Complaint

The Current State of the Avant Garde

Where is the new thrust, the leading edge, of art? Where have the great Movements, that so defined the last 200 years, gone? I try to keep up with the Avant Garde, within reason, and I’ve yet to see anything resembling a wholesale movement develop within these early days of our new Century. By comparison, at the turn of the 20th, up to their 14th year, there had already been a transition from Impressionism to Expressionism, in both the plastic and musical arts. In the literary world, Joyce and D.H. Lawrence were using the springboard provided by Ibsen to explore the inner workings of the mind and the outer circumstances that shaped it. High Modernism was in the wings. Cubism was in full swing, the Vorticists were just kicking off, and, within a few years, Dada would explode in Switzerland. Busy days, to be sure. What have we got now?

There has been a push towards to the democritisation of art since, arguably, the mid-19th century. In some regards, this has been successful. In most, however, it has been an abject failure. Inarguably, we have more people creating art-like things now, by the sheer metric tonnage (however, median quality is up for debate). Rather than raising the “common person” to proper appreciation of art, of an educational level that would allow it, it seems that we’ve, more or less, lowered the bar to the lowest common denominator. Does this have something to do with our culture at-large? Is there something about late-stage Capitalism, about Neo-Liberalism, with its atomic mindset and charade of community, that prevents the growth of a thorough-going creativity? Can art be made when everything has a price and nothing has value? On the face it, it seems to be answered in the negative. Invariably, there is more at play here, the situation is more complex. However, I’d argue that, in large part, this society we live in has no group of people with enough economic clout, and the desire, to support a flourishing arts community, as we saw in the past. As the liberal bourgeoisie of the Austrian empire lost their political power, they, at least, turned inwards and created a culture in celebration of the aesthetic. Granted, this was a step down for many of the Secessionist artists that came to define this period, like Klimt. The work that defined was still of a high-quality, even if it did pander to middle-class sensibilities. Where is the modern version of this? Most moneyed people, who are no-where nears as monolithic as definitions of class would make them out to be, seem to fall into one of several camps. The first, which is likely the majority, are uninterested in art altogether. The second purchase famous works for the prestige and the investment value, not the appreciation itself. The last, who do enjoy aesthetics, go in for kitsch. Which is bad. By the way.

So, we are left with a group of people who, more and more, possess the wealth of our society, and who don’t invest it in art. Don’t get me wrong, a Gilded Age is not necessarily a bad thing for Art – you just have to do the actual gilding. The appetite for grande public works, architectural and decorative both, seems to absent or diminished amongst our breed of Capitalists. It’s not necessarily their fault, either. The movements referenced above continued to push further and further away from their predecessors, infamously so in many cases. That the “average man” should be left behind was inevitable. Then came Pop Art. I don’t disagree or take umbrage with the work of, say, Lichtenstein or the Independent Group, because there is some thought put into it – playful, ironic – but still some effort. That clown, though, that Arch-Poseur, Warhol, he did serious damage. Certainly, Duchamp got the ball rolling, but it was Warhol who really fucked things up. Faced with the uncommunicative stony face of abstract art and the glossy nihilism of Warhol, of course the confused middle-class person would throw up their hands in defeat.

I’d love to be proven wrong, by the way. I’d love it if you showed me something new, something vital, that I’d missed. Seems like we haven’t got it, though. What sort of growth is there between Serrano’s Piss Christ and Pavlensky’s recent protest in Red Square? Our contemporary art is empty.

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Posted on May 30, 2014, in Maunderings and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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