life. In my husband’s childhood memories of Manhattan, two swooping buildings, W.R. Grace on West 42nd Street (Gordon Bunshaft for SOM, 1974) and the Solow Building on 57th (same architect, same year), stand out as dramatic anomalies.

But does anyone want to hug—or propose in the public atrium of—the IBM Building? A rare petite example is Paul Kennon’s 1978 AT&T Switching Station in Columbus, Indiana, a mirrored box at the scale of the surrounding 19th-century retail streets, dressed up with rainbow “organ pipes” hiding the mechanical systems.

One of my arguments for the preservation of the Ambassador Grill and the lobby of the UN Plaza Hotel—still up in the air with New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission—was that they were distinctive, destination spaces in which memories were made. Are there not diplomats who might speak of international deals brokered under that mirrored sky?

Lella Vignelli’s St. Peter’s Church. Norman McGrath

Similarly, it is a shame that religious interiors are exempt from the Landmarks Law, because Massimo and Lella Vignelli’s warm, Scandinavian-inspired design for St. Peter’s Church, a diamond embedded at the base of the Citicorp cantilever, looks better than ever, down to the Op Art bargello embroidery on the seat cushions. Many a modernist marriage has chosen that backdrop.

And yet, some of today’s most celebrated architects ought to be the style’s chief proponents, because we would not have some of the city’s most anticipated buildings of 2016, 2017, and beyond without Late Modernism.

Just look at New York’s skyline: BIG’s hyperbolic parabaloid on West 57th Street is not the only glassy pyramid scudding across the landscape—there’s Roche Dinkeloo’s College Life Insurance headquarters in Indianapolis, completed in 1972. Herzog & De Meuron’s 56 Leonard, where the curtain wall seems pushed to its limit to smoothly contain the pressure of those popping boxes and balconies, is the child of previous dematerializations of the dumb glass rectangle that include Der Scutt’s 1983 Trump Tower. (Which is, pace the hideous marble lobby, quite a good building. Try looking at it in black-and-white sometime when we are all calmer, and public access is fully restored.)

Asymmetry and glassiness, combined with structural derring-do and plants asked to perform at the scale of the city—as in BIG’s proposed Spiral for Hudson Yards and (less likely) 2 World Trade Center—are wholly au courant. Looking backward, Jean Nouvel’s spangles on 100 Eleventh Avenue in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, and OMA’s angles at the Seattle Public Library, are also sons of Late Modernism.

The city skyline is a lesson in architectural history, and too lively a finger on the delete button robs the present of meaning and the past of presence. Rafael Vinoly’s 432 Park Avenue still looks wildly out of place to me, but I know it will feel familiar in time.

Scanning the Manhattan skyline from the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway is a good way to pick the icons from the also-rans, and the Citicorp Building presents character in a way One Bryant Park never will. Late Modernism, born of capital, speaks to the way we build now, literally mirroring the ambition of today’s shape makers.

Early modern vs late modern vs post modern? - History

1. Roots of Modernism

Until recently , the word &lsquomodern&rsquo was used to refer generically to the contemporaneous all art is modern at the time it is made. In his Il Libro dell'Arte (translated as &lsquoThe Craftsman&rsquos Handbook&rsquo) written in the early 15th century, the Italian writer and painter Cennino Cennini explains that Giotto made painting &lsquomodern&rsquo [see BIBLIOGRAPHY ] . Giorgio Vasari writing in the 16th century, refers to the art of his own period as &lsquomodern.&rsquo [see BIBLIOGRAPHY ]

In the history of art, however, the term &lsquomodern&rsquo is used to refer to a period dating from roughly the 1860s through the 1970s and describes the style and ideology of art produced during that era. It is this more specific use of modern that is intended when people speak of modern art. The term &lsquomodernism&rsquo is also used to refer to the art of the modern period. More specifically, &lsquomodernism&rsquo can be thought of as referring to the philosophy of modern art.

In the title of her 1984 book [see BIBLIOGRAPHY ] , Suzi Gablik asks &lsquoHas Modernism Failed?&rsquo What does she mean? Has modernism &lsquofailed&rsquo simply in the sense of coming to an end? Or does she mean that modernism failed to accomplish something? The presupposition of the latter is that modernism had goals, which it failed to achieve. If so, what were these goals?

For reasons that will become clear later in this essay, discussions of modernism in art have been couched largely in formal and stylistic terms. Art historians tend to speak of modern painting, for example, as concerned primarily with qualities of colour, shape, and line applied systematically or expressively, and marked over time by an increasing concern with flatness and a declining interest in subject matter. It is generally agreed that modernism in art originated in the 1860s and that the French painter Édouard Manet is the first modernist painter. Paintings such as his Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe (&lsquoLuncheon on the Grass&rsquo) and Olympia are seen to have ushered in the era of modernism.

Édouard Manet, Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe
1863, oil on canvas (Musée d'Orsay, Paris)

Édouard Manet, Olympia
1863, oil on canvas (Musée d'Orsay, Paris)

But the question can be posed: Why did Manet paint Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe and Olympia? The standard answer is: Because he was interested in exploring new subject matter, new painterly values, and new spatial relationships.

But there is another more interesting question beyond this: Why was Manet exploring new subject matter, new painterly values and spatial relationships? He produced a modernist painting, yes, but why did he produce such a work?

When Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe was exhibited at the Salon des Refusés in 1863, many people were scandalized not only by the subject matter, which shows two men dressed in contemporary clothes seated casually on the grass in the woods with a nude woman, but also by the unconventional way it was painted. Two years later the public were even more shocked by his painting of Olympia which showed a nude woman, obviously a demi-mondaine, gazing out morally unperturbed at the viewer, and painted in a quick, broad manner contrary to the accepted academic style. Why was Manet painting pictures that he knew would upset people?

It is in trying to answer questions like these that forces us to adopt a much broader perspective on the question of modernism. It is within this larger context that we can discover the underpinnings of the philosophy of modernism and identify its aims and goals. It will also reveal another dimension to the perception of art and the identity of the artist in the modern world.

The roots of modernism lie much deeper in history than the middle of the 19th century. For historians the modern period actually begins in the sixteenth century, initiating what is called the Early Modern Period, which extends up to the 18th century. The intellectual underpinnings of modernism emerge during the Renaissance period when, through the study of the art, poetry, philosophy, and science of ancient Greece and Rome, humanists revived the notion that man, rather than God, is the measure of all things, and promoted through education ideas of citizenship and civic consciousness. The period also gave rise to &lsquoutopian&rsquo visions of a more perfect society, beginning with Sir Thomas More's Utopia, written in 1516, in which is described a fictional island community with seemingly perfect social, political, legal customs.

