French Avant Garde

Instructor: Elisabeth Fraser

This class looks at the 19th-century Parisian avant-garde through particular case studies, with an emphasis on mythic self-construction. Since the mythology of the avant-garde gives priority to the individual over the collective and institutional, we will focus on modes of self-fashioning, from self-portraiture to mythic self-description, and explicit parodies of tradition and traditional genres. Since the New Art History was to a large extent shaped around study of this period, we will also be particularly attentive to the theoretical underpinnings of the authors we read.

We will consider a larger question underlying most interpretations of the avant-garde: should it be seen as an anti-bourgeois, revolutionary force or as an experimental arm of bourgeois capitalism? Ultimately, readings for this class collectively challenge the modernist reading of the avant-garde as an inevitable, suprahistorical development that moves culture forward in a linear path toward abstraction.

In addition to an advanced knowledge of artists and images of this period, students will acquire good working knowledge of the main themes and tropes of avant-garde culture, its social contexts, and differing interpretive and methodological approaches in cultural studies.

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