Rant 82 : Time for a new avant-garde

Rant 82 : Time for a new avant-garde Andrew Reeve, Gathering the Harvest, 2012

According to artist Chris Short, contemporary art today seems to be stuck in a political rut. He looks back to the Modernist avant-garde in an attempt to highlight where we might be going wrong.

We are now in a similar position to that of the modern artists in the second half of the 19th century. The Academy - art schools (mostly run by universities these days), government-controlled funding bodies, etc. - control and constrain art. 'Research' replaces practice and business plans replace the artist's initiative. 

The result is an 'art' that hardly deserves that name, given the history of integrity it evokes. From Impressionism in France and the Secessions from leading Academies in Germany and Austria, through to Futurism, Expressionism, Dada and Surrealism, to Neo-Dada and the Situationist International (to offer some of the most obvious ‘-isms’), artists’ opposition to such constraint was a fundamental (not merely a contingent) aspect of their practice.

Institutionalised, bourgeois values that underpinned advancing capitalism were the target of these and other modern movements of art. Those values now, once again, threaten the integrity of art as arts funding and the ‘worth’ of art are increasingly tied to definite projected ‘outcomes’ that have clear economic and governmental ‘use values’.

As a result, we now have a stifled art form, driven by institutionalised, instrumental ambitions with a constant eye to personal gain, profile and profit.

In these times of radically reduced funding for the arts, there is a window of opportunity to turn our backs on the constraining institutions of art and leave behind the enemies of artistic freedom. Spend less money. Travel less (leave that to the businessmen - apparently, it’s bad for the environment). Make art that doesn’t pander to the demands of institutions and industry. 

It's time for a new avant-garde.

Contributed by Chris Short
Chris is a photographic artist and writer. He teaches Fine Art at Cardiff School of Art and Design. 

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