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The Avant-Garde Die First

Powerful Essays
The Avant-Garde Die First

In the 19th century, under the suffocating weight of a centuries long tradition in academic art, artists began to break free. Tired of meaningless imitation and decoration, the avant-garde artists pushed for drastic revolutions in aesthetic and social taste. This experimentation rapidly grew less and less controlled, and new technique and new style, which shocked and enraged the critics and public, stopped being experimental and started desiring the side effects of shock and disgust. There is an error in believing the artist is always ahead of his time, will always be understood in the future, and is a well-intentioned progressive, because it ignores the present actions and consequences of modern art.

Henri de Saint-Simon was a leader in socialist thought and advocate of the arts as one of the “leaders of a new society” along with science and industry (Tate). In 1825, he coined the term “avant-garde” in reference to art:

‘We artists will serve you as an avant-garde… the power of the arts is most immediate: when we want to spread new ideas we inscribe them on marble or canvas… What a magnificent destiny for the arts is that of exercising a positive power over society, a true priestly function and of marching in the van of all the intellectual faculties!’ (Tate)

Harvey H. Arnason proclaims the beginning of the avant-garde movement with the social/visual realism of Gustave Courbet, the retreat from three-dimensional forms in Édouard Manet, and the off-center compositions of James Abbott McNeill Whistler. “From this time onward the idea of an artistic avant-garde, or vanguard, became firmly established” (Arnason 24).

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