Author Topic: The Avant-Garde and declining returns  (Read 4004 times)

Cain

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The Avant-Garde and declining returns
« on: February 08, 2010, 09:59:57 pm »
One thing worries me about the state of the avant-garde, as an artistic mode.

The avant-garde, as a rule, attempts to push boundaries and change social norms, usually through shocking methods.  Dada is still the epitome of this in many respects, with its constant trolling of the art world and negation of every artistic convention of the time, setting the standards for later groups to measure themselves against.

But this method, while it may have worked in the past is going to suffer from declining returns.  These are some of the reasons why:

Desensitisation.  Certain limits have already been broken.  Blasphemy and the like may cause "controversy", in a staid, media sense of the term, but they don't cause the sort of shock avant-garde artists seem to seek anymore.  Equally, "anti-art" methods are nearly a hundred years old - the artistic establishment now positively fawns over warmed-over neo-Dada works.  The Tate Modern, for example, is about as subversive and threatening to the artistic order as the latest "readymade" pop starlet.  Gratuitous sex and violence are easily available in our every day media and web downloads.  People aren't as easily shocked as they were a hundred years ago, and while some people still operate on a mostly symbolic level in how they interpret their lives, those symbols are rarely state, church and family anymore.  Recycled garbage from the New Left doesn't cut it.

Art is a ghetto.  Let's face it, apart from "entertainment" reporting, art recieves virtually no attention anymore.  Once upon a time, artists had patrons and were the darlings of high society - now they recieve grants and have their work appear gallery shows for the nouveau-riche, who usually want to show how broad-minded and novel they are by "appreciating" or even buying pieces.  Attempts to break out of the artistic ghetto rarely engage people, instead putting a greater divide between performer and audience (Improv Everywhere, for example). 

The Shock doesn't last.  Even if a shock is created by a piece of art, it is quickly submerged by the dullness of routine and everyday life.  It becomes a brief diversion, an amusement, something to fill up the empty gaps in an otherwise full day.  As a limited exposure, it can only do so much without being followed up on.

There are of course ways to compensate for this.  Art can become even more shocking, for example, moving into quasi-terroristic areas (Don DeLillo suggests that this has already happened, but in reverse.  Terrorists are, according to him, the epitome of novelists and artists).  By selecting contentious targets and manipulating the media, they can create effects that last much longer, and perhaps effect some of the change they want to create.

But these don't seem all that viable in the long run, do they?  As methods, they run up against limits, be they legal, or narrative (the media gets bored of your attention-grabbing antics) or otherwise.  You can only press so many buttons, target so many hot issues in so many ways, before people bore of the act again.

So what happens next?  Where does this leave the avant-garde?  Obviously there are always going to be certain taboos to be broken, but these continue to be less and less over time.

Riffing on the terrorism theme, John Robb suggests conventional terrorist groups suffer from similar problems, and that the best thing they can do to avoid this is to switch to systems attacks, designed to cause economic damage and dislocation.  But can that translate over to the avant-garde?  And if so, how?  Would that involve...oh, I don't know, the invention of certain techniques and methods designed to disrupt the normal workings of the human mind, not based in symbolic artistry, but more subtle and perhaps scientifically grounded methods?  I admit I am totally speculating here.  How else could the avante-garde overcome these problems?  Perhaps by creating new values to later undermine?

I'm open to suggestions.
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Re: The Avant-Garde and declining returns
« Reply #1 on: February 08, 2010, 10:01:32 pm »
Hmmm...I am in serious danger of having an idea.

I'll come back to this later.
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Cain

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Re: The Avant-Garde and declining returns
« Reply #2 on: February 08, 2010, 10:37:17 pm »
Excellent, I look forward to it.
"The thoughts of all men arise from the darkness. If you are the movement of your soul, and the cause of that movement precedes you, then how could you ever call your thoughts your own? How could you be anything other than a slave to the darkness that comes before? Only the Logos allows one to mitigate that slavery. Only knowing the sources of thought and action allows us to own our thoughts and our actions, to throw off the yoke of circumstance."
- R. Scott Bakker, The Darkness That Comes Before

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Re: The Avant-Garde and declining returns
« Reply #3 on: February 08, 2010, 10:42:32 pm »
All I can think of is throwing a fake body off of a building with a brief case full of fake-money, and it hits the ground then the fake-money goes everywhere.

