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August 25, 2005

Donald Pittenger on John Sloan

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I'm pleased to announce that Donald Pittenger has agreed to start writing as a full-fledged Blowhard. Visitors have had a chance to enjoy Donald's thoughts and observations about cars, cities, and illustration. I'm looking forward with great eagerness to what else he comes up with.

Donald has some traveling on the near-term agenda, but he'll begin regular blogging on his return in late September. Until then, I'm glad to say that I have some pieces that Donald has written waiting on the hard drive; I'll be putting them up as Guest Postings over the next couple of weeks.

Here's one of them: some thoughts about the American Ashcan School artist John Sloan.


***

John Sloan -- Political Radical, Artistic Conservative

by Donald Pittenger


Thank heaven for Dover books. Inexpensive, well assembled (considering their price) and offering a lot of content in a variety of specialized fields.

I recently bought their edition of "John Sloan on Drawing and Painting" by Ashcan School artist John Sloan, a revised and re-titled version of his "Gist of Art" that first appeared in 1939. Actually Sloan didn't write it, even though his name is on the cover. It was compiled by Helen Farr, a former student and lover who became his second wife. Much of the content was from notes taken by Farr at classes taught by Sloan at the Art Students League and supplemented by notes and recollections from other former ASL students. Sloan did go through the manuscript and made such changes as he saw fit, blessing the result as faithfully expressing his views.

I bought the book because I find it interesting to read the mature views of people who know their business: I hope to learn something that might prove useful.

Actually, I've never liked Sloan's paintings. And I don't like most of his politics, either. Nevertheless the book intrigued me because, although Sloan was an avowed Socialist, his views on art struck me as being conservative at the time they first appeared in print and well-nigh reactionary today. These are interesting contradictions, because many of us tend to be more consistent in our views. Not entirely consistent of course, perhaps ranging from middle-of-the-road on some matters to somewhat-extreme on others.

This posting sketches Sloan's life and politics, but focuses on his art and theories of art. My main source is "John Sloan on Drawing and Painting" cited above, and I also made use of the biography "John Sloan" by John Loughery, Henry Holt, 1997.


A bit of biography


Sloan was born in 1871 in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, a lumber and paper industry town at the time and later the home of the Piper airplane firm, builder of the famous Piper Cub light plane. His family moved to Philadelphia where Sloan attended the elite Central High School with classmates William Glackens (another Ashcan artist) and Albert Barnes (the famed art collector). Thanks to his father's nervous breakdown, Sloan had to leave high school to earn a living. He eventually became a Philadelphia newspaper staff artist (along with Glackens, Everett Shinn and George Luks).

Sloan was influenced by Japanese prints and the budding Art Nouveau movement, adopting a poster-like style that differed from the usual newspaper art of the day. For this reason, Sloan's work tended to be used more in Sunday supplements than for fast-breaking daily stories.

Although largely self-taught, he took a few art classes including some from Thomas Anshutz at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. But Sloan dropped out after Anshutz left for Europe. Plus, he didn't like the academic approach to training where one spent months and months drawing from plaster casts before graduating to live models. About this time he became friends with Paris-trained Robert Henri (pronounced HEN-rye), yet another future Ashcan artist, and absorbed some of Henri's thinking.

"Dolly" (Anna Maria) Wall became his wife in 1901. Sloan had met Dolly in a whorehouse, where she worked part-time to supplement a legitimate income. Dolly stood less than five feet tall and was already essentially an alcoholic at the time they met. Her drinking problem continued for the rest of her life, greatly complicating things for Sloan when she hit the bottle. One complication was that she would latch onto men for one-night stands. Despite this, Sloan remained married to her (though he had several affairs) until she dropped dead in front of him in 1943.

