With Everything But the Monkey’s Head 1
by Martin Gantman
Beginning this interrogation by unearthing thoughts about the overly exploited and by now much worn myth of the avant garde is a blatant ruse, a subterfuge. I am shamelessly brandishing this symbol of change as a tool to be nonetheless exploited as an aid in prying into the very nature of art. The historical avant garde, at the very least, caused us to question what art was; and I think those instances of outspokenness, a common character of the a.v., are still viable at least for fussing about questions of practice or, perhaps in this case, praxis.
Not only a ruse, it is a provocation. Thoughts of any contemporary avant garde are probably illusory at best. There might be, lurking beneath our toes, biological or technological change, that, just like the internet, could alter all practice (in parallel with society itself); but that is not like an intentioned art movement
But for the moment, getting back to a contemporary experience, and, particularly, the art-is-life hypothesis, I have finally come to believe that art has always been about life, but has never been life. Art is art is art, and life is still just life. Last I experienced, life for most of us was the usual, putting roof over head, bread on table (in no particular order), and then, if there is still time, find some art to put into one’s maw. As to life becoming art, much as I have tried to incorporate that premise into a world view, and I am the first to admit that I just might not be up to it, I somehow always see art leading the fray, or alongside the fray, rather than becoming the actual cultural zeitgeist, as in, say as a perhaps derisive extreme, the forest culture of Fahrenheit 451.
For now, there appears to be no, at least visible, avant garde, in art particularly, that is being successful in altering the above equation. Most advanced “art practices” that we see now are, paradoxically, bent on showing that art is somehow above this populist situation. It seemed true for the Dadaists, and also for the futurists (Situationists aside for the moment.). One could have easily called them egoists.
The other potential mutation to our contemporary art structure may come from a more common adoption of the burgeoning visual art doctorate movement. Thoughts as to the potential long term effects on the practice of art by the development of this program are many and varied. Such images span from the practice of art becoming evermore split into the camps of academia versus visual studio practice, or that visual practice becomes even more philosophical in nature, etc. In most scenarios that I can imagine, this endeavor truly has the capability of redefining art practice to the cultural establishment and to the museum/gallery going public. On the other hand, such a development may also engender a populist or low art reaction entirely different from those seen before.