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Origin and definition of the term «avant-garde»
When we dive into a such a broad term as "avant-garde" it is necessary to limit its wide scope of application to the purpose for which we define it.
In this case, the historical-artistic perspective allows us to enter into the concept of «avant-garde» from its conception as a whole set of artistic movements, or "isms" that arise between the end of the 19th century and throughout the 20th and 21st as a reaction to a previous order, an established reality.
This reality applies to all areas of human activity (politics, society, culture, ideologies, etc.) and its timeline is so extensive, spanning more than a century and a half, that the changes produced during the period have led to the uninterrupted evolution of artistic reactions, the emergence of some movements and the disappearance of others.
The dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy defines «Vanguard»In its cultural perspective as:
Advanced of an ideological, political, literary, artistic group or movement, etc.
The word "advanced»In this sense it links with the medieval and military origin of the term, in which "Vanguard»Refers to the minority of the army that is placed in the front ranks when carrying out an attack.
From all the readings of the bibliography and the original artistic texts that revolve around the historical artistic avant-gardes, we could extract several common denominators that allow us to understand the concept in a global way.
Characteristics of the artistic vanguards:
- Reaction: all avant-garde movement arises as an attempt to fight, to respond to a previously established paradigm or set of paradigms from which the artist shuns, according to a whole series of conditions, to form a new artistic cosmos that breaks completely with the previous thing.
This series of conditioning factors are usually related to the historical, but also personal, context of the artists. For example, the industrial Revolution It was one of the conditions that led to the birth of Futurism. The bourgeois revolutions in France generated the optimal social climate for the birth of Impressionism, and the First World War, with its ideological consequences, will be the international backbone of a great amalgam of reactionary movements, not exclusive to pictorial, sculptural and architectural art.
- Elite: the avant-garde is born thanks to a reactionary, select and exclusive minority group, usually with one or more leaders or precursorsThese small groups are children of a social context that determines their desire to react against the established order. One of the most important events was the publication of the Communist Manifesto in 1848, by Marx Y EngelsA political and ideological movement driven by the proletariat (social minority), served as inspiration for a whole series of later manifestos that, in their artistic dimension, channeled in a forceful tone of struggle, like the communist, new formal attitudes, symbolic and intellectual before art.
- Dualism between tradition and modernity:Like the proletarian movement, in which a social minority fights against a powerful and oppressive majority, the artistic vanguards react to an artistic culture that is largely accepted and promoted by a larger and more powerful social majority.
It is what has been called the conflict between tradition and modernity, that is, the struggle to overcome the past (the established) and open a new futureIn the case of the artist, what changes is his attitude towards the artworkFor example, when Impressionist painters tackle the task of making a painting, they prefer to do it in the open air rather than in a studio or workshop, where it used to be done. Of the social and cultural components of this tradition, eminently bourgeois, we will speak then.
The break between tradition and modernity
With the concept «breaking offWe are not referring to a total bankruptcy or a disregard for the art of the past. Many avant-garde artists were inspired by great characters in the history of universal art.
In the mid-nineteenth century, academicism was the archetypal model by which a production was valued as a work of art and based its criteria on the classical postulates of harmony, symmetry and proportion.
It limited the theme to basically the mythological cycles and Christian iconography, as well as the materials to the more traditional ones (oil preferably).
The Academy of Fine Arts she was the holder of these artistic assessment and recognition criteria. The calls Salons of Paris they were exhibitions of works in which it was determined whether or not they fulfilled a whole amalgam of structured and practically watertight rules.
The first avant-garde movements emerged as a result of groups of "rejected", as they called themselves, who organized their own rooms so that their works could be exhibited before the public.
The first of them was Salon of 1863, in which the figure of Manet with his work Breakfast on the grassand with which impressionism is born.
The Salon was located in a room annexed to that of Paris, under the consent of Napoleon iii, after the official jury had rejected more than 3,000 works.
These small exhibitions were highly acclaimed by many, and totally rejected by others who, let's say, formed the social majority whose tastes were more related to the academic archetype.
As many authors have wanted to see, there is a disagreement, perhaps the first, between the established tastes of a majority and a reactionary minority trying to overcome the past.
Artistic vanguards: the break with the established
The main consumers of art, who correspond to a greater extent with the bourgeoisie, will also end up demanding for themselves an art that equally surpasses the strict Academy and thus will emerge the Art Nouveau or modernism.
In addition, it is necessary to take into account, as already mentioned, the context of the time and the historical evolution. In the middle of the XIX, the industrial Revolution advocated an economic and social model, the capitalism, which will have its influence on art: the world of machines, progress, the incipient mass society ... and with it, proletarian movements and new ideologies political and social.
The period from 1850 to 1918, when World War I ends and the first wave of avant-garde movements develops, it has been described by historiography as a "pivotal" period of man's passage towards modernity, with all the cultural and artistic changes that this implies.
