Aphorisms for Artists by Walter Darby Bannard

Aphorism #92

When everyone is avant-garde, there is no avant-garde.

A hundred years ago people started noticing that artists who did unconventional work—work that was derided, rejected and unbought—turned out to be the best work of the time.

This perception trickled down, and soon the idea of innovation caught up with innovation itself. Artists struggled to “make it new,” as Ezra Pound famously advised. Critics, fearfully aware of those who disgraced themselves by laughing at Cézanne, hedged their bets by criticizing only that which appeared traditional.

Unfortunately, when everyone is “making it new” we get mindless novelty abetted by critical cowardice, and the enterprise of art making descends into willful eccentricity. As Goya put it, “The sleep of reason produces monsters.”

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