A Look into the Avant-Garde

(Andrew Hearst, 2006)

Avant-Garde.’ A phrase derived from the French language meaning “fore-guard” or “vanguard,” it refers to people or works which challenge both the status quo of a certain time, and what is taught as the “norm” in society; the hope for deviation.

The word was first said to be used in this manner in an 1825 essay by the French banker, mathematician and activist Olinde Rodrigues. Named ‘L’artiste, le savant et l’industriel’ (‘The Artist, the Scientist and the Industrialist’), he exclaimed that artists should “serve as the people’s avant-garde” and that the arts are the “most immediate and fastest way” (to reform in society). ‘Avant-Garde’ as a movement, was likely the result of this ideology.

And, as you may know, there have been a lot of artists who have been in on the idea over the years. Popular examples include John Cage, Erik Satie and Edgard Varèse, each of whom were composers. They brought existing conventions forward; pioneering things like electronic music, electroacoustics, minimalism and surrealism.

The most commonly quoted example of avant-garde is John Cage’s 4’33”. It instructs performers to not play their instrument for a duration of four minutes and thirty-three seconds. Contrary to popular belief, 4’33” is not a silent piece, as it actually concerns itself with the ambience around the musician. To this day, it is still argued if it counts as auditory art.

But something we can all agree on, is how deep the avant-garde rabbit hole goes. There are all sorts of diverging trends in this area; it is a big thing. It could even change the world as we know it. It certainly has before. It’s just about the execution. So, the big question is, would you dare to be different?

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