Popular Belief is Killing Avant-Garde

By: Thulasie Manogaran

What is avant-garde? Today we have come to understand that this word could come to describe just about anything; a person, buildings, a particular project, theatre, music and literary works to name a few. But how often do we regard anything as avant-garde today?
Avant-garde, an ideology, is defined as “people or works that are experimental, radical or unorthodox, with respect to art, culture and society. What avant-garde does is it “pushes the boundaries of what is accepted as the norm or the status quo, primarily in the cultural realm”. In other words it means bursts of revolution, the induction of new belief in a stale society.
So the question is, is our society stale? We seem to be buzzing with new technological advancements, celebrity gossip, political drama and it seems, that is the extent of our evolution as Homo Sapiens currently. Approximately half a century ago, a major revolution had caused rifts in human thinking. People were forced out of their ordinary stagnant, routine based lives to fire up their thoughts that had once been collecting dust. Music by Leonard Cohen, Miles Davies, literary works by Earnest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf, gargantuan structures by Frank Lloyd Wright and Frank Gehry were all productions of avant-garde that inspired people to go the extra mile and experiment.
We, today, seem to be afraid. This fear sticking to our skin like a veil of mist, moulds our tongues and thoughts and actions, stifling creativity. What is holding us back. If I go into what holds us humans back, I would have to write and entire dissertation on the subject matter. So I shall boil it down to one single train of thought; our belief of needing to belong.
From needing to belong to wanting to belong has been the characteristic of our society for centuries. We belong to our family, our culture, our tradition, our group of friends, our community, and our country. We wear it like our identity and let all this connotations define our thought. In this day in age we have attributed our time more than ever to belonging.
The computer age has made it easy to send and receive information from all parts of the world. Beginning with the rise of email, MSN, Google, Yahoo, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and many more in between. We send out information saying that a thing has to be done in a particular way, we have to dress in a particular way, we must think in a particular way or even eat a certain way. Our lives have become synonymous to walking down the isle of a department store and picking a product, or in this case a way of life. Then we put labels on ourselves; hipsters, hippies, minimalist, bohemians and again whatever that comes in between. All the time drowning out that little voice in our heads.
Our need to belong has made us so accustomed to large groups, that spending time alone seems almost out of the question. But what we fail to realise is that only in solitude one is really able to distinguish one’s thoughts free from chatter and public opinion. This in return gives birth to avant-garde. Virginia Woolf rose early every morning before anyone else could and stole herself away to a backyard garden shed, where she did most of her writing. Einstein contemplated most of his mathematical and physics equations on long walks. Carl Jung built himself a two storey stone house, away from civilisation, along Lake Zurich known as the Bollingen Tower, to spend time conducting studies and writing articles. Literary giant Franz Kafka said it best when he observed “Remain at your table and listen. You need not even listen, just wait, just learn to become quiet, and still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at you feet”. The process is very simple, discharging yourself from the crowd means to allow your thoughts breathe, when your thoughts are in charge, you produce great work. Voila!
Avant-garde was the love child of rebellious thought and intense passion, free from public opinion. The moment mass generalisation came into action, avant-garde had become a dying art. Yes we are achieving great things today as well, we’re sending people to Mars and curing diseases once deemed impossible to cure, but this it seems have become the goal of a very small minority as opposed to the revolution that had occurred half a century ago. The passion that shook the world then has evolved into a dim shiver. Once we realise this the zeitgeist of avant-grade will once again be restored.



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