What is postmodernism? This lecture not only informed us of what postmodernism is, but in order to fully understand it, we also looked at what modernism was.

Postmodernism – a term used to describe a wide range of visual culture since 1970, including; art, textiles, graphics, products, design.

Postmodernism sees responses to mass production, consumerism, identity, gender and modernity.

In contrast, modernists rejected the stylistic “eclecticism”  of the 19th century of art and design – a new age of machines and technology was born. Modernists rejected decoration and ornaments. They rejected history and tradition leaving behind everything that up until this point, art was based on. Modernist designers were committed to reproducing art and design of the future. Often they were inspired by socialist ideas, they wished to sweep away the old in order to create a “new brave world” which would improve human life and civilisation.

There has always been tensions between high culture (what to strive for) and popular culture (what people enjoy). Postmodernism challenges the great divide through various cultures.

High culture – elite / expensive / entertainment – ballet

Pop Culture – mass produced / easily accessible e.g. movies, music, football. Popular culture has always been thought of as inferior, eventually we see artists and designers rethinking their ideas.


  • Set of principles / design
  • Celebration of new materials
  • Simplicity
  • Form follows function
  • Truth to materials


  • Post WW2
  • Appropriating historical motifs
  • Complexity
  • Questioning culture values
  • Critical refection of consumerist society

Now in the postmodernist era, decoration and ornament became available again. The use of “old” styles are permitted. There was a reproduction of high culture paintings – they are still desirable – everyone wants a piece of it, even those who couldn’t normally afford it. The gap between cultures is gradually reducing. The great divide is not so distinct. For the first time; we can see untrained artists who are making their way in the art world (and being accepted) – like street art and graffiti. Postmodernists artists are questioning our consumerist society, and ways of life e.g Sex Pistols/ Barbara Kruger / Cindy Sherman. The approach is the look is more important than the function.

Through the postmodernists movement we have seen a breakdown in the distinction of culture and society. There has been an emergence of social order – the importance of power and the importance of the mass media (popular culture). Mass media and pop culture shape all forms of society. Activist artists (Banksy) “sell-out” and become part of the establishment – it’s easier.

The blog task that followed this lecture was based on a reading By John. A Walker (1990) Art in the Age of Mass Media. In the text, Walker lays out the key characteristics of postmodernism;

  • Postmodernism has a plurality of styles – old, new, hybrid. no one style is dominant
  • Allowed to look back at history and its traditions
  • Ornaments and decorations are now allowed.
  • There is complexity –  a mixture of high and low cultures. Different levels of knowledge and sophistication.
  • The Architecture – for communicating messages, not just for housing
Nicolas Ghesquiere for Balenciaga A/W 2004

I used this dress for the “How textiles speak” blog post and feel that it works really well for both that post as well as a perfect example of postmodernism inspired clothing. This dress is loud and bold in its message. It demands attention and wants to be noticed by all. The postmodernism inspirations are clear; the exposed zips and big buckles – postmodernists wanted the seams and the making of an item to be shown. They didn’t want to “hide” anything. The graffiti fabric (graffiti is considered low culture and this is being combined with designer fashion – high culture) works well with the bold colours of red and black which have strong, powerful and aggressive connotations. This is also an effective mix with the stripes; combining contrasting patterns. This dress shows a clear freedom of expression – exactly what the postmodernists were trying to do.

Malcom McLaren and Vivienne Westwood  –  1976

In this outfit, particularly the scarf, we can see a combination of high culture and pop culture – a mix of designer fashion and street style. It is crossing the great divide line; when haute couture fashion takes inspiration from the street by using leather, denim and safety pins. The large, exaggerated safety pins on the knees are a sign of the rebellion of this outfit and ultimately the rebellion of the wearer. This was part of the punk movement. The punk movement was anti-establishment, androgynous and rebellious against society and against modernism. They wanted to be free, dress the way they want to and not feel restricted but the strict set of rules and principles used in the modernist era. They tried to challenge the conceptions of the fashionable body through asymmetrical designs. This cause outrage within the fashion industry.

Dispo – Paper Dress – 1967

These dresses were made of a bonded cellulose fibre. They didn’t care about practicality – only the look of the dress. This is a  reflection on a consumerist society. They waned to use recycled materials. Things that could be used over and over. This was a much easier, more cost effective way to manufacture clothing (compared to cotton). In the postmodernist era (which is evident in this garment) they were full of fresh ideas, and wanted to challenge the success of Paris fashion. For the first time it was the people leading the fashion, rather than the select few designers in Paris leading the people. They experimented with new fashions and materials – paper and plastic. They also had “ready-to-wear” fashion, which also catered to a younger market. They loved the psychedelic colours and patterns – very different to the modernists, more simplistic, approach.

Courreges – Black Vinyl Dress – Liberty

I spotted this dress quite recently whilst browsing in Liberty. This demonstrates the postmodernist effect on current clothing. The plasticky material and exposed area in the centre of the dress are obvious signs that the wearer of the dress has no regard for traditional / classic fashion. However, a dress like this, being sold in Liberty of London goes to show how these traditional fashion houses have had to move on with the times. These “rebellious” items of clothing are now being sold everywhere. Whilst people are still guided by the fashion trends that come out of fashion weeks / Paris designers, we have much more of a say in what sells. If they don’t make clothes that the mass market will enjoy they wont make money. The high end trends are also becoming much more accessible to the everyday person though social media (fashion bloggers producing content faster that Vogue; who were once the only communication ordinary people had to haute couture fashion).

There are both positives and negatives of postmodernism;

  • (+) There is freedom to do whatever you want – mix and merge style
  • (+) Postmodernism is now able to recognise and accurately represent the complexity of today’s culture and society
  • (+) Integration of new and old. History should be considered
  • (+) Overcomes elitism of avant-garde art. Modernist approach
  • (+) People leading the fashion rather than Paris / designers
  • (-) Functionality
  • (-) Not fit for purpose
  • (-) Hard to dismantle the snobbery of art world that still remains
  • (-) No one style. This period in time is not distance, very vague. Some like this. Art able to branch off e.g. street art

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