Modernism is the generally accepted term to describe the sweeping changes that took place, particularly in the arts and literature, between the late nineteenth century and the beginning of the Second World War. There is, however, no clear demarcation by date, and although the term post-modern is increasingly used to describe changes since the Second World War, there are some who argue Modernism persists, and others who see its demise as having occurred much earlier. Roland Barthes, a French semiologist , defined Modernism as the pluralization of world-views deriving from the evolution of new classes, technology, and communications that were gathering momentum in the mid-nineteenth century, while the English novelist and essayist Virginia Woolf regarded it as a historic opportunity for change in human relationships and the human character.
Although there is little unanimity as to when it began or exactly what its characteristics were, stylistically Modernism is usually depicted as a movement towards sophistication, mannerism, introversion, technical display, internal self-scepticism, and as a reaction against Victorian realism. Friedrich Nietzsche , often regarded as one of the first modernists because of his proclamation that ‘no artist tolerates reality’, argued that the aim of art should be its own self-realization, and that art itself makes life. His emphases on the individual and the drama of the artist's own consciousness were influential in a number of ways for the development of Mofernism, as were Sigmund Freud's theories of the unconscious, and the importance he placed on sexuality.
Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Symbolism, Imagism, Voriticism, Dadaism, and Surrealism: all of these movements sprung from what is generally called Modernism, and all were, to varying degrees, subversive of the realist or romantic impulse and disposed towards abstraction. In music, Modernism was characterized by atonalism, in poetry by vers libre, in fiction by stream of consciousness writing, while in architecture it is associated with functionalism. But Modernism was not just a movement associated with the arts. Rather, it was a broad intellectual movement affecting, and affected by, technological, political, and ideological changes and developments of the time. Einstein's theory of relativity, the discovery of X-rays, the beginning of the mass production of cars, and, crucially, shattering new developments in warfare during the First World War, all led to generalized traits of crisis, fragmentation, and introversion which can be seen as affecting all realms of culture and society at the time, and arguably still resonate at the end of the twentieth century.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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