The popular and the avant-garde: performance, incorporation and resistance

Price, Jason (2015) The popular and the avant-garde: performance, incorporation and resistance. In: University of Central Lancashire Theatre and Performance Conference, 19-20 June 2015, Preston, UK.

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Many modernists in the late nineteenth century harboured a strong suspicion of the emerging mass culture produced for the working classes. Adopting a position similar to Matthew Arnold’s (2009) that culture was the speciality of a cultured few, and not the uneducated working classes, some sought to protect ‘high art’ from ‘low’ mass forms. Modernists associated with the avant-garde, however, do not appear to have held such rigid views; and for Peter Bürger (1984) this is what distinguishes it from modernism. Historical avant-garde artists tended to be more forthcoming about their connections to other cultural forms, not only acknowledging mass and popular culture, but openly co-opting and integrated it into their art. Bürger sees this not only as part of the avant-garde’s resistance to modernism, but its ‘attack on the status of art in bourgeois society’ (1984, 49).

In this paper I will interrogate the tensions between these two modernist positions, and will consider the ways that mass and popular culture forms became an important tool for aesthetic experimentation amongst avant-garde artists. I will focus on three distinct areas in which such experimentation occurred: early Parisian cabaret, Futurism and Dada. In doing so, the paper aims to do two things: (1) to demonstrate the fundamental role that popular and mass cultural forms played in the development of avant-garde aesthetics; and (2) to show how, through such appropriation, avant-garde practices intended to critique mass culture, the belief in high and low art categories, and the capitalist system responsible for their production.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Keywords: Avant-garde, Popular Theatre, Cabaret, Dada, Modernism
Schools and Departments: School of English > English
Subjects: N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR > N5300 History > N6350 Modern art > N6447 19th and 20th centuries
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Depositing User: Jason Price
Date Deposited: 03 Sep 2015 12:08
Last Modified: 03 Sep 2015 12:13

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