European ideas and culture expressed a tension between objectivity and scientific realism on one hand, and subjectivity and individual expression on the other.
The romantic movement of the early 19th century set the stage for later cultural perspectives by encouraging individuals to cultivate their uniqueness and to trust intuition and emotion as much as reason. Partly in reaction to the Enlightenment, romanticism affirmed the value of sensitivity, imagination, and creativity and thereby provided a climate for artistic experimentation. Later artistic movements such as Impressionism, Expressionism, and Cubism, which rested on subjective interpretations of reality by the individual artist or writer, arose from the attitudes fostered by romanticism. The sensitivity of artists to non-European traditions that imperialism brought to their attention also can be traced to the romantics’ emphasis on the primacy of culture in defining the character of individuals and groups.
In science, Darwin’s evolutionary theory raised questions about human nature, and physicists began to challenge the uniformity and regularity of the Newtonian universe. In 1905, Einstein’s theory of relativity underscored the position of the observer in defining reality, while the quantum principles of randomness and probability called the objectivity of Newtonian mechanics into question. The emergence of psychology as an independent discipline, separate from philosophy on the one hand and neurology on the other, led to investigations of human behavior that gradually revealed the need for more subtle methods of analysis than those provided by the physical and biological sciences. Freud’s investigations into the human psyche suggested the power of irrational motivations and unconscious drives.
Many writers saw humans as governed by spontaneous, irrational forces and believed that intuition and will were as important as reason and science in the search for truth. In art, literature, and science, traditional notions of objective, universal truths and values increasingly shared the stage with a commitment to and recognition of subjectivity, skepticism, and cultural relativism.
3.6.1: Romanticism broke with Neoclassical forms of artistic representation and with rationalism, placing more emphasis on intuition and emotion.
3.6.1.A: Romantic artists and composers broke from classical artistic forms to emphasize emotion, nature, individuality, intuition, the supernatural, and national histories in their works.
3.6.1.B: Romantic writers expressed similar themes while responding to the Industrial Revolution and to various political revolutions.
3.6.2: Following the revolutions of 1848, Europe turned toward a realist and materialist worldview.
3.6.2.A: Positivism, or the philosophy that science alone provides knowledge, emphasized the rational and scientific analysis of nature and human affairs.
3.6.2.B: Charles Darwin provided a scientific and material account of biological change and the development of human beings as a species, and inadvertently, a justification for racialist theories that became known as Social Darwinism.
3.6.2.C: Marx’s scientific socialism provided a systematic critique of capitalism and a deterministic analysis of society and historical evolution.
3.6.2.D: Realist and materialist themes and attitudes influenced art and literature as painters and writers depicted the lives of ordinary people and drew attention to social problems.
3.6.3: In the later 19th century, a new relativism in values and the loss of confidence in the objectivity of knowledge led to modernism in intellectual and cultural life.
3.6.3.A: Philosophy largely moved from rational interpretations of nature and human society to an emphasis on irrationality and impulse, a view that contributed to the belief that conflict and struggle led to progress.
3.6.3.B: Freudian psychology provided a new account of human nature that emphasized the role of the irrational and the struggle between the conscious and subconscious.
3.6.3.C: Developments in the natural sciences such as quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theory of relativity undermined the primacy of Newtonian physics as an objective description of nature.
3.6.3.D: Modern art, including Impressionism, Post- Impressionism, and Cubism, moved beyond the representational to the subjective, abstract, and expressive and often provoked audiences that believed that art should reflect shared and idealized values such as beauty and patriotism.