Modernism sought to break away from the narrative and representational styles of the nineteenth century to more accurately represent the fragmentation and subjectivity of how humans perceive and interact with the world. Modernism is concerned with interiority: how the world appears through the eyes of an individual consciousness rather than through the eyes of an omniscient narrator or painter who would "normalize" vision for us. In fact, most modernists rejected the idea of omniscience or the artist as all seeing and all knowing. Modernists also aggressively experimented with language and form.
Virginia Woolf: Mrs. Dalloway: Rather than orient the reader with an omniscient narrator who will "tell" us what is going on, Woolf transmits her narrative through the consciousnesses of a variety of characters as they go through a single day in London. She leaves it to the reader to assemble a "truth" from these various subjective strands of seeing. She also uses her story to critique the horror of World War I, a common theme in post-World War I literature and painting. The novel is daringly experimental and makes demands on the reader, another hallmark of modernist art
Pablo Picasso: "Ma Jolie:" While the impressionists loved Japanese and Asian art, modernists like Picasso turned to African art for inspiration. Rather than create an immediately recognizable woman in "Ma Jolie," Picasso uses cubism, or a series of shapes, to suggest the form underlying the representation of a human body. Since the painting depicts both Picasso's lover, Marcelle Humbert, and a music hall called "Ma Jolie," Picasso fuses a non-representational human with a form meant to suggest a guitar. This is art meant to shock, assail, and engage a viewer, a goal of modernists who hoped to make art new again.
James Joyce: "Araby:" Joyce, like Woolf, uses subjective narration, telling the story through the consciousness of a boy rather than a narrator who can "correct" the interpretation when the boy gets things "wrong." It also pioneers a new way of ending a story that is associated with modernism: the epiphany or sudden flash of interior revelation.
Gertrude Stein: Three Lives: In this series of three long short stories, all told by women characters, Stein uses subjective consciousnesses and sub-altern (the viewpoint of the marginalized) perspectives to convey experience. She also experiments with language, especially relying on repetition to lend cadence, texture, and voice to her narrative. These are stories that startle us and make us think
T.S. Eliot: "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:" Alienation is a hallmark of modernism, and Prufrock is the quintessential alienated, paralyzed, self-conscious modern man, aware of his inability to create the magical art of his forebears but unable to do anything about it.