Avant Garde Kitsch Essay

Avant Garde Kitsch Essay-5
Contrary to Clement Greenberg's formulation of avant-garde aesthetics in "Towards a Newer Laocošn" (1940), most of what we now consider avant-garde art does not so much "surrender to the resistance of its medium"2 but rather draws attention to, undermines, and corrodes the sanctity of the conventions which prescribe that medium's customary usage. In order to critique the state of art and artistic production in contemporary culture, avant-garde practices generally involve a significant revision of the relationship between the producer and his medium.

Contrary to Clement Greenberg's formulation of avant-garde aesthetics in "Towards a Newer Laocošn" (1940), most of what we now consider avant-garde art does not so much "surrender to the resistance of its medium"2 but rather draws attention to, undermines, and corrodes the sanctity of the conventions which prescribe that medium's customary usage. In order to critique the state of art and artistic production in contemporary culture, avant-garde practices generally involve a significant revision of the relationship between the producer and his medium.

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Thus, while Jackson Pollock's application of paint to his canvas in drips and dribbles is extremely inventive, the absence of a relationship between his use of materials and a critical interest in the nature and practice of art excludes him from the ranks of the avant-garde. According to Walter Benjamin, MallarmŽ "was the first [artist and poet] to incorporate the graphic tension of the advertisement in the printed page"3, undermining the sanctity of the poem as a purely artistic, autonomous production while underlining its covert status as cultural commodity.

Indeed, Greenberg's faith in Abstract Expressionism as the ultimate vanguard has been dismissed by most art historians, whose critical and historical accounts of avant-gardism emphasize its debt to the experimental art of the nineteenth century, and to those artists who demonstrated a prescient interest in questions of media. MallarmŽ's interest in multimedia aesthetics is developed in the twentieth century by Dada artists like Kurt Schwitters, whose own vanguard movement, Merz, was committed to the production of a Gesamtkunstwerk ("total work of art") that included multiple genres and forms of media, including painting, sculpture, typography, architecture, and performance art.

Krauss, Rosalind, "Video: The Aesthetics of Narcissism." October, Vol.1, no.1. 2 Clement Greenberg, "Towards a Newer Laocošn," in The Collected Essays and Criticism, Volume I: Perceptions and Judgments (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1986), 34.

Durham: Duke University Press, 1987 Image Gallery Jackson Pollock, Convergence (1952) Stephane MallarmŽ, pages from Un coup de dŽs (1897) photograph of Kurt Schwitters, Hanover Merzbau (1930) Hannah Hoch, Sliced with the Dada Kitchen Knife Through the Last Weimar Beerbelly Cultural Epoch Germany (1919-20) Andy Warhol, Orange Car Crash (1963) Max Ernst, Oedipus Rex (1922) Marcel Duchamp, Fountain (1917) Marcel Broodthaers MusŽe d'Art Moderne, DŽpartement des Aigles (1968) Hans Haacke, Mo Ma-Poll (1970) Robert Morris, Corner Piece (1964) Nam June Paik, Magnet TV (1965) Kara Walker, Gone: An Historical Romance of Civil War As it Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of Young Negress and Her Heart (1994) Yoshimoto Nara, Fountain of Life (2001) Zoe Leonard, Pin-Up #1 (Jennifer Miller Does Marilyn Monroe) (1995) Richard Prince, from the book Women (2004) 1 Olinde Rodrigues, "L'artiste, le savant et l'industriel," translated and quoted in Matei Calinescu, The Five Faces of Modernity: Modernism, Avant-Garde, Decadence, Kitsch, Postmodernism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1987), 103.

" without necessarily attempting to answer it, and it is this thematization of seemingly insoluble questions about the nature of aesthetics, art, and art-making that is usually-though not always-allied to a program of social and political radicalism.

The avant-garde artist poses the question, "What is art?

Such approaches tend to evince what may be the single most definitive characteristic of avant-gardism: namely, a highly-developed consciousness regarding the institutionalized practice of "art" itself.

It was this meaning evoked by Olinde Rodrigues in his essay "L'artiste, le savant et l'industriel" (1825), which contains the first recorded use of "avant-garde" in its now-customary sense: there, Rodrigues calls on artists to "serve as [the people's] avant-garde," insisting that "the power of the arts is indeed the most immediate and fastest way" to social, political, and economic reform.1 Following Rodrigues, since the mid-nineteenth century "the avant-garde" has come to signify a more or less amorphous collective of highly innovative, path-breaking artists whose unorthodox ideological commitments manifest themselves in non-traditional approaches to artistic and cultural production.

Warhol's interest in the unavailability of immediacy suggest an oppositional response to the earlier avant-gardism of the Surrealist movement, whose practitioners-including AndrŽ Breton, Salvador Dal’, and Max Ernst-attempted to represent, in Breton's words, "a transmutation of those two extremely contradictory states, dream and reality, into an absolute state of surreality." The efforts of the Surrealists to "systematize confusion and thus...discredit completely the world of reality,"6 were (and are) often condemned for being irresponsibly apolitical, geared towards the narcissistic production of phantasmatic images rather than the conscious reformation of current socio-political conditions.

While some Surrealists (like Breton) were obviously politically active, the relative indifference of Surrealism to questions of media, and how such questions serve to critique the idea of art as such, distinguish it from the twentieth century's other avant-garde movements.

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