What is the relation between the concept of the avant garde and the art associated with it?
For Poggioli, the emergence of avant-garde art coincides with its conceptualization, (somewhat like a "speech act"?) and this self-consiousness seems inseparable.
For Poggioli, futurism defines one central aspect of the avant-garde, which in Ortega Y Gasset's words, is that the historical task of the contemporary artist is to "work in the present for the future". In this "historical mythology of contemporary art" the work of the avant-garde presents the shape of things to come. Poggioli differentiates between the actual artistic movement of Futurism and that movement's claim to the concept of the avant-garde. For Poggioli,Futurism "possessed in its name the most successful and suggestive formula thought up by the avant-garde" but the movement "was one of the lowliest and vulgar manifestations of avant-garde culture" (p.143) If real futurism is dead forever, ideal futurism is still living, precisely because it renews itself in the consciousness of each successive avant-garde. (p.223). Reyner Banham also enthusiastically described the Futurist example and its exaltation of speed while distancing himself from its politics.
For Jürgen Habermas, this attitude towards time defines the spirit and discipline of aesthetic modernity, which assumed clear contours in the work of Baudelaire and reached its climax in the Café Voltaire of the Dadaists and in Surrealism. ( see "Modernity versus Postmodernity" in New German Critique, no. 22, Winter 1981.) For Habermas, the new time consciousness, which enters philosophy in the writings of Bergson exalts in fact the present in the cult of the new.
Benjamin Buchloh delineates avant-garde practice as "a continually renewed struggle over the definition of cultural meaning, the discovery and representation of new audiences, and the development of new strategies to counteract and develop resistance against the tendency of the ideological apparatuses of the culture industry to occupy and control all practices and spaces of representation." ("Theorizing the Avant-Garde," Art in America, November, 1984)
Is any distinction to be made between Modernity and the Avant-Garde? Is the avant-garde merely the most extreme form of the modern revolt against the normalizing functions of tradition?
Romanticism for Poggioli (alienation):
Poggioli stresses the romantic origins of the avant garde, both in its alienation from the public and in its concept of a "movement", with its emphasis on dynamism. Here again, any distinction between the avant-garde and modernism starts to become blurred.
Relation to political avant-garde:
One of the more surprising of Poggioli's assertions is that the avant-garde "can exist only in the type of society that is liberal-democratic from the political point of view, (and) bourgeois-capitalistic from the socioeconomic point of view" (p.106) For Poggioli, "the hypothesis (...) that aesthetic radicalism and social radicalism, revolutionaries in art and revolutionaries in politics, are allied, which empirically seems valid, is theoretically and historically erroneous. (italics added) If avant-garde artists often espouse extremist causes, for Poggioli this is more out of "love of adventure", attraction to nihilistic elements within those political tendencies, or even a certain "morbid fascination" of avant-garde artists for Communism. For him, the only recurring political ideology within the avant-garde is the most antipolitical of all: libertarianism and anarchism. For Poggioli, avant garde art can simply not exist under totalitarian regimes, be the Fascist or Communist. Instead, he posits a "natural and organic bond" between avant-garde art and (liberal) society. He believes that cultural conditions for avant garde make it "blessed in its liberty, cursed in its indifference" and that "Indifference is the natural product of tolerance." Thus the "genuine art of a bourgeois society can only be antibourgeois"
Observations on this strange symbiosis are central to much of the writing of the Frankfurt School (cf Marcuse's " Repressive Tolerance", Adorno's "Cultural Criticism and Society") The Frankfurt school sought to place the issues of culture within a broad context of cultural politics and a critique of the emergence of the "consciousness industry". Yet critics of the Frankfurt school point out that the autonomy aesthetic remained the focal point of their investigations, which lead even Lukács and Adorno to avoid discussion of the social function of art.
Peter Bürger's Theory of the Avant-Garde differs fundamentally from Poggioli's in its interpretation of the avant-garde in relation to the "social inconsequentiality of autonomous art" in bourgeois society. If Modernism (and Formalism) can the understood as an attack on traditional techniques, the avant-garde must be understood as an attack on the institution of "art" and the mode in which autonomy functions.
Fashion as the perpetual standarization of novelty -- the production of stereotypes -- is a specifically modern phenomenon. The beauty of art, as defined by Ezra Pound, lies in "a brief gasp between one cliché and another." Fashion is a "cement" for adherence based on affinity. (cf Greenberg "Avant-garde and Kitsch")
In "Avant-Garde and Kitsch", written in 1939 (at the time of the Hitler-Stalin Pact?) Clement Greenberg describes the task of the avant-garde as "not to 'experiment', but to find a path along which it would be possible to keep culture moving in the midst of ideological confusion and violence." This ability of avant-garde culture to keep moving is for Greenberg a result of a "superior consciousness of history" that results from historical criticism which he contrasts to the motionless of Alexandrianism that previously resulted from a society's increasing inability to "justify the inevitability of its particular forms" (note that both of these cultural forms seem to arise in periods of decay) Greenberg's brief description of the avant-garde's turn to "pure" and "abstract" art, to its specialization and attention to its own medium, provide a foretaste of the themes that would dominate his writing after the war and already states his conviction that it is "by no other means possible today to create art and literature of a high order."
In this essay, Greenberg's "Eliotic Trotskyism" causes him to describe avant-garde art as aristocratic (although he doesn't use the term) in that its appreciation requires effort, education, and an elite public. Understandably, in 1939, he sees that culture as threatened. Not only is the avant garde in danger of losing the "umbilical cord of gold" which connects it to the ruling class, but, more crucially, it finds itself pitted against the powerful rear-guard of Kitsch. (see popular culture)
What is the relation between the avant-garde and modernization?