Avant-garde cultures.

Essay by bobwatsonUniversity, Bachelor'sA-, September 2005

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Another characteristically modern artistic culture is definable by two aspects: a principled sense of alienation from significant aspects of existing reality and a conscious commitment to overcoming the deficiencies of existing reality by artistic means of a completely novel character. One of the distinguishable types of this artistic culture is the bohemian avant-garde, which tends to be alienated from all rational and utilitarian aspects of social organization and cultural tradition and aims to create a new kind of exaggeratedly irrational art and, perhaps even more important, an irrational style of life. (Typical of this group is the French poet and critic Charles Baudelaire.) Its behaviour centres on the ambivalent and the self-consciously paradoxical: a tradition of pursuit of the new, the cultivation of a pleasureless hedonism, the development of systems for the liberation of spontaneity. Another type of this culture is the radical (politically committed) avant-garde, which regards itself as alienated from "oppressive" and "exploitative" political and economic institutions and tries to create a new kind of art intended to undermine faith in these institutions and to provide a basis for their abolition or reconstruction (an example is the German poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht). These two avant-garde cultures overlap, and, over time, one may change into the other.

The alienated type is more influential among artists when faith in ideological utopias declines generally in their society. Perhaps because of its tendency to limit itself to consciously recognized and intended purposes, the aesthetic achievements of the radical avant-garde (the "prophets") have been less significant, so far, than those of the alienated avant-garde (the "mystics"). More recently, a third type has emerged: the anti-artistic avant-garde, which is alienated from the very notion of art and its practice as heretofore conceived, even (or perhaps especially) in the other versions of...