Friday, August 14, 2009

The Avant-Garde is Dead. Long Live the Avant-Garde.

In his latest column, Charlie Finch explains why we will never see any more avant-garde artwork again, ever. In a nutshell, his rationale is that "the odds of [an artist] discovering something new are nil." His argument for this hinges on the notion that everything avant-garde artwork has been or might be about has been either answered or exposed as a fraud. For example,

Whether it’s the all-inclusiveness of Wikipedia entries or services like KGB providing instant answers to the most trivial questions, the odds of discovering something new are nil.

Is there a stupider culture than America? Sure, all the other cultures in the world who mimic America with their own saccharine, televised singing competitions or by downloading moronic American action films.

Miss California opposes gay marriage? Why is there still a Miss California? And how many cyberchicks get off to World of Warcraft?


Andy Warhol stole from Madison Avenue to make his art. Now you can watch a TV commercial in which a Maurizio Cattelan lookalike whines about the perfect set location while filming an imitation Cattelan piece, a squirrel riding a motorcycle.

New York superdealers open still more spaces (or two), Hip young art curators organize three or four more international art spectacles, and the supine art press just eats it up.

The notion of the avant-garde has always been framed as a "progressive" vs. "conservative" point of view, with artists generally pushing toward greater freedom (progress) while exposing the hypocrisies of the ruling classes for whom progress might mean loss of power. As has become fashionable to assert in the US (and Charlie echoes at the end of his column), the liberals and conservatives are more or less differently branded, but politically indistinguishable, servants of the corporations. But I firmly believe that a few of the conflicts of conscience or crises of faith coming soon to a decision-making body, and hopefully a few artists, near you include things that will make globalism or advertising or anything the politicians have yet had to seek broad consensus on seem quaint. In other words, I hope artists are not buying the notion that we don't need them working round the clock finding the metaphors that will enable us to understand and deal with what's coming.

Even now, I wish things were clearer. What, for example, does it mean to be human when the "friends" you spend most of your time with are people you've never physically met? When you never touch most of the people you communicate with almost constantly? When it's so pointless to identify with the culture of the place you currently and very temporarily reside, if it even has a unique culture anymore? When it's pointless to make laws based on nation-states and your personal interests are more inline with those of the company that makes your sneakers than those of your neighbors? When you're keeping in touch or even only keeping alive through an ever increasing tangle of technology attached to or coursing through your body: bluetooth ear jacks, artificial hearts, cancer-eating nanobots, etc.? When the notion of living to be 900 thrills some of the population (and they're earnestly working on it) even as it horrifies others? When you can compile how your children look or think from a menu of options? And on and on.

Now, I'm not particularly invested in whether new artwork is classified as "avant-garde" moving forward or not. It seems as relevant a term at this point in history as "modern" to my mind. But I do suspect there are plenty of truly faith-shaking events awaiting humankind that I hope our artists will be prepared to help us make sense of. I truly hope they're not drinking Charlie's cynical Kool-Aid.



Blogger Bromo Ivory said...

Charles Duell, head of the US Patent Office, said in 1899 "Everything that can be discovered, has been discovered."

Same thinking, different media. 'nuff said.

8/14/2009 10:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

As I said in another thread, to me there is one constant immutable avant-garde which is technological. The rest, well, I agree with those who said they are only 7 things that can be said and the rest is about the way you say it.

Cedric Caspesyan

(PS: blogging wasn't common grounds before 2000, so that's one avant-garde. We're near 2010 and we can retrospect the decade and write in history books the list of bloggers that broke a wall.)

8/14/2009 10:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I have to say that robot-terrorism is a scary prospect.

"Security creates the threat." (I have to find who that quotes is from).

Cedric C

8/14/2009 10:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone who can be talked out of making art shouldn't be an artist in the first place

8/14/2009 11:00:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

The term "avant-garde" is closely associated with Modernism, and I believe Modernism is finished. What the avant-garde symbolized was linked to a particular moment in human history which has passed. I suppose this blurring edge is the cause of Charlie's ennui. More importantly, it is representative of the lack of vision caused by a desperate attempt to hold onto old paradigms.

What we call the avant-garde is less of a location than it is a manifestation of creativity. Creativity knows no boundaries, it is evidence of consciousness, predictably unpredictable, an almost orderly but lawless path into an unknowable future.

