We often use the term modernity to describe that which is “modern,” typically in reference to technology or ideological attitudes. However, modernity is the historical, artistic, and sociocultural period that began at the end of the 19th century and which marked the emergence of mass media.
In his essay “The Painter of Modern Life,” Charles Baudelaire coins the term modernity, defining it as “the transient, the fleeting, the contingent; it is one half art, the other being the —eternal and the immovable.” Baudelaire locates modernity in a type of genius artist who rebels against antiquity and the constant return to the past by upholding originality, newness, and curiosity.
Robert Scholes and Clifford Wulfman flesh out this definition in their work “Modernity and the Rise of Modernism” by clarifying that modernity is “a social condition” and “mass phenomenon” that came out of a technological, urban, and commercial advance during an unprecedented moment of human speed and growth. Modernity is here conceived with an emphasis on a new form of art and commerce found primarily in advertising and print media.
In unifying these two definitions, we can understand modernity as the monumental shift in human innovation and socioeconomics where new forms of technology and literary and artistic reception began to move us towards a new modern world.
Baudelaire, Charles. “The Painter of Modern Life.” 1863. Excerpt.
“Modernity.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 20 May 2016, https://www.britannica.com/topic/modernity.
Scholes, Robert, and Clifford Wulfman. “Modernity and the Rise of Modernism.” Modernism in the Magazines, New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 2010, pp. 26-43.