The Avant-garde Movement

The Avant-garde Movement.



 The “Theory of the Avant-garde” by Peter Bürger proposed that the
avant-garde is “distinguished from other artistic currents by its
irreconcilable opposition to "the institution art", which I take to
mean the autonomy of the aesthetic.”1  Bürger argued that the program of the avantgarde - Futurism,
Surrealism, Dadaism, Brecht, Constructivism, and even, to some extent, Cubism -
is the "sublation of art in the praxis of life."2  The art of the avant-garde movement was a
ferocious negation of the autonomous status of bourgeois art and its separation
from everyday life.  The program of the
avant-garde was fundamentally the revolution of everyday life by aesthetic

The avant-garde work
operated on the principle of the opposite of the traditional organic totality
of the work of art, as Bürger had argued. 
Alex Callinicos, in “Against Postmodernism” had persuasively argued that
the avant-garde represented the dialectical contradiction of modernism, a
negation of the negation, by extension of Bürger\'s argument.3




Geoff Boucher, “Marxism and the artistic avant-garde” [paper on-line];
available from;
Internet; accessed 17 May 2001. 

meaning of the word ‘sublation’ is ‘to raise something, from a lower place to a
higher place’ in Michael Inwood, A Hegel
Dictionary  (Oxford: Blackwell
Publishers, 1992); available from; Internet; accessed
17 May 2001. 

“Marxism,” Internet.


Lafayette professor Olga
Anna Duhl said about the late nineteenth century France: 

period of political and moral crisis in French history, the late 19th century
is best known, however, for its innovative cultural achievements.  The recently rediscovered collaborative
works of the Parisian community of Montmatre bring new testimony to this.  Although anarchic in their overall approach
to traditional literary and art forms, thus paving the way for such avant-garde
movements as surrealism, dada, and performance art, they drew their favorite
means of expression from the verbal and visual experiments of 16th century
Renaissance authors.”4

The question of “What is the avant-garde?” has had
many answers; none is definitive. 
"Art changes only through strong convictions, convictions strong
enough to change society at the same time," said a critic and art
historian in 1855, in exile from Louis Napoleon\'s imperial France.5  Undoubtedly the painter who best
embodies the dual implications - both artistically and politically progressive
- of the original usage of the term "avant-garde" is Gustave Courbet
and his militantly radical Realism. 
"Realism," Courbet flatly declared, "is democracy in
art."  He saw his work as a
constant vanguard action against the forces of academicism in art and
conservatism in society. Courbet quite naturally expected the radical artist to
be at war with the ruling forces of society and at times quite blatantly,


Professor Olga Anna Duhl will speak on Cultural Renaissance in 19th
Century France in Jones Faculty Lecture April 9” quoting Olga Anna Duhl  [news on-line] (Easton, PA: Lafayette
College, 30 March 2001, accessed 17 May 2001); available from; Internet.    


Nochlin, “The Invention of the Avant-Garde: France, 1830-1880” [paper on-line];
available from; Internet;
accessed 17 May 2001.  


belligerently, and with obvious relish challenged
the establishment to a head-on confrontation.

The idea of the artist as an outcast from society,
rejected and misunderstood by a philistine, bourgeois social order, was openly
expressed.  A standard fixture of
Romantic hagiography was the progressive, independent artist as a martyr of
society.  The term “avant-garde”
literally used to describe a painting may define it as one that is truly of its
time, or even in advance of it.  This
was a pictorial paradigm of the most adventurous attitudes of late nineteenth
century France.  “Avant-garde"
implies a union of the socially and the artistically progressive.  A painting of the late nineteenth century
French avant-garde movement, far from being an abstract treatise on the latest
social ideas, is a concrete emblem of what the making of art and the nature of
society are to the artist, not specifically to the society.  Such a painting is related to the artist’s
direct experience; it is not traditional, it is, on the contrary, its
concreteness, which gives it credibility and conviction and ties it
indissolubly to a particular moment in history.      

Implicit and perhaps even central to our understanding of avant-gardism
is the concept of alienation - psychic, social, and ontological.  While the avant-garde artist Courbet may
have begun his career as a rebel and ended it as an exile, he was never an
alienated man, that is, in conflict with himself internally or distanced from
his real social situation externally, as were such near-contemporaries of his -
Gustave Flaubert, Baudelaire, and Manet. 
For them, their very existence as members of the bourgeoisie was
awkward, isolating them not merely from existing social and artistic
institutions but creating deeply felt internal dichotomies as well.