As artists, we help to reinvent the future by acting as agents for change and clarity by disrupting expectations enough to reveal other possible patterns we can use to define our world-view. This process has no end.

8/14/2009 11:07:00 AM  
Anonymous david carson said...

i love this post, edward.

i think charlie's position is asking similar questions, but in a provocatively cynical and snarky way.

how we function as individuals and as groups is being radically altered. what and who we are exposed to now is expanding exponentially and it's changing power structures and relationships by the nanosecond. the results of these changes are very unclear, and in it's absence lies anxiety and cynicism - which historically is a natural reaction.

i am more excited about the process of this change than the meta-narrative that will arrive later (depending on who wins the redistribution of power). i tend to agree that something explosive is brewing - it makes me wonder what it must have been like to live through the early 20th century when a lot of the same questions about "what does it mean to live in this era when everything is changing so fast that i can barely see through the blur?"

i can't remember a time in my life where the world seemed truly on the edge and it could go either way. i don't think we're special in feeling that way - just limited by our own life-spans, but i think it's pretty damn exciting.

8/14/2009 11:19:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Can anyone, never mind artists, be on the leading edge today? In a world so filled with creative activity - in every field - there isn't time for the newness of anything to be fully appreciated before it's superseded by something newer? We're all just shock wave riders now.

8/14/2009 11:19:00 AM  
Blogger ArtistDan said...

To be human is to be creative. Plato described "true artists" as those who give birth to new realities. Creativity is the 'image' of "Created in the image of God".

It seems that Charlie Finch has lost a spark of his humanity or maybe he's just depressed to think that some newer form of avant-garde is impossible. Does he propose that all other art forms have skidded to a halt?

8/14/2009 11:48:00 AM  
Blogger Mab MacMoragh said...

Avant-garde is relative to where you stand. The closer you get to the edge the more it recedes.

8/14/2009 11:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Avant-Garde is so Retro-Garde.

I lost touch with what it even means. Sci-Fi? "Oh wow, your work looks so sci-fi, bro!": Is that Avant-Garde? I could dig that.

Cedric Casp

8/14/2009 12:32:00 PM  
Blogger Ian Aleksander Adams said...

The forefront of creativity can never die, you just never no where it was during a time period until you can look back on it.

In 50 years we might be saying "it was these amateur video game creatives that started it all" or we might be saying "those underground youtube artists..."

Who knows.

8/14/2009 01:57:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

What is it about the current moment that makes people you don't agree with appear delusional?

I mean, just look at what's left of the conservatives. The problem is not that they disagree philosophically, it is that they are exhibiting behavior which is clearly delusional.

These distortions of belief weigh heavily on the issues of public healthcare where they suffer under the illusions they will be forced to resume their Thorazine treatments. Worse, that might be moved to a hospice for an early life retirement. Neither of these account for their morbid fear that the current president will be crowned the first Black King of the US.

It does seem that there is irrational, even delusional, behavior festering in the zeitgeist and Charlie wants to feel like he belongs.

8/14/2009 03:09:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

In “Art Since 1900” the massive two volume tome by Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois and Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, they posit the anything since the end of WWI say 1918 is Post Avant-Garde. As usual, Charlie’s right up to speed (though I enjoy the general tone of the piece).

8/14/2009 03:42:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

"... I do suspect there are plenty of truly faith-shaking events awaiting humankind that I hope our artists will be prepared to help us make sense of."

Ed, I have trouble with your hope. I've read non-fiction books and watched documentaries that have helped me make sense of our faith-shaking world. But I've never made sense of our faith-shaking world by looking at a work of visual art.

I don't think that making sense of things is what visual art is good at, because by nature, it's far more sensual than intellectual. When visual art tries to be primarily intellectual, at worst it comes across as shallow, and at best it comes across as merely illustrating the insights of others. (In either case, the artist is dedicated to intellect more than the real strengths of visual art. Just as the academic painters were dedicated to sentiment. And "relevant" artists have been dedicated to politics.)

So, as an artist, I'm not going to worry about being avant garde, or about having to deal with things to come. I'm going to follow your very good advice, Ed, and "Stay calm and carry on." :-)

8/14/2009 03:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

I've had artists taught me something, Tom. I've had Ann Hamilton teach me that I don't have to go to church or follow a religion to develop a sense of sacredness about life. I've had Janet Cardiff teach me to really appreciate a mundane walk in the park. I've even had Joseph Beuys teach me that being good with people is better than making good art. That was through art!

