What Is Experimental Art?

Edgar Degas, "Les Danseuses Bleues" (1890)

One typically hears unusual art called three different things, often interchangeably:

  • Innovative
  • Avant-Garde
  • Experimental

But what do these three words mean? Do they mean the same thing? I don’t think so, and in this post I’ll point out some basic differences between them. I’ll also define what I think experimental art essentially is, and how such art operates.

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The Dominant, ctd.

Update: If a blog post can ever be said to be in honor of anyone, then consider this one in honor of Ruth Kligman. May she rest in peace.

In the comments section of my last post, Shya asked:

can someone write a truly romantic novel today? Or would it necessarily be a postmodern (or post-postmodern) exercise in romanticism?

I’d suspect that, even if we went back to Romantic Era, we’d have a hard time finding something “truly romantic.” As Pontius Pilate so insightfully asked Christ: Quid est veritas? (What is truth?)

So let’s leave aside truth for the moment, and try answering that question in a different way.

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Innovation in Art

So glossy!

What is innovation in art? This is something I’ve circled in my other posts, for example:

Now I’ll try addressing it a little more head-on.

All art contains both innovation (unfamiliarity) and convention (familiarity). Some artworks are so familiar as to preexist themselves. I didn’t like Andrzej Wajda’s recent film Katyn (2007), thinking it nothing more than a string of war movie clichés (this time in Polish). Its being unoriginal and predictable annoyed me; I might have walked out (or fallen asleep) had I not gone to see it with a couple of friends (who for the record both really liked it). And I felt as though its unoriginality trivialized its very serious subject matter, the Katyn Massacre.

On the other hand, some artworks are so radically different from what we know and expect that we can’t make any sense of them, let alone recognize them as artworks:

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