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The following essay will introduce the concepts of modernism and postmodernism, while highlighting the many differences between the two movements. Modernism and postmodernism in art reflected a change in social and cultural behaviour worldwide, and were two of the most influential art movements of their times. They both showed a more liberal shift in the art world, with more innovation and experimentation than  Modernism was most popular from the 1860s to the mid-1940s (and the end of World War II) while postmodernism is usually stated as beginning in the 1960s. This essay begins by using the artworks of Rene Magritte and Francis Berry to exemplify Modernism and postmodernism while examining the traits and contrasts the two movements have. Chapter three touches upon two of the works of artists Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried, and analyse their respective theories on modern art, particularly Greenberg’s definition (and re-definition) of modern art and its intricacies.

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Modernism is a broad and often vague term, there are a multitude of art styles that fall under it, however, there are select underlying principles that can help to define modernist artworks. Such as: A rejection of traditional values and and rules that defined previous art styles, spurning more conservative styles like realism, experimentation with form and the abstract, and a focus on more modern day works rather than religious or mythological history. These art works placed great significance on the processes, methods and mediums rather than on the finished product. Another focus of modernism was a multitude of socio-political messages, such as in the works of Ayn Rand, Rene Magritte and Vladimir Tatlin. Their works were frequently driven by utopian agendas, as was Modernism as a whole linked to a belief in progress and visions of an ideal world.

The modernist movement included reforming movements in the literary world, the art world, the music world and architecture. During the modernist epoch a great deal of prominence was placed on literary works, and more attention was paid to original works rather than the unoriginal. Modernism placed great emphasis on innovation, original art was considered a sort of primary creation. The modernist artwork took lessons from past experiences, and excelled in logical thinking (logic and reason were both common inspirations for modern art). Artists, critics and philosophers tried to find the abstract truth of life during the modernism movement, through their innovations.

Michael Fried based his theory of Modern art, in particular that made in the middle of the century by American artists, on the idea that modernism represented a crucial stage in the history of art. This can be difficult to realise as the Modernist period spans a fairly short period of time, however, there were many rapid and drastic changes in how people experience and interpret art.

Michael Fried once said of the 1960s that they were the “last great moment in Modernist art”

 Michael Fried said this about Clement Greenberg (commonly recognised as a distinguished American art critic of his time).

After decades of modernism as a prominent and popular art movement, in the 1960s Clement Greenberg began formulating his theory on modernist painting. Shortly afterwards a new art movement rose up, which was termed postmodernism. The early twentieth century brought Postmodernism’s first apparent signs, such as the Dadaist artists who used anarchic performances and irreverent works to reject the art establishment and mock them.The term postmodernism first saw use (as used contemporarily) in The Postmodern Condition by J.F. Lyotard. From an artistic viewpoint the term postmodern can typically be applied to movements that began to emerge in the early 1960s that opposed the supposed excesses and failures of the modernist period. There is no singular postmodern style or any definite theory upon which postmodernism hinges, the movement is similar to modernism in that it can also be said to be broad and ill-defined. The movement could be said to begin with the iconic pop art  of the 1960s, embracing the many trends that followed such as: feminist art, neoexpressionism and more conceptual art. Modernism drew focus from utopian ideals and logic, whereas postmodernism reacted against that, basing itself on the illogical and skepticism. Postmodernism challenged the modernist idea that there were universal truths or certainties and drew very heavily on the philosophies of it’s time. The movement advocated the idea that any one individual’s view and interpretation of artworks was more definite than any abstract principles.