In 1904, after about 15 years of knocking around the Philadelphia newspaper and commercial art scene, Sloan moved to New York City which became his main home aside from summer relocations to New England and, later, Santa Fe. He continued to provide art for a Philadelphia paper and did other commercial work such as book illustration to support himself while making oil paintings (none of which sold, at the time) on the side. He sometimes substituted for Henri teaching art classes. Thanks to his friendship with Henri and Glackens, he and his work became known and respected by the New York avant-garde crowd.

Probably the most important career event for Sloan was the 1908 Macbeth Gallery show "The Eight" featuring Henri, Glackens, Luks and others along with Sloan. The label "Ashcan School," which came later, is semi-synonymous with the term The Eight, and these are how Sloan and the others are best remembered to this day.

Sloan began teaching at the Art Students League in 1916 and continued (with one interruption related to a pay dispute) until 1931. In 1932 he was elected President of the Board of Control of the League but the next year resigned in protest of the League's failure to hire George Grosz. During this period he managed to sell some paintings, but unlike Henri he never accumulated wealth. This was partly because he didn't spend his money wisely and partly because a change in his artistic style yielded paintings that sold poorly.

Actually, "poorly" can be applied to sales of Sloan's paintings in general during his lifetime. He liked to claim (brag?) that he never sold a painting until he was 45 years old or thereabouts. By the time his earlier work became better known to the art-buying public, he changed his style. Had he not changed his style, it's likely he might have cashed in after years of hand-to-mouth existence. But he was a classic individualist-artist and to him, catering to The Market was Selling Out.

"Gist of Art" led to an increase in public awareness of Sloan and his 1944 marriage to Helen Farr greatly improved his domestic life. Sloan died in 1951 at age 80 following an operation for intestinal cancer.


Sloan's politics


Apparently Sloan was not political before moving to New York. Unlike today's press, reporters a hundred years ago lacked college degrees and tended to pride themselves on their hard-bitten cynicism. Possibly some of this ethos seeped from the newsroom to the room housing the art staff.

Even so, Sloan was already a pacifist opposed to the Spanish-American War and its territorial gains by the U.S. In New York he and Dolly were impressed by the intelligence of the Village crowd espousing Socialism; he joined the party in 1910 and ran for a New York State Assembly seat on the Socialist ticket.

The next year he became the unpaid acting art editor of The Masses, a socialist magazine. At The Masses he did layout work and contributed drawings. After the Great War began in 1914 Sloan became disillusioned with Socialism. This was because, while socialists had preached pacifism and the international brotherhood of workers, most socialist parties turned patriotic, at least for the first part of the war. So Sloan resigned from the Socialist Party and stopped doing art with political themes for The Masses.

Sloan continued to contribute art to The Masses until 1916 when he resigned in a dispute with editors who changed titles of illustrations in order to provide a more consistently ideological slant to the periodical.

The advent of Communism near the end of the Great War offered Sloan no enticement. He remained skeptical of Communism because he perceived it as being too centralized and controlling for his taste. Nevertheless, he continued to regard himself as politically progressive or even radical.


Sloan's theories of art


Here's a sampling of ideas from "John Sloan on Drawing and Painting." Remember that this is a compilation of remarks made at the Art Students' League in the 1920s when he was in his mid-50s and edited and polished when he was nearing 70. It reflects his point of view during and, especially, after his change in style. I'll present examples of his painting styles in the next section.

(Nearby is a photo of Sloan taken in 1939, the year "Gist of Art" appeared. He's working on a mural for the Bronxville, New York Post Office as part of a New Deal make-work project for artists.)

John Sloan at work

Although he never practiced it, Sloan claimed to be open-minded about what he called "ultra-modern art." He never really defines the term, but notes the famous 1913 Armory Show in its context. And he mentions how his study of this art led to "the working out of plastic problems in my own painting." Unfortunately he never directly cites specific aspects of modernism that were useful to him, so it's possible that he simply genuflected to avoid being cast as old-fashioned.

