Modern vs Post-Modern: Difference and Comparison

Modernism, marked by rationality and a belief in progress, sought universal truths and embraced grand narratives, while postmodernism, characterized by skepticism and a rejection of metanarratives, celebrates plurality, subjectivity, and the fragmentation of truth, challenging established structures and hierarchies in favor of embracing ambiguity and diversity.

Key Takeaways

  1. Modern refers to a period of cultural and artistic development from the late 19th to mid-20th century, characterized by a focus on rationality, progress, and individualism.
  2. Post-modern refers to a period of cultural and artistic development that emerged in the mid-20th century, characterized by a rejection of traditional values and a focus on fragmentation, irony, and self-reference.
  3. Modernism emphasizes universal truths and objective reality, while post-modernism questions the idea of objective truth and embraces subjectivity and relativism.

Modern vs Post-Modern

Modernism is distinguished by an emphasis on rationality and objectivity and a belief in scientific and technological development. Postmodernism, on the other hand, rejects the concept of objective truth in favour of subjectivity and relativism and it values variation and opposes the concept of universal ideals.

Modern vs Post Modern

It is very easy to get confused between the two, but you cannot swap the two terms as they have very different definitions and eras associated with them. To use these terms, you must have good knowledge about their differences.

However, both of them represent older times.

Comparison Table

TimelineRoughly 19th – mid 20th centuryMid 20th century – Present
Core BeliefsProgress, reason, logic, objectivity, universalitySkepticism of progress, questioning grand narratives, emphasis on diversity, subjectivity, and reflexivity
KnowledgeBelieves in the possibility of finding absolute truthsQuestions the possibility of absolute truth, emphasizes the importance of interpretation and perspective
Art & LiteratureFocus on innovation, experimentation, simplification, and formal clarityRejects grand narratives, embraces fragmentation, irony, pastiche (borrowing from other styles), and playfulness
ArchitectureFunctional, minimalist, geometric shapes, emphasis on clean lines and open spacePlayful, eclectic, incorporates elements from various styles, challenges traditional building forms
SocietyBelief in a unified society, emphasizes order, stability, and progressChallenges societal norms, embraces diversity, and critiques dominant narratives

What is modern?

Modernism emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a response to rapid industrialization, urbanization, and technological advancements. It was a period marked by significant social, cultural, and political changes, including the aftermath of World War I and the rise of mass communication.

Key Characteristics

  1. Rationality and Progress: Modernism was characterized by a belief in reason, science, and the power of human intellect to solve problems and improve society. This emphasis on rationality led to an optimism about progress and the possibility of creating a better future through innovation and efficiency.
  2. Universal Truths and Grand Narratives: Modernist thinkers sought to discover and articulate universal truths about the human condition and the world. They embraced grand narratives—comprehensive explanations of history, society, or existence—that provided frameworks for understanding reality and guiding human behavior.
  3. Formal Innovation and Experimentation: In literature, art, architecture, and other creative fields, modernists pushed boundaries and experimented with new forms, techniques, and styles. They aimed to break away from traditional conventions and express the complexities of modern life in innovative ways.
  4. Individualism and Autonomy: Modernism celebrated the individual and emphasized personal autonomy and freedom. This focus on the self led to introspection and exploration of subjective experiences, emotions, and perspectives.
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  • Literature: Writers such as James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Franz Kafka explored themes of alienation, fragmentation, and existential angst in their works, employing stream-of-consciousness narration and nonlinear storytelling techniques.
  • Art: Artists like Pablo Picasso and Wassily Kandinsky revolutionized visual art through movements such as Cubism and Abstract Expressionism, challenging traditional representations and perspectives.
  • Architecture: Architects such as Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe embraced minimalist design principles and functionalism, prioritizing simplicity, efficiency, and the use of modern materials like steel and glass.


The legacy of modernism is profound and far-reaching, influencing not only artistic and cultural movements but also shaping broader intellectual currents in fields such as philosophy, psychology, and sociology. Despite its contributions, modernism has also faced criticism for its Eurocentrism, elitism, and tendency towards abstraction and alienation from everyday life.


What is Post-modern?

Postmodernism emerged in the mid-20th century as a reaction against the certainties and grand narratives of modernism. It gained momentum in the late 20th century, coinciding with significant social, political, and technological changes, including globalization, the proliferation of mass media, and the rise of consumer culture. Postmodernism questioned the stability of truth, knowledge, and meaning in a rapidly changing, fragmented world.

