For over a hundred years, the idea of the "avant-garde" has been perhaps the most important and influential force in modern culture, ruling the critical assessment of the significance of an artist or a work of art. If they have been judged to be "avant-garde," then they are worthy of consideration. But very little attempt has been made to explore why the idea of the "avant-garde" carries so much authority, or how it came to do so. What is more, the term remains a difficult one to define, and is often used in a variety of ways.
In this Very Short Introduction, art historian David Cottington illuminates the concept of the avant-garde, exploring its wider context through the development of western modernity, capitalist culture, and the global impact of both. Cottington looks at the relation between "the avant-garde"--that is, the social entity (the "club")--and "avant-garde" qualities in a work of art (or design, or architecture, or any other cultural product), and he sheds light on the meaning of "avant-gardism." Perhaps most interesting, he considers whether--now that contemporary art seems to have broken all taboos and is at the center of a billion-dollar art market--is there still an "avant-garde" at all. And if so, what is the point of it and who are the artists concerned?