Essay on Postmodernism

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Since the mid-late twentieth century, Postmodernism is more commonly referred to as the most controversial of all the art and design movements of that era, exhausting all concepts of innovation, individualism, and style. The definition according to the Oxford Dictionaries for Postmodernism is a late-twentieth-century style and concept in the arts, architecture, and criticism, which represents a departure from modernism and is characterized by the self-conscious use of earlier styles and conventions, a mixing of different artistic styles and media and general distrust of theories [Oxford English Dictionary, 2011]. Postmodernism became the unstable combination of theoretical and theatrical, bringing with it a sense of freedom and self-awareness to art and design often through humourism and irrational stereotypes. (Longo. R, 2011)

Modernism and Postmodernism are now two of the most dominant and diverse terms applied to twentieth-century culture. According to Nigel Wheale (1995), Modernity is defined as the social condition brought about by the development of the Western world`s characteristic economic formation. He also believes that weak postmodernism welcomes the failure of analytical rationality and moral argument and accepts this groundlessness as a reason to act out of a pure relativism implied by postmodern thinking, whereas strong postmodernism calls for even greater analysis and reflection on the nature of modernity`s failure through self-critical practices, whether in philosophy, the arts, or politics. Postmodernism has become a response to modernism over time, however, it takes on a much less-serious approach. Modernism is associated with experimentation, innovation, and individualism whereas postmodernism contradicts these views and a postmodern artist would argue that there is no point in experimenting because it`s all been done before. The future is all about working collaboratively.

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Double coding is a dominant trait of classical postmodernist design. Both Jencks and Hutcheon refer to postmodernism as doubleness or duplicity within their writings. Double coding meant that postmodernist designs conveyed two different meanings, understandings, or beliefs. In the example of the Sony building in New York, it is both a tall skyscraper representing modern art and illustrating juxtaposition to modern technology as well as the contradictory elements at the top of the architectural design, which exemplify classical relics. The irony is another common trait within postmodernism, probably best displayed in Charles Moore`s Piazza d`Italia (1978). Moore uses aspects of both the Italian renaissance and Roman antiquity. He uses the two ironically by covering the pillars.

Exaggeration, Vivid color, and theatricality soon became the style statement of the 1980s. What had begun, as a radical fringe movement became the new style and appearance that people craved? The greatest phase of this next stage in the postmodern era became Posters and magazines. Postmodern graphics involved the use of bricolage, fragmentation, and quotation. Bricolage was a cut-and-paste technique that was adopted by many important graphic designers and artists at the time (Longo. R, 2011). Postmodern bricolage can look like the modernist collages that preceded it. Anthropologist Claude Levi Strauss defined the bicolor as someone working with oddments left over from human endeavors.

Tadanori Yokoo is a Japanese Graphic Designer born in 1936. He reflects on postmodernist elements within his designs and he became a pioneer of postmodern appropriation and bricolage. He became famous for his poster designs created for Tatsumi Hijikata and the Garumella Dance Company. The two posters were created three years apart and show how he encircles back on his own tracks, the second design cannibalizes the first. He uses the same images throughout both designs, tweaking minor parts of his work, which allows us to see how he uses his past reflection and use of postmodernist aspects to inspire his more modern pieces. The sun is taken from the Japanese flag and the pair of nudes are inspired by a 16th-century French painting. These two features appear in both his designs, however more prominent in the earlier piece than the latter. His work was created in 1965 and then re-designed in 1968. He used screen print techniques to produce both his designs.

Tadanori's designs reflect many aspects of postmodern art. His pieces show a contrast with one another reflecting his 'humor' by using two nude women touching one another's nipples as the main focal piece. He creates a very controversial feel within his designs by placing the Sun taken from the Japanese flag (a very serious element) and placing two nude women in front of it. He has also clouded over their faces giving this 'hidden' identity approach to the design. The first piece created in 1965 (featured on the left below) is much more classic and follows typical conventions of a Postmodern design by using vivid bold colors and humorous or ironic imagery. In his second piece created in 1968 these aspects are much more disguised, however still typically postmodern. Because of his use of color and postmodern characteristics he is often described as the 'Japanese Andy Warhol'.

Modern-day artists such as Jackson Pollock and Marcel Duchamp are great influences in the postmodern discipline. The public became desecrated when Pollock`s work Blue Poles were bought by the Australian Government, using taxpayer money. However, now they have grown to love his controversy and style as his work has become a great success. Marcel Duchamp is one of the largest names in the postmodern industry, one of his most famous designs was a humor-based version of Leonardo Da Vinci`s Mona Lisa which is very contentious and bridges the gap between modernism and society today. (Salberg. D, 2009)

To conclude Postmodernism is a reflection and response to the movements of Modernism. It is appreciated both by designers and the public in today`s society unlike in the late nineties when Postmodernism first expanded and the public couldn`t understand why artists found it acceptable to deface famous drawings or throw paint onto a canvas and sell it for millions of pounds. However, over the years it has become increasingly popular and as our understanding of postmodernism and design has advanced, the world has grown to appreciate this fine art.


  1. Wheale, N. (1995) 'the postmodern arts', New York, Routledge.
  2. Salberg. D (2009) Anthropology Theories Postmodernism and it`s critics[Internet], Tuscaloosa, Publishing available from and It's Critics [030112]
  3. Hutcheon, L. (1991) 'The politics of Postmodernism', New York, Routledge.
  4. Harvey, D. (2000) 'The condition of postmodernity, Oxford, Blackwell Publishers Ltd.
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  10. Longo R. (2011) Postmodernism Style and Subversion 1970-1990 Victoria and Albert Museum, (020112)
  11. Keedy. D (1998) Graphic Design in the postmodern Era San Francisco, Publishing available from http:www.emigre.comEditorial.php?sect=1
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