22 January 2016

Modernist or Modern?

Modernist home in Sweden, architect John Robert Nilsson
Sleepless nights about the difference between Modern and Modernist? You are in good company!

Many years ago when I was read to start my own blog “The Modernist Angle”, my wife and I – we work together – discussed the two terms at length. It seems like a real First World problem, but it’s like in cooking: if you’re sloppy in the details, it comes back to bite you later.

And even though sometimes people frown upon me throwing around words I don’t understand and can hardly pronounce in my native language, certainly not in English, there is a reason we chose “Modernist” over “Modern”.

Of several discussions on the web, one at the Visual Resources Association forum, these were the most enlightening statements that helped us understand:

Takeaway lesson: There's an important difference between "modern" and "modernist." Modern means nothing more than “current” or “recent." Modernist means "buying into the ideology of modernism"... an aesthetic movement that emerged in Europe during the interwar period. – Ray Sawhill, writer and creator of the “2blowhards” blog

My interpretation is that the "-ist" terms in the AAT correspond to "-isms" and have to be used rather precisely. More generic terms like "Modern" can be used to suggest not only broad styles, but eras and/or periods as well for many cultures. In CCO parlance, we use “modern” as a CLASS term and a PERIOD term, but not as a STYLE term. – Eileen Fry, Indiana University

and finally:

Modernist is ultimately a more valuable and specific term for us than the more generic Modern. Modernist is our stylistic term of choice, whereas Modern seems more like a state of mind. – Dane A. Johnson, Visual Resource Coordinator, College of Architecture and Design, Lawrence Technological University, Southfield, MI

With our mission being “Brokering, Promoting and Preserving ..... Homes and Architecture”, an important step was to check the use of the two terms on the web – where “Modern” was the clear favourite, especially from a business perspective.

Thus, we ended up using “Modern” in the larger context, but in the blog as well as in a verbal context where we can discuss, explain and elaborate, we prefer “Modernist” as the more precise term.

Good teaser question to ask your favourite architect, isn’t it?

And what is your preference?

Photo: Villa Abborrkroken, Överby, Värmdö/Sweden; architect: John Robert Nilsson, Stockholm, 2007-2009. More info.