The Impact of Modernism on Human Society

The Impact of Modernism on Human Society

What is modernism?

What impact has modernism had on human society?

Discuss the impact of the digital age on the social, economic and political life of societies today

Modernism is a philosophical movement that, along with cultural trends and changes, arose from wide-scale and far-reaching transformations in Western society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among the factors that shaped Modernism was the development of modern industrial societies and the rapid growth of cities, followed then by the horror of World War I. Modernism also rejected the certainty of Enlightenment thinking, and many modernists rejected religious belief.

Modernism, in general, includes the activities and creations of those who felt the traditional forms of art, architecture, literature, religious faith, philosophy, social organization, and activities of daily life were becoming outdated in the new economic, social, and political environment of an emerging fully industrialized world. The poet Ezra Pound’s 1934 injunction to “Make it new!” was the touchstone of the movement’s approach towards what it saw as the now obsolete culture of the past. Nevertheless, its innovations, like the stream-of-consciousness novel, twelve-tone music and abstract art, all had precursors in the 19th century.

Modernism, here limited to aesthetic modernism (see also modernity), describes a series of sometimes radical movements in art, architecture, photography, music, literature, and the applied arts which emerged in the three decades before 1914. Modernism has philosophical antecedents that can be traced to the eighteenth-century Enlightenment but is rooted in the changes in Western society at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries.

Modernism encompasses the works of artists who rebelled against nineteenth-century academic and historicist traditions, believing that earlier aesthetic conventions were becoming outdated. Modernist movements, such as Cubism in the arts, Atonality in music, and Symbolism in poetry, directly and indirectly explored the new economic, social, and political aspects of an emerging fully industrialized world.

Modernist art reflected the deracinated experience of life in which tradition, community, collective identity, and faith were eroding. In the twentieth century, the mechanized mass slaughter of the First World War was a watershed event that fueled modernist distrust of reason and further sundered complacent views of the steady moral improvement of human society and belief in progress.

A notable characteristic of Modernism is self-consciousness, which often led to experiments with form, along with the use of techniques that drew attention to the processes and materials used in creating a painting, poem, building, etc. Modernism explicitly rejected the ideology of realism and makes use of the works of the past by the employment of reprise, incorporation, rewriting, recapitulation, revision and parody.

Some commentators define Modernism as a socially progressive trend of thought that affirms the power of human beings to create, improve and reshape their environment with the aid of practical experimentation, scientific knowledge, or technology. From this perspective, Modernism encouraged the re-examination of every aspect of existence, from commerce to philosophy, with the goal of finding that which was ‘holding back’ progress and replacing it with new ways of reaching the same end. Others focus on Modernism as an aesthetic introspection. This facilitates consideration of specific reactions to the use of technology in the First World War, and anti-technological and nihilistic aspects of the works of diverse thinkers and artists spanning the period from Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) to Samuel Beckett (1906–1989)

Impact of Modernism on Society

Many modernists believed that by rejecting tradition they could discover radically new ways of making art. Arnold Schoenberg believed that by rejecting traditional tonal harmony, the hierarchical system of organizing works of music which had guided music-making for at least a century and a half, and perhaps longer, he had discovered a wholly new way of organizing sound, based on the use of 12-note rows. This led to what is known as serial music by the post-war period.

Abstract artists, taking as their examples from the Impressionists, as well as Paul Cézanne and Edvard Munch, began with the assumption that color and shape formed the essential characteristics of art, not the depiction of the natural world. Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, and Kazimir Malevich all believed in redefining art as the arrangement of pure color. The use of photography, which had rendered much of the representational function of visual art obsolete, strongly affected this aspect of Modernism. However, these artists also believed that by rejecting the depiction of material objects they helped art move from a materialist to a spiritualist phase of development.

Other Modernists, especially those involved in design, had more pragmatic views. Modernist architects and designers believed that new technology rendered old styles of building obsolete. Le Corbusier thought that buildings should function as “machines for living in,” analogous to cars, which he saw as machines for traveling in. Just as cars had replaced the horse, so Modernist design should reject the old styles and structures inherited from Ancient Greece or from the Middle Ages. Following this machine aesthetic, Modernist designers typically reject decorative motifs in design, preferring to emphasize the materials used and pure geometrical forms. The skyscraper, such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building in New York (1956–1958), became the archetypal Modernist building.

Modernist design of houses and furniture also typically emphasized simplicity and clarity of form, open-plan interiors, and the absence of clutter. Modernism reversed the nineteenth-century relationship of public and private: in the nineteenth century, public buildings were horizontally expansive for a variety of technical reasons, and private buildings emphasized verticality—to fit more private space on more and more limited land.

In other arts, such pragmatic considerations were less important. In literature and visual art, some Modernists sought to defy expectations mainly in order to make their art more vivid, or to force the audience to take the trouble to question their own preconceptions.

This aspect of Modernism has often seemed a reaction to consumer culture, which developed in Europe and North America in the late-nineteenth century. Whereas most manufacturers try to make products that will be marketable by appealing to preferences and prejudices, High Modernists rejected such consumerist attitudes in order to undermine conventional thinking.

