Avant-garde Art - Drawing Flowers in Wartime
Avant-garde art is not just new art. Many new forms of art which capture the public interest appear in the art world, but they should be called "attempts at original art", while avant-garde art is completely different. When I talk to my friends, they sometimes put forward bizarre ideas ending with an expectant "Interesting, isn't it?" And I get very embarrassed because lots of people tell me their ideas, convinced that if they think of something eccentric, Shimamoto will be bound to like it. But just because the idea is original and new it doesn't mean it's avant-garde.
Living in one's own social context and following its development, an individual learns to adapt and become part of it, even if each one reacts to information about society in his or her own way. Some people approach it logically and others instinctively. In this way, each person finds his own answer so he can live in his social environment irrespective of his level of awareness of how he reacts to the context. Having said that, the problem is the nature of the way society develops. The sociologist Durkheim calls it social cohesion through coercion. However, this social pressure is felt very differently by each person. Just as there are people who make decisions quickly, only taking into consideration what is immediately apparent, there are others who act after considering long term future possibilities.
Avant-garde artists only feel the slightest social pressure: they are not very sensitive to their context and we might even say that only a small minority has any common sense. They are people with their own innate way of thinking, addressed to a remote future beyond immediate reality, expressing their ideas through their art.
If we think about events like the Second World War, or economic development with its ensuing environmental problems, they are considered unbelievable and questionable years later, but history shows that at the time, people thought they were a normal and obvious response. Avant-garde artists, however, express themselves independently of social development and perhaps do pictures of flowers even while a war is raging. This is avant-garde.
I always say that a picture is a castle in the air, and a painter who abandons himself to his imagination does not feel particularly subject to social pressure. In other words, he represents the basic aspects of the human being, after filtering them through a wide-angle view of life and without the limiting controlling factor of common sense. This is avant-garde art.
Many animals, especially catfish, become agitated before a great earthquake happens, while their behaviour is simply incomprehensible to human beings. It's the same thing. Avant-garde artists are often thought to be incomprehensible by ordinary people, and their actions are considered eccentricities simply meant to capture the attention of the public and amaze them.
However, if we try to analyse the history of art, it is clear that the avant-garde has always revolutionised art and sounded an alarm about the way people live, even though it was considered bizarre at the time.
In Japan, when the works of historical world-level artists are discussed, inevitably it is the beauty and the quality of the technique which are praised. This is because the Japanese are an ignorant people who don't even tend their own gardens, and they don't care in the least that these works were created in the spirit of the avant-garde.
When critics talk about Millet, for example, they always emphasise the beauty of his pictures, but he doesn't strike me as a particularly good painter at all. At that time, there were plenty more much better from the technical point of view. But if we consider that Millet himself, influenced by the Rococo, had painted beautiful princesses with their splendid dresses, and then changed direction completely, portraying the beauty of country scenes and couples in poor clothes, it is his avant-garde approach that they should appreciate him for.
The same can be said of Chardin. In an era when one would have expected paintings of magnificent flowers in ornate vases or luxurious interiors, Chardin painted old pans in the kitchen, with potatoes and vegetables poking out. Also of great significance was his pioneering spirit, placing still life at centre stage at a time when it was normally only a secondary subject.
Avant-garde art thus revolutionises the point of view of beauty and at the same time suggests a new way of existing.