The Medium Itself: Modernism in Art and Philosophy’s Linguistic Self-Analysis

  • Garry L. HagbergEmail author


Multiple definitions of Modernism have been put forward, often focusing on the character or features of the works of art and literature produced within this cultural movement. Here I want to focus, instead, on the sensibility of Modernism as this has manifested itself to be especially concerned not with the content of representation, but with the materials out of which a representation is made. Through an analysis of eighteenth-century English portraiture, nineteenth-century French political painting, and up to twentieth-century Modernist painting, I will show how one ceases to see the representational content through the materials and technique, and how we begin to see it depicted in them. I will furthermore examine some cases showing the progression into Modernism in those arts, and then consider the parallel movement in philosophy. Each, as we will see, casts important light on the other, and in the end, something essential to the Modernist achievement will emerge in high relief: just as paint and visible, attention-capturing brushstroke is constitutive of the content of modernist painting, and just as steel and glass and the purity of visible, exposed design is constitutive of architecture, so language is constitutive of us and a distinctively modern form of self-understanding. In this context we will see more of the significance of Wittgenstein’s claim that language itself is the vehicle of thought.


Artistic medium Wittgenstein Modernism Modern painting 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bard CollegeAnnandale-on-HudsonUSA

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