In retrospect we can recognize in Renaissance humanism an expression of that modernist confidence in the potential of humans to shape their own individual destinies and the future of the world. Also present is the belief that humans can learn to understand nature and natural forces, and even grasp the nature of the universe.

The modernist thinking which emerged in the Renaissance began to take shape as a larger pattern of thought in the 18th century. Mention may be made first of the so-called &lsquoQuarrel of the Ancients and Moderns&rsquo, a literary and artistic dispute that dominated European intellectual life at the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century. The crux was the issue of whether Moderns (i.e. contemporary writers and artists) were now morally and artistically superior to the Ancients (i.e. writers and artists of ancient Greece and Rome). Introduced first in France in 1687 by Charles Perrault, who supported the Moderns, the discussion was taken up in England where it was satirized as The Battle of the Books by Jonathan Swift.

It was also satirized by William Hogarth in a print called The Battle of the Pictures, which shows paintings mostly by Renaissance and Baroque masters attacking Hogarth&rsquos own works of equivalent but more contemporary subject matter: an Old Master painting of a Penitent Mary Magdalen, for example, attacks scene three from Hogarth&rsquos series The Harlot&rsquos Progress, while an ancient Feast of the Gods attacks scene three from Hogarth&rsquos The Rake&rsquos Progress. In one instance, the ancient Roman painting from the 1st century BCE known today as the Aldobrandini Wedding is shown slicing into the canvas of the second scene from the Hogarth&rsquos Marriage à-la-Mode series.

William Hogarth, The Battle of the Pictures, engraving and etching, 1743

Though treated humorously by Swift and Hogarth, the &lsquoQuarrel of the Ancients and Moderns&rsquo was driven by deeper concerns that pitted institutionalized Authority, whose claim to power was supported by established tradition, custom, law, and lineage, against more progressive individuals who chafed under the restrictions that Authority imposed on their lives and the functioning of society. The conflict introduces an important dichotomy that was to remain fundamental to the modernist question: the division between conservative forces, who tended to support the argument for the Ancients, and the more progressive forces who sided with the Moderns.

In the 18th century, the Enlightenment saw the intellectual maturation of the humanist belief in reason as the primary guiding principle in the affairs of humans. Through reason the mind achieved enlightenment, and for the enlightened mind, a whole new and exciting world opened up.

The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement for which the most immediate stimulus was the so-called Scientific Revolution of the 16th and 17th-centuries when men like Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, and Isaac Newton, through the application of reason to the study of the natural world and the heavens had made spectacular scientific discoveries in which were revealed various scientific truths.

More often than not, these new-found truths flew in the face of conventional beliefs, especially those held by the Church. For example, contrary to what the Church had maintained for centuries, the &lsquotruth&rsquo was that the Earth revolved around the sun. The idea that &lsquotruth&rsquo could be discovered through the application of reason based on study was tremendously exciting.

The open-minded 18th-century thinker believed that virtually everything could be submitted to reason: tradition, customs, morals, even art. But, more than this, it was felt that the &lsquotruth&rsquo revealed thereby could be applied in the political and social spheres to &lsquocorrect&rsquo problems and &lsquoimprove&rsquo the political and social condition of humankind. This kind of thinking quickly gave rise to the exciting possibility of creating a new and better society.

The &lsquotruth&rsquo discovered through reason would free people from the shackles of corrupt institutions such as the Church and the monarchy whose misguided traditional thinking and old ideas had kept people subjugated in ignorance and superstition. The concept of freedom became central to the vision of a new society. Through truth and freedom, the world would be made into a better place.

Progressive 18th-century thinkers believed that the lot of humankind would be greatly improved through the process of enlightenment, from being shown the truth. With reason and truth in hand, the individual would no longer be at the mercy of religious and secular authorities, which had constructed their own truths and manipulated them to their own self-serving ends. At the root of this thinking is the belief in the perfectibility of humankind.

Enlightenment thinking pictured the human race as striving towards universal moral and intellectual self-realization. It was believed that reason allowed access to truth, and knowledge of the truth would better humankind. The vision that began to take shape in the 18th century was of a new world, a better world. In 1762, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his Inquiry into the Nature of the Social Contract, proposed that a new social system should rest on &lsquoan equality that is moral and legitimate, and that men, who may be unequal in strength or intelligence, become every one equal by convention and legal right.&rsquo By joining together into civil society through the social contract, individuals could both preserve themselves and attain freedom. These tenets were fundamental to the notion of modernism.

Such declarations in support of liberty and equality were not only found in books. In the 18th century, two major attempts were made to put these ideas into practice. Such ideas, of course, were not popular with conservative and traditional elements, and their resistance had to be overcome in both cases through bloody revolution.

The first great experiment in creating a new and better society was undertaken in what was literally the new world and the new ideals were first expressed in the Declaration of Independence of the newly founded United States in 1776. It is Enlightenment thinking that informs such phrases as &lsquowe hold these truths to be self-evident&rsquo and which underpins the notion &lsquothat all men are created equal.&rsquo The document&rsquos worldly character is reflected in its stated concern for man's right to pursue happiness in his lifetime, which signals a shift away from a God-centered, Christian concentration on the afterlife to one focused on the individual and the quality of a person&rsquos life. Fundamental, too, is the notion of freedom liberty was declared one of man's inalienable rights.

In 1789, another bloody revolution undertaken in France also attempted to create a new society. Its aim was to supplant an oppressive governmental structure centered around an absolute monarchy, an aristocracy with feudal privileges, and a powerful Catholic clergy, with new Enlightenment principles of citizenship, nationalism, and inalienable rights the revolutionaries rallied to the cry of equality, fraternity, and liberty.

The French Revolution, however, failed to bring about a radically new society in France. Several changes of regime quickly followed culminating in Napoleon&rsquos military dictatorship, the establishment of the Napoleonic Empire, and finally the restoration of the monarchy in 1814. Revolutionary activity continued, though, in 1830 and again in 1848. Mention can be made here of a third major attempt to create a new society along fundamentally Enlightenment lines that took place at the beginning of the 20th century. The Russian Revolution, initiated in 1915, perhaps the most idealistic and utopian of all, also failed.

