The Avant-Garde; welcome to the machine

Published by Denegroth in the blog Denegroth's blog. Views: 156

"It's art, but it's not what we're buying."

"This looks good to me, but do you have a degree? I may not know what I'm talking about."

"Can you provide a back story for this, and maybe a love interest?"

"No one wants an all oriental book. Put a white man in there somewhere."

When the ones guarding the doors to financial success through art are inclined to come up with gems like these, what hope has anyone trying to break down the frontiers of creative expression? If everyone is busy producing what sells, how does an art form progress into the future? Wouldn't it pretty much stay the same decade after decade after decade? If the art doesn't progress, how can the culture?

"Do what you can sell, then when you're established do your art."

How can any work be called art when its inception and creation are driven by the profit motive? Has anyone asked themselves any of these questions - or anything similar? Welcome to the world of avant-garde. It's French for "advanced guard." It's the front line. If your work is radical, unorthodox, nontraditional, experimental or innovative you are on the front line. You are the avant-garde.

So, why would being among those who are trying to increase our understanding of the nature of artistic expression, trying to move the frontiers outward as humanity moves forward in time, trying to enhance the available modes, media and method of creativity so culture is richer, and thereby shows the signs of sophistication and aesthetic intricacy commensurate with its age -rather than becoming stale and decrepit; why is this a bad thing?

Unless the artist is independently wealthy, he or she requires backing of some sort, and this of course is financial backing. This is the world of capitalism as a religion, where art is seen as a marketable product, and no more. Sure, much lip service is paid to how important art is to our culture, ta da ta da, but when it comes right down to it, it's either a saleable product, or it is not. And, as we all know in the great cathedral of sales, people only back things that they know will sell. Without the genius and insight of particularly clever people, this then becomes what has sold before. Logic dictates.

Not surprisingly, established society has come to label the avant-garde as anti-capitalism. This can't be entirely true, as most artists are eager to sell their work. They are just as eager to spend the money. Yet, this criticism seems to be a reaction to the threat of unknown change, as it is also recognized by established society that art can be a powerful engine for change, and when change is in the air, nobody's safe...or, so the rumor goes.

The story goes that all innovations were eventually incorporated and became conventional culture adopted by established society. So, where's the problem? I'm not going to be the one to answer that. I'm instead going to see how brave, or indoctrinated others are in attempting to either justify or rationalize this situation. I will say this much. Did you know there was a time when the United States of America subsidized art? (I mention the U.S. as the bastion of the "free market" as the be all end all to humanity's living condition.) They actually paid artists a stipend to help them with living expenses so they could create. Imagine taking the cost of one aircraft carrier and instead spending it on your nation's artists. That would have to violate some supreme free market edict. We all know we're only supposed to subsidize arms manufacturers and spies! Come on now! Get real!

The surviving while you try to succeed problem exists worldwide, I daresay. I heard an Australian comic urging his fellow citizens to get on the dole. And, I've heard there is this dole in England (or the UK?) It wouldn't be surprising if the backers of Brexit were also anti-dole. If there isn't such a term I just invented it! If you look at the ancient archeological digs which are so rich with bas reliefs, sculptures, mosaics, fountains and gardens, which we are so eager to haul off and show in our museums as examples of fine ancient arts, it's easy to see at one time the greatest civilizations not only subsidized art, they incorporated art into the very structure of their civilizations. The one didn't exist without the other.

And, it's not surprising that as the origin of the concept of the avant-garde rose, along with it rose a counter-measure - fascism. Fascists placed controlling art, what it was, who owned it and its placement at the top of their to-do lists. They were quick to use visual art, architecture, and literature to cement their institutional authority and ensure their label was everywhere one looked so there was no doubt who was in charge - a form of territorial pissing. And, as I mentioned before, artists who did not toe the line were labeled decadent, and put out of business. If they complained too loudly, they were "dealt with."

Why is it not surprising then to see crops of artists maturing whose whole focus on what they produce, what their art conveys - if it conveys anything but entertainment - is, "What will meet the approval of the people who control the money?" In music there's a distinction between artists and entertainers. In visual art there's a distinction between the artist and the decorator, (decoration being a craft, not an art.) In rationalizing this, or justifying it to others, oneself or ones peers, does one find oneself using logic and reason as an apologetic for ones position in the scheme of things? Or, is art really the lie which reveals the truth?

Ubu Roi
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