The Concept of Avant-Garde and Manifestos

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation CoreSCC2VA2064

Semester and Year Offered: Winter, 2019

Course Coordinator and Team: Santhosh S.

Email of course coordinator: santhoshs[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisites: None

Course Objectives/Description:

This course is an attempt to read history through some of the exceptional events in the field of artistic/cultural production, which are broadly bracketed under the category of the avant-garde. Such alternative readings on the history of artistic production would enable students to understand the heterogeneity of artistic positioning regarding the question of the relationship between art, aesthetic, society, and politics. This course initiates an in-depth analysis of various theories and critiques of the avant-garde in order to unearth the historical specificities of each form of artistic positioning. It attempts to conceptually distinguish between the definition of avant-garde as a moment of formalist or linguistic rupture and the political and aesthetical radicalism of the ‘historical avant-garde’. A close reading of some manifestoes along with the social, cultural, and political conditions which paved way for those moments and movements, allows students to understand the nuances and complexities of our own historical times.

This course is also an attempt to capture the historical role that manifestoes have played in our understanding regarding the relationship between art, society and politics. In a broader sense, the concept of manifesto is very often tied up with the concept of the avant-garde. Manifestoes are considered as a movement and moment in history which are situated in the interstices of theory and practice. This course familiarises students with the structure and function of manifestoes and differing roles of manifestoes and artistic collectives in different historical and geo-political locations. Further, this course may lead to newer understandings about manifestoes and collectives, their problematics and contemporary relevance. In that sense, this course shares AUD’s larger concern regarding engaged scholarship and works towards more historically and politically informed artistic practices.

Course Outcomes:

Upon the successful completion of the course the students will be able to:

  • internalise the critical purchase of the term/concept ‘Avant-Garde’ and its contemporary relevance.
  • delineate various avant-garde movements through both the existing literature as well as revisiting those historical moments through various art forms.
  • distinguish between differences and similarities between various avant-garde movements. These differences and similarities include; 1.Historical, 2. Ideological, 3. Philosophical, 4. Artistic, 5. Aesthetical, and 6. Political
  • position and locate their critical and creative practices vis-a-vis multiple critiques of the category avant-garde
  • critically engage with the literary category manifesto through tracing the genealogy of the term
  • absorb and critically illustrate the rationale behind the interrelationship between the concept of avant-garde and manifestoes
  • understand and demonstrate through translation the linguistic and formal structure of manifestoes
  • critically engage with the heterogeneous character of the relationship between art, aesthetics, and politics and articulate them through verbal, written or performative presentations.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

Theories of the Avant-Garde: This introductory module exposes the students to various theories of the avant-garde in order to engage with its relevance as well as the spectral presence that it has even today in almost all the discourses around art. The critical purchase and potency this concept occupies suggests that it has become a synonym for both formalistic innovation and what constitutes the ‘political’ in any form of artistic practice. This module introduces the students to various critical and contradictory positions regarding the notion of the avant-garde by analysing important theoretical propositions.

Critiques of the Avant-Garde: This module provides a broad outline of various critiques on both the concept of avant-garde as well as various movements that are categorised and claimed as avant-garde. It explores various critiques on the notion of avant-garde from multiple vantage points. For instance, it tries to critically engage with the racial, gendered, casteist, and Eurocentric undercurrents of the Avant-Garde positioning and movements. It brings together critiques both from within Euro-American contexts as well as from post-colonial perspectives and positionalities. This module also engages with the notion of avant-garde within the Indian context and the nationalist, male, upper caste, and upper class inheritances of this notion and movement. It addresses the complex intermixture of resistance to Western hegemony on the one hand, and an equally hegemonic relationship these positions and movements had with the ‘subaltern classes’ in general.

A Brief History of Manifestoes: This module primarily deals with the genealogy of manifestoes, both in terms of their form as well as objectives and purposes. It traces the theological and political intersection of the origin of the manifesto form. This module on the one hand attempts to engage with the formal structure of manifestoes such as its polemical positioning, and the urgent tone it invokes. On the other, it engages with their moral and ethical positioning, their attempt to communicate an experience of crisis, and a conceptual rupture with the past and traditions. This module includes a close reading of pioneering examples like the Communist Manifesto along with multiple translations of it. Further it focuses on the history of Artistic manifestoes and builds the interconnection between the political manifestoes, the avant-garde and artistic manifestoes, especially in the European context. It focuses primarily on artistic manifestoes and analyses them through the prism of manifesto studies as well as their role in the formation of various historical avant-garde movements.