It is in the ideals of the Enlightenment that the roots of Modernism, and the new role of art and the artist, are to be found. Simply put, the overarching goal of Modernism, of modern art, has been the creation of a better society.

What were the means by which this goal was to be reached? If the desire of the 18th century was to produce a better society, how was this to be brought about? How does one go about perfecting humankind and creating a better world?

As we have seen, it was the 18th-century belief that only the enlightened mind can find truth both enlightenment and truth were discovered through the application of reason to knowledge, a process that also created new knowledge. The individual acquired knowledge and at the same time the means to discover truth in it through proper education and instruction.

Cleansed of the corruptions of religious and political ideology by open-minded reason, education brings us the truth, or shows us how to reach the truth. Education enlightens us and makes us better people. Educated, enlightened people will form the foundations of the new society, a society which they will create through their own efforts.

Until recently, this concept of the role of education has remained fundamental to western modernist thinking. Enlightened thinkers, and here might be mentioned for example Thomas Jefferson, constantly pursued knowledge, sifting out the truth by subjecting all they learned to reasoned analysis. Jefferson, of course, not only consciously cultivated his own enlightenment, but also actively promoted education for others, founding in Charlottesville an &lsquoacademical village&rsquo that later became the University of Virginia. He believed that the search for truth should be conducted without prejudice, and, mindful of the Enlightenment suspicion of the Church, deliberately did not include a campus chapel in his plans. The Church and its narrow-minded influences, he felt, should be kept separate not only from the State, but also from education.

Jefferson, like many other Enlightenment thinkers, saw a clear role for art and architecture. Art and architecture could serve in this process of enlightenment education by providing examples of those qualities and virtues that it was felt should guide the enlightened mind.

In the latter half of the 18th century, the model for the ideals of the new society was the world of ancient Rome and Greece. The Athens of Pericles and Rome of the Republican period offered fine examples of emerging democratic principles in government, and of heroism and virtuous action, self-sacrifice and civic dedication in the behaviour of their citizens.

It was believed, in fact, certainly according to the &lsquoancients&rsquo in the Quarrel of the Ancients and Moderns mentioned earlier, that the ancient world had achieved a kind of perfection, an ideal that came close to the Enlightenment understanding of truth. The German art historian Johann Winckelmann, writing in the 18th century, was convinced that the art of ancient Greece was the most perfect and directed contemporary artists to examples such as the Apollo Belvedere.

Apollo Belvedere
Roman marble copy after a bronze original of c. 330 BCE (Musei Vaticani, Rome)

It is under these circumstances that Jacques-Louis David came to paint the classicizing and didactic historical painting Oath of the Horatii exhibited at the Salon in 1785. David favored the classical and academic traditions both in terms of style and subject matter. His painting depicts a stirring moment in the heroic story of courage and patriotic self-sacrifice in pre-Republican Rome. The firmly modeled statuesque male figures on the left enact a virile drama through which are displayed their noble virtues. The energy and physical tension of their actions is contrasted to the curvilinear shapes and collapsing forms of the women on the right who are shown overcome by emotion and sorrow, showing the weakness of female nature. This was a grand and edifying work treating an honorable and moralizing subject.

Jacques-Louis David, Oath of the Horatii
1785, oil on canvas (Musée du Louvre, Paris)

    considered the arts in all respects by which they should help spread the progress of the human spirit, to propagate and transmit to posterity the striking example of the sublime efforts of an immense people, guided by reason and philosophy, restoring to earth the reign of liberty, equality, and law.

He states categorically that &lsquothe arts should contribute forcefully to public instruction.&rsquo

With respect to the quarrel of the Ancients and Moderns, David can be associated with the supporters of the Ancients. He envisioned a new society based on conservative ideals. In contrast, there were other artists, we can call them Moderns, whose vision of a new world order was more progressive.

The Moderns envisioned a world conceived anew, not one that merely imitated ancient models. The problem for the Moderns, however, was that their new world was something of an unknown quantity. The nature of &lsquotruth&rsquo was problematical from the outset, and their dilemma over the nature of humans who possessed not only a rational mind open to reason but also an emotional life which had to be taken into account.

It was also felt that reason stifled imagination, and without imagination no progress would be made. Reason alone was inhuman, but imagination without reason &lsquoproduces monsters&lsquo (see Francisco de Goya&lsquos The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters). It was agreed, though, that freedom was central and was to be pursued through the very exercise of freedom in the contemporary world.

Francisco de Goya, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters
Etching and aquatint
(Caprichos no. 43: El sueño de la razón produce monstruos), 1796-1797

After the Revolution of 1789, the Ancients came to be identified with the old order, the ancien régime. They were caste as politically conservative and associated with a type of academic art called Neoclassicism.

In contrast, the Moderns were seen as politically progressive in a left-wing, revolutionary sense and associated with the anti-academic movement called Romanticism. The nature of this division is best seen in the rivalry of the classicizing artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, and the Romantic painter Eugène Delacroix.

In the Salon exhibition of 1824, Ingres exhibited his Vow of Louis XIII and Delacroix his Massacre of Scios. In his review of the exhibition in the Journal des débats, the critic Étienne-Jean Delécluze described Ingres&rsquo work as &lsquole beau&rsquo (the beautiful) because in both style and subject matter it followed classical academic theory and promoted the right-wing, conservative values of the ancien régime. In contrast, Delacroix&rsquos painting was labeled &lsquole laid&rsquo (the ugly) because of the way it was painted, with loose brushwork and unidealized figures, and because its subject matter, the slaughter of thousands of Greek inhabitants on the island of Chios by Turkish troops in 1822, not only lacked examples of valour and virtue, but also expressed a more liberal criticism of the event and moral outrage over its occurrence in the contemporary world.

J-A-D Ingres, Vow of Louis XIII
1824, oil on canvas (Musée du Louvre, Paris)

Eugène Delacroix, Massacre at Chios
1824, oil on canvas (Musée du Louvre, Paris)

For conservatives, Ingres represented order, traditional values, and the good old days of the ancien régime. Political progressives saw Delacroix as the representative of contemporary or modern life. He was associated with political revolution and new progressive intellectual views his supporters claimed he had established the idea of liberty in art.

Delacroix was the first major progressive modernist artist in France. His paintings deliberately rejected the Academic ideal of the beautiful and instead, in the view of conservatives critical of his work, he instituted the &lsquocult of ugliness&rsquo. Other artists were seen to adopt this same position, notably Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet, each of whom deliberately rejected the Academic model of the beautiful. Their ideas and approach to art were regarded as so subversive that they were accused of attempting to undermine not only the Academy but even the State.

