#7 Avant-Garde vs. the Rear

Constantin Brancusi, “Princesse X” (1915-1916)

brancusi - princess

Jonathan’s Post

If you’re worried about whether or not you’re the avant-garde, here’s a simple test: Reduce your artistic medium to a noun, and think about whether repeating that noun twice in a row with the first noun being possessive accurately describes what you’re doing. If the answer is yes, then congratulations! Are you an artist? Or an artists’ artist? A poet? Or A Poets’ poet?

The avant-garde culture is the imitation of imitating. Instead of taking inspiration from everyday ordinary experience the avant-garde is driven by the medium that it is in. Concrete content itself lose its importance, and should furthermore, having subject matter as the centerpiece of your artistic venture should be avoided AT ALL COSTS. The avant-garde artist tries to do as little translation of real life into art as possible.

Therefore, it is abstract, but not blindly so. It derives its meaning from its own art form and its historic disciplines, and the essence of what makes an art form what it is. “Content is to be dissolved so completely into form that the work of art or literature so completely cannot be reduced in whole or in part to anything not itself” (Greenberg 3)

There is certainly a historic context for this. The avant-garde can be attributed to the Bourgeois and the ruling classes in the mid 19th century not to experiment, but to keep culture moving along, particularly when social strata and politics seem uncertain. While avant-garde can be likened to Alexandrianism because of its imitation, the avant-garde TRIES not to be static, and therefore create high art that is new.

On the other side of the ring, we have Kitsch, who is doing a pretty good job. Kitsch seems be the contemporary art form analogous with Gothic or Rococo, and with a extremely negative connotation. Kitsch entertains the masses, and seems to come about when an industrialized society elevates poor peasants just enough so they abandon folk art, but stops before they achieve leisure and formal culture.  Consumerism increases, but opulent consumerism disappears. Like Poshlost, consumption becomes ostentatious. As Greenberg puts it “If the avant-garde imitates the process of art, kitsch, we now see, imitates its effects”. Kitsch makes the consumer’s job a whole lot easier, and provides something full, albeit vicarious to the consumer.

Kitsch is pretty dangerous and potent too so be careful. It spreads very quickly, ignoring geographic features and international borders. It’s accessible to the entire world. Even if replicating the avant-garde is as easy as replicating kitsch, there’s a reason why Kitsch is more popular.


Is Kitsch really a new phenomenon?? What makes it so potent, and did that essence, whatever it may be not really exist before the industrial age?

Why is the avant-garde threatened? Whose job is it to protect and create the avant-garde?


4 thoughts on “#7 Avant-Garde vs. the Rear

  1. The “Five Faces of Modernity” reading talks about how kitsch has roots in romanticism, yet is a modern phenomenon. In response to Jonathan’s first question, kitsch appears to be a recent branch of aesthetics, partly because it is so entwined with industrial development and commercialism. In an age of industrial and mechanical production, we can obtain “high art” for cheap — we can put it in our living rooms, make it into wallpaper, etc. Yet we might find ourselves nostalgic for the “idyll of history where set conventions are still valid” (Calinescu, pg. 239). This is where kitsch comes in, to console our nostalgia and provide a falsified aesthetic in which we can pour our equally falsified sentiments.

  2. The avant-garde is threatened by both itself as dominant popular culture. To avoid becoming palatable and having a cohesive, reproducible style, the avant-garde must constantly reinvent and object to itself. Popular culture is palatable, and seeks to make culture palatable to spread its mass effect.

  3. Piggy-backing off Maddie’s point, I too think kitsch is predicated on mass production. Initially, I thought about if the Church distributed rosaries to soldiers during pre-industrial age wars, and, assuming those rosaries were of similar material and make, could they be considered kitsch. When thinking about kitsch, one thing I feel is that kitsch constantly strives for an elite aura in which some of it is influenced by, yet its always doomed to fail. Calinescu lended language to those feelings with his notion of “aesthetic inadequacy”. The rosaries, though, probably never tried emulating a more ornate rosary. Their aesthetics were presumably considered not of elite material culture, but also were not crafted as a response to non-elite need for material culture of a similar aura.

    Though this is one example, I think its telling of the possibilities for kitschiness pre-industrialization. Also, if kitsch serves as a material response for wanting financially accessible, seemingly useless things mimicking grandeur of elite material culture, such could not be produced on such scale and speed I think necessary for it to be considered aesthetically inadequate for a population.

  4. In theory, both the avant-garde and kitsch developed as “more democratic” art forms–the avant-garde because of its rejection of the bourgeois, and kitsch because of its accessibility. Considering the trajectories that these styles took, can either claim any real democratization of art? Is art ever democratic?

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