What Is Modernism?

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Modernism is a complex term that can refer to anything since the Renaissance, anything since the mid-19th century, a specific style of art or a characteristic, but modernists were generally Utopian idealists who worked for progress for the future. Dissect modernism, which some say ended in the 1960s, with information from an art historian, critic and curator in this free video on art.

Part of the Video Series: Modern Art History
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Video Transcript

Hi, Professor Betty Brown here. The topic is modernism. Modernism is a very complex term for art historians. It can refer to everything that's happened in Western culture since the Renaissance. It can refer to everything that's happened in Western culture since the middle of the 19th century. And it can refer to a style or a group of styles and it can refer to -- yes, I'm on number four now -- a group of characteristics or shared attitudes. Modern artists are, in general, utopian in their quest. They seek a better world. They seek to change the world for the better. So they are idealists and utopian idealists. Modern artists believe that there is an answer. they believe in progress towards that answer. They believe in a master narrative that will lead them to the best outcome of the story. Most of the really important modern artists were white men. And although there were women artists during the time and people of color making art during the time, the dominant culture privilege the activities of white men throughout the modern period. I like to think of modernism as starting in the middle of the 19th century with the avant-garde provocations of Gustave Courbet and Edward Manet in the 1850s and '60s, and I like to think of modernism as being fairly eclipsed by post-modernism by something like 1968. That's a great watershed year for the transition to post-modernism. I think the key component of modernism is that the modern definition of art involves a search for originality and that art...modern art is defined by the artist expressing himself.

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