Modernism and the Break with Tradition

One of the requisites for the modernist artist was to break from tradition and search for artistic truth without being encumbered by the past.  More and more, modernist artists cast the gaze of their eyes forward into the unknown rather than lingering in the past as had been the case for so long.  The result of such decisions by the multitude of artists was to create a new cultural fabric that was far more in tune with the times.  Herbert Read, the famed British art critic of the 20th century, wrote the following in his 1968 book A Concise History of Modern Painting:  “The rich treasure of icons they (the great leaders of the modern movement)have created is the basis upon which any possible civilization of the future will be built.”  Do you agree with Reed in his assessment of modernism?  Your thoughts?


Photo of Herbert Read

Modern building


Modern Building



19 thoughts on “Modernism and the Break with Tradition

  1. After reading this, I looked up the definition of Modernism to get a better understanding of what it meant. this is what i found; Modernism, in its broadest definition, is modern thought, character, or practice. Breaking for tradition ad completing a change from the norm is what I received from this definition and the short paragraph I read. Modernist seem to focus on there own future and seem to want to leave there own trail. Therefore, I agree with Rees because the trails that the modernist artist leave behind will eventually be used by those in the future.

  2. I agree with what Reed said and also with Angel. What is done today will set a standard for the future. Modernism is what is new what will or is trending and of course this is what artists want. They work hard on their projects and having set a trend or have people talking is what I believe one of the many goals they accomplish.

  3. I think that Modernism is at the fore front of art. I feel that most modernist artists bring us the things we see in movies and give thought of future ideas to the front of everyone’s minds. I agree that the future will be shaped by modern artists. Although it would be nice for some of the old buildings, like castles, to be brought back, I am very fond of modern buildings.

  4. I agree with Justin’s comment, modernism is the way of the future. Modern artist contribute so much to the forward thinking and movement right now, who knows where we would be or where we could to without them.

  5. I think that as an artist it would be hard to have to do artwork in a modern way that has never been used. How is it that an artist can find truth without restating the past? It seems difficult considering the future is molded by the past. Somehow artists have managed to do it and Read is right because in the future civilizations will be able to think of new ways of art and other things by using the past as a reference even though they aren’t demonstrating the past as well.

  6. I don’t agree with his statement. To think that a whole civilization can be built on art doesn’t resonate with me. If the statement were true what happened to the cave painters. I’m sure his intentions were good. Modernism has opened doors for artists that were previously closed but it has created another problem. Because of modernism the word art has been bastardized to include anything some wacko can exhibit.

  7. Modernism encouraged the re-examination of every aspect of existence. The movement evolved out of a particular shift in worldviews due to major and relevant changes and attitudes in religion, human behavior, politics and literature, and as a need for formal and critical explanations of the functions of art. Modernism, It is rooted in the idea that the traditional forms of art, had become outdated; therefore it was essential to sweep them aside. I agree with Rees because those will eventually use the trails that the modernist artist leaves behind in the future. The idea of evolution an openness of new ideas was some of the features Modernism brought also agree with the idea that what is done today would set a standard for the future.

  8. The progress breaks the traditions and rules. what time and what will preente future. modernism for us now and already passed and we are already in another era that will be remembered in the future who knows how. Men create the ages. any era is and was the basis for another. but no consistent so the future’s going to evolve and if the foundations are strong enough to support progress and innovation.

  9. The progress breaks the traditions and rules. what it is present now, tomorrow will be future. Modernism for us now and already passed and we are already in another era that will be remembered in the future who knows how. Men create the ages. Any era is and was the basis for another.I do not know how the future’s going to evolve and if these foundations are strong enough to support progress and innovation.

  10. Progression breaks the rules of what has already pass. While modernism is for the here and now and should focus on that. Because there have to many modernism exhibits that aren’t really modern. Just crap self important people made

  11. I don’t think I do agree with his statement. “The rich treasure of icons they have created is the basis upon which any possible civilization of the future will be built.”(Read, 1968) With that said, isn’t it possible that any art created way before this form could be the basis for any possible civilization of the future? Just because you skip the first few steps in the instructions of something doesn’t really mean you have a brand new set of them right? Something that breaks off from something else to become something different is still a small part of what it was.

  12. Yes, because art itself is influential. All the way down to the colors, the brush strokes, the paint, the print, and the overall medium in which one chooses to express himself; each element psychologically influences the viewer as art is meant to provoke thought. The influences of modern art produced today seeps into other areas of society, other careers providing a new way to look at things and do things.

  13. I believe that art comes and goes in waves. It will always influence future design choices, but someone will always come along and shake the status quo. All of the artists we have learned about put their own personal twist on design, so over time any standard is bound to evolve. If it didn’t we would still be designing victorian style homes and possibly wearing togas. Every industry is challenged and changed by innovators and thats what makes art beautiful. The evolution is what leaves people wanting more and it all starts with an idea. You can already see the changes taking place within the modernism movement. Look at early renditions of modern homes and now see how alternative materials are taking a much larger precedence in the design plans. The use of floor to ceiling windows, solar power, led lighting and technology upgrades are all slowly presenting themselves in more and more designs across the globe. It will be these changes and others like it that lead to the next set of great ideas in design and before you know it modernism will be a whole different style with a different name.

  14. I agree with Read,however his quote reflects the arrogance of the living. Scholars over time have always proclaimed what is “modern” will shape the future. This theory works until barbarians demolish you empire. One step forward,two steps back.

  15. I do strongly agree with the school of thoughts of Read. In my opinion, in order to develop the future, dedication to innovation is crucially required. The process of the development is to constantly try new things regardless of good or bad, therefore, the development of the future can go on base on the experience and the lessons of trying.

  16. While I do believe that art does play a crucial role in society, I am not sure how much of a given society is based on the modern works of art. These artists make a statement, no doubt, but something of such magnitude as to build a civilization on? There are many, many factors on which a society basis it beliefs and morals and values, and as just one, art can only do so much. Should his statement hold water, every modern leader in our society should be entirely familiar with all the modern works of art. After all, they would have built a society on them. Modern building have become more style than statement nowadays, and are not given the same thought that modern works of fine art are.

  17. I agree somewhat with Read’s statement. I do think that modernist ideas will shape the future to some extent; but I also feel that it is very important to also look to the past and gain insights and learn lessons from history. Modernism can not just focus on new and different things in order to be a strong foundation for the future. A strong future would be built upon new ideas that are founded upon sound lessons that have been learned from the past.

  18. I agree with his idea. Even we are living in the modern world, but I can not deny the everything is from the past. And people will create more and more new art in the furture. And I think people should use all good things from the past and change all wrong things in the furture.

  19. I think that the past needs to be considered when creating in the present or future. The past is what shapes us into who we are as a people and the kind of work we create and why. Being innovative is very important in developing new ideas and ways of doing things but the past always will have something to do with it one way or another.

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