Stephen Willats

Stylism as a Condition for the Avant-Garde, 1986

The perpetuation and celebration of the avant-garde notion has alone been enough to ensure that there is a continual evolution of the visual language made by artists. For as long as there are vested interests working to further the social and property functions of the art object, then innovation in language has a validity, it injects new life into the system and gives it a façade of being up-to-date. However, this generation of new languages is not coupled with any real change in the parameters governing the form, context and social meaning of the artwork. Innovation in language is supposed to be made by the artist to show individual identity, to state uniqueness and separation from other artists, thus the onus is on the artist to stamp a recognisable mark onto the artwork through innovating an original style in language and it is this pursuit that I call stylism.

It is a fact that the pursuit of stylism goes on quite independent of the priorities, and pre-occupations of the world outside the ‘art professional’ and attendant institutions. This self-centered, academic closing off is culturally celebrated, and even signals separateness to the public through the self-referenced, abstract languages that have been especially created by the artist.

In the art history of the dominant culture, stylism is equated with progression in the evolution of art; the creation of precedence that gives further twists to self-referenced languages which are then rarefied, sanctified by the art institutions to which they are bound.


Printed in Society Through Art, Stephen Willats, Haags Centrum voor Aktuele Kunst, Den Haag, 1990