Modernism vs Postmodernism - What is the Difference?

Modernism and Postmodernism are two different movements that exhibit specific differences between them. Each one is based on changes in cultural and social behavior around the world. Also, they started in distant periods beginning from the 19th and 20th centuries. These movements came as a result of the thinking patterns of the society during those times. 


Modernism relates to a sequence of cultural movements that happened in the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. They included reforming developments in architecture, art, music, literature, and applied techniques. Modernism flourished between 860s and 1940s; preferably till 1945 when World War II ended. During that time, a lot of importance was given to literary works. Also, this movement paid a lot of significance to original works, such as paintings, sculpture, architecture, and poetry. In fact, during this time original art was considered a primary creation. 


Postmodernism describes a broad movement that developed in the late 20th-century and focused on philosophy, the arts, architecture, and criticism which marked a departure from modernism. In fact, postmodernism is typically defined by an attitude of skepticism, irony or rejection towards ideologies and various tenets of universalism, which included objective notions of reason, human nature, social progress, among others. Moreover, this movement is associated with schools of thought such as deconstruction and poststructuralism. 

how does postmodernism differ from modernism?

Postmodernism and modernism are distinct cultural, artistic, and intellectual movements that emerged during different periods and have different philosophies and characteristics. Here are some key differences between the two:

Historical Context:

Modernism: Modernism emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, roughly from the 1890s to the 1940s. It was a response to the rapid social, political, and technological changes of the time, such as industrialization and urbanization.

Postmodernism: Postmodernism began to take shape in the mid-20th century, around the 1950s, and continued into the late 20th century. It was a reaction to the perceived failures and limitations of modernism, particularly in addressing social and cultural complexities.

Rejection of Grand Narratives:

Modernism: Modernism often embraced grand narratives and a belief in progress, rationality, and the possibility of achieving universal truths. It aimed for purity, simplicity, and clarity in art, literature, and design.

Postmodernism: Postmodernism rejected grand narratives and the idea of a single, objective truth. It embraced ambiguity, pluralism, and the notion that truth is relative and context-dependent. Postmodern works often play with multiple perspectives and interpretations.

Style and Aesthetics:

Modernism: Modernist art and literature favored abstraction, minimalism, and formal experimentation. It aimed for originality and innovation, often breaking away from traditional conventions.

Postmodernism: Postmodern art and literature frequently incorporated pastiche, parody, and irony. It borrowed from various styles and sources, mixing high and low culture, and challenging the notion of originality.

Attitude Toward Tradition:

Modernism: Modernism often sought to break with tradition and establish new forms and expressions. It aimed to transcend the past and create something entirely new.

Postmodernism: Postmodernism was more open to reinterpreting and reappropriating elements from the past. It questioned the idea of a linear historical progression and valued the recycling of cultural references.

Subjectivity vs. Objectivity:

Modernism: Modernist works often aspired to objectivity and universality, attempting to depict the world as it truly is. They emphasized the artist's individual vision but within a broader search for truth.

Postmodernism: Postmodernism emphasized subjectivity and the idea that reality is constructed through language, culture, and individual perspectives. It celebrated the artist's and viewer's role in creating meaning.

Social and Political Engagement:

Modernism: Modernism often engaged with political and social issues of the time but sometimes leaned towards abstraction and formalism, which could be seen as a degree of detachment.

Postmodernism: Postmodernism was more overtly political and critical of established power structures. It explored issues of identity, race, gender, and class in a more direct and confrontational manner.

It's important to note that these are general tendencies, and there can be overlap and variations within both modernist and postmodernist works. Additionally, postmodernism is not just a rejection of modernism but also a complex cultural phenomenon that encompasses a wide range of perspectives and approaches.

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