When he actually does get specific, Sloan is not at all pleased with the state of contemporary art:

  • "Students worry too much about originality. The emphasis on original, individual work in the past years has done a great deal to produce a crop of eccentric fakes and has carried art away from the stream of tradition." Ouch!

  • "Tradition is our heritage of knowledge and experience. We can't get along without it." Hmm. Sounds kinda small-c conservative to me.

  • "Maybe the degeneration of art started with the discovery of scientific perspective."

  • "I believe there is no progress in art."

  • "Some art is greater than other art, but there is no change in the inherent character of art. The mental technique is the same as it was fifty thousand years ago."

  • "You can be a giant among artists without ever attaining any great skill. Facility is a dangerous thing. When there is too much technical ease the brain stops criticizing." Could he have been thinking of Sargent, Sorolla and Zorn?

  • "The real artist finds beauty in common things. When what you see in nature is obviously beautiful...then is the time not to paint."

Sloan thought that the artist should first carefully study what was to be painted -- memorizing key features -- and then go off and do the actual painting in the studio without direct reference to the subject. This might have been an outgrowth of his newspaper experience, though it also could have come from Paris via Henri. His rationalization was that artistic imagination and feeling might be tempered by too slavish attention to the subject. But he did paint from nude models and probably painted outdoors while in Santa Fe, so his assertion likely was promotion of an ideal case rather than a reflection on practical circumstances.

Now we come to Sloan's change in style and how he explained or rationalized it. His key notion had to do with the separation of form and color: form is fundamental, color is something external. He felt that it was a mistake for artists (like Cezanne?) to try to express form solely through application of color.

  • "Drawing is more abstract than painting because line is more abstract than color."

  • "Painting is drawing, with the additional means of color. Painting without drawing is just 'coloriness,' color excitement. To think of color for color's sake is like thinking of sound for sound's sake."

  • "The great artists separated form and color as a means to realization. They did it by under-painting the form in semi-neutral colors and bringing the sculpted low relief into plastic existence by superimposed color glazes."

  • "You can't see the separation of form and color in nature. It is a mental concept."

  • "I feel pretty sure that all the heavy, staccato impasto paint in the old masters' work is made with tempera."

This last remark is important. Sloan made the comment long before art restoration had become scientific -- magnified micro-samples photographed to analyze paint layering, for instance. And I've never come across a confirmation of his hypothesis; readers are welcome to set me straight on this. But he believed that the masters used tempera under-painting and practiced the technique himself, switching from direct application of color to oil glazing over tempera under-painting.

(A brief explanation for non-painters: All paints are based on pigments, be they oil paints or watercolor. The key difference is the medium that binds together the pigments. Oil paints, as the name implies, use certain oils to do this binding. Egg Tempera uses egg-whites. Distemper makes use of melted glue. Most other paints use binders that are water-soluble: besides watercolor, examples are acrylics, casein and [non-egg] tempera. Water-soluble paints dry quickly compared to oil paints [certain oil colors can take weeks to dry and oil paintings usually aren't deemed ready for varnishing until they are six months or so old]. And water-soluble paints are somewhat less messy to work with than oils. Sloan, then, was using a water-soluble paint as a base over which oil glazes -- thin, transparent, colored layers -- were applied. Old Masters tended to use relatively fast-drying oil colors such as Burnt Sienna for under-painting the light-and-shadow part of the painting and applied glazes to introduce color.)

Moreover, Sloan's focus on form became quirky and possibly obsessive -- quirky to the point that his paintings simply looked ODD. To wit:

  • "I have been experimenting with the use of colored lines on top of some of my glazed pictures."

  • "I like to use linework to give added significance to the surfaces in the light and to increase the sensation of light and shade."

  • "For instance, neutral red lines can be drawn in the shadow of a green form to say something about the surface and shape of the thing without using a dark solid tone, without losing the green color skin."

