Because it can be turned out mechanically, kitsch has becomean integral part of our productive system in a way in which trueculture could never be, except accidentally. It has been capitalizedat a tremendous investment which must show commensurate returns;it is compelled to extend as well as to keep its markets. Whileit is essentially its own salesman, a great sales apparatus hasnevertheless been created for it, which brings pressure to bearon every member of society. Traps are laid even in those areas,so to speak, that are the preserves of genuine culture. It isnot enough today, in a country like ours, to have an inclinationtowards the latter; one must have a true passion for it that willgive him the power to resist the faked article that surroundsand presses in on him from the moment he is old enough to lookat the funny papers. Kitsch is deceptive. It has many differentlevels, and some of them are high enough to be dangerous to thenaive seeker of true light. A magazine like the ,which is fundamentally high-class kitsch for the luxury trade,converts and waters down a great deal of avant-garde materialfor its own uses. Nor is every single item of kitsch altogetherworthless. Now and then it produces something of merit, somethingthat has an authentic folk flavor; and these accidental and isolatedinstances have fooled people who should know better.
Is it the nature itself of avant-garde culture that is aloneresponsible for the danger it finds itself in? Or is that onlya dangerous liability? Are there other, and perhaps more important,factors involved?
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However, since the beginning of the 20th century, the term has retained a connotation of radicalism, and carries the implication that for artists to be truly avant-garde they must challenge the artistic status quo - that is, its , its intellectual or artistic conventions, or its methods of production - to the point of being almost subversive.
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In plastic art, the avant-garde was ably represented by the modernist Constantin Brancusi, the Futurist Umberto Boccioni, the Kinetic artist Alexander Calder, and Barbara Hepworth the Yorkshire sculptress who, in her celebrated 1931 work , introduced the 'hole' to the art of sculpture.
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Yet it is true that once the avant-garde had succeeded in "detaching"itself from society, it proceeded to turn around and repudiaterevolutionary as well as bourgeois politics. The revolution wasleft inside society, a part of that welter of ideological strugglewhich art and poetry find so unpropitious as soon as it beginsto involve those "precious" axiomatic beliefs upon whichculture thus far has had to rest. Hence it developed that thetrue and most important function of the avant-garde was not to"experiment," but to find a path along which it wouldbe possible to keep culture moving in the midst of ideologicalconfusion and violence. Retiring from public altogether, the avant-gardepoet or artist sought to maintain the high level of his art byboth narrowing and raising it to the expression of an absolutein which all relativities and contradictions would be either resolvedor beside the point. "Art for art's sake" and "purepoetry" appear, and subject matter or content becomes somethingto be avoided like a plague.
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Even so, their avant-garde approach revitalized British art and won them a huge following, including the patronage of , Britain's leading collector or contemporary art, along with numerous exhibitions at the famous , and the exhibition (1997) at the London Royal Academy.
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True, the first settlers of bohemia -- which was then identicalwith the avant-garde -- turned out soon to be demonstrativelyuninterested in politics. Nevertheless, without the circulationof revolutionary ideas in the air about them, they would neverhave been able to isolate their concept of the "bourgeois"in order to define what they were not. Nor, without the moralaid of revolutionary political attitudes would they have had thecourage to assert themselves as aggressively as they did againstthe prevailing standards of society. Courage indeed was neededfor this, because the avant-garde's emigration from bourgeoissociety to bohemia meant also an emigration from the markets ofcapitalism, upon which artists and writers had been thrown bythe falling away of aristocratic patronage. (Ostensibly, at least,it meant this -- meant starving in a garret -- although, as wewill be shown later, the avant-garde remained attached to bourgeoissociety precisely because it needed its money.)