I see your point. Art is better at entertaining than at pushing its message across (whatever is that message). But I still think it can be done. That besides all the "peaching to the converted'", you can still learn something pertinent about life through a piece of visual art.


Cedric Casp

8/14/2009 06:39:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Cedric, I'm certainly not arguing that art can't communicate. But what I notice about all three of your examples is how the art made you FEEL something new. That's not the same thing as visual art helping you to MAKE SENSE of the world when it pulls the rug out from under you.

8/14/2009 08:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Ok, this is how I see it: I don't think it's art's role to tell me what Kant or Lacan or even Einstein can tell me, but art can be (and has been) a great "vulgarisator" toward helping the less informed making sense of new discoveries occuring in other fields (such as by the 3 luminaries just named). It can also serve to inspire thinkers in these other fields. In fact sometimes a specialist such as a sociologist may use a work of art in order to illustrate their point.

By "art" I presume you mean "visual arts", and it seems you are saying that it is less powerful an art than literature or perhaps narrative cinema in providing a sense of the world. So have you ever read a sci-fi book that made you tilt or alter your vision of reality to a degree where you would call it a revelation other than aesthetic? And Visual Arts never ever made you snap a loud "eureka!" about anything else than aesthetics? I don't believe you! Or I don't get your point.

Cedric Casp

8/15/2009 01:10:00 AM  
Blogger bobeotm said...

This article is interesting, but very cynical. People have claimed everything has been done so many times before, only to be proven wrong by time. Time is the great unveiler of changes unforseen.

Art has proven time and time again that the key for something lasting forever is to say it died.

8/15/2009 01:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think his article was good in that it does/should make one question ones own motivation for being part of the visual art world. Re-formulating arts role is key to making art matter. Beyond the vanity of it's participants.

8/15/2009 03:23:00 AM  
Blogger David Cauchi said...

I really don't get why people think the avant-garde is involved at all with novelty. It is an attitude, an antagonistic attitude towards the official culture.

I reckon that's pretty relevant.

8/15/2009 07:54:00 AM  
Blogger tony said...

I can never connect up with the notion of art/painting making 'sense' of the world. As far as I'm concerned those things which have touched me most have had little to do with what may be considered 'reality' per se but at the same time they possessed a 'reality' which transcended their actual physical presence. With so much knowledge & information floating around it's easy to be misled into thinking one understands something &, although this may be due to my own stubborn ignorance, having reached 63 I'm not sure that my understanding of the world and all that passes around me, both near & far, is any greater than it was 50 years ago.

8/15/2009 09:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Xasp said...

Repost because it didn't make it the first time:


Ok, this is how I see it: I don't think it's art's role to tell me what Kant or Lacan or even Einstein can tell me, but art can be (and has been) a great "vulgarisateur" (don't know the english term) toward helping the less informed making sense of new discoveries occuring in other fields (such as by the 3 luminaries just named). It can also serve to inspire thinkers in these other fields. Sometimes a specialist such as a sociologist use a work of art in order to illustrate their point.

By "art" I presume you mean "visual arts", and it seems you are saying that it is less powerful an art than literature or perhaps narrative cinema in providing a sense of the world. So have you ever read a sci-fi book that made you tilt or alter your vision of reality to a degree where you would call it a revelation other than aesthetic? And Visual Arts never ever made you snap "eureka!" about anything else than aesthetics? I don't believe you! Or I don't get your point.

Cedric Casp

PS: Is Flash Mob avant-garde?

8/15/2009 11:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Historically, very few artists have been avantegarde. What we see coming out of universities in the states now is a manufactured (canned) avantegarde. Looks like it on the surface, but underneath its actually conservative. That this should become the main criteria for making a work of art is debateable. The aesthetic is surplanting the esthetic which is why alot of it will in the future be seen as intellectual decoration.

8/15/2009 06:04:00 PM  
Blogger CAP said...

I think Charlie was just having a bad one.
He needs to go home and get a good night's sleep.
In the morning things will look more reasonable.

