The renowned British author and Chrisitan apologist writer, C.S Lewis once said, “The first demand any art makes upon us is surrender. Start by looking. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way. There’s no good in asking yourself first whether the work before you deserve such a surrender, for until you have surrendered, you can’t possibly find out. You can’t possibly find out the merits of the work until you’ve entered the work until you submit yourself to it.”
Avant-Garde was all about going against the academic understanding of art, going against the predetermined rules on what art is and how it should be created. It began with 19th-century impressionism, creating havoc in the world of art.
Let’s break it down for you, what is Impressionism?
It all began in 1876 during Salon des Refusés, French for “an exhibition of rejects” in France. The Salon showcases a plethora of artwork rejected by the French Academy of Fine Arts. Why did the academy reject artworks, you might wonder? They loved historical and religious-themed paintings, they loved the realistic renditions of people and gods. They were willing to pay a hefty commission for such paintings. Landscape and still life, in their eyes, were inferior and meaningless. These presumably “inferior” artworks landed up in the Salon, some of which by notable painters associated with the Salon like Monet, Pierre Renoir, and Edouard Manet. Their work exposed the public to a genre of painting that was unknown, it was revolutionary. Impressionism then became glorified and popular because it was so avant-garde.
Impressionism gave way to all other styles in the avant-garde movement: Post-Impressionism, Symbolism, Cubism, and ultimately, Dada.
Dada was the very first anti-art movement which is believed to have been a cause of the first world war in 1916. (Just another example of how impactful art is in a society, it’s political structures, economy and ultimately, it’s culture)The Dadaists believed art was fuelled by classism and was rather constricted, regulated, and restrained. They wanted art to express society’s crisis, its problems, and the very nature of humanity.
To term them as an extremist anti-art pressure group would be controversial but they did have their fair share of manifestos, demonstrations, and fights to put forward their value system.
One exemplary artist from the Dadaism movement was Marcel Duchamp, whose work is still incorporated into the recent techniques of art. He believed that art could be made out of anything, and so he proudly showcased a rack of bottles in 1914, which back then, seemed utterly ridiculous and meaningless to art critics.
Suprematism, a Russian art movement allowed painters to diverge from the classical realistic method of painting with shapes, objects, and people and allowed them to include geometrical shapes only to give meaning to their work.
Futurism, on the other hand, was an Italian movement in the early 20th century that has been accredited with fuelling violence and glorifying it. It was protest art and it was the root of many controversies.
The avant-garde movement allowed various forms of art to combine and also be influenced by one another, instead of being separate entities. For example, Debussy took inspiration from Impressionist art and used it in his musical pieces. Today, all forms of art are interconnected and art itself has become a multi-disciplinary platform.
These movements are considered avant-garde because they’ve succeeded in breaking down these set beliefs about what art is, they metamorphosized the historical concepts of art and turned it into an amalgamation of various mediums, breaking all restraints the previous generations of artists had. They forced the world to look at the so-called meaningless racks of bottles as works of art, for anything placed in an artistic context is then inherently a form of art.
This shaped the early modern era of art and further so on, a butterfly effect. It is through these revolutionary movements that the forms of art we see today have come to fame. If it weren’t for revolutionaries and brave-hearted, dedicated artists like Picasso, Monet, Duchamp, and many more, we would have never evolved into what we are today.
They are the fathers of minimalism, pop art, surrealism, and conceptual art, and what-not!
It took us decades to accept art for not it’s subject-matter but for its true form.
Through the blessing of social media, the digital revolution has allowed hundreds of thousands of artists to create whatever they believe art is in their eyes. Today, art is an amalgamation of visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, and gustatory senses. It’s not just restricted to mediums or themes. And we have a lot of avant-garde soldiers to thank for that.