-ism: a distinctive practice, system or philosophy, typically a political ideology or an artistic movement formed in the 19th and/or 20th centuries. e.g.
Socialism—Stresses the equality of all people, and the need to assist all in order to level the playing field. Socialism could be Christian or Romantic in its impetus, or scientific and revolutionary, as in the Marxian version.
Marxism—The doctrines of Karl Marx and his associate Friedrich Engels on economics, politics, and society. They include the notion of economic determinism—that political and social structures are determined by the economic conditions of people. Marxism calls for a classless society where means of production are commonly owned (communism), a system to be reached as the inevitable result of the struggle between the leaders of capitalism and the workers.
Darwinism—A theory first proposed in the nineteenth century by Charles Darwin, according to which the Earth’s species have changed and diversified through time under the influence of natural selection. Life on earth is thought to have evolved in three stages. First came chemical evolution, in which organic molecules were formed. This was followed by the development of single cells capable of reproducing themselves. This stage led to the development of complex organisms capable of sexual reproduction. Scientists generally accept evolution as fact today, although debates continue over the precise mechanisms involved in the process.
Pragmatism—An approach to philosophy, primarily held by American philosophers in the late 19th century, which asserts that the truth or meaning of a statement is to be measured by its practical (i.e., pragmatic) consequences. (Another way of defining pragmatism is to say, “A theory is good if it works.”) Psychologist William James and educator John Dewey were pragmatists.
Realism—Values a truthful representation of life “as it is” in literature, including that which is low, vile, sordid, disgusting, and evil. The personality of the author was supposed to recede into the background. (Primarily found in 19th-century French literature and was anti-Romantic.)
Naturalism—Similar to Realism, but with greater emphasis on analogies to science, especially to the influence of scientific materialism and determinism with a stress on heredity and environment. It is primarily secular. Aimed at accuracy and objectivity, and cultivated realistic and even sordid portrayals of people and their environment. As a literary movement, it was primarily found in 19th-century French literature and was anti-Romantic. Philosophical naturalism, which is often identified with materialism, holds that minds, spirits, and ideas are fundamentally material.
Symbolism—As a philosophical and artistic movement, this is usually called the “Symbolist Movement,” and went beyond just using one thing to suggest another. It manipulated language to evoke hidden meanings behind the appearances of the world, suggesting other levels of reality that could not be reached directly. (French Symbolists valued the works of Edgar Allan Poe especially.) They used synaesthesia, fusing all sense experience. The movement was firmly based on images that mean more than just the things pictured. This movement influenced W. B. Yeats, T. S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, and many other writers.
Impressionism—Calls for the impression of an artist’s observation, rather than the direct photographic representation of it.
Expressionism—Refuses the direct representation of reality, or even the impression of it, in favor of expressing one’s inner vision, emotion, or spiritual reality.
Futurism—In the 1940s, this represented an enthusiasm for the dynamism of the machine age and the beautiful possibilities of an ever brighter technological future. Since the 1980s, the term has been applied to anything which seeks to support a sustainable future for the planet as well as its people.
Dadaism—”Dada” is a nonsense word that reflects the disgust Dadaists felt for middle class values, such as morality, religion, patriotism, and rationalism. Dadaists set out to break all rules with attacks on the mind and emotions, in order to free the mind from conventional perspectives and thereby to reform society.
Surrealism—Echoed Dadaism in its desire to free the mind from convention and open it to new possibilities. Surrealists experiment with ways of liberating the unconscious imagination and thereby reaching a sublime state they called the “marvelous.” Examples include dream-writing, automatic writing, riddle games, collage, and startling images yoking unrelated elements, thereby suggesting buried connections and possible relationships unexamined by the conscious mind. (A Surrealist joke goes this way: Question: How many Surrealists does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: Two: One to hold the giraffe, and the other to fill the bathtub with brightly colored machine tools.)
Modernism—A term used at the beginning of the 20th century for the change in attitudes that embraced all the elements of Expressionism, Futurism, Dadaism, and Surrealism.
Nazism—A system of political philosophy developed by Adolph Hitler in Germany that demanded absolute devotion to the German government and that opposed communism, capitalism, and free intellectual inquiry, and attempted to establish a “master race” of people of “pure” descent that would rule the world. The Nazis exterminated Jews, gypsies, Slavs, communists, homosexuals, Christians who resisted the government, and defenders of intellectual freedom. However, such Fascism takes many other forms.
Existentialism—A movement primarily in 20th-century literature and philosophy, with some forerunners in earlier centuries. Existentialism stresses that people are entirely free and therefore responsible for what they make of themselves. With this responsibility comes a profound anguish or dread. Soren Kierkegaard and Feodor Dostoevsky in the 19th century, and Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Heidegger, and Albert Camus in the 20th century were existentialist writers.
Feminism—The doctrine and political movement that states women should have the same economic, social, and political rights as men. Though Feminist writers and artists have existed in all time frames, in an effort to liberate all women and allow them free choice of personal action, this movement really became a force in the 1960s.
Globalism—The idea that the world has become interdependent as a result of advances in communications and economic interchanges. At its best, globalism embraces multi-culturalism and diversity while striving for unity in approaching solutions to world problems.
In further blogs on this theme we’ll look at musical isms, including those above, but also: Nationalism, Primitivism, Neo-Classicism, Minimalism, Total Serialism and Aleatoricism.