8/15/2009 09:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, the way we interact with each other and interpret the world is rapidly changing and the effects of such have yet be be very well predicted. I often feel like I'm being pulled along with all this change - I'm certainly not at its forefront, so any artist who can act as an canary in the coalmine, not just by foreseeing the consequences of change but also by side railing me for a bit from them, I appreciate. I still believe there is newness left to squeeze out. But I like to lick the bowl clean.


8/16/2009 12:50:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Cedric, my point is that whenever the world is hard to understand, I don't turn to visual art for help. If you do turn to it, and it works for you, who am I to argue with your experience?

As a visual artist, I'm okay with my conclusion that visual artists can't do everything ... or can't do everything well ... or can't do some things as well as others can.

I don't believe visual art is the leading edge of culture today. It might have been, once, for a time, but not now. If the leading edge is that which has one foot in the future, and pulls the rest of culture along behind it like a little red wagon, then there are bigger kids around - with longer strides than visual artists - on the sidewalk that leads to tomorrow.

I'm content to stop at puddles and make beautiful mud pies. :-)

8/16/2009 09:23:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesou said...

+++I don't believe visual art is the leading edge of culture today.

The irony is that while I don't think "fine arts" are at the edge of aesthetic anymore (design does it all now), it is very good at "underlining", making obvious, or criticizing what's going on around it.

So that's how I say that it still can help me make sense of the world. Of course it's not mainstream. It's like entering the Freemasons. It requires some kind of intiation and it's very pyramidal and elitist. For now.
But "fine art" means a lot of different things for different people and the notion could change toward something more accessible
some day. The vast number of visual artists these days (or people who claim to be) seems geared toward more acceptance.


Cedric Caspesou

8/16/2009 11:56:00 AM  
Blogger Kristine said...

In art school, about 25 years back now, I was told all art is derivative. It didn't bother me then it doesn't now. I make art because I can't imagine a better day doing anything else.
In a world of complex issues I worry about it is nice each day to wrestle with a creative idea and come to a conclusion/solution on a good day.

8/16/2009 04:47:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

"Design does it all now."

Nah. Artists create many more beautiful and exciting things than designers do. The roads, for example, have never been filled with so many boring, indistinguishable cars as they are today. Goofy, downright ugly cars too. But even in the case of good design, looking at an amateur painting gives me more thrills than looking at a nice car - or nice clothes, furniture, architecture, etc. As a whole, you just can't beat art when it comes to pure visual pleasure.

8/17/2009 09:35:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

More thoughts on design, Cedric.

If you look at photographs of city streets, as well as home and store interiors from fifty years ago, there wasn't much art-influenced design in evidence. So it wasn't hard for visual art to stand out back then - to make an impact. Art's surroundings were no competition for it.

Now art-influenced design is everywhere around us, and it's part of just about everything we hold in our hands. (Like the colorful, Modernist paper that wraps the burger you get from the drive-through.) Visually, we're overloaded with art-influenced design. But we're overloaded with that which is second rate - with art-influenced design rather than art itself. So it's very hard for visual art to make an impact now - to stand out in the world. (Which might be why some visual artists decide to work in a way that emphasizes something other than the purely visual. In order to stand out. They understand - perhaps only subconsciously - that their main competition isn't movies or the internet, but rather the ubiquity of art-influenced design.)

And people are moving so fast through life now, they can't be bothered to distinguish between real art and art-influenced design. (Which might be why some visual artists make art that you can absorb with one glance.) True art requires that you stop for a while and really look at it.

Well, most people aren't going to do that. Most people today are like the White Rabbit - looking at their watches and thinking, "Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!" It's so much easier to consume air-puffed white bread, and oil-drenched margarine, than it is to slice a crusty loaf of Pumpernickel, and cut off a few pats of hard, sweet cream butter.

In a fast-moving world, the constant experience of art-influenced design is accepted as a trouble-free substitute for real visual art.

8/17/2009 11:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

If you consider the most boring car as a sculpture, it's not a sculpture that's very easy to make (materials, technology, etc..).
I think Design is ahead in the methods and materials it uses to achieve aesthetic, and it would be a great failure of Design
if it didn't look good because in some parts that's the only reason it exists (wallpaper, jewelry, etc...). I think Fine Art is way
more "interesting" than Design (thank God), but it doesn't compare with the amount of research that is done in laboratories each day to achieve new aesthetic materials and methods. To put it another way, I'm making a distinction between aesthetic and beauty. I think one can be downright ugly but very on the edge aesthetically.


