Virginia Woolf once remarked that human nature underwent a fundamental shift "on or about December 1910". The statement testifies to the modernist's fervent desire to break with the past and reject outmoded traditions in favour of new styles more appropriate to an era of technological breakthrough. Indeed, “on or about 1910" cars and planes were beginning to accelerate the pace of life. Einstein's ideas were transforming people’s perception of the universe. There was an explosion of creative energy that shook every field of artistic endeavour. During this era major artists were fundamentally questioning and reinventing their art forms: Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso in painting; James Joyce, Gertrude Stein and Woolf herself in literature; Isadora Duncan in dance; Frank Lloyd Wright in architecture. An exciting time of discovery and innovation.
The excitement of this early modernist period came to a horrifying climax in 1914 with the beginning of the World War I, which wiped out a generation of young men in Europe and sowed the seeds for even more terrifying conflagrations in the decades to follow. By the war's end in 1918, European domination of the world had ended and the "American Century" had begun. In Europe, it was a time of profound disillusionment with the values on which a civilization had been founded. But it was also a time when the avant-garde experiments that had preceded the war would, like the technological wonders of the atom, inexorably established what has come to be called modernism. Among the many influential practitioners of modernist art was the American poet Ezra Pound. Adopting as his battle cry “Make it new!”, Pound used revolutionary compositional techniques such as collage, and turned to classical Chinese poetry for a source of inspiration.