Cambria Press is pleased to present the following Q&A session with Professor Willard Bohn on his recently published book, The Avant-Garde Imperative: The Visionary Quest for a New Language.
Question: Why did you decide to write this book?
Willard Bohn: The first half of the twentieth century witnessed an unbelievable amount of creative activity in literature and the arts. More than anything, avant-garde painters and poets sought to convey the complexities of contemporary existence, which, thanks to recent technological developments, was steadily becoming more complicated. There was a growing sense, among other things, that realistic themes and realistic techniques were inadequate to address the human condition. Accordingly, artists and writers sought to develop a language that would express the complexity of the modern world while revolutionizing traditional aesthetics. So important were vision and expression to the vanguard enterprise that this double quest soon became obligatory–an avant-garde imperative. In order to shed some light on these complementary processes, I wanted to examine four very different movements: cubism, metaphysical art, surrealism, and futurism. While I hoped to make an important contribution to each of the individual subjects, I wanted to relate them to each other as well. Despite the tremendous differences separating them, the movements all belonged to the international avant-garde. The challenge was to discover what they had in common. In particular, I thought it would be instructive to examine the different strategies they adopted in order to implement the avant-garde imperative.
Question: What do you hope your readers will take away from your book?
Willard Bohn: I hope readers will come to appreciate the incredible creativity that characterized the avantgarde from the very beginning. While specialists will hopefully benefit from my discussions of cubism, metaphysical art, surrealism, and futurism, I hope non-specialists will benefit as well. I hope they will develop a new respect for avant-garde artists and writers together with a greater understanding of some of the issues that were involved. Although avant-garde compositions often appeared to be nonsense, they were usually quite sophisticated. As readers will hopefully discover, poets and painters sought to create a brand new vision of contemporary existence and a brand new language in which to communicate it. I hope readers will realize that these two activities were not simply parallel but also reciprocal.
Question: What other research do you believe is needed on this topic?
Willard Bohn: The international avant-garde included hundreds of individuals—not only poets and painters but dancers, choreographers, musicians, composers, film makers, theater directors, scenographers, art dealers, playwrights, actors, critics, and publishers. For this reason, the subject will not be exhausted for many years to come. Although much has been written about the avant-garde, much more research remains to be carried out. Scholars need to study the contributions of minor figures, for example, whose lives and works are largely unknown. At the same time, major figures such as Pablo Picasso or Marcel Duchamp need to be continually reevaluated in the light of recent scholarship. Finally, the avant-garde itself begs to be studied in more detail. We need a comprehensive volume that will survey avant-garde practice in general, identify its various goals, and compare the different strategies that were devised to attain them.
Recommend this Cambria Press book today! There are affordable Cambria Press e-book versions of this title. Professors, if you would like to use this for your class, refer your librarian to the Cambria Press Desk Copy Plus Program that helps you get free versions for your students!
If you are interested in this book, see also Gao Xingjian: Aesthetics and Creation by Nobel Prize Winner in Literature Gao Xingjian (translated by Mabel Lee).
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