The term “progressive” is a loaded one in any creative sense. There’s no true line as to what it is and what it means. Therefore, it is my aim to offer my definition of what this tag means in art, where art means music, drawing/sculpture/painting/photography, writing, and so forth. In this instance, this means the idea of creative imagination. A common misinformed opinion is that there are those that are creative and those that are not; everyone is creative, there are varying degrees of creativity as well
In any art, as in nearly any culturally informed process, the temporal and social aspects are firmly implanted upon the pieces. Take for example the piece to which I referred in the Vanitas: Still Life post. This demonstrates the worldliness of the Dutch peoples and their trading companies, while still yet incorporating the death theme by the inclusion of the skull. What makes artistic perception so interesting is that they are specifically delineated moments in time that encapsulate in such a way as to convey meaning and are typically firmly established in the material culture and imaginative culture of their production. As cultural experience changes so too does art, this inherently is the driving force behind the idea of progressive.
Ultimately, no matter the style or genre of art, the avenue of expression becomes systemized. A great example in the current cultural experience is the Harry Potter series that served to inspire the young adult fantasy craze that continues to this day. Another would be the so-called “Big Four” Thrash Metal bands that inspired a darker, stronger, faster soundscape in music. Referring back to the Vanitas post, in which Steenwijck’s image is firmly of that genre, as it were, of painting, it is obvious that Hans Holbein was an inspiration of the entire genre, while never yet being firmly part of it. This is the initial stage of the progressive stylings: the Avant-Garde.
Avant-Garde is often incorrectly applied to the burgeoning modernist movements of the early 1900s. These are much better described as how they were self identified: surrealism, dadaism, situationalists, &c. Like Da Vinci, these individuals experiment with the qualities, media, and structures of their creations and the conventions they were taught. Ergo Marcel Duchamp setting a urinal in the Louvre and terming the piece “Fountain,” the boundaries of cultural expression are pushed. In the case of Surrealism in Literature (a movement that arose around the same time), Daniil Kharms offered scathing social criticisms of the Bolshevism and Loyalism through nearly insane and often short pieces. Kharms and Alexander Vvedensky inspired the movement in Russia to do this as a means to skirt the censors; others took up their torch and continued the movement, e.g. Mikhail Zoschenko (one example). In modern music, the closest corollary that comes to mind is Agalloch and their music, an amalgam of folk, black metal, death metal, doom metal, and tribal, that has seen many others that attempt the Cascadian Black Metal styling. Death is another good band to use for this as from their ashes arose the Technical Death Metal, Mathcore, and Math Metal movements (yes, if you’re a metal fan, you need to purchase the reissue of Spiritual Healing that was released today). Fitting that Avant-Garde means “vanguard.”
Progressive is far more conservative than this (for complete understanding of what I mean, listen to the songs “Aenema” by Tool and “Creature” by Sleepytime Gorilla Museum”). It recognizes the limitations of the means of the specific genre and attempts to integrate other aspects from other artistic movements, cultures, times, or beliefs to go beyond the typical avenues of expression. Opeth for example arises from a history of Black Metal and Death Metal while incorporating compositional aspects of 1970s rock in their music. Devin Townsend often uses metal sounds in unexpected ways (listen to Ki). In art, Salvador Dali held on to classical techniques in painting while altering and pushing the imagery of his pieces. In poetry, Eliot’s 1920s works captured images in rapid fire and emotional stream of consciousness. The point is that progressive approaches are not a complete shattering of what came before; rather, these integrate those approaches and combine them in such a way so as to develop and build something that is beyond the limitations of a specific form. Therefore, Progressive means transcending the limits of the chosen art styles at hand, regardless of the medium of expression.