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How useful is the term avant-garde in explaining the development of art in Europe between 1900-1939 Between 1900-1939 there were many different movements in art mainly due to two reasons modernisation and the First World War The term avant-garde does not have one single meaning and has become synonymous with the evolving modern movement of art Although art for arts sake is a term not often used positively today this modernist sense of the avant-garde relates to that tradition insofar as art is not seen to require any external justification ethical or political for its products However looking at the term in historical context the term has a different provenance The term was used for the first time in the 1830s not in a debate concerning art but in the early socialist tradition as left-wing intellectuals and politicians tried to think through concepts of progress and freedom in emerging modern societies In his book Opinions litteraires philosophiques et industrielles Henri de Saint Simon the French Utopian Socialist philosopher used for the first time the term avant-garde in the relation to art Saint-Simon constructed an imaginary debate between an artist a savant a scie ntific or technical intellectual and an industrialist The artist proposes that he the savant and the industrialist should join forces and ensure social progress rather than relying on ruling classes to exercise leadership in society We the artists will serve as the avant-garde for amongst all the arms at our disposal the power of the Arts is the swiftest and most expeditious When we wish to spread new ideas amongst men we use in turn the lyre ode or song story or novel we inscribe those ideas on marble or canvas and we popularise them in poetry them in poetry and in song If today our role seems limited or of secondary importance it is for a simple reason The Arts at present lack those elements most essential
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