Skip to main content

The Avant Garde Intersection

Are the same people who disdain the notion of a revolutionary vanguard party the same people who despise avant garde art?  In my experience this has been the case.  (Also, in my experience, it is bad form to start any piece of writing with a rhetorical question.)  The general disdain for the avant garde, advanced guard, translates from politics to art, though probably not vice versa: since the art industry exists in a context where, like university, it requires a certain amount of privilege to engage with art then most of the people who have access to this sort of art, like commodified knowledge in general, tend to be petty bourgeois.

Of course, there is also a certain amount of privilege required in this capitalist context to possess a critical leftist awareness––and oddly enough, many of the people who have this access, in contrast to their petty bourgeois art-loving peers, translate their spite for avant garde politics to a spite for avant garde art.  This is all rather confusing, so maybe this diagram will help:

It's on a chart so it must be scientific!

In any case, it seems that the hatred of the political avant garde demonstrated by some leftists is echoed in their disdain for avant garde art.  Just as they roll their eyes at any talk of Leninism or Maoism, they'll mock you for enjoying avant garde literature, music, gallery installations.  Just as Hal Draper complained about the revolutionary political party because it was apparently divorced from the "authentic" struggles of the working class (he thought trade unions possessed more revolutionary potential), so will his modern day equivalent also use a similar populist argument to dismiss avant garde art.

Hal Draper: hater of the revolutionary
party and possible hater of art!

Lenin: vanguard theorist and
lover of experimental art!
The problem is one of access and education, and by refusing to recognize that the proper political response is to provide the education and/or consciousness required for everyone to have an appreciation of both radical politics and art.  The sort of role, you know, a revolutionary party should perform!


  1. Interesting....I'm no Draperite but it does seem that current is very self-conciously populist in its aesthetic (save perhaps down-home blues and "Americana") - from where do you glean this?

  2. From dealing with left activists who hate avant garde art, lol, not from any scientific understanding (as I think I indicated at the beginning of this joke post).

  3. Brecht is right at the intersection of my oh-so-scientific chart.

  4. We have different personal experiences and political milieus I suspect. I'd lean to the opposite equation ie same people supporting vanguard are most hostile to avant garde culture. If you look at the 1970s here in Toronto, when there was both a more vibrant vanguardist and left art scene, avante garde artists tended to remain indy socialists while at least some of the Maoist groups condemned experimental art as anti-people and favoured, like most vangaurdists, ye old social realism.

  5. In truth, the intersection was forced and it was clearly meant more as a joke. While it is true that most anarchist activists I've met have had nothing but disdain for experimental art (poster slogans are the equivalent), I agree that people who believe in a political avant garde have also tended to have idiotic notions of what constitutes "art" - and have more of a Stalinist understanding than a Maoist understanding (as found in the Yenan lectures, for example). Like I said, this was more of a joke post than an actual interrogation of these issues.

    Still, despite these problems I think some of the most avant garde experiments in art happened during the GPCR (ie. like Rent Collection Courtyard that predated a lot of modernist work that questioned the context of the gallery), and Paul Clark recently wrote a great book about the art experimentation that was happening during that period before it was shut down by the Liu/Deng line.

    Also, my joke about the trajectory of artists is that a lot of artists who tend towards experimental art are also, in my experience, actually anti-people in their commitments. Maybe this creates some of the confusion between the two avant garde poles.

    In any case, the relationship was intentionally forced.

  6. I knew it was a joke post - but I think its interesting to look at the aesthetic emblems of different left currents and how they influence the intelligentsia's common sense...

  7. Though I once heard a really funny Steve Van Zandt radio programme in which he said the Beatles were proletarians who played bourgeois music, and the Stones were bourgeois and played proletarian music. Though Lennon and Jagger did both spend a few years in the IMG (Mandelite/FI)

  8. I know you're not a fan of the socialism from below crowd, so I thought if there was a joke it might be that they were counter-revolutionary philistines for not necessarily being against avant garde art. I'm happy that you're more open on the question, though I disagree with your anti-people suspicion. In the past, those identifying as Maoists tended have quite a conservative outlook on culture, sexuality, etc. Though I'm guessing you identify this divergence as coming from Stalin. Thanks for the Clark reference, I'll have to read it.

  9. I would agree that a lot of maoists, just like a lot of communists, have had a conservative outlook on culture, sexuality, etc., but a lot of maoists also haven't had a conservative outlook - some of the most progressive (and chaotic) advances in culture happened during the GPCR. But then, at the same time, you had groups in the US like the RCP-USA who took a very conservative view on culture and sexuality... Still, the queer communist groups who critiqued the RCP-USA were also maoist.

    My anti-people suspicion is just more of a comment on the petty bourgeois art crowd in general who, from my own experience with them, are often extremely liberal. Better than conservatives, but socialist only in a vague sense. At the same time, the same can be said for a lot of marxist intellectuals who demonstrate a serious gap between theory and practice.


Post a Comment