Pushing the Boundaries – Avant-Garde

In a world that is constantly moving forward, it is inevitable that the art of the world will do so also. One of the key turning points in art history was around the 1870’s when ‘Avant-garde’ art was established. This was a controversial movement at the time as it tried to contradict traditional artworks in a facetious manner. The urge to produce pieces that would shock its audience was a main aim in this era for some artists. Some works were so controversial that the Salon de Paris refused to show them. One example of this is Edouard Manet’s ‘Le Dejeuner Sur L’herbe’.

Edouard Manet "Le Dejeuner Sur L'herbe"

Edouard Manet “Le Dejeuner Sur L’herbe”

If we were to view this piece for the first time now, we would have a completely different view than what was of the past. Art critics of the Salon found it far to controversial, the barrier between ‘nude’ and ‘naked’ had been broken. The woman in this piece is not posed in the glorified position of a Goddess but instead looks directly at the audience, making it clear that she is aware that she is being looked at and is not perturbed by that fact. The objects surrounding her are not staged, but instead are strewn around, accompanied by fruit falling out of the picnic basket and a blanket coiled  around her ankle. Although this was a controversial piece of the late 1800’s and some art critics of the time very much disapproved of it, we must appreciate the fact that without pieces like this, art would not be the same as it is today. This act of breaking societal norms within the era have inspired so many artists since. The boundaries of art are constantly being pushed further and further to provoke thought and reaction. So when we hear of a man publicly nailing his scrotum to a cobbled street in Moscow as ‘a metaphor for the apathy in Russia’, some may  be shocked and appalled now, but who knows, future generations of artists may relish in the effects of such a piece.


Lectures by Donna Leishman




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