The autonomy of art
From a retrospective perspective, art began to reach autonomy in the 19th century. From the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment, being artistic did not go hand in hand with the inner will of the artistRather, it was linked to the circles of power that held and displayed culture almost in all its areas.
The meaning of the work prevailed more than the sensitivity of the author when it came to capturing it.
For example, it was more important for a painting or sculpture to send a religious message, represent a king or nobleman, or recall the moral of a mythological passage, that the artist's own intention and his subjective world when making it.
In fact, until the Renaissance, artists were not even aware of themselves, until they began to initial their works with their name.
There were then a whole series of external conditioning factors, who are coming defined by historical context, in which the production of art is subject to a specific theme, such as religion and mythology, and to models of composition, form and uses of specific materials.
19th century: overcoming barriers
As well, in the 19th century these barriers began to be overcome. The artist, aware of himself, begins to consider terms such as "Democratization of taste", which supposes the consideration as works of art of productions that may not fit so much in some minds but in others, or "genius", referring to the natural gift of the artist that pushes him to make works of art.
With the Enlightenment we begin to see glimpses of this autonomy and with romanticism, contrary to the submission of art to the directives of reason, artistic genius is found in the feelings of the painter, sculptor or architect himself.
The German Romanticism, or Sturm und Drang ("Storm and momentum"), contributed greatly to developing this autonomy of art and the democratization of taste.
For many German theorists, and others of different nationalities who followed them, the artistic product was given by the personal and spontaneous motivation of the artist who, driven by his inner genius, reflected his inner world in the works he created.
Something far removed from the strict rules imposed by the Paris Academy.
All these ideas will definitely explode with the rise of elites, as we have already mentioned, that claim this autonomy of art and, with this, claim for the artist not only the will to create the artistic object, but also full freedom in the use of materials, the choice of subject matter, formal characteristics such as composition, perspective, color, and so on.
Classification of the historical artistic vanguards
The enormous amount of «isms»That emerge at the end of the 19th century and throughout the 20th tend to overlap in time.
Some of them are born on a certain date and end up running out, while others are so important that they still have followers today.
Some are truly ephemeral and located in a very restricted geographical area.
Furthermore, not all of them were developed in all disciplines of art; Some only developed in architecture, painting or sculpture, but there are usually networks of influence between them.
The division into two groups of artistic vanguards it is usually the most accepted, and they correspond to two «waves«, One that covers from 1847 to 1945, although with different nuances according to the authors, and a second that takes place in the second half of the 20th century.
Here we propose our own classification criterion that, to guide the reader, aims to focus on the most important historical periods in which they were born and / or developed.
The approximate dates of their appearance are also presented, such as the realization of the first works of each movement or the publication of the first manifesto, as well as the main representatives.
Main artistic vanguards
Impressionistic waves (some authors exempt them from the group of the vanguards, classifying it as an independent movement):
- Impressionism (1874): Manet, Degas, Renoir, Monet, Pizarro, Cézzane.
- Neo-Impressionism or Pointillism (1884): Georges Seurat, Paul Signac.
- Post-Impressionism (1910): Van Gogh, Gaugain, Toulouse-Lautrec.
Until the outbreak of World War I (1914):
- Fauvism (1905): Henri Matisse, Gustave Moureau.
- Expressionism (1905): Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Munch, Klee, Kandinski.
- Cubism (1907): Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Louis Marcoussis, Juan Gris.
- Futurism (1909): Filippo Tomasso Marinetti, Giacommo Balla, Gino Severini.
During World War I (1914-1918), the interwar period (until 1936) and World War II (1936-45):
- Constructivism (1913): group ofDe Stijl.
- Dadaism (1916): Tristan Tzara, Marcel Duchamp, Georges Grosz.
- Neoplasticism (1917): Piet Mondrian.
- Surrealism (1924): Salvador Dalí, Man Ray, René Magritte.
Second half of the 20th century (trends):
– Informalists and abstraction: abstract expressionism, material painting, New School of Paris ...
– Rationalists: especially in architecture (Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Bauhaus group), although they arise at various times and many develop their works in periods prior to World War II, these trends and influences still survive in the present.
– Trends of the New Representation: Pop art (Andy Warhol), Land Art (Robert Smithson, Christo…), Happening, Performance…
Romantic, in the artistic sense of the word. In my adolescence both family and friends reminded me over and over that I was an inveterate humanist, as I spent time doing what perhaps others not so much, believing myself to be Bécquer, immersed in my own artistic fantasies, in books and movies, constantly wanting to travel and explore the world, admired for my historical past and for the wonderful productions of the human being. That is why I decided to study History and combine it with Art History, because it seemed to me the most appropriate way to carry out the skills and passions that characterize me: reading, writing, traveling, researching, knowing, making known, educating. Disclosure is another of my motivations, because I understand that there is no word that has real value if it is not because it has been transmitted effectively. And with this, I am determined that everything I do in my life has an educational purpose.