Pages from my paper log – clips and others.

Stefan513593 - Part 2 - Avant-Garde - 1

Stefan513593 – Part 2 – Avant-Garde – 1

Stefan513593 - Part 2 - Avant-Garde - 2

Stefan513593 – Part 2 – Avant-Garde – 2



What are key aspects of Avant-Garde?

For answering this question I looked up what Greenberg said in his essay ‘Avant-Garde and Kitsch (Greenberger, 1988, p.5-22) as well reading the short introduction on Modern Art by Cottington (Cottington, 2005), that I found a fantastic overview on Modern Art.

  • Avant-Garde art and modern art can be seen as interchangeable. Its origin dates back to the mid 19th century with the concentration of culture in Paris and the search for alternative channels besides protocols and hierachy. It established itself as a counter-culture outside of mainstream.
  • Avant-garde is often associated with being cultural independent, politically and aethetically radical , socially rebellious and with self-conscious practice. Avant-Garde was challenging traditional practices by escaping conventions, commodification and complacencies of the establishment and thus by detaching themselves from society alongside a sense of alienation.
  • According Greenberg the avant-garde had ‘to find a path along which it would be possible to keep culture moving in the midst of ideological confusion and violence’ (p.8)
  • The notion of the avant-garde was to make  “Art for art’s sake”, exploring “pure poetry” and to ‘search for the absolute’ (p.8).
  • The subject matter as an external object became something to avoid. The mere creation of something new by ‘imitating the disciplines and processes of art and literature themselves’ was in focus and thus became the new subject matter in itself. And as Greenberg further argued ‘Avant-garde culture is the imitation of imitating’ (p.10)
  • Cottington identified three paradox (p.6-10) that avant-garde was facing:
    – 1.Its questioning ot materials, skills and conventions, at times with iconoclastic gestures, and challening reason (e.g. Surrealism) upset and provoked the public
    – 2. The esoteric nature of ideas with the notion of elitism, exclusivity by issuing hard to understand Manifestos and provocative exhibitions.
    – 3. The self-image of the avant-garde as cultural hero with a bohemian lifestyle, and the notion of masculine culture and gender bias. Alongside the emerging entertainment and leisure industry and the movement of the cultural center for modern art from Paris to  New York, some avant-garde artists became the status of celebrities e.g. Pablo Picasso or Tracey Emin.
  • Avant-garde art became from the beginning dependent on dealers to collect, to buy and to sell. And the audience was the minority group of the rich and – as Greenberg noted – the ‘cultivated’.
  • ‘Avant-garde belongs to the ruling class. Mass have been indifferent to culture in is process of development’
  • Over time the avant-garde became ‘unsure of the audience it depends’ and it was challenged by Kitsch which simultaneously appeared with avant-garde as a new cultural phenomenon in Western culture.
  • Cottington argued that two driving forces behind avant-garde: ‘Competitive innovation and Internationalism’. Aspects similar to the dynamic of modern consumption, advertisement and entertainment.


  • Cottington, D. (2005) Modern art: A Very Short Introduction, Very short introductions. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Greenberg, C. (1988) Perceptions and Judgements,1939-1944 The Collected Essays and Criticism,(4 vols). Vol. 1. Edited by O’Brian, J. Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press.

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