Last time I visited P.S.1 in Queens, I picked up a slim pamphlet put out by n+1 magazine called P.S.1 Symposium: A Practical Avant-Garde. Seeing as how I’d just launched this blog on parsing through ideas regarding experimental or non-traditional narrative technique, I thought it’d come in handy, and indeed it has.
I’ve only gotten through the first of three essays, Mark Greif’s “Avant-Garde & Progressive,” but I’ve already read it three times, since it deals with a rift I’ve sensed for some time, and I think it sets up a solid vocabulary of distinctions that’ll be useful here.
First, he divides the spectrum of “really avant-garde” to “not at all avant-garde” into three distinct categories which you probably won’t have a hard time guessing.
The first level is what Greif calls the perennial: an everyday, ordinary, teachable, “neutral” practice that people still take seriously and genuinely like. In literature, we have the realistic novel about family life. In painting, a representational portrait or landscape. In intellect, explication of a text or a history of its creation.
Then, of course, is the avant-garde, which is far far afield of the perennial, but it needs the perennial for a point of leverage, or as Greif puts it, “a base of ordinary practice to kick against.”
[Avant-garde] meant a renewal or overthrowing of art: by new techniques, by a change in subject matter, and often by a deliberately offensive philosophy of life.
And here, the central point of Greif’s essay, is exactly the kind of artistic practice that I want to explore here at Almosting.
[The progressive level] intervenes between these two—the avant-garde and the perennial—and is necessary, so to speak, for ever having allowed the avant-garde to rise up out of the ordinary in the first place.
Which is to say that the progressive offers the philosophy and technique of avant-garde practices a foothold that is greater than the passing tempers of art-world insiders, it bridges the gap between the initiated and the un-.
It’s simply the idea of progress that exists in a field of art—or, sometimes, doesn’t; progress not just for its own sake but because the form is getting better at something. Ultimately, the great avant-gardes survive and serve a purpose if they in part change the direction of daily practice to make its resources more comprehensive. It is only through the belief in progress that this interaction can occur.
Thus we will be looking, here at Almosting, at many avant-garde and perennial films to see what elements are fuseable, which edges can be pieced together, where we can use each tradition to make progress in the narrative arts.
Since this post ended up absurdly long, for a blog post, I’ll delay posting the rest until tomorrow.