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Fountain by Marcel Duchamp. 1917
Fountain by Marcel Duchamp. 1917

Avant-garde in French means front guard, advance guard, or vanguard. People often use the term to refer to people or works that are novel or experimental, particularly with respect to art, culture and politics.

Basically, Avant-garde pushes the boundaries of what is accepted as the norm within definitions of Art/Culture/Reality. It is the sharp edge, where things arise.

The vanguard, a small troop of highly skilled soldiers, explores the terrain ahead of a large advancing army and plots a course for the army to follow. This concept is applied to the work done by small bands of intellectuals and artists as they open pathways through new cultural or political terrain, for society to follow. Because of the implication of specialization of the avant-garde in military terms, some people feel the expression implies elitism when used to describe cultural movements.

The term also refers to the promotion of social progress and reform, the aims of its various movements presented in public declarations called manifestos. Over time, avant-garde became associated with movements concerned with art for art's sake, focusing primarily on expanding the frontiers of aesthetic experience, rather than with wider social reform.

The origin of the application of this french term to Art can be fixed at May 17, 1863, the opening of the Salon des Refusés in Paris, organised by painters whose work was rejected for the annual Paris Salon of officially sanctioned academic art. Salons des Refusés was held in 1874, 1875, and 1886.

By some assessments, avant-garde art includes street art, for example graffiti and any other movement which pushes forward the accepted boundaries; defining art in the future. It should be noted that avant garde is not only a style of art, such as surrealism or cubism, rather this term is generally applied toward the present moment. For instance: Where Marcel Duchamps' urinal may have been avant garde at the time, today if someone created it again it would not be avant garde beause it has already been done. Avant garde is therefore temporal and relating to the process of Art's unfolding in time. It can be applied to the forerunners of any new movements. However, Duchamp and his work, remain avant garde because he pushed Art forward, creating a new dialogue and definition with itself. Avant garde is relevant to Art because without these movements Art itself would stagnate and become dormant and merely craft, repeating the same style over and over. The term is most commonly applied to the visual arts, fashion, film, and literature but also to intellectual and new approaches to politics or culture.

Examples of avant-garde

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