We explain what the avant-garde is and how the meaning of this word changed. In addition, we tell you what the artistic avant-gardes were.

"The Young Ladies of Avignon" is one of the works of the avant-garde artist Picasso.
Avant-garde art was that with the greatest renewing, revolutionary or innovative power.

What is the avant-garde?

The vanguard It is the front portion of an army (contrary to the rearguard), that is, the first to enter combat. However, In a figurative sense, the word refers to the most innovative, committed or revolutionary segments of an artistic, political, ideological or any other movement. The term comes from the French word avant-gardewith the same meaning, and this in turn from Latin ab ante (“without anyone ahead”).

The exact meaning of the term “avant-garde” has changed throughout history. Its first appearance was within the framework of the French Revolution in the 18th century, linked to military language, and in the 19th century it was inherited by the so-called “utopian socialism”, especially by the current of Henri Saint-Simon (1760-1825). ), to refer to the most combative artistic sectors committed to social change.

From then on, the term acquired a particular historical and philosophical importance in the artistic world, which adopted the term as its own at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. Avant-garde or avant-garde art, thus, was that with the greatest renewing, revolutionary or innovative power, that is, that which broke most clearly with tradition, not in political terms but in aesthetic terms.

Today, the term “avant-garde” can be used in this sense, that is, as a synonym for “revolutionary”, “innovative”, “combative” or even “innovative”, both in the artistic context and in other similar ones.

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See also: Innovation

What were the artistic avant-garde?

In an artistic context, when referring to the avant-garde or avant-garde, we refer to the modern artistic movement that emerged at the beginning of the 20th century, in a period of profound cultural and political crisis in Europe. The First World War (1914-1918) and the Bolshevik Revolution (1917), among other dramatic events to come, created a panorama of great political, economic and social tensions that found an echo in aesthetic production. This is how the avant-garde emerged.

Unlike other more homogeneous aesthetic and philosophical movements, the avant-garde They consisted of an explosion of artistic trends and currentsknown as isms (such as futurism, cubism, dadaism, among others). These trends are They proposed different expressive paths, through different artistic and literary genres, and relying on other philosophies and theories. However, They had in common their fundamental desire to renew the way of making artthrough breaking with traditions and experimentation.

In this way, the avant-garde manifested itself through different movements, among which the following stand out:

  • expressionism. He was born in Germany and other central European countries around 1910. His fundamental proposal consisted of manifesting the subjectivity of the artist through a subjective representation of reality. That is, the work of art should not copy reality, but rather deform it so that it adapts to the artist’s inner world. Expressionism manifested itself in multiple artistic genres, such as painting, literature, cinema, architecture, theater, dance, music, among others.
  • fauvism. It emerged in France in the first decade of the 20th century and owes its name to “fierce” (from the French fauv, “beast”) of the brushstrokes of the works of Henri Matisse and other similar painters. This is how the art critic Louis Vauxcelles described them in 1905, unknowingly baptizing the movement, which aspired to break with pictorial tradition and create a new and pure way of painting, using elements from other nearby artistic genres.
  • The cubism. He was born and developed in France between 1907 and 1917 at the hands of painters such as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, among others. It was an essential pictorial trend within the context of the avant-garde, as it laid the foundations for the emergence of other later movements. Its basic precept was that the work represented reality through geometric elements, but at the same time abandoned traditional perspectives and allowed itself to look at things with “the eye of the artist.”
  • futurism. It was one of the initial movements of avant-garde, which was born in Italy in 1909 by the poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. It had a short history, but it was an influential movement in the coming avant-garde. Its essential postulate consisted of the exaltation of sensuality, nationalism and machine worship. Futurism understood reality as something in motion and rejected traditional aesthetic and philosophical considerations. In many respects, it was a movement close to Italian fascism.
  • Dadaism. It emerged in Zurich, Switzerland, between 1916 and 1922. It was a mainly literary movement, whose greatest exponents were the poets Tristan Tzara and Hugo Ball. Its premise was to attack language and force literature to renew its ways of saying, through the use of words and sounds without apparent logic. This principle was later transferred to the plastic arts, through the use of unusual materials.
  • The surrealism. Considered a split from Dadaism, it emerged in France around 1920, at the hands of the poet André Bretón, but then spread to different arts, mainly painting. Inspired by the psychoanalytic work of Sigmund Freud, the surrealists set out to express the unconscious, that is, the dark sectors of the human mind, through methods of artistic creation that were as least conscious as possible. The idea was to emulate the dream in the work of art, whether it was a painting, a poem or a film.
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  • “Avant-garde” in the Language Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy.
  • “Avant-garde Etymology” in the Online Spanish Etymological Dictionary.
  • “On the concept of avant-garde, rise and decline” by Alejandro Guzmán in Reaxión, scientific dissemination magazine (year 3, No. 1, Sept-Dec 2015).
  • “Avant-Garde” at TATE Museum (United Kingdom).
  • “Avant-garde” in The Britannica Dictionary.
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