The threat of progressive modernism was such that the State, beginning with the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1855, embarked on a program the effect of which was to neutralize and depoliticize works of art. The plan for the Universal Exposition was to include, in a retrospective exhibition, examples of various different styles of French art, including those of Ingres and Delacroix, in a way that highlighted eclecticism but which simultaneously also had the effect of turning the paintings into non-threatening &lsquoworks of art&rsquo. With the support of conservative forces and compliance of formalist critics and art historians, the political and social commentary essential to progressive modernist art was effectively stripped away leaving only the paint on the canvas, which was discussed simply in terms of its formal qualities.

    There are no longer any violent discussions, inflammatory opinions about art, and in Delacroix the colorist one no longer recognizes the flaming revolutionary whom an immature School set in opposition to Ingres. Each artist today occupies his legitimate place. The 1855 Exposition has done well to elevate Delacroix his works, judged in so many different ways, have now been reviewed, studied, admired, like all works marked by genius. [Translation from Patricia Mainardi: see BIBLIOGRAPHY ]

Thus, Delacroix the &lsquoflaming revolutionary&rsquo was transformed into Delacroix the &lsquocolorist.&rsquo Although some progressive artists, such as Gustave Courbet, perhaps sensing how inclusion in the exhibition might compromise their work, refused to participate, the Universal Exposition effectively initiated a way to contain the impulses of progressive modernism and neutralize the threat it posed to the prevailing conservative ethos of society.

Until recently, this has remained a prevailing approach to modernism. The socialist statements so forcefully made by Gustave Courbet in his painting The Stonebreakers, for example, and the sharp political commentary of Édouard Manet in his The Execution of the Emperor Maximilian, 1867, for example, have been generally suppressed and replaced by discussions of the formal qualities of each work.

Gustave Courbet
The Stonebreakers
1849-50, oil on canvas (destroyed)

Édouard Manet
Execution of the Emperor Maximilian
1867, oil on canvas (Kunsthalle, Mannheim)

But although these discussions may have deliberately repressed its revolutionary and confrontational character, progressive modernism itself, as an ideology and a political movement, remained vital and active.

The Pioneers of Postmodern Dance, 60 Years Later

The movement upended all notions of what the form could be. Today, it’s still shaping how we see the world around us.

ON A MID-DECEMBER morning at her home studio, which is perched on a wooded hill near Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, Calif., the 98-year-old dance artist Anna Halprin was leading a movement class. “Think about positive and negative space,” she said, observing from a director’s chair as her 12 students — a retired preschool teacher, a fine-linens importer — assumed a range of positions at once ordinary and not. One woman began to crawl through the parted legs of another, as if a child at recess, while a third communed with the wall, splaying her limbs against its rust-colored surface. Warmed up, the class then made its way to the adjacent 1,800-square-foot redwood deck that Halprin’s late husband, the landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, built in 1952. Since its construction, artistic heirs of Halprin, including Simone Forti, Yvonne Rainer, Trisha Brown and Meredith Monk, have visited the deck at one time or another to practice and move with her. An esteemed teacher and performer, Halprin is known for her use of scores, or task-based improvisations, as well as for making dances inspired by nature. Once outside, a pair of students inspected some overhead branches and then offered full-body impressions of leaves rustling in the wind.

It’s difficult to see the beginning of things, and this is especially true of artistic movements, which tend to bleed together at their edges. And yet Halprin’s deck is considered one of several birthplaces of what would come to be called postmodern dance — an experimental school that posed formal questions about just what dance could be — which otherwise originated in New York in the early 1960s. Its 20 or so most active and influential practitioners were mostly trained dancers working on the fringes of the dance-world establishment and their visual artist peers, all of whom recognized that one of the things dance could be was a type of conceptual or performance art, other then-burgeoning and medium-blurring movements that regarded the three-dimensional body as a Duchampian ready-made. Together, this group retooled the common dance vocabulary and redefined who might be seen as a dancer, which inevitably had implications beyond the realm of composition, upending assumptions about beauty and bodies at a time not unlike our own.

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While stylistically divergent, postmodern dance tended to reject virtuosic movements in favor of pedestrian ones like walking, crouching, flailing and falling — take Rainer’s 1963 piece “We Shall Run,” in which the dancers made good on their word. It also embraced humor and a Dadaist sense of the absurd, as evidenced by Lucinda Childs’s “Carnation” (1964), in which the artist placed a colander on her head and a stack of fanned dishwashing sponges in her mouth, or David Gordon’s singing of “Second Hand Rose” and “Get Married, Shirley” during the first performance of his finger-wiggling “Mannequin Dance” (1962), which he conceived of while in his bathtub. “‘Swan Lake’ it ain’t,” the New York Times weekly arts columnist Grace Glueck reported overhearing at the First New York Theater Rally in 1965, which featured a dance work by the artist Robert Rauschenberg combining live turtles, saltine crackers and a campy tap routine by the dancer Deborah Hay.

Until then, thinking about dance had been, as Gordon once lamented, “peculiarly conservative,” with performative Western dance history unfolding rather apart from the other arts and consisting largely of ballet (which had been twirling in place since the 1600s until its neo-Classical offshoot was developed by George Balanchine) and modern (which the experimentalists felt was overly and falsely expressive). The postmodern movement wasn’t exactly a strident dismissal of all that had come before: “I think there was a question of, ‘Why do these people take ballet if they’re just carrying mattresses around?’ But I felt it was important for dancers to have a certain discipline,” says Childs. Discipline, however, did not mean favoring what was considered a dancerly body, with long legs and good turnout. Postmodern choreographers placed trained and untrained dancers — as well as more- and less-toned ones — side by side, dispensing with the makeup and organizational structure of formal companies so as to privilege the mind and movements of the individual. In deconstructing dance, then, they managed to democratize it.

“We’re still feeling the reverberations of that moment,” says the New York-based choreographer Pam Tanowitz, who might be described as a contemporary postmodernist. In a way, in fact, we’re feeling them as much as ever. Postmodern dance developed alongside both artistic and social upheavals, particularly second-wave feminism and, though it was not often expressly political about things other than aesthetics — “there wasn’t a specific agenda,” says Childs — the style’s early champions, many of whom were women, were seeking alternative ways of moving through space and, by extension, life. Their work is a reminder, as we live through our own reckoning surrounding the control and mistreatment of women’s bodies, of the ongoing validity of that search.


