Wednesday, October 22, 2008

How to be Avant Garde

In two easy steps. This is something I'm seriously outlining, not just saying "well you dress in black and smoke stylish cigarettes--HAHAHA!"

The first phase is to isolate yourself. Whatever it is that you're doing, whether it's art or literature, stop keeping up with what's going on right now. Stop following the art world, stop following trends. Unhook from popular culture as a whole, from movies to TV to magazines having to do with what you do. Even radio if you can manage that. Try to wipe the slate as clean as you possibly can.

The second phase is to then do what really interests you. Pursue the art trends from the past, the farther back the better, that you yourself are honestly interested in---not because someone says that they're the thing or that they're interesting but because you have decided that they're interesting. Work and explore but keep the veil of silence on as much as you can. Develop your own style, or at least your own habitual ways of working.

Do this for a long time and when you feel you can come back to following trends without being contaminated by them, because you've established your own style and interests for yourself, gradually do so.

You will now be an avant-garde artist or writer.

Now how does that work? Didn't you isolate yourself? Didn't you unhook from the Zeitgeist, the cutting edge? Only relatively.

Despite attempts to "forget what you learned", which is a crude way of putting the first phase, you will still be conditioned as a person who was born into a certain year in a certain society, into a certain part of that society, who because he or she was simply alive has absorbed and become part of the thinking and attitudes of his or her generation. You can't help it. When you try the hardest to be original---after pushing all the shit you've learned and ideas that other people are talking about to the side---you will be original to a degree. To a degree what you will come up with will be echoed in the cultural productions of other people in your generation. But since what you've done is honest in that it honestly engages an art form instead of seeking to be derivative of the coolest thing in the present it will have the potential of setting the stage for what is the next cool thing in the future. What's cool now, or cutting edge now, will be yesterday's news really quickly, so if you want to hop on the bandwagon you're better off doing an evasive action and getting back to the source of where that coolness comes from, or else you yourself will be instantly obsolete. Where that coolness comes from, I'm confident, is ultimately a personal, disciplined, engagement with artistic ideas in a serious manner. People struggle with the core ideas and produce something, and then people who think that that is interesting copy them, not necessarily being aware of where that something came from or exactly what all of it represents. Then some people will in turn copy them and then they call it a movement.

You come from the stream of history and to the stream of history you and your works will return, but the best you can do is to make an honest go of it and try to influence that history with your personal take on things.

And that's how it's done.

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