chapter
Modernism
Pages 1

The term ‘modernism’ has its intellectual foundations in the study of literature and the visual arts. There it usually refers to a broad cultural movement characterized by a spirit of constant challenge to received forms-modernism opposes itself to the figurative tradition in the visual arts and to realism and naturalism in literature. It is the source of the ‘modern’ in ‘modern art’, and its exemplars are Picasso and T.S.Eliot, Schoenberg and Le Corbusier, Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein, Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman. As some of these names suggest, modernism in this sense is a movement of a relatively small avant-garde, usually working in the rarified atmosphere of elite *culture. Moreover, its proponents were far from unanimous in their celebrations of the modern: many were politically conservative, nostalgic for a lost world of tradition, although some (like Le Corbusier) saw their own work as a positive force for social change.