Cedric Caspichon

8/17/2009 11:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Me too, me too (more thoughts):

Tom, I always saw Duchamp using mundane items as fine art as demonstrating that fine art had been challenged on an aesthetic level by what surrounded it.
I think that industrialization has had a very important impact on Fine Art. Donald Judd no-human-touch structures was perhaps unconciously a response to the prevalence of functionalist architecture. Ellsworth Kelly acknowledged that some of his paintings were influenced by abstract details of soda bottle designs. Even Malevitch today feels emulating urban grid planning which started in the 19th century.

I think this overload you are talking about covers pretty much the whole 20th century, which is the modern and contemporary eras. Modernity was as much an asset of Design than Fine Art or anything else. I wonder if Art Deco had more cultural impact than Picasso.
Chrysler Building VS Demoiselles D'Avignon?

The little I know on what happened is that once upon a time we had knowledge of an high class and high culture, and everything
else was eradicated from history books. Then industrialization brought the emergence of an educated middle class and the whole of Popular Culture. That's when things started to shift, about the time when Toulouse-Lautrec had to put posters on the street because that's where the culture "was at". And where was his audience.

After Toulouse you have "artists" who only make posters. Not Fine Art, just good posters. They invent all sort of typography and lettering systems that Fine Art doesn't care about. At this point Fine Art still rocks visually,
but while it's being unaware, an underlying history in aesthetics is occuring, and the legacy of that parallel history one day catches up with Fine Art and
the story unfolds similarly to the Grasshopper And The Ant fable.


Cedric Caspebachon

8/17/2009 02:00:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

"... fine art had been challenged on an aesthetic level by what surrounded it."

Shovels and urinals? Let's be serious. The "challenge" only existed, and only continues to exist, in the heads of Duchamp and his admirers. (Sure, art is whatever artists do, but it's not whatever artists say.)

"I think industrialization has had a very important impact on Fine Art."

I think your argument overstates the case.

"... this overload you are talking about covers pretty much the whole twentieth century ..."

Our visual overload from art-influenced design covers no more than the last two-to-three decades.

"... industrialization brought the emergence of ... Popular Culture."

The recognition that Pop Culture exists, or soon would exist, began in the 1950-60s.

"... an underlying history in aesthetics is occuring ..."

Fine Art and Pop Culture (or Folk Culture) have always, and will always, borrow from each other. Nothing new there.

By the way, here's an interesting update on our NPG/Wikipedia discussion.

8/18/2009 03:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

+++The recognition that Pop ++Culture exists, or soon would ++exist, began in the 1950-60s.

That's like the people saying that Pop Music began in the 1950's while completely erasing the Tin Pan Alley era out of history. Or in my language, it's like saying Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel invented everything and didn't owe it to Yvette Guilbert and Aristide Bruant.

I've looked around and apparently it is the word "Culture" which is of recent use. But I think Popular
began making sense as a term through mass accessibility and internationalization. The evolution
of recording technologies (music records, films, television) along with the evolution of transports
(widely distributed journals) is what led to very large (and growing) numbers of people across many countries experience the same or similar momentums of culture, and that's I think where you can begin to talk about "popular" culture.

The first song to sell million sheets ("After The Ball" in 1892) is often referred to (not by Rolling Stone magazine mind you) as the birth of "Pop Music" because it was the first to reach massive amounts of people across the world (in a short amount of time). How did it achieve that? Part of it was diffusion (early musical cylinders heard at fairgrounds), but the main explanation is that the Musical it was coming from travelled heavily around USA and England. It was a "modern" Musical in the sense
that its settings and expression were of an "urban-vernacular" nature featuring contemporary everyday characters that people could recognize themselves in ("A Trip To Chinatown" was the name, about one guy having problems
in the streets of New York), but without the intellectualism of high-art realism or naturalism (Chekov). It was dumb (and racist) and that's what people wanted. It was Pop. It didn't invent anything. "After The Ball" didn't invent anything musically. It was Pop because it achieved reaching the mass on an international level, and very important, it did this very fast (within 6 months). Today the exact same thing happens to Lady Gaga. Jesus or Buddhah took I don't know how many centuries to simply reach that level of success.