PART OF POSTMODERN dance’s power lay in the fact that, for all of its foreignness, it was also familiar. Here were movements taken from the street or home and performed by able but merely human bodies in intimate settings — namely at downtown galleries, lofts or the freewheeling Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village, either in the main sanctuary or upon the painted lines of the basement basketball court. As in life, gestures often lacked musical accompaniment: The dancers took many cues from the composer John Cage — most famous for his composition “4’33”,” in which no music is played for the duration of the title, the only noises coming from the environment surrounding the performance — and from Cage’s partner, the choreographer Merce Cunningham, who applied the same theories of indeterminacy found in Cage’s music to movement. Cunningham, who would have turned 100 this year, would sometimes flip a coin to decide the next move, giving his work a nonlinear, collagelike quality.

These were ideas simultaneously being explored in visual art, which was engaged in a similar resetting of boundaries as Pop, Minimalism and conceptual art replaced Abstract Expressionism, with which modern dance was closely aligned for one, both were preoccupied with working on the floor, as in the paintings of Jackson Pollock and the dances of Martha Graham. Postmodernists remained keen on gravity, however. Certain choreographers would come to treat the floor as a dance partner, just as multidisciplinary artists like Ana Mendieta and Bruce Nauman used it in their performance pieces as a site for symbolic regeneration or heady writhing. (“Once, after seeing me perform, my father said, ‘Well, that was very nice, but now that you’re in your 40s, perhaps you should think about standing up,’” says Forti.) In 1960 and 1961, first at the Reuben Gallery in the East Village and then again at Yoko Ono’s Chambers Street loft, Forti showed “Dance Constructions,” featuring a choreography centered around a series of physical structures (a slanted board, a hanging rope), which she created after coming across pictures of the Japanese performance artist Saburo Murakami bursting through a row of paper screens. In one of her constructions, an abstracted portrait of a domestic drama, Rainer and the artist Robert Morris, Forti’s then husband, bobbed up and down from opposite ends of a wooden seesaw. Forti considered her work as much dance as sculpture, its human performers art objects like any other — but it hardly mattered, since, for this brief and exceptional window, art, dance and music were almost synonymous.

If postmodern dance’s acceptance as visual art was fueled by the form’s sheer conceptualism, it was helped along by its genre-hopping participants. The 1960s New York art scene was famously small, and disciplines blended together as a result. In addition to Rauschenberg and Morris, visual artists best known as painters and sculptors such as Alex Hay, Carolee Schneemann, Red Grooms and Andy Warhol were all part of the greater Judson scene. “Bob [Rauschenberg] was with [the dancer] Steve Paxton and I was with Alex and for a while we were a little foursome,” says Deborah Hay. “Bob liked to cook for people, so we’d go to his place for steak or lobster and then we’d all go dancing at Max’s Kansas City.” As the dance artist Ralph Lemon puts it, “The fact that these people were sleeping together doesn’t get talked about enough,” adding that the exchange between art and dance at that time must have been “visceral.”

Lemon came up in the late 1970s, when the new new dance was infusing postmodern constructions with overt social commentary, and was greatly influenced by what he calls dance’s “lineage of white women.” It’s true that the downtown scene at that time included few artists of color — uptown, Alvin Ailey was leading his own dance revolution — and it’s also true that, simply because they’d always been there, women in dance held power not necessarily afforded to those in other artistic realms. “We all learned the same movement,” says Rainer. “By the mid-60s I was having women lift men.” Ana Janevski, a curator of the Museum of Modern Art’s recent exhibition “Judson Dance Theater: The Work Is Never Done,” believes Judson’s esprit de corps had a “proto-feminist” bent. “This was essentially a group of women working together democratically and mining their own lives for material,” she says. For Rauschenberg’s turtle piece, Brown danced in her wedding dress.

In time, though, the moment of equilibrium passed and the community collapsed, reality itself acting as a sort of score. After the last Judson dance concert in 1964, Childs taught elementary school for five years to support herself before returning to the field. Rainer’s return, following a long career making experimental films, came much later, in 2000. Forti lived for a time in Rome, crossing paths with the Arte Povera movement, and Deborah Hay eventually landed in Austin, where she hosted group workshops. Even in the ’60s, says Hay, when visual artists and dancers were intensely collaborative, they were still split over the matter of finances: It was the visual artists who had money. That gap only widened as contemporary art became ever more expensive, and by the 1980s, art institutions had little incentive to invest in something as inherently ephemeral and thus nearly impossible to own as performance. Around this time, Childs professionalized by starting her own dance company and moved increasingly afield from the visual arts community, performing on more traditional proscenium stages. The work, though, remained radical. At one of the early showings of Childs’s seminal “Dance” (1979), the technically simple leaps and phrases of which create complicated floor patterns that evoke the line drawings of Sol LeWitt, one of Childs’s collaborators on the piece, a disgruntled viewer threw eggs.

THOSE YEARS HELPED us to understand the body not just as a tool for making art but as a battleground. Deborah Hay talks about finding her own language for movement in the post-Judson years and about practice as protest: “I’ve been choreographed as a woman. I’ve been choreographed as an older woman. I’ve been choreographed as a liberal. I’ve been choreographed as a Jew. I’ve been choreographed as a single woman. I’ve been choreographed as a mother,” she says. “When I dance, I try to enlarge that choreography.” At 77, she still spends every morning in the studio. Eventually, though, so-called ordinary movement becomes less so. One of the things that does separate a dancer’s work from a painter’s, say, is that it must change along with her body. Rainer, now 84, has incorporated text into her recent work and given herself the role of reader. Childs, 78, mostly choreographs for others these days, but she danced her 1973 work “Particular Reel” as part of MoMA’s Judson exhibition this past fall, her measured gestures still assured and her presence still potent. It is a striking thing to see her and her contemporaries onstage or merely moving across a room (as Forti did during our interview to retrieve a poem she’d written that week), knowing we may not have much longer with these witnesses to and architects of an extraordinary time. “They’re here,” says Lemon. “Right in front of us. They’ve placed these bodies with minimal physical information left to give, and in that requisite reduction is something profound.”

