Modernism began at the end of the 19th century and developed during the first half of the 20th century. Modernism can be said to go beyond the confines of a 'style'. It is better described as a collection of ideas or a worldview. Modernism had a utopian desire to create a better world.
Nevertheless, there are still traits that characterize modern design, such as: an exploration of new materials, a simplification of forms and a rejection of historical precedents. The term modern comes from the Latin word modernus, which means “just now”. It also means “new fashioned, not antiquated or obsolete.”
Modernism: the industrial revolution and World War Two
The modernist embraced the changes that were occurring in the social, economic and political aspects of the arising modern world and used these new ideas to rebel against the late 19th century academic and historicist traditions.
The industrial revolution brought with it the idea of mass-production and this concept impacted on the way artists and designers approached their creative pursuits.
World War Two had a dramatic impact on the collective psyche of society. It challenged the way people thought, and this questioning of what were once accepted ideas extended to the field of art and design.
Origins of Modernist ideology
One of the earliest sources of modernism was the ideas of the English artist William Morris. Morris' proposed a return to well-made handcrafted good, as apposed to mass produced items, and his writing defined the basis of the arts and craft movement. He proposed that utility was as important as beauty an idea that became key to modernist thinking.
Louis Sullivan, a modern American architect was also a key figure in the development of modernist ideas. He coined the famous phrase “Form follows function.” He proposed that a building should express its purpose simply and be rid of ornamental elements.
Art for everyone
A theme that presents itself in many modernist movements is the idea that art is and should be relevant to everyone. A good example of how this idea actualized is the creation of an “international style” in product design, graphic design and architecture. The aim was to create a design style that transcended academic cultural and historical references. It was a style that was designed to be appreciated by people of all classes and nationalities.
Modernist designers strove to find the 'ideal form' for the products and architecture they created. They sought to find a form that had universal appeal. They did not want the forms that formed their creations to be restricted by social position or taste.
To achieve this goal Modernist designers aimed to take an objective view of the product they were designing. They attempted to start with a clean slate and wanted their designed to be based on a rational assessment of the design task at hand. They rejected the ornamental as they believed that a product should take its impetus from its structural integrity rather than from decorative qualities or past references.
Modernist artists and designers strove to create work that transcended the boundaries of social class, education and nationality. By breaking down traditional barriers in art and design they not only hoped to create a new style but more-so they strove to make a better world. As such they viewed design as a unifying force that would help to create a more just and socially equal world.