The Theory of the Avant-Garde

Notes from The Theory of the Avant Garde (1962) by Renato Poggioli. Mostly summaries of his ideas:

Avant-garde could simply mean new art

100% Marxists are anti the avant-garde

Marxists use term ‘bourgeois art’ rather than avant-garde to attack/negate the work

Term is ignored in English-American culture – no aggressive world wars

Term is Parisian and ingrained in French culture

The divorce of the two avant-gardes – political and aesthetic around 1880

Avant-garde is a new phenomenon

Avant garde movements spring out of enthusiasm

Avant-garde more interested in gestures than acts

Isn’t it traditional to want the new?

The avant-garde artist wants to be an individual in society but paradoxically wants society to change and take him in

The avant-garde acts and speaks like a child

The avant-garde is unpopular

Unpopularity thru non distribution

1) Package the avant-garde for a more populist audience
2) In pop culture the author is often ‘unknown’ to the public – see adverts/Youtube

Romanticism was more popular than avant-garde or classical art – cite fall of the aristocracy/rise of the working and middle classes

Voluntary and involuntary unpopularity

Romanticism direct link to avant-garde

Is there an avant-garde any more?

Romanticism was easily understood by the people as is Tate

N.B. romantic + avant-garde art are aristocratic movements existing in democratic times

Do nihilistic tendencies work deliberately against social relations?

The rush to become future movements


There are two types of followers (audience) of the avant-garde
1) Those who accept it all
2) And those with an exclusive passion

The extreme left wants content and therefore denies the avant-garde

The followers of the avant-garde sees the joining of isolated individuals who come from different backgrounds – think Long Tail Theory

In a feeling of uselessness or estrangement here comes Americanisation. Term globalisation is misleading

The romantic artist resorts to self-mockery, hysteria & caricature

The artist wants material success in the age of capitalism. When he was in the court he was satisfied with creation.

The avant-garde is constantly conscious of writing its historical place

The avant-garde artist is always protesting socially tho not necessarily politically

Poggioli – “experimentalism aiming solely at novelty can end up sterile and false”

The avant-garde uses secret communication which even some of its followers don’t get.

Some of the pleasure is in not getting

I don’t get it
1) Sincere confession
2) Versus lament

Ignored not necessarily disliked

Avant-garde junk comes out the same as normal junk just with different labels and intentions

The labels and intentions are important – concrete versus abstract

Realism is a useless competition with no winners

Ours is an age of stylistic pluralism – watering down

The avant-garde’s analogies aren’t inverted

We now demand extreme liberty and extreme intensity of feeling

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