Parenthetically, an important fashion in American painting in the 1920s and 1930s was to emphasize form in slightly exaggerated, abstracted, vaguely geometrical treatments of objects. Thomas Hart Benton's work is an American example, and a European version is the Art Deco painting of Tamara De Lempicka. Sloan did not do Deco, but the zeitgeist's stress on form might have influenced his thought, consciously or otherwise. And his book includes a discussion of the basic solids -- cubes, cones, globes, etc. -- that lurked not far below the surface of quite a few '20s and '30s paintings.

By Thomas Hart Benton


By Tamara de Lempicka


Sloan's practice of art


Sloan was a pretty good draftsman, as his drawings and etchings indicate. Here is "Turning Out the Light" (1905), a well-known example of this side of his work.

Turning Out the Light - drawing 1905.jpg

Now for two of his better-known paintings. First is "Election Night" (1907), a night scene of a jubilant crowd swarming a street (Third Avenue? Sixth?) above which roars an elevated train.

Election Night.jpg

The other is "McSorley's Bar" (1912), an interior view of that watering-hole.

McSorleys Bar.jpg

Both paintings are dark with some bright areas and are thickly-painted: no under-painting and glazing. And, along with the drawing above, they are everyday scenes that feature common people -- something one might expect from a Progressive or a Socialist.

Not all of Sloan's paintings of this period were as dark as these, nor were humans always indicated as sketchily as in "Election Night." Nevertheless, when we think "Sloan," these Ashcan paintings are what come to mind.

I'll skip Sloan's Santa Fe landscapes and transitional work of the early-mid 1920s to present "Nude at Piano" (1928), a fairly early example of his new tempera under-painting / oil glazing technique mentioned above.

Nude at Piano 1928 - tempera and glaze.jpg

Sloan's quirky phase can be seen in "Barbara in Red and Gold" (no date, but probably late-1930s).

Note the lines -- especially on the torso and arms -- that describe surface contours much as an etching would. Sloan tried to justify this using logic, but buyers shunned this style of painting probably because they found it ugly, logic notwithstanding.

All artists change their style over time. Young artists' styles usually change simply because their technical proficiency improves with practice, if not necessarily from instruction. Later changes can be chalked up to increasing wisdom, but the pace of this kind of change is normally relatively slower than during the learning phase. This pattern tended to break down during the Twentieth Century thanks largely to Picasso's example of shedding styles like snakeskin.

Such changing can be fairly painless for a tenured, college-professor artist; he'll draw the same pay regardless of what he produces. But it's a serious matter for an artist who paints for a living and is semi-successful at it. He already has a stylistic "franchise" that appeals to a certain clientele. A major change could easily dry up his source of income and the new style might not find a market. I'll postulate that style-changes are best attempted by either (1) artists with an important "name" -- most anything Picasso or Dali painted would sell -- or (2) artists who are unknown and unsold and thereby have nothing to lose.

Sloan was kind of a middling case. He was pretty well known by 1930, but he was only a so-so seller while his teaching didn't bring in a lot of money. His style change was more a consequence of his character than a result of economic motivation. It was, indirectly, yet another of his poor financial decisions.


Why radical politics and conservative art?


The matter of politically radical artists who paint conservatively (as well as all other permutations of "political," "painting," "conservative" and "radical") can easily serve as grist for numerous Blowhards postings. (Where are you, Friedrich? -- I need help!) For this reason I'll keep it short, just tossing out a few ideas to chew on.

If it's true that people tend to be consistent (I know, this is a huge generalization with scads of exceptions), then one would expect politically radical artists to paint in radical styles. And to a large degree this assertion is true: consider the current New York art scene or even most of the 20th Century art scene.

So what were the Fine Art exceptions that fall into Sloan's pattern? One candidate is Socialist Realism, the post-1933 official art in the Soviet Union whose purpose was to glorify the state and promote its projects. This art was probably done in a conservative, realist style for at least three reasons:

  • Government-bureaucratic projects of almost any kind tend to be cautious, conservative;
  • Personal survival might depend on not rising Stalinís ire; and
  • Because of its propagandistic nature, this art had to appeal and communicate to common folks and not to an intellectual elite.

