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Evaluating Modernist and Educational Art in Greenberg's Writing

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In his essay ‘Avant-garde and Kitsch’, Clement Greenberg claims that avant-garde or modernist art is a tool to prevent the ordinary culture caused by consumerism. Also with in his essay Kitsch gained popularity. The reason of he avant-garde’s arising is to defend aesthetic standards from the negative effects of consumer society over the artistic taste. He keeps avant-garde or art as more superior than kitsch. They are opposite sides according to Greenberg. He thinks that kitsch is much more like an Academic art. This gave a shape to the art and formed some rules to make the art something learnable.

Many forms and ideas in contemporary poetry can be understood by analyzing this essay. For Clement, art includes two types: avant-garde and kitsch. Avant-garde takes the top position as a kind moving our society forward and it can be seen a genuine art. It focuses on the art itself and can make the common or minor, unimportant things a part of the art in artistic way. The avant-garde artists managing to do this, mostly are marginalized in modern world. However, even if kitsch has a characteristic of inauthenticity, modern society is more interested in kitsch. Also, kitsch can’t be behind its time. Art and life is connected with each other and this attracts people to kitsch. However, in other side this quality of kitsch can be seen problematic. Like avant-garde, it is not genuine. Kitsch doesn’t need the effort of readers or viewers while genuine art requires people to work hard and to be educated people to be able to acquire artistic ideas.

The avant-garde is a product of Western bourgeois culture. It can be said that the capitalist and consumer society created avant-garde. It aimed to pursue art for its own sake but at the same time it couldn’t save itself from the money of bourgeois society. The avant-garde is both an academic and intellectual movement. Rather than being depended on history and tradition, it is about future and potential. Content is not significant, only the form of art itself is of importance. The avant-garde artist is not imitating or re-creating the world, but imitating and re-creating the form the art itself. The bacis principle in avant-garde is that instead of art that imitates life, art that imitates art. The avant-garde art requires a wealthy and educated audience.

Kitsch is a product of the industrial revolution which urbanized the masses of Western Europe and America and established universal literacy. According to Greenberg, the kitsch arose to fill a demand for culture coming from the proletariat of industrial countries. It serves to lower class or middle class and that is it is easy to reach by everyone. It can be counted as a synthesis of culture and media. Kitsch is profitable, mechanical and has formulas. While avant-garde needs an educated class, kitsch doesn’t need such an audience to grasp the ideas.

The avant garde imitates the process (and system) of art, and kitsch imitates its effect. Greenberg explains that socialism is the only movement that can support the avant- garde, or new culture. The avant-garde pushes its limits and so is producing new cultural value. Even kitsch is disposed to find new ideas in itself from time to time. While the avant-garde represents high culture, kitsch is the product of mass culture or popular culture and so it serves to common man.

Some writers may look to do different things in terms of the structure of the work and the sequence of the sentences, while others working in poetry would create new forms and new ways of working. One of the key things about being avant-garde in literature is that it is all about breaking the existing rules about writing, and whether these are in poetry or in fictional writing, pushing the boundary and expressing themselves in a different way that doesn’t conform to the existing rules is vital. The avant-garde has made writing an art form that is about more than just telling a story, but is actually about the form as much as the content. Although it can be an unique and individual way of expressing opinions and of working out new ideas, the changes in the format can also limit the audience for such work, and make it more difficult for people to access their work. James Joyce experimented with the medium of writing, and actually being successful in doing so, with landmark works such as ‘Ulysses’ he was a author of avant-garde. As well as Joyce, there are many poets who have also helped to push literature forward, and another of the biggest exponents of the avant-garde within literature is Jack Kerouac. With Allen Ginsberg, he brought many new dimensions to the literature. Their poems reflected unthought and unwritten issues not spoken until that day. If we give an example from world literature the most important example can be Franz Kafka. He chose to narrate the issues through different way of narration as in ‘Metamorphosis’ by using an insect character.

The avant-garde painters tried new forms and things in their paintings like writers or poets. George Braque can be a good example. He is a French and develeops new art style, Cubism. With this new style he brings a new dimension to painting. As avant-garde requires, it needs a certain education or culture to grasp the ideas behind the products. In George Braque’s paintings, a common man can have difficulty in understanding art. George O’Keeffe is another important artist. She is an American artist. She is known as the mother of American modernism. Like many other avant-garde products, her art forces people to understand and needs some culture.

As a conclusion, the avant-garde and kitsch are opposite sides and both have different audiences from each others. We mostly dealt with the avant-garde in this essay since it requires much more interest with its high-class culture. Kitsch is like a product of mass culture so many people find easy to deal with kitsch products. While kitch can’t go beyond the mediocrity, the avant-garde makes a breakthrough in art and literature. This basic difference between these two art forms create the different forms,audiences and cultures to understand them.

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Evaluating Modernist and Educational Art in Greenberg’s Writing. (2018, April 29). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 21, 2023, from
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