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Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631207535.1997.x


This term, taken from French military usage designating the select corps which went out in advance of the main body of troops, is applied to the political and the cultural spheres (particularly the visual arts) to describe those individuals or groups whose ideas and work seem ahead of the times. The concept of an avant-garde functioned as a primary stratagem in the description of modern art, which was seen as a battleground where certain artists thrust toward new territory while conservative forces held fast to tradition. Surveys of modern art start at different times, but those written prior to the 1980s begin in the same place – with the notion of an artistic revolution against the established order led by an avant-garde. For John Canady, Mainstreams of Modern Art (1959), modernism begins with Jacques-Louis David, whose life and art are presented as part of the violent break that the French Revolution makes with the aristocratic tradition of the rococo. The pattern that Canady then describes is revolution followed by counterrevolution of the next avant-garde, with new forward positions continually being established in art throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, from neoclassicism to abstract expressionism. At the time when the abstract expressionist avant-garde began to be eclipsed by the next avant-garde, Harold R osenberg sees a new historical pattern developing: ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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