Stalin - Karp Trokhimenko.jpg Stalin, by Karp Trokhimenko

(Also, recall that in the early Soviet years while power and the form of government were still being consolidated, art and architecture were radical, free-wheeling. Current "official" government art in the USA tends to be Modernist, not so much Post-Modernist; this reflects the Modernist conservatism of the Art Establishment. By "official" I refer to painting and -- more usually -- sculpture adorning government buildings.)

Social Realism is a similar term that refers to realistic (or somewhat-realistic) depictions of common folk in the interwar period. It is really a continuation of a genre that goes back at least as far as 17th Century Dutch and Flemish art and perhaps ever further. The Ashcan School was simply one phase of this progression.

Since it is impossible NOT to be at least partly realistic when painting common folk doing common things or workers being exploited, artistic style could not be totally radical in a pre-1960 context. And to the extent that Social Realism was intended as political propaganda, conservatively realistic images were desirable for reason of communication of ideas to the "masses." (Note the similarity to the Soviet case mentioned above.)

As for Sloan and his fellow Ashcan artists, their art actually was pretty radical around 1910. But I suspect that, due to habit, training or temperament, they were unable to evolve into the Expressionist style of politically radical artists such as George Grosz or Ben Shahn. Like most other artists, Sloan was a creature of his time.

And for those readers who like psychologizing, try this on for size: Since Sloan had comparatively little formal art training, he "compensated" by clinging to the traditional art techniques that he was under-trained in. Actually, I tend to be skeptical of this line of argument, but there's little doubt that aspects of his personality entered into his views on creating art.


Why I don't care for Sloan's paintings


Near the start of this article I mentioned that I don't care for John Sloan's paintings -- I like his drawings better, but don't love them. I'll briefly tell you why, so as not to leave you hanging.

For whatever it's worth, I tend to follow a Goldilocks measure of liking realistic art. Goldilocks?!? Well, I don't normally care for paintings that are meticulously detailed all across the canvas. And I seldom like paintings where human beings, at least, are crudely, sloppily, sketchily portrayed. A rough approximation of what I presently prefer is the middle-ground post-impressionism of The Glasgow Boys, Sargent, Anders Zorn and Joaquin Sorolla.

As for Sloan, I consider him too sloppy. But here at 2Blowhards, you are more than free to disagree.

***

Many thanks to Donald Pittenger.

Best,

Michael

posted by Michael at August 25, 2005




Comments

Great news about Donald becoming a regular Blowhard. I've come to really appreciate his postings, and I'm full of glee to know I'll be seeing more.

But...why can't I enlarge the images?

Posted by: PatrickH on August 25, 2005 7:18 PM



Thank you for this. I really don't know Sloan at all well, tho I recognized your examples, and remembering liking the little nude and finding the portrait unattractive. As far as the Ashcan School, I think tho not sure that George Bellows was a member, and I like what he did in the late teens and twenties.

Your association of Sargeant, Zorn, and Sorolla took me aback for a second, but I do see grounds for relation. "Middle-ground post-impressionists" is good. I have grown to love the 20th century Sargeant, have hundreds of high-res jpgs of the Italian stuff.

Zorn and Sorolla are more difficult for me, in maybe opposite ways. Zorn interests me for his nudes, which I find a little disconcerting and even confrontational in poses and settings. They aren't "pretty", but not only because of the models, Renoir was very "pretty" even with his Rubenesque subjects.

And Sorolla has struck me as somewhat insubstantial, weightless, and sometimes compositionally mysterious. All the yellows and blues, a deceptive prettiness. Look closely or at length, and there is something off.

All three of your favorites give me feelings of "not quite" "almost", put me immediately off-balance in a way I can't explain.

