Artists tend to be classified as avant-garde when they seek forms and themes that will capture what modernist poet Ezra Pound called “the shock of the new.” Many of the most transformative art movements, often grouped under the heading of modernist art, began in Europe at the turn of the twentieth century. Such initiatives as Dada, Surrealism, and Cubism defy easy labels, emerging as they did out of the collaborative and also reactionary artistic spirit of the day. As art historians Erika Langmuir and Norbert Lynton describe it, “movements promising radical innovation followed hard upon each other’s heels from the 1890s on and rarely lasted long after their launching and initial propaganda.” The modernist art of Europe with its skewed perspectives had begun to make its way to America early in the century, yet many American painters and writers, including Fitzgerald, had little direct contact with it and scant understanding of what specifically it meant to make things new artistically. Fitzgerald had an intuitive awareness of the evolving forms of early-twentieth-century art, particularly Surrealism and Cubism, as reflected in some of his earliest writing that captured the emotional temper of the day. Works such as his first novel, This Side of Paradise (1920), or his short story (some might call it a novella) “May Day,” published in that same year, incorporated juxtaposition, contrast, and collage as structural elements to render a sense of motion on the page. Although these structural elements comprise the scaffolding of modernist art, Fitzgerald was not, in the truest sense, an avant-garde artist until after he had left America to live in France in 1924. There he encountered modernist art head on as he mingled with other artists on the forefront of change. This led to his reshaping of the novel that in 1925 would become his modernist masterpiece The Great Gatsby.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Arts and Humanities(all)