Key Characteristics

  1. Skepticism and Relativism: Postmodernism is characterized by skepticism towards grand narratives, universal truths, and absolute certainty. Instead, it emphasizes the relativity of truth and the idea that knowledge is constructed within specific cultural, historical, and social contexts. This skepticism extends to authority, institutions, and established power structures.
  2. Pluralism and Diversity: Postmodernism celebrates diversity, difference, and the multiplicity of perspectives, identities, and experiences. It rejects the idea of a single, dominant worldview in favor of recognizing and valuing the richness of multiple voices and narratives. This pluralism extends to cultural production, where hybridity, pastiche, and intertextuality are embraced.
  3. Fragmentation and Deconstruction: Postmodernism challenges the notion of a coherent, unified reality, instead emphasizing fragmentation, discontinuity, and the breakdown of traditional boundaries and categories. It seeks to deconstruct binaries such as high/low culture, nature/culture, and self/other, revealing their constructed nature and blurring their distinctions.
  4. Irony and Playfulness: Postmodernism employs irony, parody, pastiche, and humor as tools for critique and subversion. It revels in playfulness, intertextuality, and self-referentiality, challenging the seriousness and earnestness of modernist endeavors. This playful approach can be seen in various cultural forms, from literature and art to film and architecture.
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  • Literature: Postmodern authors like Italo Calvino, Thomas Pynchon, and Salman Rushdie employ metafiction, nonlinear narratives, and intertextuality to destabilize traditional narrative structures and challenge readers’ assumptions about reality and fiction.
  • Art: Postmodern artists such as Cindy Sherman, Jeff Koons, and Barbara Kruger employ appropriation, pastiche, and irony to critique consumer culture, gender roles, and the commodification of art.
  • Architecture: Postmodern architects like Robert Venturi and Frank Gehry reject the rigid functionalism and minimalism of modernism in favor of eclecticism, ornamentation, and historical references, creating buildings that engage with their cultural and urban contexts in playful and ironic ways.


The legacy of postmodernism is complex and contested, influencing diverse fields such as literature, art, architecture, philosophy, and cultural studies. While it has been celebrated for its embrace of plurality, diversity, and critical inquiry, postmodernism has also faced criticism for its perceived relativism, cynicism, and lack of ethical commitment. Nonetheless, its impact on contemporary thought and culture remains profound, shaping ongoing debates about identity, power, representation, and the nature of reality in an increasingly interconnected and uncertain world.

post modern

Main Differences Between Modern and Post-Modern

  • Approach to Truth and Knowledge:
    • Modernism: Embraces the idea of universal truths and grand narratives, grounded in reason and progress.
    • Postmodernism: Questions the stability of truth and rejects grand narratives, emphasizing the relativity of knowledge and the influence of social, cultural, and historical contexts.
  • View of Reality and Fragmentation:
    • Modernism: Tends towards a coherent and unified understanding of reality, albeit complex.
    • Postmodernism: Highlights fragmentation, discontinuity, and the breakdown of traditional boundaries, challenging the notion of a singular, objective reality.
  • Attitude towards Authority and Power:
    • Modernism: Often respects authority and established power structures, seeking progress within existing systems.
    • Postmodernism: Exhibits skepticism towards authority and power structures, aiming to deconstruct and critique them, through irony and subversion.
  • Expression and Creativity:
    • Modernism: Values innovation and formal experimentation within established boundaries, aiming for originality and progress.
    • Postmodernism: Celebrates diversity, pluralism, and hybridity, embracing pastiche and intertextuality as tools for cultural expression and critique.
  • Engagement with Tradition and History:
    • Modernism: Engages with tradition and history while aiming to move forward, through reinterpretation and synthesis.
    • Postmodernism: Appropriates and recontextualizes elements from various traditions and historical periods, challenging linear notions of progress and privileging diversity and multiplicity.

Last Updated : 02 March, 2024

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27 thoughts on “Modern vs Post-Modern: Difference and Comparison”

  1. I appreciate the effort to provide a broad understanding of modernism and post-modernism. It does raise some intriguing points, but there’s always more to explore here.

  2. The article’s presentation of modernism and post-modernism is done in a concise and comprehensible manner. It effectively outlines the primary differences between the two eras.

    • I agree, it’s a clear and concise overview of these movements, providing readers with a foundation to explore further.

    • A good introduction to modernism and post-modernism, but further exploration is necessary to develop a more in-depth understanding of these movements.

  3. The article provides a very clear and comprehensive understanding of the differences between modernism and post-modernism. It’s great to see such detailed information.

  4. This has always been a difficult subject for me to comprehend, but this article has provided a comprehensive comparison between modernism and post-modernism, it was very helpful.

  5. A useful article to understand the primary differences between modernism and post-modernism. However, I wish the author had included more critiques of each movement.

    • I agree, it’s important to consider criticisms of these movements rather than solely presenting their positive aspects.

    • I think this article’s focus on the positive aspects of each movement may be due to its aim to introduce rather than delve deeply into critiques.

  6. This article succeeds in providing a clear and accessible comparison between modernism and post-modernism, making an intricate topic comprehensible for many readers.

  7. The article seems to oversimplify complex concepts and doesn’t take into account the criticisms and alternate interpretations of modernism and post-modernism.

  8. The article presents a very black-and-white view of modernism and post-modernism, and fails to acknowledge that some elements may overlap or shift between the two movements.

    • I can see where you’re coming from. There is an oversimplification of the issue here by presenting these movements as entirely separate.

  9. The article fails to capture the essence of modernism and post-modernism, it lacks the depth required to truly understand these movements.


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