Posted by: bob mcmanus on August 25, 2005 8:22 PM



Bob -- Truth is, I don't remember ever having seen a Zorn or a Sorolla in person. I bought a book about Sorolla last weekend that was a catalog for an exhibit a while back. If I ever make it to the Madrid area, I'll make it a point to find some of his stuff.

I'm familiar with Zorn only through the Internet. However I'll be in Copenhagen and Helsinki next week and just might stumble on a book about him or possibly even a painting. (Yes, it's possible to order a book via his museum, but the hassle factor is too high for impatient me.)

Why do I think I like them even though the narrative and intellectual content can be lacking? It's because I'm an almost-okay artist and really admire folks who are great technicians -- folks who can do what I can't.

This isn't to mean I don't appreciate other painting; just be aware that I'm a sucker for technique.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on August 25, 2005 9:40 PM



Great news, congratulations Donald (and congratulations to us, the readers)!

A small note, tangenially.
I don't think Socialist Realism serves as an example of "radical politics, conservative painting". Stalin consolidated power at the end of the 20's, by 1933 and forward there were nothing radical in communist/socialist views, it was not only political mainstream - it was the only permitted ideological view: of course, if you wanted to live. Radical was anyone who didn't followed minute official Party (read-Stalin) line.

Also, in some ways SR was continuation of artistic tradition of the 1870's and 80's, when the rebelious Group of 14 organised "The Wanderers", or The Union of Traveling Artists; one of the goals was to produce art that appeals to everyone and reflect "real life" of the lower classes - thus making it political and contra-establishment, in the naive Victorian way.
I love landscapes of the period (particularly, Savrasov and Levitan), and can't stand the "genre" products, like Yaroshenko.

I find your psychological observation right on the money, at least when applied to Stalin's desire to appear respectable. He, too, of course, was under-educated seminarist (he didn't graduate, got involved into "expropriations"), therefore felt need to erudicate avantguard in any shape and form.

Posted by: Tatyana on August 26, 2005 12:21 AM



Tatyana -- Thank you for your kind remarks. Yes, as you note (and I sort of hinted in terms of the early post-Revolution period art & architecture), radical art was gone by 1934.

Also thanks for mentioning the Travelers. I'll be in St. Petersburg for a few days and also Moscow. I understand that there's a Russian Museum in StP, and I hope to go there on our off-day from the tour group. Hope to see art by Repin & others. I'm not sure about Moscow, but if we have any free time, I plan to hike across the river and check out the Tretyakov Gallery.

Are these good choices? Any better places? (The tour group will see l'Hertimage.)

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on August 26, 2005 1:17 AM



Donald, if you're in Moscow for a day only, I'd still recommend going to the Tretyakovka since the great Russian "colorists" -- Savrasov, Levitan, Shishkin, the less known Vasiliev -- are to be seen in the original. Among the genre painters, don't miss Fedotov and Vereschagin.

Posted by: Alexei on August 26, 2005 4:36 AM



I'd be very surprised if you'll have any energy left after the Hermitage, to go and look for more dirtied canvases!

But otherwise, The State Russian Museum do have Repins and Travelers, in abundance.

Posted by: Tatyana on August 26, 2005 10:37 AM



Oh, and an absolute must, when in StP, take a guided boat tour on canals and rivers, better at twilight - and much better during White Nights, but that's a miss now. And go to Petergof (Peter Palace), on a sunny morning, and to Oranienbaum(Lomonosov), or to the Tzarskoe Selo - there are more places to see then you could stomach...

Posted by: Tatyana on August 26, 2005 10:46 AM



I'm glad you gave Dover Books a mention, I discovered them in college and greatly appreciate the service they provide by offering at a reasonable price books that might otherwise be out of print. As a math major I have several classic mathematics books that would otherwise be unavailable to me. Although I know little about how to create art I am trying to learn and have enjoyed this book by John Ruskin. He has a writing style that I enjoy, although to 21st century ears he might sound a bit weighty.

