Avant-garde simply means ‘vanguard’ or at the forefront. It derives from French, and was first used as a military term to describe the people who were placed before (avant) the guards. They were the troops who were sent ahead of the others, and were therefore at the forefront of conflict, chaos, violence and also change. Today, the term has been appropriated into the English language to mean something new and experimental, including ideas or methods most often in art, music or literature. The avant-garde are those who are ‘ahead of the game’.
The term was developed by political and economic theorist Henri de Saint-Simon, who was a pioneer of Socialism in France in the first half of the 19th century. In his writings, he argued that akin to scientists and industrialists, artists could be leaders in developing new ideas for society.
In art, the avant-garde was initially linked closely with Socialism and the development of new Socialist ideologies. Beginning with Realism in the 1850s, fresh ideas on society fostered the development of many of the Modern Art genres. Examples include but are not limited to Cubism, Futurism, De Stijl, and Surrealism.
With time, the term has come to signify any artistic movement that breaks with the past and is innovative through its ideas, techniques, styles and subject matters. Avant-garde is all about originality, innovation and radical change. While some critics and art lovers continue to associate the avant-garde with Modern Art, the term can equally be applied to Contemporary Art.
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