How ‘Avant Garde’ Became an Art Term

Featured image: Salvador Dalí, Who Stole the Tarts?, 1969. From the 1969 edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Photo by © Historical Picture Archive/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

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The term “avant-garde” describes movements, artists, and artworks that challenge the status quo. Often seen as merely provocative and controversial in their day, they retrospectively come to be understood as revolutionary—cornerstones in the development of art as we know it. The term is borrowed from French, where it originally referred to the vanguard of an army, a reconnaissance party that scouts what lies ahead. How, then, did a military metaphor become applicable to art?

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