.. but that wont last too long.

If something interesting comes to mind, I'll share it.

But now I feel like carrying around a brief case full of fake money, then accidently letting the wind take it all....
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Re: The Avant-Garde and declining returns
« Reply #4 on: February 09, 2010, 12:38:27 am »
Desensitisation.  Certain limits have already been broken.  Blasphemy and the like may cause "controversy", in a staid, media sense of the term, but they don't cause the sort of shock avant-garde artists seem to seek anymore.  Equally, "anti-art" methods are nearly a hundred years old - the artistic establishment now positively fawns over warmed-over neo-Dada works.  The Tate Modern, for example, is about as subversive and threatening to the artistic order as the latest "readymade" pop starlet.  Gratuitous sex and violence are easily available in our every day media and web downloads.  People aren't as easily shocked as they were a hundred years ago, and while some people still operate on a mostly symbolic level in how they interpret their lives, those symbols are rarely state, church and family anymore.  Recycled garbage from the New Left doesn't cut it.

It's possible that the progression of shock art isn't an ongoing incrementation so much as a cycle, with certain forms of shock waxing and waning with how well they are represented in recent memory.

There will always be something outside of the current status quo, something forbidden or taboo. In 25 years, when they're showing High Def rimjobs on network TV, maybe it'll be really sexy and taboo to tie somebody up and steal their identity on the internet.


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Quote
Art is a ghetto.  Let's face it, apart from "entertainment" reporting, art recieves virtually no attention anymore.  Once upon a time, artists had patrons and were the darlings of high society - now they recieve grants and have their work appear gallery shows for the nouveau-riche, who usually want to show how broad-minded and novel they are by "appreciating" or even buying pieces.  Attempts to break out of the artistic ghetto rarely engage people, instead putting a greater divide between performer and audience (Improv Everywhere, for example). 

fucking TRUTH. Art discourse is something only relevant to other artists. It's barely significantly influencing culture anymore, media is.

Although some people would argue that the real art is now taking place on places like youtube.

Quote
The Shock doesn't last.  Even if a shock is created by a piece of art, it is quickly submerged by the dullness of routine and everyday life.  It becomes a brief diversion, an amusement, something to fill up the empty gaps in an otherwise full day.  As a limited exposure, it can only do so much without being followed up on.

this is a really strong point

POSTERGASM, for example, may only give people a brief "a-ha!" at the moment of contact. Maybe something cool spins out of the retelling of that experience.

My hope is that these little events and experiences form the backbone of larger personal narratives. ... Now that I think about it, the posters are probably most powerful to younger people, who are generally a little bit more accustomed to new information. Their world views are still a work in progress.

Quote
Riffing on the terrorism theme, John Robb suggests conventional terrorist groups suffer from similar problems, and that the best thing they can do to avoid this is to switch to systems attacks, designed to cause economic damage and dislocation.  But can that translate over to the avant-garde?  And if so, how?

Yeah, to have a real societal impact, artists are going to have to find a wider audience than other artists. We have an avant-garde which seems to continually transgress existing taboos, giving us the sense that it is progressing in some way. Maybe it's more like Kai's discussion about people confusing evolution with natural selection. "evolution" implies that things are getting better, but really they're just adapting to changing environments.


Quote
Would that involve...oh, I don't know, the invention of certain techniques and methods designed to disrupt the normal workings of the human mind, not based in symbolic artistry, but more subtle and perhaps scientifically grounded methods?  I admit I am totally speculating here. 

yeah, I think new forms of media will unveil new kinds of art. New ways to explore existing issues. The [arguably] current big cultural/artistic movement, reappropriation, has really been served by increased public access to audio and video editing tools. 

I'm very curious to see where taboos and novelty move in relation to technology and big cultural events. I am positive that humanity will always have something to get bent out of shape about.

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Re: The Avant-Garde and declining returns
« Reply #5 on: February 09, 2010, 12:51:27 am »
The old point has been brought up before that the old avant-garde created the values that the new avant-garde breaks down. Have we managed to go around and make a complete circle? How many times?

