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Modernism, in its broadest definition, is modern thought, character, or practice. More specifically, the term describes both a set of cultural tendencies and an array of associated cultural movements, originally arising from wide-scale and far-reaching changes to Western society in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Modernism was a revolt against the conservative values of realism.[2][3][3] The term encompasses the activities and output of those who felt the "traditional" forms of art, architecture, literature, religious faith, social organization and daily life were becoming outdated in the new economic, social, and political conditions of an emerging fully industrialized world.

Modernism rejected the lingering certainty of Enlightenment thinking, and also that of the existence of a compassionate, all-powerful Creator.[4][5] This is not to say that all modernists or modernist movements rejected either religion or all aspects of Enlightenment thought, rather that modernism can be viewed as a questioning of the axioms of the previous age.

A salient characteristic of modernism is self-consciousness. This often led to experiments with form, and work that draws attention to the processes and materials used (and to the further tendency of abstraction).[6] The poet Ezra Pound's paradigmatic injunction was to "Make it new!" Whether or not the "making new" of the modernists constituted a new historical epoch is up for debate. Philosopher and composer Theodor Adorno warns us:

Adorno would have us understand modernity as the rejection of the false rationality, harmony, and coherence of Enlightenment thinking, art, and music. But the past proves sticky. Pound's general imperative to make new, and Adorno's exhortation to challenge false coherence and harmony, faces T. S. Eliot's emphasis on the relation of the artist to tradition. Eliot wrote:

Literary scholar Peter Childs sums up the complexity:

These oppositions are inherent to modernism: it is in its broadest cultural sense the assessment of the past as different to the modern age, the recognition that the world was becoming more complex, and that the old "final authorities" (God, government, science, and reason) were subject to intense critical scrutiny.

Surrealism was known to the public as the most extreme among the forms of modernism.[10] Current interpretations of modernism vary. Some[who?] divide 20th century reaction into modernism and postmodernism, whereas others[who?] see them as two aspects of the same movement.[citation needed]


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