Counter Cultures of Manifestoes: This module engages with the later manifestoes which use the form/format of manifestoes to evoke/mark certain crisis in the Euro-American imagination/experience regarding modernism and modernity. It engages with the question of (artistic) manifestoes from the vantage point of anti-colonial and post-colonial predicaments, various minoritarian movements premised upon oppressions based on gender, race, caste, ethnicity, sexuality, language, region, and so on. This module furthers the critique on the avant-garde through critical studies on the counter-cultures of manifestoes.

Assessment Details with weights:

  • Proposal for a Research: 20% (Month 1)
  • Class Presentation I: This component is based on their initial proposal for a project that they want to undertake during the period of the course. 10% (Month 1 and 2)
  • Class Participation and Peer Review: Every class a group of proposals are discussed and reviewed by the class together. 15% (Semester long)
  • Class Presentation II: 15% This component comprises of presentation of the fully developed proposal in which 10 points are assigned for the write-up and 5 points are for innovative presentation techniques (Month 3)
  • Research Paper/Group Work/Reflection/Translation: This component is evaluated through analysing the execution of the proposal (criteria are: the precision of execution, conceptual integrity, faithfulness to the idea, attentiveness to details, argumentative skills, theoretical rigour and so on, depending upon the nature of the execution/presentation) 40% (Month 3 and 4)


Reading List:

  • Poggioli, Renato (1981). The Theory of the Avant-Garde. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Translated from the Italian by Gerald Fitzgerald. (Introduction and first Chapter)
  • Bürger, Peter (1974). Theory of the Avant-Garde, University of Minnesota Press, 1984. (Foreword, Introduction and First Chapter)
  • Buchloh, Benjamin (2001). Neo-avant-garde and Culture Industry: Essays on European and American Art from 1955 to 1975. MIT Press.
  • Caws, Mary Ann (2001). Manifesto: A Century of Isms, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press
  • Haraway, Donna (2003). The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness, Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.
  • Kapur, Geeta (2000). When was Modernism: Essays on Contemporary Cultural Practice in India, New Delhi: Tulika Books (pp.265-365)
  • Lyon, Janet (1998): Manifestoes: Provocations of the Modern, New York: Ithaca.
  • Pollock, Griselda (1993). Avant-Garde Gambits, 1888-1893: Gender and the Colour of Art History. [London]: Thames and Hudson.
  • Ulmer, Gregory L. (1994). Heuristics: The Logic of Invention, Baltimore and London: John Hopkins University Press.
  • Winkiel, Laura (2011). Modernism, Race and Manifestos, Cambridge University Press, New York.


  • Communist Manifesto – 1848
  • Realist Manifesto – 1861
  • Futurist Manifesto – 1909
  • Vorticist Manifesto – 1914
  • Dada – 1916
  • The Realistic Manifesto – 1920
  • Japanese futurist Manifesto – 1921
  • We: Variant of a Manifesto – 1922
  • Surrealist Manifestos – 1924 & 1929
  • Manifesto Antropófago (Cannibalist Manifesto) – 1929
  • Manifesto: Towards a Free Revolutionary Art – 1938
  • Situationist International – 1960
  • Fluxus – 1963
  • A Media Art Manifesto – 1966
  • General Scheme of the New Objectivity – 1967
  • S.C.U.M Manifesto (Society for Cutting Up Men) – 1967
  • AfriCobra Manifesto – 1970
  • WAR Manifesto (Women Artists in Revolution) – 1970
  • A Cyborg Manifesto – 1985
  • Ai Weiwei’s manifesto – 1985
  • The Young Turks – 1941-42
  • The Calcutta Group – 1943
  • The Progressive Painters Association, Madras – 1944
  • Delhi Shilpi Chakra – 1949
  • The Progressives Artists’ Group, Bombay – 1947
  • Group 1890 – 1963
  • Place for People – 1981
  • Indian Radical Painters and Sculptors Association/Question and Dialogue – 1987



  • Calinescu, Matei (1987). The Five Faces of Modernity: Modernism, Avant-Garde, Decadence, Kitsch, Postmodernism. New Haven: Duke University Press.
  • Pronko, Leonard Cabell (1962). Avant-garde: The Experimental Theater in France. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Schechner, Richard (2002). “The Five Avant-Gardes or ... [and] ... or None?” in Michael Huxley and Noel Witts eds., The Twentieth-Century Performance Reader. 2nd edition. New York and London: Routledge.
  • Schechner, Richard “The Conservative Avant-Garde.” New Literary History 41.4 (Autumn 2010): 895-913.
  • Sitsky, Larry (2002). Music of the Twentieth-Century Avant-Garde: A Biocritical Sourcebook. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press.