The Origin and Development of Modernism in Art and Literature

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About this sample


Words: 791 |

Page: 1|

4 min read

Published: Jun 29, 2018

Words: 791|Page: 1|4 min read

Published: Jun 29, 2018

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Origin and Essence of Modernism
  3. Modernist Literature and Art
  4. Conclusion
  5. References


The advent of Modernism in the early twentieth century marked a significant departure from established norms in art, literature, and culture. Shaped by a tumultuous period defined by cultural shocks like World War I and World War II, Modernism emerged as a response to the profound disruptions and disorientation experienced by Western civilization. This movement, which spanned approximately 65 years, represented a deliberate shift away from traditional perspectives and sought to redefine individual identity and expression in the face of profound upheaval. This essay will explore the history and the development of modernism in literature and other forms of art.

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The Origin and Essence of Modernism

Modernism, born from a world profoundly shaken by historical events, served as a vehicle for artists and thinkers to grapple with the complexities of their time. It arose in reaction to the horrors of World War I, a conflict so devastating that it challenged the very notion of civilization. This cataclysmic event was intended to be "the war to end all wars," yet its unimaginable human toll and destruction shook the foundations of society. Subsequently, the swift arrival of World War II within a single generation further eroded the morale and peace of Western civilization. This persistent discontentment prompted a new wave of thinking, artistic expression, and literature, giving rise to Modernism.

The essence of Modernism lay in its vehement rejection of established conventions and customs. It symbolically defied "instrumental reason and market culture," becoming a vessel through which individuals could confront the profound emotional, mental, and physical turmoil that characterized this era (Armstrong 4). It provided a platform for self-discovery in the face of relentless instability and unforeseeable change, resisting the demand for conformity in a world marked by upheaval. Modernism embodied the bold effort to carve out a space for "individuality, creativity, and aesthetic value" in an increasingly homogenized and bourgeois society (Armstrong 4). This movement can be seen as an act of cultural rebellion, driven by a sense of "cultural despair" that acknowledged individuals' inner freedom while breaking free from outdated traditions unsuitable for a world marked by technological advancement and global conflict.

Modernist Literature and Art

Experimentation and individualism served as the rallying cry of Modernism, binding diverse authors and artists in a shared pursuit. Modernist writers and creators consciously embraced change and transformation, upending traditional artistic forms. This innovative spirit found expression across various domains, including painting (Waldo Pierce), literature (Gertrude Stein), dance (Isadora Duncan), music (Igor Stravinsky), and architecture (Frank Lloyd Wright). James Joyce's "Ulysses," for instance, adopted a stream-of-consciousness structure that revolutionized novel writing, plunging readers into the depths of human consciousness. The narrative structure defied conventional norms, challenging readers to question even the most fundamental aspects of storytelling. Similarly, Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" abandoned traditional narrative conventions, plunging into absurdism, surrealism, and existentialism. These deviations from the norm exemplify the Modernist intention to break free from the past while rejecting antiquated traditions that no longer served the age of technological advancement and global turmoil.

The sterile backdrop of modern society played a crucial role in shaping the Modernist ethos. While the Romantic era had celebrated nature with almost religious reverence, Modernism arose in stark contrast, drawing inspiration from the decay of the natural world and the increasing isolation of the individual. The sterility of modern life provided fertile ground for innovative and groundbreaking forms of art and literature. The disruption of traditional values and the isolation of individuals fueled the experimental nature of Modernism, giving rise to works that defied convention and embraced a newfound sense of alienation and tragedy.

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The era of Modernism emerged as a response to the unprecedented upheaval and disorientation experienced by Western civilization during the early twentieth century. Cultural shocks, epitomized by the cataclysmic World Wars, prompted a rejection of established customs and a fervent desire for self-discovery and individualism. Modernist artists and thinkers consciously broke free from traditional norms, seeking to redefine identity and expression in the face of relentless change. Experimentation and innovation flourished as Modernism transcended artistic boundaries, sparking transformation across various creative domains. This movement serves as a testament to the resilience and adaptability of the human spirit in the face of profound turmoil and uncertainty. Modernism remains a powerful reminder that even in the darkest of times, artistic expression can illuminate the path forward, offering a beacon of hope and understanding in a world marked by fragility and flux.


  1. Armstrong, T. (2005). Modernism: A Cultural History. Polity.
  2. Joyce, J. (1922). Ulysses. Shakespeare and Company.
  3. Beckett, S. (1953). Waiting for Godot. Faber and Faber.
  4. Pierce, W. (n.d.). Paintings. [Online Image Gallery]. Retrieved from [URL]
  5. Stein, G. (1935). Lectures in America. Random House.
  6. Garde, F. (2002). The Culture of Modernism. V&R Unipress.
  7. Benton, T. (2003). Modernism: Challenges and Debates. The University of Chicago Press.
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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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The Origin and Development of Modernism in Art and Literature. (2018, Jun 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 2, 2023, from
“The Origin and Development of Modernism in Art and Literature.” GradesFixer, 12 Jun. 2018,
The Origin and Development of Modernism in Art and Literature. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 2 Dec. 2023].
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