Posted by: kent on August 26, 2005 12:30 PM



What always comes through for me in Sloan - and maybe it's a part of his sloppiness and can only be conveyed with a certain degree of sloppiness - is a great gusto for life: whether that life is a view of cats and clotheslines in a wintry Greenwich Village backyard; the El screaming overhead while lovers cavort in the boozy garbagy streets below; or the wake of the ferry in the fog. It's a world of gayety and delight that is gone now, possibly forever; and more's the pity.

Posted by: ricpic on August 26, 2005 9:37 PM



Alexei -- Thanks for your thoughts. As a trip reference, I jotted down the artists' names you listed (and noticed some of them on the museum link Tatyana provided).

Tatyana -- What I do on the free day in StP will depend on the comfort level the previous day. I'm normally just fine exploring new cities, but there can be exceptions. As it stands now, we'll try to take in the museum with Russian paintings and just poke around that part of town...maybe have coffee & tea at the Astor Hotel -- whatever seems nice.

But if negotiating the subway system seems too hairy (I actually got arrested on the Budapest subway), there are tours available to one or another of those country palaces. But I've already seen more European palaces than my lifetime quota allows (one must cater to the desires of one's female traveling companion).

Kent -- My first Dover books were math books too. Now I've got some on art, ocean liners, architecture, 1920s fashions and Lord knows what else. A real resource. As for Ruskin, I haven't read him. But the business about his wife who left him for Pre-Raphaelite painter Sir John Everett Millais makes for an interesting scandal to read about.

ricpic -- There must be a difference between gusto and sloppiness -- clear-cut cases of each should be pretty obvious, but the inbetween stuff can make for interesting discussions. I suppose I'd place Sloan's gusto as being a tad too far into the sloppy range. Plus, even his static subjects are a little too rough for my taste. I agree that it's good that he and the other Ashcan artists did their documentation of that now-lost world.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on August 27, 2005 4:40 PM



Mr. Pittenger:

Sorry to be so late to the party, but real life caused me to check out for a few days. All congratulations on joining the Blowhards.

As far as a contradiction between Sloan's politics and his art goes, I'm not so sure you can discuss the evolution of either late 19th century-early 20th century art or politics along a single conservative-radical axis. Manet-inspired social commentary (delivered via a modernized realistic-Baroque style derived from Velasquez and Hals) was a form of advanced, Modern painting. It just was pushed out of the way (i.e., made to look old-fashioned) by formalist Modernism, which was a somewhat dubious development, as formalist Modernism is so formalist because it is rather empty-headed, content-wise. In part, all of this was a natural reaction to the earthquake shakeup of European politics (and life) during the era, but it ended up rendering American painting rather muddle-headed for many decades.

I had originally intended, many moons ago, to write all this up in detail but I'm delighted that you're here to do all the heavy lifting!

Again, glad to have you on board!

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on August 28, 2005 9:50 AM



Friedrich -- Thank you for the kind thoughts. I've been secretly hoping to get "tapped" and am happy to be on board: I hope I prove worthy.

As for the conservative-radical dimension regarding Sloan, the business I included about the plausible need for early-mid 20th Century leftist movements to require artistically conventional (i.e. naturalistic) style is probably a sound observation for starters. And that might be about as far as it goes grand theory-wise. (BTW, I tend to be cautious about applying too broad a theortetical brush regarding artistic and social conditions/trends -- possibly in reaction to my sociology training.) The Sloan radical/conservative thing was partly a hook on which to hang a posting and toss out some thoughts for readers to chew on.

Still, the notion of consistency/contradition (something perhaps theoretically more interesting than just radical-conservative) might well be worth pursuing in future postings. As usual, your thoughts are provocative and kick me into thinking more deeply than I sometimes initially intend to.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on August 29, 2005 2:08 AM






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