Postmodernism a rejection of modernism?

Posted on by Ben Hodson

As a reaction postmodernism is mostly readily understood by a rejection of modernism. Many critics still recognise that forms of late modernism still remain even now, although the main ideas have been increasingly challenged and rejected. There are many artists associated with postmodernism. Marcel Duchamp is most interesting to me, because he could be considered both a modernist and postmodernist. He was associated with the Dada movement, a prominent postmodern art movement that was really born out of a reaction to the First World War, its art focused on throwing away the established preconceptions.  Duchamp’s famous urinal with the pseudo name “R. Mutt” written on it, broke all the modernist rules.  In light of this work, there is a sense of what challenge is left in art? “His greatest contribution to the history of art lies in his ability to question, admonish, critique, and playfully ridicule existing norms in order to transcend the status quo—he effectively sanctioned the role of the artist to do just that.” (Rosenthal, 2004). The tension comes in realising that in embracing the modernist view of historical progression and engaging with modern life and its ideas brought Duchamp to the point of rejecting modernism itself.


The seeds for the cultural shift towards postmodernism were sown in the aftermath of the Second World War and accelerated by the war in Vietnam.  The artists began to feel that art had to be more than the modernist view, a purely aesthetic, rational or documentary experience, it needed to comment on the world to show people the truth and engage them emotionally.  My own art feels most aligned with this stance and most of my own research and practice is fundamentally focused on art as intervention and how creativity can have a positive impact on the world.  Postmodernism can also be characterised by its rejection of science and government.  This can largely be attributed to the world events such as the world wars, and the spectre of nuclear holocaust.  People and artists started asking whether there was more to life than what we can prove.  The idea of ownership became less important, the rules and clear definitions in art started to become blurred. It argued that nothing is fixed and this in turn led to declaring there is no such thing as absolute truth. This self defeating statement is one of the main reasons I do not identify with postmodernism.