Postmodernism in brief

I have mentioned postmodernism in a couple of posts, so now we’ll look at the subject in more detail.

To understand postmoderism, we must first look at modernism and understand the concepts behind it. We have noted before that movements or periods of time are often caused as a response to the previous period. So before postmodernism, we have modernism.

Modernism is a movement, not a period of time and is defined as how people thought of and experienced the world now (then). It was originally seen as a way of progression; very functional and minimal ideas, for example, following the war, such as the rationing of clothing, led to modernism in the design of garments, which further led to no unnecessary decoration or surface patterns, pockets or extra trims (we will look at reading fashion in more detail at some point). Building designs would be very square, with no excessive decoration or extravagance in design (think Brutalist structures following). The fundamental basics of Modernism include very basic and simple design and, therefore, living. However, the movement of modernism did not go any further than world war two as the no-frills attitude was found to be inhumane and restrictive as it doesn’t take into account the emotion of humans. In fact, communism and modernism share very many similar values.

So, postmodernism comes along as a reaction to modernism, with many seeing it as an extension of modernism. However, the values each movement holds are almost an exact opposite to each other and so postmodernism posed the question: Why not be frivolous?

Postmodernism is extravagant in design as a reaction to the simplicity of modernism and often references other periods or movements of the past. A musical example is the Danger mouse mash-up of the White album by the Beatles with the Black album by Jay-Z, wonderfully named, The Grey Album. Creating something out of two things that already exist like this is called ‘Brickolage’ and can be found in many examples of postmodernism.

Postmodernism is not simply a time period when styles were affected. It is surrounded by theories including those from Boudrillard, Derrida, Foucault, Heidegger and Lyotard who speak about language, power and control, being a human and about the Gulf War not actually happening all as part of postmodernism.

Recent examples of postmodernists include: Alexander McQueen, who creates new styles whilst referencing styles from the past. This is another example of brickolage and using construction of already existing items to create a new identity.

Secondly, the music video of ‘Ain’t no other man’ by Christina Aguilera, screams postmodernism as she cavorts in a backstreet bar or ‘speakeasy’ with black male dancers, something that wouldn’t have happened in the actual time period referenced because of prohibition (so I’ve heard, anyway), but is postmodernist in this instance because of the recreation of a new style which references the past.

This is only a mere overview of the wide subject that is postmodernism, but it gives a sense of what it means and why it happened in the first place. It is simple to imagine that Modernism was very strict and basic when it came to design and living and postmodernism wanted to break the mould of feeling oppressed and inexpressive and so retaliated. Whatever will come next?



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