Post-Modernism developed from critiques of architectural modernism in the 1970s. By the 1980s, visual art which criticized society was also being referred to as “post-modern”. Post-Modernism is effectively a late Modernism many of whose critiques can be traced back to Modernism itself.
Architects took the lead in the development of Post-Modernism. They criticized the International Style of Modernist architecture for being too formal, austere, and functional. Post-Modern architects felt that International style had become a repressive orthodoxy. It had been adopted by the corporate world and exploited at the expense of its social vision.
Post-Modernist architecture uses more eclectic materials and styles with greater playfulness. Parody of earlier styles is a dominant Post-Modern trait. Another is the refusal to develop comprehensive theories about architecture and social progress.
The ethical touchstone of Post-Modernism is relativism—the belief that no society or culture is more important than any other. Although few Post-Modern artists are pure relativists, they often use their art to explore and undermine the way society constructs and imposes a traditional hierarchy of cultural values and meanings. Post-Modernism also explores power and the way economic and social forces exert that power by shaping the identities of individuals and entire cultures.
Unlike Modernists, Post-Modernists place little or no faith in the unconscious as a source of creative and personal authenticity. They value art not for its universality and timelessness but for being imperfect, low-brow, accessible, disposable, local and temporary.
While it questions the nature and extent of our freedom and challenges our acquiescence to authority, Post-Modernism has been criticized for its pessimism: it often critiques but equally often fails to provide a positive vision or redefinition of what it attacks.