DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-N033-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 24, 2024, from

Article Summary

As a period in cultural history, modernism usually denotes advanced or avant-garde European and American art and thought, though it has also been used to describe more general social conditions and attitudes. Most historians of literature and the plastic arts – the fields in which the term has most play – date it from the late 1880s to the Second World War. Modernism is thus distinguished from the ‘modern’ of ‘modern history’ (understood as anything since medieval history), ‘modern life’ (popular contemporary attitudes and difficulties), and other broad uses of the term ‘modern’. In fact, recognition of the ism in modernism is a key to understanding it – intense self-awareness being an essential characteristic or value, allied to modernism’s complex engagement with avant-garde status. Other values that consistently underpin modernism include a propensity to create ‘culture shock’ by abandoning traditional conventions of social behaviour, aesthetic representation, and scientific verification; the celebration of elitist or revolutionary aesthetic and ethical departures; and in general the derogation of the premise of a coherent, empirically accessible external reality (such as Nature or Providence) and the substitution of humanly devised structures or systems which are self-consciously arbitrary and transitory.

    Citing this article:
    Vargish, Thomas. Modernism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N033-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
    Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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