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Avant-gardes

By medium: avant-garde music - avant-garde film

Key avant-garde artwork: Fountain (1917) - Marcel Duchamp

A Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes (1993) - Richard Kostelanetz [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

A Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes (1993) by Richard Kostelanetz is a list of biographies and movements connected with the avant-gardes. It features highly personal prose and a cross-media treatment (film, criticism, music, visual arts), Kostelanetz dislikes the notion that the avant-garde is dead, likes modernism, dislikes postmodernism. Recommended. [Mar 2006]

Avant-garde art movements: abstract art - Abstract Expressionism - bohemianism - bouzingo - conceptual art - dada - Fluxus - Futurism - modern art - Modernism - Salon des RefusÚs (1860s) - Situationist International - surrealism

Era: 1850s - 1860s - 1870s - 1880s - 1890s - 1900s - 1910s - 1920s - 1930s - 1940s - 1950s

Related: art - experimental - innovation - new - originality - precursor - proto- - transgression

Key texts: death of the avant-garde (various) - Avant-garde and Kitsch (1939)

Connoisseurs: Peter Burger - Clement Greenberg - Richard Kostelanetz - Rosalind Krauss

Contrast: philistinism - kitsch

Definition

Avant-garde is a French phrase used to refer to people or actions that are novel or experimental, particularly with respect to the arts and culture. Avant-garde in French means front guard, advance guard, or vanguard.

Avant-garde pushes the boundaries of what is accepted as the norm within definitions of art/culture/reality. An avant-garde mentality believes things arise only from the leading edge of reality.

The term avant-garde in an art context was first attested in France in 1825 and the first avant-garde art movement was Realism led by the painter Courbet. From the 1850s until the late 1950s the term avant-garde carried revolutionary connotations, in the sense that its goal was societal change. It was a politically resistant art.(Robert Hughes, 1980).

Since the 1960s the term avant-garde has gradually been replaced by experimental. [Apr 2006]

See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avant_garde

French origins

On the origins of the avant-garde:

In France in 1825, Henri de Saint-Simon (1760-1825) is credited with the first use of “avant-garde” in his book, Literary, Philosophical and Industrial Opinions. Saint-Simon believed that artists, scientists and industrialists could lead humanity out of the alienation and oppression everywhere surrounding us. To make this point, he composed an imaginary conversation between representatives of these three traditions, and has the artist make a proposal:

Let us unite. To achieve our one single goal, a separate task will fall to each of us. We, the artists, will serve as the avant-garde: for amongst all the arms at our disposal, the power of the Arts is the swiftest and most expeditious. When we wish to spread new ideas amongst men, we use in turn the lyre, ode or song, story or novel; we inscribe those ideas on marble or canvas…We aim for the heart and imagination, and hence our effect is the most vivid and the most decisive.

This notion of an avant-garde emerged in France from the intersection of the milieu of revolutionary politics and cultural opposition to art’s domination by the Academy. As I will discuss below, in Europe from the 1820s until the 1930s, avant-garde art was opposed to the contemporary meaning normally applied to the term: “art for art’s sake.”

Gustave Courbet (1819-77) and Realists in the 1840s like Honore Daumier (1808-79) and Jean Francois Millet (1814-75) were some of the earliest advocates of the idea that art could play an emancipatory role in society. Courbet’s monumental canvas The Stonebreakers, painted in 1849—one year after the failure of continental wide revolutionary movements—had long served as a standard for political avant-gardism. (Parenthetically, I must note that this painting was destroyed on February 14, 1945 when the British Royal Air Force used incendiary bombs to destroy the German city of Dresden, killing tens of thousands of its people.) In literature, the great Romantic Shelley wrote that the poet is the “unacknowledged legislator of the world” and Arthur Rimbaud (1854-91) sought to create verse that not only contained explicit references to social concerns but also embodied the contestation of power in its structure through a “disordering of the senses.”

via http://www.journalofaestheticsandprotest.org/3/Katsiaficas.htm [Apr 2006]

See also: 1850s - Gustave Courbet - anarchism - realism

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