“This is sort of the last chance to get it all down,” Tanowitz says of recent attempts by contemporary companies and art institutions, from MoMA to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, which have acquired pieces by dancers like Brown and Monk for their collections, to preserve early postmodernist contributions by reconstructing scores and restaging works. (Brown died in 2017, but her company lives on, still holding rehearsals in her loft at 541 Broadway.) Younger artists have also taken on the responsibility of preservation and recontextualization. In 2017, the artist Adam Pendleton made a video portrait of Rainer that alternates between footage from 1978 of her dancing her minimalist-leaning “Trio A” sequence and present-day scenes of her reading found text accounting the deaths of black Americans including Eric Garner and Tamir Rice. In this revisiting, Rainer’s quick and careful steps become pleas for space in which bodies can move freely, unrestricted by race, gender or immigration status.

Halprin, who early on saw dance as a social corrective and pathway to personal healing, creating community-based work with the arts organization Studio Watts Workshop after the Watts riots of 1965 and with people with AIDS in the ’80s, is also attuned to the more minor injustices of modern life. “That one’s a graphic designer,” she said to me of one of the students in her California studio. “When else does he get a chance to connect to his spirit? He doesn’t.” Most of these women are hesitant to describe dancing — and theirs in particular — as spiritual, but, if one has dismissed a technique-based approach whereby one dances to become better at dancing, an alternative objective, it was abundantly clear on the dance deck, is joy. How encouraging that this joy might be available to anyone willing to look for it. At the end of class, the students gathered on the deck around Halprin, who was wrapped in a wool blanket-coat she wore as a dance student in the Midwest in the 1930s, as she described seeing a rendition of her 1965 work “Parades and Changes,” in which a group of dancers slowly undress, performed at San Francisco’s de Young Museum last October. “My 9-year-old great-granddaughter was there and has taken to telling her father, ‘You see, Dad, ordinary movement can become art. You just have to do it with awareness.’”


Postmodernism broadly refers to a socio-cultural and literary theory, and a shift in perspective that has manifested in a variety of disciplines including the social sciences, art, architecture, literature, fashion, communications, and technology. It is generally agreed that the postmodern shift in perception began sometime back in the late 1950s, and is probably still continuing. Postmodernism can be associated with the power shifts and dehumanization of the post-Second World War era and the onslaught of consumer capitalism.

The very term Postmodernism implies a relation to Modernism. Modernism was an earlier aesthetic movement which was in vogue in the early decades of the twentieth century. It has often been said that Postmodernism is at once a continuation of and a break away from the Modernist stance.

Postmodernism shares many of the features of Modernism. Both schools reject the rigid boundaries between high and low art. Postmodernism even goes a. step further and deliberately mixes low art with high art, the past with the future, or one genre with another. Such mixing of different, incongruous elements illustrates Postmodernism’s use of lighthearted parody, which was also used by Modernism. Both these schools also employed pastiche, which is the imitation of another’s style. Parody and pastiche serve to highlight the self-reflexivity of Modernist and Postmodernist works, which means that parody and pastiche serve to remind the reader that the work is not “real” but fictional, constructed. Modernist and Postmodernist works are also fragmented and do not easily, directly convey a solid meaning. That is, these works are consciously ambiguous and give way to multiple interpretations. The individual or subject depicted in these works is often decentred, without a central meaning or goal in life, and dehumanized, often losing individual characteristics and becoming merely the representative of an age or civilization, like Tiresias in The Waste Land.

In short, Modernism and Postmodernism give voice to the insecurities, disorientation and fragmentation of the 20th century western world. The western world, in the 20th century, began to experience this deep sense of security because it progressively lost its colonies in the Third World, worn apart by two major World Wars and found its intellectual and social foundations shaking under the impact of new social theories an developments such as Marxism and Postcolonial global migrations, new technologies and the power shift from Europe to the United States. Though both Modernism and Postmodernism employ fragmentation , discontinuity and decentredness in theme and technique, the basic dissimilarity between the two schools is hidden in this very aspect.

Modernism projects the fragmentation and decentredness of contemporary world as tragic. It laments the loss of the unity and centre of life and suggests that works of art can provide the unity, coherence, continuity and meaning that is lost in modern life. Thus Eliot laments that the modern world is an infertile wasteland, and the fragmentation, incoherence, of this world is effected in the structure of the poem. However, The Waste Land tries to recapture the lost meaning and organic unity by turning to Eastern cultures, and in the use of Tiresias as protagonist

In Postmodernism, fragmentation and disorientation is no longer tragic. Postmodernism on the other hand celebrates fragmentation. It considers fragmentation and decentredness as the only possible way of existence, and does not try to escape from these conditions.

This is where Postmodernism meets Poststructuralism —both Postmodernism and Poststructuralism recognize and accept that it is not possible to have a coherent centre. In Derridean terms, the centre is constantly moving towards the periphery and the periphery constantly moving towards the centre. In other words, the centre, which is the seat of power, is never entirely powerful. It is continually becoming powerless, while the powerless periphery continually tries to acquire power. As a result, it can be argued that there is never a centre, or that there are always multiple centres. This postponement of the centre acquiring power or retaining its position is what Derrida called differance. In Postmodernism’s celebration of fragmentation, there is thus an underlying belief in differance, a belief that unity, meaning, coherence is continually postponed.

The Postmodernist disbelief in coherence and unity points to another basic distinction between Modernism and Postmodernism. Modernism believes that coherence and unity is possible, thus emphasizing the importance of rationality and order. The basic assumption of Modernism seems to be that more rationality leads to more order, which leads a society to function better. To establish the primacy of Order, Modernism constantly creates the concept of Disorder in its depiction of the Other—which includes the non-white, non-male, non-heterosexual, non-adult, non-rational and so on. In other words, to establish the superiority of Order, Modernism creates the impression- that all marginal, peripheral, communities such as the non-white, non-male etc. are contaminated by Disorder. Postmodernism, however, goes to the other extreme. It does not say that some parts of the society illustrate Order, and that other parts illustrate Disorder. Postmodernism, in its criticism of the binary opposition, cynically even suggests that everything is Disorder.

The Modernist belief in order, stability and unity is what the Postmodernist thinker Lyotard calls a metanarrative. Modernism works through metanarratives or grand narratives, while Postmodernism questions and deconstructs metanarratives. A metanarrative is a story a culture tells itself about its beliefs and practices. For example, India tells itself that it is a democratic and secular country, though there are numerous anti-democratic, anti-secular factions and practices in India. In other words, India makes itself believe the falsehood that it is a democratic, secular country. Democracy and secularism are thus metanarratives. In short, metanarratives create and propagate grand but untrue conceptions of a society and culture. These include a society’s dependence on such concepts as objective truth, progress, order and unity.

