Modernism can generally be described as an exploration of identity. Modernist thinkers questioned humans' place in the universe and explored new societal roles. Modernist art and thought sprang forth as a rebellion against, or at least a reaction to, rigid cultural mores. In painting, literature, design and philosophy, the movement's proponents explored intellectual and ethical gray areas abhorred by its more traditional predecessors. Modernism's influence on Western culture and aesthetics can still be felt today.
Victorian architecture and design are epitomized by filling every space with detail. Their modernist counterparts are completely opposite, characterized by clean lines and stark color. Swiss architect Le Corbusier designed boxy, grid-like creations that still dot contemporary urban landscapes around the world. German architects Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe devised equally minimalist structures as part of the experimental Bauhaus school of thought that emerged during the glory days of the liberal Weimar republic.
The zeitgeist in the Weimar Republic during the post World War I years was progressive and joyous. Like modernist artists rejecting Victorian thought, German modernists celebrated the end of an oppressive monarchy with experiments in aesthetics and philosophy. Some designs reflected the flowing lines found in nature, while others mirrored the angular shapes of industrial-era machinery. Commercial buildings embraced the late 19th- and early 20th-century era of commerce and industry. Made of concrete, steel and other modern materials, they often boasted hundreds of windows reminiscent of items on an assembly line.
Architecture wasn't the only way in which modernist thought was expressed. Freud, Nietszche and Marx influenced society with their philosophical and intellectual reactions to a changing world. Changes in thought reflected the move away from humans fitting into divinely predefined roles in the universe. The notion of rejecting tradition and universal truths was now acceptable. Not only was life shifting into a faster pace, but people who normally fell between the cracks -- bohemians, homosexuals and free thinkers, to name a few -- were increasingly accepted.
Tolerance fit nicely into the spirit of a newly international society in which people could fly to distant lands by airplane, drive a car across the country or talk with a friend on the other side of town by phone. The newly mobile nature of living was expressed in the less realistic, more abstract art and writing by the likes of Ezra Pound, Hans Hoffman, Virginia Woolf and Pablo Picasso. These famous creators helped pave the way for life as we know it today.