Modernism vs. Postmodernism

When you think of modern art and when it comes to understanding modern art you can sometimes find yourself confused. Modernism and postmodernism is both complex and have various branches.

The Meggs’ History of Graphic Design shows us that the modernism starts with Cubism following with Futurism, then Dada came, Surrealism was born from Dada and then Expressionism made its appearance. Each of these movements rebelled against its predecessor and each of these movements influenced not only art but architecture, photography and design. Modernism began early in the 20th century and stretched between 20 and 25 years.

The postmodernism movement according to Oak (2008) began after the Second World War. This movement also influenced art, design, architecture, fashion and so much more, one example could be graffiti which became a secret language between young people and an art form in its own right. Postmodernism as a whole rebelled against modernism. I drew up this table, Modernism vs. Postmodernism containing keywords to illustrate the difference between the two distinct movements of the 20th century.

Modernism Postmodernism
Purpose Play
About the finished work About the process of the work
Selection Combination
Hierarchy Anarchy (all elements are important)
Distance Participation
Depth of a subject Surface of a subject
Order Chaos
Narrative Anti-narrative
Unity in work Fragmentation
It is about the bigger picture Have blind spots
Have simplicity Is complex
Abstract Figurative
Universal Diversity
About perfection Believe in imperfection
Integrity Broken
Have a fixed meaning Is open ended
Objective / theoretical Subjective
Logical Illogical
Function and factual Whimsical and fun
Is correct and right Have errors and deliberate mistakes.
Believe in science Believe in fiction


During modernism art work and literature were required from artist and a specific meaning were attached to the work, but postmodernism on the other hand art works became digitally available because of the computer age and people attached their own meanings to an art work (Oak, 2008).

We have two contrasting movements, both standing strong in their believes and what an interesting century is must have been.


Oak, M. 2008, Difference between Modernism and Postmodernism. Available:

Meggs’, P.B. & Purvis, A.W. 2006. Meggs’ History of Graphic Design. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Class Notes

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