Theorising The Avant-garde
Several writers have attempted to map the parameters of avant-garde activity with limited success. One of the most well-known analyses of vanguardism as a cultural phenomenon is the Italian essayist Renato Poggioli's 1962 book Teoria dell'arte d'avanguardia (The Theory of the Avant-Garde). Surveying the historical, social, psychological and philosophical aspects of vanguardism, Poggioli reaches beyond individual instances of art, poetry, and music to show that vanguardists may be seen as sharing certain ideals or values which are manifested in the non-conformist lifestyles they adopted, vanguard culture being shown to be a variety or subcategory of Bohemianism.
Other authors have attempted to both clarify and extend Poggioli's study. The German literary critic Peter Bürger's Theory of the Avant-Garde (1974) looks at the Establishment's embrace of socially critical works of art and suggests that in complicity with capitalism, "art as an institution neutralizes the political content of the individual work."
Bürger's essay also greatly influenced the work of contemporary American art historians such as Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, while older critics like Bürger continue to view the postwar neo-avant-garde as the empty recycling of forms and strategies from the first two decades of the twentieth century, others like Clement Greenberg view it, more positively, as a new articulation of the specific conditions of cultural production in the postwar period. Buchloh, in the collection of essays Neo-avantgarde and Culture Industry (2000) critically argues for a dialectical approach to these positions. Recent criticism has theorized the limitations of these approaches, noting their circumscribed areas of analysis, including Eurocentric, chauvinist, and genre-specific definitions.
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“The avant-garde is now stranded in the past.”
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