I think Fine Art lost grounds with "culture" (if it ever had links with it) because of the large diffusion of non-Fine-Art
Entertainments, and the amount of people writting about them, developing discourse about them, to a degree where being oblivious about Fine Art was not a problem or a weakness anymore (because part of Entertainment developed
its own intellectual discourse, like cinema). Design came along the way because it played an important part in promoting Entertainment culture, including dressing up and accessorizing the cinema stars which everybody would envy. As I said in my previous post, Fine Art never actually existed to be for massive appeal, but the modern era made Mass
Appeal possible, and it made it Count. It made it pertinent, because it made history not be about the high end riches and intellectuals anymore.

I'm taking a big detour to mainly say that I don't believe Fine Art has been at the forefront of culture since the whole 20th century. Since the emergence of middle class Entertainment culture and the massive distribution of industrially designed products.
Most of the avant-garde was marginal culture, and saw similar, unaware repercussions occuring in Entertainment culture (for each
Dali was a Walt Disney).

Modern Art seems to me that because Fine Art didn't have the monopole on making beautiful products or encompassing narratives anymore, than it started to look back at itself and try "make sense" of aesthetics by revealing its secrets, deconstructing it (starting with abstraction, which was very conceptual for an aesthetic movement).

Cedric Carbonnet

8/18/2009 11:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Guess what. My previous comment was considered "too long" by Blogger (I hear some "sigh..." in the background).

So here is my PS:

PS: I have read the article and still don't agree. The amount of trouble this story causes to the NPG is less a concern for me than the problematic of lending copyrights to reproductions of works by those who don't own copyrights to the originals. Here is why: I would be glad to offer my art free to the world, but would be very mad to know that some day someone can take a picture of my art and claim they have a copyright on it, especially in the case that my original work is lost and only their reproduction exist. For very ethical reasons, I have to ignore the trouble that NPG claim that digitalization have led themselves in. If it's too costly now, don't do it. Digitalization costs drop by half every year (and it's very possible to accept photos but no flash in a museum, they are kidding me right there).

8/18/2009 11:49:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

But Cedric, the Avant Garde is marginal by definition: a small number of people who are doing something truly new, visually, as opposed to the vast majority who are copying each other (with variations), or repeating what has been done in the past (with variations).

Is there an Avant Garde in Fine Art today? As far as new media and art talk goes, there's the appearance of something new. But in the first half of the 20th Century, the bar for Avant Garde Art was set higher than just the use of new media, or just engaging in new-sounding talk. The visual experiments of the leading figures from that period showed us things none of us had ever seen before, or got all of us to see old things in a new way. I'm unconvinced (so far) there are any achievements like that in visual art today - so I'm unconvinced there's anything truly avant garde today. (One gets around that by insisting visual art is not really about the visual.)

Of course, there is real art today, because art is whatever artists do. Avant Garde Art was, I think, a unique historical moment. Non-repeatable. And that's okay.

8/19/2009 10:18:00 AM  
Anonymous John Snijders said...

Isn't it the main characteristic of the new that it is new and therefore cannot be thought to exist beforehand? I don't think it is a very useful thing for artists to concern themselves with being new or innovative. If you are, you'll see afterwards and you can take it from there. And so can everyone else if they want.
I'm a musician, mainly working in contemporary music, so perhaps things are different in music than in visual arts, but the true innovations, both technical and aesthetical are often done completely unwittingly or by chance.
Let the artists concern themselves with making their art and let the historians tell us afterwards if it was part of the avant-garde.
Besides, in these fast-paced times it seems that we have to have something radically new every two weeks. New will come along when it needs to, not when it is called for.


8/19/2009 03:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Probably Avant-Garde just meant that we started "deconstructing" aesthetics, and there is only a certain amount of things that could be deconstructed (like there is only a certain amount of pieces in a human squeletton).

Once you reconstruct the human body it is boring because it is the same as it always was.

I don't agree there isn't anything "new" in fine art today, but it's not theoretical. Art theory has been pretty much covered by the Avant-Garde you describe. They are artists I think are on the edge of something. I like some of Lozano-Lemmer. I would totally curate a first museum show of this guy. But some would tag it of being technological gimmick. I keep up with new names like this every 2 years. One aspect I'm looking for are "new things". Art that doesn't look like I've seen it before, or that expands on what I've seen before. So in the sense I'm sort of looking for an avant-garde, but it's my own avant-garde, not something I'm going to try convince others about. You prefer Will Cotton? Go for Will Cotton, man. There is only about 2 out of 10 mainsteam artists that I really appreciate. Auction results do not impress me one bit.


