Death of the avant-garde
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"Though one often hears about “the death of the avant-garde, - usually from publicists with cemeteries to defend, it is not the purpose of this book to engage in an argument I take to be irrelevant at best." --A Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes (1993) by Richard Kostelanetz
Since the 1960s, many cultural critics and historians have declared the avant-garde dead. Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Roland Barthes, Robert Hughes and Eric Hobsbawm are some of the scholars and critics who have relegated the avant-garde to the past. The most frequently cited cause of this evolution is the unexpected mainstream success of avant-garde art which led to its co-optation.
The first publication dedicated specifically to the death of the avant-garde, was Enzensberger's The Aporias of the Avant-Garde (1962). A useful summary chapter, "The Crisis of Avant-Garde's Concept in the 1960s" is provided in Five Faces of Modernity (1977) by Matei Călinescu.
In defense of the avant-garde, some contemporary critics argue that the avant-garde is not dead, offering that there will always be transgressive artists ahead of their time producing art with 'shock value' and causing succès de scandale, art that succeeds in épater la bourgeoisie.
Hans Magnus Enzensberger
Most frequently cited perhaps is The Aporias of the Avant-Garde (1962), an extended essay by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, in which he said that "the avant of the avant-garde contains its own contradiction: it can be marked out only a posteriori."
- "After I Am Curious Yellow (1967), Last Tango in Paris (1972), A Clockwork Orange, (1971) or Straw Dogs (1971), it is becoming increasingly difficult to shock the bourgeoisie, who now accept all insults with a benign smile, secure in the knowledge that their pockets are not being picked simultaneously."
- "Where did this new academy begin? At its origins the avant-garde myth had held the artist to be a precursor; the significant work is the one that prepares the future. The cult of the precursor ended by cluttering the landscape with absurd prophetic claims. The idea of a cultural avant-garde was unimaginable before 1800. It was fostered by the rise of liberalism. Where the taste of religious or secular courts determined patronage, "subversive" innovation was not esteemed as a sign of artistic quality. Nor was the artist's autonomy, that would come with the Romantics."
- "It's a central thesis of my work that in the 20th century (which I call the Age of Hollywood) pagan popular culture overtook and vanquished the high arts. Thanks to advances in technology, pop became a universal language, as catholic in its reach as the medieval church. Once pop art embraced commercial iconography, the avant-garde was dead."
- The Aporias of the Avant-Garde, 1962, an extended essay by Hans Magnus Enzensberger
- Death of the Author, 1967, a similar essay by Roland Barthes
- "The Death of Avant-Garde Literature", 1964, an essay by Leslie Fiedler
- The Age of the Avant-Garde, 1973, Hilton Kramer