Postmodernism | Reality As A Conceptual Construct

Postmodernism | Reality As Conceptual Construct image

“There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.”

Harold Pinter

Postmodernism is a philosophy and movement that influenced many areas of thought and practice including: literature, music and art and design. In design the postmodernists sort to reduce things to their essential elements and retain only that which was entirely necessary to the object’s form and function. However, before attention is turned specifically to Postmodernism and design it is of benefit to take a general look at the postmodernist philosophy and postmodernism and art.

The Philosophy Behind Postmodernism

Postmodernism as a philosophical movement was, generally speaking, a reaction against the values and philosophical ideas of the modern period of (Western) history; from the time of the scientific revolution (16th and 17th centuries) to the mid-20th century.

Some key values are as follows:

  • Modernism held that there is an objective natural reality. According to postmodernists reality is a conceptual construct.
  • Generally speaking, the modernists believed in positive progress; they held that through science and technology human beings can change themselves and societies for the better. Postmodernists refute the idea, born of the Enlightenment, that science and technology as catalysts for human progress.
  • Modernism held that reason and logic can be universally applied to any domain of knowledge. The postmodernists believed that reason and logic were simply conceptual constructs and thus only applicable to the intellectual traditions in which they are employed.
  • While modernism proposed that scientific and historical statements and ideas can be true of false, postmodernist rejected an objective natural reality and thus claimed that there is no objective Truth.
  • Modernism postulated that human nature exists and that, in some sense, it is present in human beings from birth. Postmodernists stated that most facets of human psychology are socially determined.

Postmodernism And Art

Up until the birth of postmodernism it was widely accepted that each work of art had one inherent meaning that was determined by the artist at the time of creation. Postmodernism rejected this idea, and imbued the viewer with the power to contribute to the meaning of a given work of art. The viewer now became an important participant in the work; some postmodernist works even require the viewer’s input.

The postmodernists also sort to incorporate elements of popular culture within their work and by doing so casted-off the distinction between high and low art. They sort to validate all aspects of visual culture from street advertisements to the art of the galleries and claimed that everyone possesses aesthetic sensibility. Thus, they sort to strip art of the modernist idea of the artistic avant-garde.

A readymade object is an ordinary object that an artist selects and sometimes modifies. The act of choosing the object and, if one desires, changing it in some minor way, elates the object to the status of art. The most famous example of a readymade object is Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain. The readymades had an influence on postmodernism. The postmodernists adopted an idea that was intrinsic to the idea of the readymade namely; the questioning of the authenticity and uniqueness of an object. They held that nearly anything, if nominated as such, might be thought of as art.

Modernist image
Modernist As A World View

Postmodernism And Design

In architecture and design, Postmodernity is characterized by the return of ornament and symbol to form and function. Postmodernist design is entrenched in minimalism. Some features of postmodernist design are:

  • Minimal decoration
  • Highly functional
  • Simple shapes
  • Clean straight lines
  • The juxtaposition of design elements

Postmodernist Designers

The chair designs of three prominent postmodernist designers will now be discussed.

Eero Aarnio

Aarnio was born in Helsinki, Finland in 1932. He is a furniture designer who is renowned for his plastic and fiberglass chairs. Aarnio used natural materials to create many of his early designs such as his basket chair Jattujakkare. The Ball Chair (1962) is his most well-known design. It is a hollow sphere made of plastic. There is an opening on one side that makes room for the inclusion of a padded seat.

Marcel Lajos Breuer

Breuer was born in Pecs, Hungary in 1902. Breuer was an architect and furniture designer whose designs were of the ‘International Style’. In 1925 Breuer created his most famous piece the Wassily Chair No B3. His inspiration for this work is said to have been taken from the shape and form of bicycle handlebars. The frame of the chair was made from bent, polished, nickeled tubular steel, (later the frame became chrome plated). The seat came in fabric, canvas, leather.

Karim Rashid

Rashid was born in Egypt in 1960. Rashid has a holistic approach to design and holds that the sum of the parts can be more captivating then the parts as they stand by themselves. He employs modern materials such as foams, plastics and synthetic fabrics to realize his designs. Rashid designed a wastebasket for Umbra and this provided him with the inspiration he needed to create “Oh Chair”; a work that has gained international appeal.    


Postmodernism can be seen as a philosophy that reacted against the values and philosophical ideas of the modern period. In art it imbued the viewer with the power to contribute; incorporated elements of popular culture; and sort to question the authenticity and uniqueness of an object. Postmodernist design may be described as the desire to find the most intelligent and simple way to represent the form and function of an object.


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