Avant-garde is originally a French term, meaning in English vanguard or advance guard (the part of an army that goes forward ahead of the rest).
The advance guard of a military operation is the cannon fodder. If you have seen the opening scene of Private Ryan on Omaha Beach, you know what avant garde means - literally.
Figuratively, the term has been appropriated for any kind of front-running, ground-breaking initiative. Tate, describes the term as follows in terms of the art scene:”It first appeared with reference to art in France in the first half of the nineteenth century, and is usually credited to the influential thinker Henri de Saint-Simon, one of the forerunners of socialism. He believed in the social power of the arts and saw artists, alongside scientists and industrialists, as the leaders of a new society.”
But avant-garde is a bit more brutal and lot more fatal than dreaming up a painting or a frock that will shock people.
In the workplace, you have the avant-garde too. These are the misfits and the rebels, the troublemakers and the dreamers. They are the ones who get excited about a dream or a project and run onto the beach. They are the ones that shot down by enemy fire.
Is that you?
Sometimes, if the idea is really good, they may survive. If the reinforcements arrive and the enemy gets overrun, the beach is made safe. Then the shif can dock and the Majors and the Generals can step on to the beach and survey the scene.
Sometimes, however, you don’t survive. Well, that is the end of that, and that is that. As they say.Cannon fodder.
But sometimes you survive. But the battle is not won. The medica carry you out, or you are lucky enough to escape. Until next time.
Is that you?
Until you get obsessed with another idea, another dream another beach to conquer. But over time, people start avoiding you, blaming you. It is almost as if they sense that you are doomed to die on a beach sooner or later and the further away they are, the better.
Avant-garde sounds compelling. The Generals will talk it up. They may even give you a posthumous medal. Because they need you. They just don’t want you. Because avant-garde is a little bit reckless and a little bit hard to manage when there is no war to fight. Then, you are just trouble.
The avant-garde don’t make good Generals. Medals don’t put food on the table. But if you really are one of us, then you can’t be any other way.
The bitter, bitter irony of it is that, whilst you believe there are beaches there are worth dying on, when people google what it means to be Avant Garde, what they get is this image.
Maybe beaches worth fighting for merely illusions. Or at best, fashionable in the moment, and nothing more.