American modernism, much like the modernism movement in general, is a trend of philosophical thought arising from the widespread changes in culture and society in the age of modernity. American modernism is an artistic and cultural movement in the United States beginning at the turn of the 20th century, with a core period between World War I and World War II. Like its European counterpart, American modernism stemmed from a rejection of Enlightenment thinking, seeking to better represent reality in a new, more industrialized world.
History Characteristically, modernist art has a tendency to abstraction, is innovative, aesthetic, futuristic and self-referential. It includes visual art, literature, music, film, design, architecture as well as life style. It reacts against historicism, artistic conventions and institutionalization of art. Art was not only to be dealt with in academies, theaters or concert halls, but to be included in everyday life and accessible for everybody. Furthermore, cultural institutions concentrated on fine art and scholars paid little attention to the revolutionary styles of modernism. Economic and technological progress in the U.S. during the Roaring Twenties gave rise to widespread utopianism, which influenced some modernist artists, while others were skeptical of the embrace of technology. The victory in World War I confirmed the status of the U.S. as an international player and gave the people self-confidence and a feeling of security. In this context, American modernism marked the beginning of American art as distinct and autonomous from European taste, by breaking artistic conventions that had been shaped after European traditions until then.
American modernism benefited from the diversity of immigrant cultures. Artists were inspired by African, Caribbean, Asian and European folk cultures and embedded these exotic styles in their works.
The Modernist American movement was a reflection of American life in the 20th century. In the quickly industrializing world and hastened pace of life, it was easy for the individual to be swallowed up by the vastness of things, left wandering, devoid of purpose. Social boundaries in race, class, sex, wealth and religion were being challenged. As the social structure was challenged by new incoming views, the bounds of traditional standards and social structure dissolved, and a loss of identity was what remained, translating eventually into isolation, alienation and an overall feeling of separateness from any kind of "whole". The unity of a war-rallied country was dying, along with it the illusion of the pleasantries it sold to its soldiers and people. The world was left violent, vulgar and spiritually empty.
The middle class worker fell into a distinctly unnoticeable position, a cog much too small to hope to find recognition in a much greater machine. Citizens were overcome with their own futility. Youths' dreams shattered with failure and a disillusioning disappointment in recognition of limit and loss. The lives of the disillusioned and outcasts became more focal. Ability to define self through hard work and resourcefulness, to create your own vision of yourself without the help of traditional means, became prized. Some authors endorsed this, while others, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, challenged how alluring but destructively false the values of privilege can be.
Modernist America had to find common ground in a world no longer unified in belief. The unity found lay in the common ground of the shared consciousness within all human experience. The importance of the individual was emphasized; the truly limited nature of the human experience formed a bond across all bridges of race, class, sex, wealth or religion. Society, in this way, found shared meaning, even in disarray.
Some see modernism in the tradition of 19th century aestheticism and the "art for art's sake" movement. Clement Greenberg argues that modernist art excludes "anything outside itself". Others see modernist art, for example in blues and jazz music, as a medium for emotions and moods, and many works dealt with contemporary issues, like feminism and city life. Some artists and theoreticians even added a political dimension to American modernism.
American modernist design and architecture enabled people to lead a modern life. Work and family life changed radically and rapidly due to the economic upswing during the 1920s. In the U.S., the car became popular and affordable for many, leisure time and entertainment gained importance and the job market opened up for women. In order to make life more efficient, designers and architects aimed at the simplification of housework.
The Great Depression at the end of the '20s and during the '30s disillusioned people about the economic stability of the country and eroded utopianist thinking. The outbreak and the terrors of World War II caused further changes in mentality. The Post-war period that followed was termed Late Modernism. The Postmodernist era was generally considered characteristic of the art of the late 20th century beginning in the 1980s.