Postmodernism understands that grand narratives hide, silence and negate contradictions, instabilities and differences inherent in any social system. Postmodernism favours “mini-narratives,” stories that explain small practices and local events, without pretending universality and finality. Postmodernism realizes that history, politics and culture are grand narratives of the power-wielders, which comprise falsehoods and incomplete truths.

Having deconstructed the possibility of a stable, permanent reality, Postmodernism has revolutionized the concept of language. Modernism considered language a rational, transparent tool to represent reality and the activities of the rational mind. In the Modernist view, language is representative of thoughts and things. Here, signifiers always point to signifieds. In Postmodernism, however, there are only surfaces, no depths. A signifier has no signified here, because there is no reality to signify.

The French philosopher Baudrillard has conceptualized the Postmodern surface culture as a simulacrum. A simulacrum is a virtual or fake reality simulated or induced by the media or other ideological apparatuses. A simulacrum is not merely an imitation or duplication—it is the substitution of the original by a simulated, fake image. Contemporary world is a simulacrum, where reality has been thus replaced by false images. This would mean, for instance, that the Gulf war that we know from newspapers and television reports has no connection whatsoever to what can be called the “real” Iraq war. The simulated image of Gulf war has become so much more popular and real than the real war, that Baudrillard argues that the Gulf War did not take place. In other words, in the Postmodern world, there are no originals, only copies no territories, only maps no reality, only simulations. Here Baudrillard is not merely suggesting that the postmodern world is artificial he is also implying that we have lost the capacity to discriminate between the real and the artificial.

Just as we have lost touch with the reality of our life, we have also moved away from the reality of the goods we consume. If the media form one driving force of the Postmodern condition, multinational capitalism and globalization is another. Fredric Jameson has related Modernism and Postmodernism to the second and third phases of capitalism. The first phase of capitalism of the 18th -19th centuries, called Market Capitalism, witnessed the early technological development such as that of the steam-driven motor, and corresponded to the Realist phase. The early 20th century, with the development of electrical and internal combustion motors, witnessed the onset of Monopoly Capitalism and Modernism. The Postmodern era corresponds to the age of nuclear and electronic technologies and Consumer Capitalism, where the emphasis is on marketing, selling and consumption rather than production. The dehumanized, globalized world, wipes out individual and national identities, in favour of multinational marketing.

It is thus clear from this exposition that there are at least three different directions taken by Postmodernim, relating to the theories of Lyotard, Baudrillard and Jameson. Postmodernism also has its roots in the theories Habermas and Foucault. Furthermore, Postmodernism can be examined from Feminist and Post-colonial angles. Therefore, one cannot pinpoint the principles of Postmodernism with finality, because there is a plurality in the very constitution of this theory.

Postmodernism, in its denial of an objective truth or reality, forcefully advocates the theory of constructivism—the anti-essentialist argument that everything is ideologically constructed. Postmodernism finds the media to be a great deal responsible for “constructing” our identities and everyday realiites. Indeed, Postmodernism developed as a response to the contemporary boom in electronics and communications technologies and its revolutionizing of our old world order.

Constructivism invariably leads to relativism. Our identities are constructed and transformed every moment in relation to our social environment. Therefore there is scope for multiple and diverse identities, multiple truths, moral codes and views of reality.

The understanding that an objective truth does not exist has invariably led the accent of Postmodernism to fall on subjectivity. Subjectivity itself is of course plural and provisional. A stress on subjectivity will naturally lead to a renewed interest in the local and specific experiences, rather than the and universal and abstract that is on mini-narratives rather than grand narratives.

Finally, all versions of Postmodernism rely on the method of Deconstruction to analyze socio-cultural situations. Postmodernism has often been vehemently criticized. The fundamental characteristic of Postmodernism is disbelief, which negates social and personal realities and experiences. It is easy to claim that the Gulf War or Iraq War does not exist but then how does one account for the deaths, the loss and pain of millions of people victimized by these wars? Also, Postmodernism fosters a deep cynicism about the one sustaining force of social life—culture. By entirely washing away the ground beneath our feet, the ideological presumptions upon which human civilization is built, Postmodernism generates a feeling of lack and insecurity in contemporary societies, which is essential for the sustenance of a capitalistic world order. Finally, when the Third World began to assert itself over Euro-centric hegemonic power, Postmodernism had rushed in with the warning, that the empowerment of the periphery is but transient and temporary and that just as Europe could not retain its imperialistic power for long, the new-found power of the erstwhile colonies is also under erasure.

In literature, postmodernism (relying heavily on fragmentation, deconstruction, playfulness, questionable narrators etc.) reacted against the Enlightenment ideas implicit in modernist literature – informed by Lyotard’s concept of the “metanarrative”, Derrida’s concept of “play”, and Budrillard’s “simulacra.” Deviating from the modernist quest for meaning in a chaotic world, the postmodern. writers eschew, often playfully, the possibility of meaning, and the postmodern novel is often a parody of this. quest. Marked by a distrust of totalizing mechanisms and self-awareness, postmodern writers often celebrate chance over craft and employ metafiction to undermine the author’s “univocation”. The distinction between high and low culture is also attacked with the employment of pastiche, the combination of multiple cultural elements including subjects and genres not previously deemed fit for literature. Postmodern literature can be considered as an umbrella term for the post-war developments in literature such as Theatre of the Absurd, Beat Generation and Magical Realism.

Postmodern literature, as expressed in the writings of Beckett, Robbe Grillet, Borges, Marquez, Naguib Mahfouz and Angela Carter rests on a recognition of the complex nature of reality and experience, the role of time and memory in human perception, of the self and the world as historical constructions, and the problematic nature of language.

Postmodern literature reached its peak in the 󈨀s and 󈨊s with the publication of Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, Lost in the Funhouse and Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth, Gravity’s Rainbow, V., and Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon, “factions” like Armies in the Night and In Cold Blood by Norman Mailer and Truman Capote, postmodern science fiction novels like Neoromancer by William Gibson, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut and many others. Some declared the death of postmodernism in the 󈨔’s with a new surge of realism represented and inspired by Raymond Carver. Tom Wolfe in his 1989 article Stalking the Billion-Footed Beast called for a new emphasis on realism in fiction to replace postmodernism. With this new emphasis on realism in mind, some declared White Noise in (1985) or The Satanic Verses (1988) to be the last great novels of the postmodern era.

