What is the point of the avant garde?
The avant garde can be shocking, but it is not a deliberate attempt to shock
Posted on: 4th July 2013
Many of my favourite illustrators (such as, for example, Aubrey Beardsley) were associated with the ‘avant garde’.
'Avant garde' means ‘before its time’ – it is a new approach. Avant garde culture can be misunderstood, particularly by those who do not have 'open' or enquiring minds. The avant garde can often be shocking - but it is not a deliberate attempt to shock.
Without new approaches, fossilisation sets in
New approaches in all fields are important. Without them fossilisation sets in. However, avant garde work is often controversial because many people are alarmed by change - particularly by change that seems to challenge social norms and stability.
That is why Beardsley was seen as alarming, particularly in the expression he gave to female sexuality (a huge 'no-no') for late Victorian and Edwardian males. (The traditional advice to a young husband with a feisty wife was ”'Put her in the family way m'boy, put her in the family way”.)
When Beardsley’s work explored taboo themes, it was naturally a shock. However, in my view there is no doubt that we are better off because of his work and that of other avant garde artists.
The value of the avant garde, then, is that it allows us to see new possibilities and to make progress.