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An Appraisal of The Impact of Modernism on Human Society

Modernism is a philosophical movement that, along with cultural trends and changes, arose from wide-scale and far-reaching transformations in Western society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among the factors that shaped Modernism was the development of modern industrial societies and the rapid growth of cities, followed then by the horror of World War I. Modernism also rejected the certainty of Enlightenment thinking, and many modernists rejected religious belief.

Modernism, in general, includes the activities and creations of those who felt the traditional forms of art, architecture, literature, religious faith, philosophy, social organization, and activities of daily life were becoming outdated in the new economic, social, and political environment of an emerging fully industrialized world. The poet Ezra Pound’s 1934 injunction to “Make it new!” was the touchstone of the movement’s approach towards what it saw as the now obsolete culture of the past. Nevertheless, its innovations, like the stream-of-consciousness novel, twelve-tone music and abstract art, all had precursors in the 19th century.

Modernism, here limited to aesthetic modernism (see also modernity), describes a series of sometimes radical movements in art, architecture, photography, music, literature, and the applied arts which emerged in the three decades before 1914. Modernism has philosophical antecedents that can be traced to the eighteenth-century Enlightenment but is rooted in the changes in Western society at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries.

Modernism encompasses the works of artists who rebelled against nineteenth-century academic and historicist traditions, believing that earlier aesthetic conventions were becoming outdated. Modernist movements, such as Cubism in the arts, Atonality in music, and Symbolism in poetry, directly and indirectly explored the new economic, social, and political aspects of an emerging fully industrialized world.

Modernist art reflected the deracinated experience of life in which tradition, community, collective identity, and faith were eroding. In the twentieth century, the mechanized mass slaughter of the First World War was a watershed event that fueled modernist distrust of reason and further sundered complacent views of the steady moral improvement of human society and belief in progress.

A notable characteristic of Modernism is self-consciousness, which often led to experiments with form, along with the use of techniques that drew attention to the processes and materials used in creating a painting, poem, building, etc. Modernism explicitly rejected the ideology of realism and makes use of the works of the past by the employment of reprise, incorporation, rewriting, recapitulation, revision and parody.

Some commentators define Modernism as a socially progressive trend of thought that affirms the power of human beings to create, improve and reshape their environment with the aid of practical experimentation, scientific knowledge, or technology. From this perspective, Modernism encouraged the re-examination of every aspect of existence, from commerce to philosophy, with the goal of finding that which was ‘holding back’ progress and replacing it with new ways of reaching the same end. Others focus on Modernism as an aesthetic introspection. This facilitates consideration of specific reactions to the use of technology in the First World War, and anti-technological and nihilistic aspects of the works of diverse thinkers and artists spanning the period from Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) to Samuel Beckett (1906–1989)

Impact of Modernism on Society

Many modernists believed that by rejecting tradition they could discover radically new ways of making art. Arnold Schoenberg believed that by rejecting traditional tonal harmony, the hierarchical system of organizing works of music which had guided music-making for at least a century and a half, and perhaps longer, he had discovered a wholly new way of organizing sound, based on the use of 12-note rows. This led to what is known as serial music by the post-war period.

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