Postmodern film describes the articulation of ideas of postmodernism trough the cinematic medium – by upsetting the mainstream conventions of narrative structure and characterization and destroying (or playing with) the audience’s “suspension of disbelief,” to create a work that express through less-recognizable internal logic. Two such examples are Jane Campion‘s Two Friends, in which the story of two school girls is shown in episodic segments arranged in reverse order and Karel Reisz‘s The French Lieutenant’s Woman, in which the story being played out on the screen is mirrored in the private lives of the actors playing it, which the audience also sees. However, Baudrillard dubbed Sergio Leone‘s epic 1968 spaghetti western Once Upon a Time in the West as the first postmodern film. Other examples include Michael Winterbottom‘s 24 Hour Party People, Federico Fellini‘s Satyricon and Amarcord, David Lynch‘ s Mulholland Drive, Quentin Tarantino‘s Pulp Fiction.

In spite of the rather stretched, cynical arguments of Postmodernism, the theory has exerted a fundamental influence on late 20th century thought. It has indeed revolutionized all realms of intellectual inquiry in varying degrees.

Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau was an international style of art and architecture that was most popular from 1890–1910.

Learning Objectives

Describe the origins and characteristics of Art Noveau

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Art Nouveau was an international style of art and architecture that was most popular from 1890–1910. The name “Art Nouveau” is French for “new art.” The origins of Art Nouveau are found in the resistance of the artist William Morris to the cluttered compositions and the revival tendencies of the 19th century.
  • A reaction to academic art of the 19th century, Art Nouveau was inspired by natural forms and structures, exemplified by curved lines, asymmetry, natural motifs, and intricate embellishment.
  • Art Nouveau is considered a “total style,” meaning that it pervaded many forms of art and design such as architecture, interior design, the decorative arts, and the visual arts. According to the philosophy of the style, art should strive to be a way of life.

Key Terms

  • Art Nouveau: Art Nouveau is an international philosophy and style of art, architecture, and applied art—especially the decorative arts—that was most popular during 1890–1910.
  • japonisme: The influence of Japanese art and culture on European art.
  • syncopated: A variety of music rhythms that come unexpected.


Art Nouveau is an international style of art and architecture that was most popular from 1890–1910 AD. The name Art Nouveau is French for “new art.” A reaction to academic art of the 19th century, it was inspired by natural forms and structures, not only in flowers and plants, but also in curved lines. It is also considered a philosophy of furniture design. Art Nouveau furniture is structured according to the whole building and made part of ordinary life. Art Nouveau was most popular in Europe, but its influence was global. It is a very varied style with frequent localized tendencies.

Art Nouveau: Barcelona: The Casa Batlló, already built in 1877, was remodelled in the Barcelona manifestation of Art Nouveau, modernisme, by Antoni Gaudí and Josep Maria Jujol during 1904–1906.

Before the term Art Nouveau became common in France, le style moderne (“the modern style”) was the more frequent designation. Maison de l’Art Nouveau was the name of the gallery initiated during 1895 by the German art dealer Samuel Bing in Paris that featured exclusively modern art. The fame of his gallery was increased at the 1900 Exposition Universelle, where he presented coordinated installations of modern furniture, tapestries and objets d’art. These decorative displays became so strongly associated with the style, that the name of his gallery subsequently provided a commonly used term for the entire style. Likewise, Jugend (Youth) was the illustrated weekly magazine of art and lifestyle of Munich, founded in 1896 by Georg Hirth. Jugend was instrumental in promoting the Art Nouveau style in Germany. As a result, Jungenstil, or Youth Style, became the German word for the style.

Origins of Art Nouveau

The origins of Art Nouveau are found in the resistance of the artist William Morris to the cluttered compositions and revivalist tendencies of the 19th century. His theories helped initiate the Art Nouveau movement. About the same time, the flat perspective and strong colors of Japanese wood block prints, especially those of Katsushika Hokusai, had a strong effect on the formulation of Art Nouveau. The Japonisme that was popular in Europe during the 1880s and 1890s was particularly influential on many artists with its organic forms and references to the natural world.

Although Art Nouveau acquired distinctly localized tendencies as its geographic spread increased, some general characteristics are indicative of the form. A description published in Pan magazine of Hermann Obrist’s wall hanging Cyclamen (1894), described it as “sudden violent curves generated by the crack of a whip,” which became well known during the early spread of Art Nouveau. Subsequently, the term “whiplash” is frequently applied to the characteristic curves employed by Art Nouveau artists. Such decorative “whiplash” motifs, formed by dynamic, undulating, and flowing lines in a syncopated rhythm, are found throughout the architecture, painting, sculpture, and other forms of Art Nouveau design.

Art Nouveau as a Total Style

Art Nouveau is now considered a “total style,” meaning that it can be seen in architecture, interior design, decorative arts (including jewelry furniture, textiles, household silver, and other utensils and lighting), and the visual arts. According to the philosophy of the style, art should strive to be a way of life, and thereby encompass all parts. For many Europeans, it was possible to live in an Art Nouveau-inspired house with Art Nouveau furniture, silverware, crockery, jewelry, cigarette cases, etc. Artists thus desired to combine the fine arts and applied arts, even for utilitarian objects.

Desk and Chair by Hector Guimard, 1909–12: The curving, serpentine woodwork seen on this desk is characteristic of Art Nouveau, which often drew stylistic influence from the natural world.

Art Nouveau in architecture and interior design eschewed the eclectic revival styles of the 19th century. Art Nouveau designers selected and “modernized” some of the more abstract elements of Rococo style, such as flame and shell textures. They also advocated the use of very stylized organic forms as a source of inspiration, expanding their natural repertoire to use seaweed, grasses, and insects.

The doorway at place Etienne Pernet, 24 (Paris 15e), 1905 by Alfred Wagon, architect.: The asymmetrical and curvilinear influence of the natural world is again seen in the ironwork of this doorway at Place Etienne Pernet in Paris.

In Art Nouveau painting, two-dimensional pieces were drawn and printed in popular forms such as advertisements, posters, labels, and magazines. Japanese wood-block prints, with their curved lines, patterned surfaces, contrasting voids, and flatness of visual plane, also inspired Art Nouveau painting. Some line and curve patterns became graphic clichés that were later found in works of artists from many parts of the world.

The Peacock Skirt by Aubrey Beardsley, 1893: Aubrey Beardsley is an artist known for his posters and often associated with Art Nouveau due to his use of elaborate decorative pattern and sweeping curvilinear line.

Watch the video: Pre modern, modern, and post modern (August 2022).