Using psychological techniques to mindfuck the populus isn't precisely a new idea, to the avant-garde or the old guard. Psychological manipulation is fundamental to filmmaking, advertising, etc -- and it is probably preferable to control people via techniques that don't depend upon a symbolic language that will soon expire, particularly if you stand to make big bucks from it working longer.

This isn't intended as a polemic railing against your (very good) post, and I may not be saying anything with more information than "me too!"; it's late and I'm braindumping now.

Maybe the most original thing about terrorism as an avant-garde movement is that they do not model themselves as such.

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Re: The Avant-Garde and declining returns
« Reply #6 on: February 09, 2010, 08:01:26 am »
Although some people would argue that the real art is now taking place on places like youtube.

To the extent that art is a mirror to the society which encases it, and presents a sharable perspective to both attack and defend - then something like youtube accelerates one important function of what art provides to society.  For example,  Lady Chatterley's Lover, forced its way into public discourse by prodding existing taboos and once it had become a best-seller, even out-pacing the bible, those topics were no longer as unspeakable or as unthinkable as they once were.  Of course, it took thirty years after the book was originally written, and a mass democratisation of the publishing industry before anyone had the guts to offer it for sale to the British public.

How many social norms and taboos have been defined from a singular point of communication or doctrine?  When your subjects are poor, scattered, and unable to construct their own voice - you can pretty much set the rules as they favour yourself.  Only when your subjects find a way to communicate amongst themselves can they agree on what they personally find acceptable, and mount a challenge.  The ability for harmful and inefficient ideas to exist in a population decreases proportionally with the ability of that population to communicate and work shit out for itself.

Or put another way, if the avant-garde feeds from taboo and shock then as long as communication between people doesn't decrease, then should we not be pleased to note that the ability for a populace to be shocked and controlled is in general decline?

I think the most troubling taboo we have now is with regards the illusion of free-will.  Start a thread about it anywhere, even here, and a majority will defend their illusion by attacking the topic as functionally irrelevant or otherwise meaningless or wrong.  But in terms of BIP topics regarding our status as meatbots, we could really use an avant-garde revival in that area today - because what is worse, now they don't even bother censoring you, they just click a less-challenging link.

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Re: The Avant-Garde and declining returns
« Reply #7 on: February 09, 2010, 08:17:39 am »
meatbots

Sure is getting hot in here. One might even say this discussion is 'cooking'. Har har har.

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Re: The Avant-Garde and declining returns
« Reply #8 on: February 09, 2010, 08:35:14 am »
Some would disqualify what you're referring to as "art" because it isn't done for the intrinsic value of pursuing an aesthetic idea. Aesthetics take a back seat to achieving a particular reaction, sharing more in common with propaganda and advertising. I want you to be offended! I want you to buy some shit! I want you to be ok with selenium in your drinking water.

Art in this context is just one option in achieving your goal, a possible vehicle but not a necessary one.

Perhaps the solution is abandoning art as THE mode for social change or shocking people's sensibilities and kicking the critical thinking up a notch, which is the opposite of art, IMO. The problem is that critical thinking is often HIGHLY UNPALATABLE, easily miscontrued as malicious, and time consuming.  

I don't see the fleeting nature of shock value or any other novelty to be a negative. It's a good thing for artists because it means unless shit gets really bad, we're always in demand and that everyone has to stay on their A-game if they want to succeed.

Also, in almost any discipline there are exclusive conversations that sound like horseshit to anyone very far outside the field of study. Jargon and neologisms happen because they're more efficient when talking about particulars. How this occurs between artists is hardly different than car mechanics talking shop, besides the fact that car mechanics are horrible people who torture small animals for pleasure and beat their spouses with the tiny little corpses.

And one last thing, why do you seem to believe that artistic symbolism ought to be abandoned? Doesn't this preclude spoken and written language as well?
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Re: The Avant-Garde and declining returns
« Reply #9 on: February 09, 2010, 08:47:53 am »
My thinking about avant-garde is that by its very nature, it isn't immediately recognized. Avant-garde isn't shock-art, per se, it's unexpected art, and therefore truly avant-garde work is not immediately recognizable. By the time the general culture identifies it, it is no longer avant-garde, but a generally assimilated style.
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Re: The Avant-Garde and declining returns
« Reply #10 on: February 09, 2010, 08:48:33 am »
Unless you are speaking of it as a movement, rather than a verb, which kind of abandons the concept entirely.
“I’m guessing it was January 2007, a meeting in Bethesda, we got a bag of bees and just started smashing them on the desk,” Charles Wick said. “It was very complicated.”

