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Origin of avant-garde
OTHER WORDS FROM avant-gardea·vant-gard·ist, noun
Words nearby avant-garde
What does avant-garde mean?
Where does avant-garde come from?
In French, avant-garde literally means “advance guard.” The term (which also gave us vanguard) originally referred to the part of an army that marched in front.
The metaphorical avant-garde—those trailblazers, those pioneers, those innovators in art—is credited to French political theorist Henri de Saint-Simon in 1825 who talked about the power of artists to help transform society.
The term was borrowed into English by the early 1900s, right at the heyday of of Modernism, a movement in art and thought that gave us such avant-garde masterpieces as James Joyce’s stream of consciousness, Pablo Picasso’s cubism, Salvador Dali’s surrealism, Albert Schoenberg’s atonalism, and Bauhaus’s functionalism.
People didn’t know what to make of Picasso’s abstract paintings in the early 1900s. Many still don’t know, but we study them in school, collect them in museums, and accept them as art anyways. That’s because what is considered avant-garde changes with each time period, artists and thinkers keep pushing the boundaries of what counts as art, of what their art can do.
In 1952, composer John Cage wrote 4’33”, an avant-garde piece that was four minutes and 33 seconds of silence. What counts as a song? What counts as music? A decade later, Andy Warhol’s Campbell Soup Cans presented 32 ordinary cans of soup. What makes for the subject of a painting? Realistic depictions, abstract representations, just mundane items from everyday life? These are the questions that avant-garde artists make us ask.
In the late 20th century, avant-garde became especially common as a descriptor in haute couture, with fashion designers like Barbara Í Gongini pushing the envelope about how we think about clothing, makeup, and hair. Fair warning … it’s pretty strange.
How is avant-garde used in real life?
Avant-garde can be a noun (e.g., the jazz avant-garde) or a modifier (e.g., an avant-garde film). As a noun, the avant-garde can refer to boundary-pushing creators and influencers in general.
"French Pastels: Treasures from the Vault" offers a rare chance to see seldom-shown masterworks by 10 avant-garde artists from the 19th century—including #MaryCassatt, whose art will be shown alongside a pastel box she once owned. The exhibition opens on Saturday! pic.twitter.com/PNtDLR8Ixp
— Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (@mfaboston) June 27, 2018
The term is used by artists, art historians, and art critics across disciplines, from architecture to dance. The term is also used in the mainstream to describe anything seen as unorthodox, radical, or groundbreaking (e.g., an avant-garde phone design), though it still largely connotes all things art.
— Audiofficial (@AudiOfficial) June 25, 2018
In popular culture, people may encounter avant-garde as a genre label for films and music. Pitchfork Music has thrown an Avant-Garde festival, and film platform Fandor touts its avant-garde section.
Avant-garde, though, can suggest that something or someone is being challenging or esoteric just for the sake of being different or difficult. In this way, the term is sometimes used to mock things that defy our understanding or people who are making a show of being non-conformist, hipster-y, or just trying too hard.
Is this plumbing or an avant-garde diorama? pic.twitter.com/e95UnKpTj5
— Russell Bennetts (@RussellBennetts) June 25, 2018
Your boy Kendrick Lamar was terrible on SNL. Why can't he put out a club bangin single? Stop being so avant-garde bruh.
— White Claw Homeschooler (@thephaze) November 18, 2014
This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.
Example sentences from the Web for avant-garde
From the refined attire at Lincoln Center to the avant-garde dress downtown, we spotted many of the big 2014 trends.
She veers towards the avant-garde, using metal-powder deformed silicone piercings as textural embellishment and digital printers.
It was definitely the heart of not just the American avant-garde but the leading edge of all Western art.Why Did Llewyn Davis’s Greenwich Village Disappear?|Andrew Romano|December 7, 2013|DAILY BEAST
Symbolizing CSM as a “creativity birth place,” 1Granary took an avant-garde approach towards the creation to life.1Granary: The College Magazine Funded by Comme des Garçons|Erin Cunningham|October 7, 2013|DAILY BEAST
The staples of the avant-garde are in the fray: Issey Miyake, Maison Martin Margiela, Walter Van Beirendonck.
She got possession of the kiln, as usual, and the ass was sent to graze on the green; but Mary was only the avant-garde.A History of the Gipsies|Walter Simson
Reading the avant-garde stuff of nowadays, usually the contrast is merely grotesque, still I keep finding parallels.The Trial of Callista Blake|Edgar Pangborn
Unlike elsewhere in Eastern Europe, there has been no experimental or avant-garde theater in Bulgaria.Area Handbook for Bulgaria|Eugene K. Keefe, Violeta D. Baluyut, William Giloane, Anne K. Long, James M. Moore, and Neda A. Walpole
The avant-garde of 500 regulars and 400 provincials, commanded by Lieut.-Col."Evacuation Day", 1783|James Riker