Cedric Caspesyan

8/19/2009 04:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

I think the art market aims on making artists reach the mainstream. Finding the big name artist that will bring them loads of money.

But I don't think the "avant-garde" pays a lot. Maybe it did for a while in the 60's and 70's. But generally I would say that artists start to bring money once they aren't avant-garde anymore, at least 10 years after they started. So the art market and avant-garde HAVE to be in contradiction, and the big problem these days is that the art market has the final word. For reasons I don't understand, an artist in USA get into a museum because they sell. The places where artists actually get into a museum because of pure curatorial efforts (BEFORE they sell) are few in USA. In Canada we don't have this problem, but our artists rarely make it big
because of..guess what?...a lack of an art market (sigh...).


Cedric Caspesy

8/19/2009 04:46:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

John: "Isn't it the main characteristic of the new that it is new ...?"

Shhh! Not out loud. You'll ruin the marketing value of "New."

Cedric: "... the big problem these days is that the art market has the final word."

The art world has merged with our consumer culture (the dominant culture). Hell, everything has merged with our consumer culture.

The Ferengi's Five Stages of Acquisition:

1. Infatuation: "I want it."

2. Justification: "I must have it!"

3. Appropriation: "It's mine at last!"

4. Obsession: "My precious!"

5. Resale: "Make me an offer."

8/19/2009 06:45:00 PM  
Blogger david brickman said...

Love those Five Stages!!!!
Also, I am inclined to restate what Kristine (and one or two others) said, which is that most artists are not worrying about what's "Avant-garde" or "new" but are immersed in their own process and in how they respond to the world, enjoying the effort and whatever response they may get, and just making a life that they can believe in. What matters is the present moment, no?

8/20/2009 07:35:00 PM  
Blogger tony said...

As I see it in pre-Duchampian times there were basically two parallel & mostly distinct lines - the word and the image. Marcel the Ingenious, by insisting on bringing the 'intellectual' into the framework, gave greater weight to the word & so forced the parallel lines closer together so that at times it appeared that they formed part of the same medium. Out of this 'mingling' came confusion which in turn reinforced the power of the word as a tool for making coherent sense of what was seen or presented. The greater the proliferation of the word in art the greater the need for wordsmiths, curators, critics, art historians & all the associated cultural interpreters & arbiters of taste. With a greater distribution of wealth within western democracies art began to not only influence but actually take up a place in popular culture & the art market developed as a consequence. In collusion with the media artists not only assumed importance through their work but also by the projection of themselves as creatures of interest. Publicity created demand and demand created publicity. Art became more and more a spectacle and the spectacle needed to be forever more spectacular. New technology permitted new approaches & materials to be used so that what had once been work produced by an individual turned into objects from a production line. For what it's worth that's as I see it but when all is said & done to hell with the art market; to hell with the word; to hell with the media; to hell with the avant-garde or the death of it; to hell with curators, critics and art historians. All that counts is what you believe in, whether it be ridiculous or not, & what you believe worth doing as a human being.

8/21/2009 05:13:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

The consensus here seems to be that artists ought to do what they feel driven to do - by something inside them. And ignore the demand for newness and forward movement that comes from the art world, and from the greater consumer culture within which the art world functions. The anti-establishment stance of the old avant-garde (its defining characteristic) is now best realized by rejecting the establishment's expectation that artists be leading edge. Perhaps because the establishment's expectation results in novelty for novelty's sake more often than it results in deeply felt art? (The old avant garde - rejecting academic sentimentalism - felt that art had lost its soul.) In short, authenticity matters more than innovation.

8/21/2009 09:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesya said...

I need to make small amends on what you said, Tony, though I like how you parallel the development of the art market with the development of popular culture.

1. Duchamp was never part of Popular Culture. Until perhaps very recently.

2. The Constructivists were already making fine art influenced objects in production lines.

3. The Art Market we are talking about is very hierarchized and seems to want to distinguish itself from Pop Culture, even when it has it (or use it) in reference. Fine Art has revealed a philosophy of elitism more than anything else, and Pop Cuture
often clash with that notion, so you end up with fine artists taking less part of the
general web of knowledge of contemporary society.