“People get used to anything. The less you think about your oppression, the more your tolerance for it grows. After a while, people just think oppression is the normal state of things. But to become free, you have to be acutely aware of being a slave.”
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Re: The Avant-Garde and declining returns
« Reply #11 on: February 09, 2010, 09:50:17 am »
"my" idea:

making it personal. and not necessarily shocking. art crap descriptions often go on about "creating a discussion" or "interacting with the viewer", but they don't really. because the artist isn't there, among other things.

but to make it less mass-appealing, more individual. these are individual times. the "individuum", as my gf calls it.

loose minds are everywhere. not everyone is open, but enough are.

what if you find some sheets of paper that speak about some really cool secret society conspiracy hangout chill awesome music and art and cool people thing going on somewhere in town, and you are invited? or something. that will stick.

say you print out the latest few good writings from PD, and leave it, at a few choice places, like a periodical, five copies per place, to make it exlcusive. be sure to mention that a new edition will appear every "Setting Orange".

you don't need to shock (well, what's shocking for some isn't for others, so it shouuldnt be your goal, nor should you actively avoid it). you need to make a lasting impression. and that means you gotta be real and you gotta be engaging. and that means being about as accessible as possible, while still being of perceived value (so a little work for it is ok), but not so much as that you need to lower yourself below your core goals [discordianism].

of course this is all closely tied up to "going viral". because "viral" is the mass equivalent of personal interaction. after all, a viral is only spread from a friend to a friend if the first friend actually feels it's worth to "sell" the viral idea to his other friend. otherwise they get a "why did you send me this?" misfired chain email accident poop.

i'm in a hurry so this is a bit disjointed all, I just wanted to get my thoughts down quickly.
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Re: The Avant-Garde and declining returns
« Reply #12 on: February 09, 2010, 09:58:08 am »
I used to get a good repeatable shock out using photoshop to play with the uncanny valley then showing the original model the picture.  It was really only good once per person though.

I dunno about avant garde or anything, I just thought it was amusing.
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Re: The Avant-Garde and declining returns
« Reply #13 on: February 09, 2010, 12:03:31 pm »
"viral" is the mass equivalent of personal interaction. after all, a viral is only spread from a friend to a friend if the first friend actually feels it's worth to "sell" the viral idea to his other friend. otherwise they get a "why did you send me this?" misfired chain email accident poop.

I like this. Can I subscribe to your mailing list?

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Re: The Avant-Garde and declining returns
« Reply #14 on: February 09, 2010, 02:23:16 pm »
Nigel's got a point--I think the subject critiqued in the OP is not necessarily the art that's produced as the artiist's reaction to the times s/he's living in (which is what the original post-WWI avant-garde movement started as, a reaction to modern war).  It's the movement that's behind the art, which sprung up after genre, and therefore produces more of it for its residual effects on the populace.  

The original avant-garde artist didn't try to do anything but express him/herself.  The movement, however, seeks to educate, with some sort of philosophy behind what they are doing, for some sort of effect on the viewers/audience.  The movement has its limitations just like any other movement would, given it would be tied to the circumstances that created it.

The art, on the other hand, will evolve as the artist does, and as artists do.  I think it can stand alone from the movement that came out of it, making it timeless as all art is, even while it's bound to the moment it sprang out of.

As for the movement itself, if it's going to be used as a tool as it has been, and seeing how it's given birth to offshoots of various sorts, its survival is probably tied to evolution to keep up with its limitations.  Or it evolves into something else entirely.  I'm not sure you can really shape something that seems sometimes much more organic, but I'm not saying it's impossible, either.  Sometimes there's a whole school of folks who study and work together or are otherwise exposed to each others' works and feed off of each other, so they move together like one being, until one decides to tell everyone to fuck off and goes their own way.

Which, given the premise of art, seems all right and good to me.

(I'm just spouting off here, sorry if I've got OT.)
« Last Edit: February 09, 2010, 02:25:07 pm by Jenne »