Modernity, a topic in the humanities and social sciences, is both a historical period (the modern era), as well as the ensemble of particular socio-cultural norms, attitudes and practices that arose in the wake of Renaissance, in the "Age of Reason" of 17th-century thought and the 18th-century "Enlightenment".
While it includes a wide range of interrelated historical processes and cultural phenomena (from fashion to modern warfare), it can also refer to the subjective or existential experience of the conditions they produce, and their ongoing impact on human culture, institutions, and politics (Berman 2010, 15–36).
Depending on the field, "modernity" may refer to different time periods or qualities. In historiography, the 17th to 18th century are usually described as early modern, while the long 19th century corresponds to "modern history" proper.
As an analytical concept and normative ideal, modernity is closely linked to the ethos of philosophical and aesthetic modernism; political and intellectual currents that intersect with the Enlightenment; and subsequent developments such as existentialism, modern art, the formal establishment of social science, and contemporaneous antithetical developments such as Marxism. It also encompasses the social relations associated with the rise of capitalism, and shifts in attitudes associated with secularisation and post-industrial life (Berman 2010, 15–36).
In the view of Michel Foucault (1975) (classified as a proponent of postmodernism though he himself rejected the "postmodernism" label, considering his work as a "a critical history of modernity"—see, e.g., Call 2002, 65), "modernity" as a historical category is marked by developments such as a questioning or rejection of tradition; the prioritization of individualism, freedom and formal equality; faith in inevitable social, scientific and technological progress, rationalization and professionalization, a movement from feudalism (or agrarianism) toward capitalism and the market economy, industrialization, urbanization and secularization, the development of the nation-state, representative democracy, public education (etc) (Foucault 1977, 170–77).
In the context of art history, "modernity" (modernité) has a more limited sense, "modern art" covering the period of c. 1860–1970. Use of the term in this sense is attributed to Charles Baudelaire, who in his 1864 essay "The Painter of Modern Life", designated the "fleeting, ephemeral experience of life in an urban metropolis", and the responsibility art has to capture that experience. In this sense, the term refers to "a particular relationship to time, one characterized by intense historical discontinuity or rupture, openness to the novelty of the future, and a heightened sensitivity to what is unique about the present." (Kompridis 2006, 32–59).