The way I see it, Duchamp was simply the continuation of a quest about aesthetic matters that began with Cécanne. The Post-Impressionism Cécanne was the first to really not care about his subject, to not be so much about "transcribing nature" but use a subject as a pretext to deconstruct aesthetics on a canvas (Avant-Garde begins). In a short amount of time Fine Art was seeing practices which required a certain amount of specialized knowledge in order for the viewer to decode or understand what the artists were doing. Very quick in the 20th Century (after the Van Gogh buzz) you witness Fine Art sailing away from Popular Culture except when artists knew how to use media and pull attention on their lifestyles (Picasso, Dali, Warhol). But were Braque, Ernst, or Rauschenberg known by the masses? Not really. The mass can sold out a Picasso
retrospective but they don't talk about Cubism. They talk about Picasso's sex life. So in my view Fine Art lost grounds with Popular Culture after Van Gogh, and your
evocation that Fine Art influenced heavily Design and Popular Culture to me is much more an inter-influence, and Fine Art has been victim for a long time of Design (Duchamp) and Entertainment Culture (Warhol). Not the other way around.


Cedric Caspesyan

8/21/2009 10:05:00 AM  
Blogger tony said...

Dear Cedric, Thanks for your kind response to my mish-mash of thoughts. I'd like to pick up on a few points you raised.

Although I agree that whilst Duchamp may not have been part of Popular culture with the 'piss pot' he desacrilised the art object & in so doing softened the edges of how works of art could be both brought into being & perceived.

As to your point about the Constructivists I think the prime motivation driving Rodchenko et alia was not a rejection of the art object per se but rather a reaction against the tendency of a privileged elite to monopolise the acquisition of such objects. For me their motivation and their work came more from political/social reasoning rather than aesthetic considerations.

Swinging back to Duchamp I think that the work of those artists associated with DaDa was both more radical & ground breaking than his contributions. They may have lacked the dedication to self-promotion of Duchamp but that would not have been part of the DaDa strategy. Before I close I'd just like to write the name Francis Picabia - who is perhaps the largely unsung hero in the Duchampian saga.

Just a brief PS: re: your comment about the art/design interaction. I can't help thinking of the Bauhaus; its teachers and its students. If ever there was an instance of cross-fertilisation between art & design in a mutual balance it was there.

8/21/2009 03:53:00 PM  
Blogger Mab MacMoragh said...

Duchamp was constantly in motion and thinking beyond his own art, as in a game of chess which was in his head and not in his work- he talks about it in a video here (long but covering many of the themes mentioned in this comment thread):

8/21/2009 04:10:00 PM  
Blogger David Cauchi said...

I'll second the Francis Picabia mention. He's the best artist of the 20th century, easy.

'There is only one way to save yourself: sacrifice your reputation.'

8/23/2009 09:14:00 PM  
Blogger David Cauchi said...

Duchamp was just another failed artist who became an art dealer instead.

There's nothing wrong with that of course, but let's keep it in perspective.

8/23/2009 09:22:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

But what was the nature of Duchamp's failure? It certainly wasn't an inability to create striking art. Rather, it was an inability to stick with art, or rather to stick with art as a discipline, because discipline involves the boredom of repetition (a requisite of growth).

Duchamp's abhorrence of repetition comes across in the video that Mab MacMoragh linked to. The fact that every game of chess can be different was more to his liking. And his "everyday life" was more important to him than artistic accomplishment. In short, he was a brilliant dilettante.

Every gardener knows that boring repetition is required to grow a brilliant display of flowers. Among the Moderns, Matisse and Picasso - highly disciplined artists - left us with full gardens. Indeed, with overflowing gardens. Duchamp left us a few potted sprouts.

8/24/2009 08:38:00 AM  
Blogger Ben Gage said...

what is "avante-garde" is not the work, a urinal is not new, rather the placement of the object relative to the viewer. Suspension of object identity, the object name and all the definitions, is a necessary first step in seeing the new aesthetic. That is a major problem now, as we have decades of these images now in our imagining and that technique may be a worn out path. It's not so revolutionary anymore to rename, re-present or repackage.

9/06/2009 07:56:00 AM  

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