Impact of Social Changes on Education

Social change refers to an alteration in the social order of a society. It may refer to the notion of social progress or socio-cultural evolution, the philosophical idea that society moves forward by dialectical or evolutionary means. It may refer to a paradigmatic change in the socio-economic structure, for instance a shift away from feudalism and towards capitalism. Accordingly, it may also refer to social revolution, such as the Socialist revolution presented in Marxism, or to other social movements, such as Women’s suffrage or the Civil rights movement. Social change may be driven by cultural, religious, economic, scientific or technological forces. More generally, social change may include changes in nature, social institutions, social behaviours or social relations.

Education and Social Change

The role of education as an agent or instrument of social change and social development is widely recognized today. Social change may take place – when humans need change. When the existing social system or network of social institutions fails to meet the existing human needs and when new materials suggest better ways of meeting human needs. Education can initiate social changes by bringing about a change in outlook and attitude of man. It can bring about a change in the pattern of social relationships and thereby it may cause social changes. Earlier educational institutions and teachers used to show a specific way of life to the students and education was more a means of social control than an instrument of social change. Modern educational institutions do not place much emphasis upon transmitting a way of life to the students. The traditional education was meant for an unchanging static society not marked by any change. But today education aims at imparting knowledge. Education was associated with religion.

Education and Culture

Education encompasses teaching and learning specific skills and also something less tangible but more profound: the imparting of knowledge good judgement and wisdom. Durkheim sees education as the socialization of the younger generation. It is a continuous effort to impose on the child ways of seeing, feeling and acting which he could not have arrived at spontaneously. Education has as one of its fundamental goals the imparting of culture from generation to generation. Culture is a growing whole. There can be no break in the continuity of culture. The cultural elements are passed on through the agents like family, school and other associations. All societies maintain themselves through their culture. Culture here refers to a set of beliefs, skills, art, literature, philosophy, religion, music etc which must be learned. This social heritage must be transmitted through social organizations. Education has this function of cultural transmission in all societies. The curriculum of a school, its extra-curricular activities and the informal relationships among students and teachers communicate social skills and values. Through various activities school imparts values such as co-operation, team spirit, obedience ,discipline etc. Education acts an integrative force in the society by communicating values that unites different sections of society. The school teach skills to the children which help them later to integrate within the culture of the society. Education in its formal or informal pattern has been performing this role since time immemorial. Education can be looked upon as process from this point of view also. Education has brought phenomenal changes in every aspect of man’s life.

Types of Social Change

Civilization Change

It refers to the dress, food habits, production technologies, communication system, etc.

Cultural Change

It is associated with new knowledge. Religion, rituals, arts, literature etc.

Change in social relationship. It is the relationship between the father and son, teacher and student, husband and wife, etc.

Factors Responsible for Social Change

Geographical factors like climatic conditions that influence the climatic conditions. Psychological factors like motivation, individualisation etc. Sociological factors like social conflicts, social oppressions, modernization etc. Explosion of population the environmental factors like newly built cities, industrialised and urbanised natural environment. The scientific and technological factors like technical advancements, new inventions, modern machineries, tools, etc. The ideological factors like social philosophy, political philosophy and religious philosophy. The legislative factors like legislation on temple entry, banning child marriages etc. The impact of western civilisation and cultural diffusion Contact of people with different countries the level of education and literacy attained by the society Modernisation of the society New attitudes to wealth, work, saving and risk taking War, natural calamities, revolutions, migration of people, etc

Relationship Between Education and Social Change

According to V.R.Taneja “Education and social change is a two – way traffic. While education preserves, transmits and disseminates the whole culture, social change is the instrument and precondition of educational thought.

1. Education as a Condition of Social Change

It is noted that social change is impossible without education. Education makes the people aware of the inadequacies of the existing system and creates a craze for social reform. Many of the old superstitions, beliefs and outdated customs. Which is retard social progress, can be prevented by education. It is to be noted that many progressive reforms like Hindu Code Bill and Untouchability Removal Act remained ineffective due to the illiteracy of a large number of Indian people.

2. Education as an Instrument of Social Change

Education is considered as a powerful instrument for social change, because it deals mainly with the thought patterns and behaviour patterns of younger generation. The axe of education can cut down the thick roots of traditional superstitions, ignorance and the backwardness. Education prepares the people for social change.

3. Education as an Effect of Social Change

In the wake of social change, people become aware of the need for educational progress. The changes caused by the political upheaval, industrialisation, technological progress and religious reform movements naturally demands more education in order to maintain social equilibrium. In India the enrolment in educational institutions has increased enormously since independence. We can summarize the following relationship between education and social change in the following way: Education initiates the social change and gives them direction and purpose. Education creates the social reformers and leaders who consciously make all the efforts to bring about social changes. Education prepares the individual for social changes. It brings a change in the need – dispositions and also creates frustrations with the status quo. Education determines the nature of social changes, which ought to be brought about.

Essays, UK. (November 2013). Impact of Modernism on Society. Retrieved from

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