If you took an Arts and Humanities course in high school or nearly any class in college, there’s a good chance that the question “What is Postmodernism” was asked. The question, which is hardly a simple one, was likely to create a discussion of varying answers or a completely quiet room of stumped students.
Even if you know very little about Postmodernism, you are probably familiar with some of the writers, artists, and architects of the time and many of the work they did is still popular today. We will take a closer look at Postmodernism and discuss how it helped to shape our culture.
What Is Postmodernism?
Like many things related to art and social sciences, it is nearly impossible to get a precise definition of Postmodernism without someone coming up with an alternate explanation or to at least challenge the meaning.
The Postmodernism (also known as postmodernism) definition can best be described as a late 20th-century movement in where all “rules” are thrown out when it comes to art, architecture, philosophy, and literature. From Warhol’s famous Campbell Soup cans to even Seinfeld, “a show about nothing,” these are just a few examples of how experts of Postmodernism describe the movement.
Some general characteristics include broad skepticism and suspicion of reason. To some, the movement lacks the optimism that there is a truth (whether scientific, religious, or philosophical) that will explain everything for everybody.
Despite the sense that artists, writers, and thinkers of the movement kind of “do whatever they want,” many people view Postmodernism as a “freeing” movement. Most see it as a chance for people to finally share what was on their mind without worrying about if someone “got” what they were doing.
The Beginning Of Postmodernism
As you might imagine, the start of the Postmodern movement is debated almost as much as the definition of the movement. While many experts note that the movement began in the mid to late 1950’s, others say that it was a little earlier and right after the end of WWII; a few believe that it emerged after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.
For this article, we will discuss aspects of the Postmodern movement as if it started in the 1950’s. The purpose of the Modern movement, which was roughly 1898 to 1945, was to break free from the Victorian Period (1832-1898), where domesticity, romantic ideals, and living a life of perfection seemed to be the critical points of the culture at that time.
The main difference between the Modern movement and the Victorian period is that people began questioning everything that no one seemed to question during the Victorian era. How does this pertain to Postmodernism? Despite the progress in the Modern movement, there were still many “rules” that existed; Postmodernism was all about breaking them.
Postmodernism In The World Of Art
Some people look at Postmodern art and simply say, “I don’t get it.” After centuries of paintings and sculptures with subject matter that most people could (and did) understand, Post-modern art confused and angered some while others became enlightened and excited about all the new possibilities in the art world.
Since there is no particular style of art during the Postmodern movement, there are many styles or movement that overlap within the timeline of Postmodernism. Tour any museum with Postmodern art, and you’re likely to see any work reflecting these common styles and movements:
- Futurism:Rebel against tradition and interest in technology and violence
- Dada:Nihilistic anti-art with Duchamp as a forefather of the movement
- Pop Art:Mass produced and kitschy and an example of “low” art
- Surrealism:Dream-like state
- Lowbrow:Often known as “Pop Surrealism”
- Conceptualism:Challenges viewers to rethink how they define art
- Decollage: A collection of images to create a new piece of art
- Bricolage:“Found” art
Early Postmodern artists, such as Rene Magritte, Jackson Pollock, Roy Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol, are still as famous today (if not more) than they were during the early days of the movement. Banksy is the perfect example of modern day Postmodernism artist.
Much like Postmodern art, the architecture of the movement either has a lot of people scratching their heads or applauding at the creativity. After living in cities where the same buildings stood for over a century, gentrification began to destroy historical landmarks all across the U.S.
In true rebel form, many Postmodern buildings were designed and created in response to the loss of historical buildings with “retro” design features that were inspired or a “nod” to different styles or movements in architecture.
Post-modern architect, Robert Venturi, believed in the “richness” of a meaning rather than the clarity, which is true to the definition of the movement. While the architecture of the Postmodern movement is often seen as a joke or even an eyesore, many prefer to see the architecture as an homage to previous architecture styles without having to follow the rules of the style.
Here are some common characteristics of Postmodern architecture:
Complexity and contradiction
Architecture that is complex and contradicts typically has decorative elements, bright colors, lacks symmetry and has no function to the building.
Rather than creating large buildings that have a cohesive look (and can easily be viewed as just another skyscraper), many Postmodern architects used fragmentation to break down the “look” of one large building and made it look like a number of smaller structures.
It’s not uncommon to see Postmodern architecture with asymmetrical features that add no function to a building. To some, it may even look like a building is unfinished or structurally “unsound.” Some of the asymmetries may pay homage to earlier architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, who designed “outside of the box.”
One of the easiest ways to identify Postmodern architecture is through its use of color. While plenty of Postmodern buildings were made with concrete and other materials or colors that blended in, a brightly colored feature, such as glass or tile.
Irony or Humor
What would Postmodernism be without some irony or humor? While not all architects of the Postmodern movement decide to incorporate irony or humor in their work, many buildings and structures have comically large features that make them an instant landmark and even add a little whimsy to a downtown district.
Postmodernism In Interior Design
Many people discuss Postmodern art and architecture, but we seem to hear less about interior design as part of the Postmodernism movement; instead, we just talk about what’s “trending.”
With dozens of interior design styles, many that have specific features and rules to make the “look” authentic, such as Victorian or even Shabby Chic. Other design styles like Eclectic are better suited to be part of the Postmodern world.
If you’re old enough to remember Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, his playhouse is the perfect example of Postmodern interior design (Pee-Wee Herman, himself, may also be a good example of Postmodernism). The interior design of a Postmodern movement may include “retro” art, accents, and colors and a look that borders on “kitsch.”
Like the art and architecture of the Postmodern movement, literature shifted away from “realism.” While it was a time for writers to break out of the mold and experiment, it was also a time to write about and react to events before the Postmodern era such as WWII and other traumatic events in history. Authors like Jack Kerouac, Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut, and David Foster Wallace are just a few examples of writers during the Postmodern movement.
Much like Postmodern art, there are writing styles and movements within Postmodernism:
- Irony and black humor
- Intertextuality (two different texts in one)
- An homage or parody of past literature
- Magic Realism
Is Our Culture Still Postmodern?
Many people wonder if we are still living in a Postmodern era or if we’ve made another cultural shift when it comes to architecture and art. Some argue that the Postmodern movement came to a close a few years ago, no one is really saying for sure.
To some, Postmodernism reflected a movement of tolerating differences and not feeling the need to lash out against others or explain oneself.
Today, living in the politically-charged society that we do, many feel that we have left the Postmodern era and have moved forward to Post-Postmodernism, a movement that is fueled by more rebellion and anger towards some societal issues.