From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Speaking of the European avant-garde is tautological in the sence that the avant-garde is a European term for a European phenomenon. Nevertheless, other countries have also been considered to have had avant-gardes, so we may well speak of instances such as American avant-garde.
Avant-garde is a French phrase used to refer to people or actions that are novel or experimental, particularly with respect to the arts and culture. Avant-garde in French was first used in the military sense from the 15th until the 18th century, meaning front guard, advance guard, or vanguard. In the 1910s and the 1920s the term came into its current meaning, meaning pioneers or innovators in an artistic sense. Since the late 1950s the term avant-garde has gradually been replaced by experimental, which lacks the political connotations of the term it replaces.
Around the the same time, Paris yielded its position of art capital of the world, when the center of artistic activity gravitated towards New York and the new American avant-garde which had been imported by the refugees of World War II.
Futurism was a 20th century art movement. Although a nascent Futurism can be seen surfacing throughout the very early years of the twentieth century, the 1907 essay Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music by the Italian composer Ferruccio Busoni is sometimes claimed as its true jumping-off point. Futurism was a largely Italian and Russian movement although it also had adherents in other countries.
Dada or Dadaism is a cultural movement that began in neutral Zürich, Switzerland, during World War I and peaked from 1916 to 1920. The movement primarily involved visual arts, literature (poetry, art manifestoes, art theory), theatre, and graphic design, and concentrated its anti war politic through a rejection of the prevailing standards in art through anti-art cultural works. The movement was further characterized by nihilism, deliberate irrationality, disillusionment, cynicism, chance, randomness, and the rejection of the prevailing standards in art.
Surrealism was a 20th century art and cultural movement that began in the mid-1920s in Europe, and is best known for the visual artworks and writings of the group members. The works feature the element of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non sequitur, however many Surrealist artists and writers regard their work as an expression of the philosophical movement first and foremost with the works being an artefact, and leader André Breton was explicit in his assertion that Surrealism was above all a revolutionary movement. From the Dada activities of World War I Surrealism was formed with the most important center of the movement in Paris and from the 1920s spreading around the globe, impacting many other fields.
Lettrism is a French avant-garde movement, established in Paris in the mid-1940s by Romanian immigrant Isidore Isou. In a body of work totalling hundreds of volumes, Isou and the Lettrists have applied their theories to all areas of art and culture, most notably in poetry, film, painting and political theory. The movement has its theoretical roots in Dada and Surrealism. Isou viewed his fellow countryman, Tristan Tzara, as the greatest creator and rightful leader of the Dada movement, and dismissed most of the others as plagiarists and falsifiers. Among the Surrealists, André Breton was a significant influence, but Isou was dissatisfied by what he saw as the stagnation and theoretical bankruptcy of the movement as it stood in the 1940s.
The Situationist International (SI) was a small group of international political and artistic agitators with roots in Marxism, Lettrism and the early 20th century European artistic and political avant-gardes. Formed on July 28 1957, the SI was active in Europe through the 1960s and aspired to major social and political transformations. In the 1960s it split into a number of different groups, including the Situationist Bauhaus, the Antinational and the Second Situationist International. The first SI disbanded in 1972.
Following the Second World War, existentialism became a well-known and significant philosophical and cultural movement, mainly through the public prominence of two French writers, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, who wrote best-selling novels, plays and widely-read journalism as well as theoretical texts. These years also saw the growing reputation outside Germany of Heidegger's book Being and Time.
Sartre had dealt with existentialist themes in his 1938 novel Nausea and the short stories in his 1939 collection The Wall, and had published a major philosophical statement, Being and Nothingness in 1943, but it was in the two years following the liberation of Paris from the German occupying forces that he and his close associates — Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and others — became internationally famous as the leading figures of a movement known as existentialism.
The Existentialists had a profound influence upon subcultural development. Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus transferred their French resistance underground campaign to the context of a cultural revolution and the American beat scene joined the movement. (See article: Underground culture) The emphasis on freedom of the individual influenced the beats in America and Britain and this version of existential bohemianism continued through the 1950s and into the 1960s under the guise of the beat generation. Beards and longer hair returned in another attempt at returning to the image of peacetime man and the normality which had existed before the two wars. At the same time, as a result of American post-war prosperity, a new identity emerged for youth subculture: the teenager.
COBRA (or CoBrA) was a European avant-garde movement active from 1949 to 1952. The name was coined in 1948 by Christian Dotremont from the initials of the members' home cities: Copenhagen (Co), Brussels (Br), Amsterdam (A).
COBRA was formed from an amalgamation of the Dutch group Reflex, the Danish group Høst and the Belgian Revolutionary Surrealist Group. The group held two large exhibitions, one at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (1949) and the other at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Liège (1951). The primary focus of the group consisted of semiabstract paintings with brilliant color, violent brushwork, and distorted human figures inspired by primitive and folk art and similar to American action painting. Cobra was a milestone in the development of Tachisme and European abstract expressionism.
The 1960s counterculture movement took hold in Western Europe, with London, Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin and Rome rivaling San Francisco and New York as counterculture centers. One manifestation of this was the general strike that took place in Paris in May 1968, which nearly toppled the French government.
In Central Europe, young people adopted the song "San Francisco" as an anthem for freedom, and it was widely played during Czechoslovakia's 1968 "Prague Spring," a premature attempt to break away from Soviet repression.
As this newly emergent youth class began to criticize the established social order, new theories about cultural and personal identity began to spread, and traditional non-Western ideas – particularly with regard to religion, social organization and spiritual enlightenment – were more frequently embraced.
Two conditions made Europe in the 1920s ready for the emergence of avant-garde film. First, the cinema matured as a medium, and highbrow resistance to the mass entertainment began to wane. Second, avant-garde movements in the visual arts flourished. The Dadaists and Surrealists in particular took to cinema. René Clair's Entr'acte took madcap comedy into nonsequitur, and artists Hans Richter, Jean Cocteau, Marcel Duchamp, Germaine Dulac and Viking Eggeling all contributed Dadaist/Surrealist shorts. The most famous experimental film is generally considered to be Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí's Un chien andalou. Hans Richter's animated shorts and Len Lye's G.P.O films would be excellent examples of European avant-garde films which are more abstract and less focused on formal analysis.
- Art nouveau
- Conceptual art
- De Stijl
- Lyrical Abstraction
- Mail art
- Minimal Art (Minimalism)
- Pop art
The first text generally cited in this category is Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759). This extraordinary text "pre-breaks" most of the "rules" that would be subsequently advanced for the writing of fiction.
Some well-known European experimental writers are Italo Calvino, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein. They play with form, structure, language, style, voice, and other things. Calvino's most famous experimental books are If On A Winter's Night a Traveler, where the book itself is coming apart at the seams and the reader keeps getting new chapters, from a new book, and has to put it all together; Cosmicomics, in which Calvino tells the story of Creation; and Invisible Cities, where Marco Polo explains his travels to Kubla Khan although they are merely accounts of the very city they are chatting in.