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March 18, 2008

"Early American Art"?

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Here's an example of something that 1) is all-too-common and 2) really irks me: the way many arty types take it for granted that the story of American art is the story of modernist American art. Yo, artworld: Calling Georgia O'Keefe an example of "early American art" is like calling "Reservoir Dogs" an example of "early gangster movies." It's overlooking an awful lot, and it's promoting a restrictive and stupid myth.

I raved back here about what a wild and glorious free-for-all pre-modernist American art was.



posted by Michael at March 18, 2008


And the earliest artist mentioned in the article was John Singer Sargent who, though a U.S. citizen, was born in Italy, worked mostly in England and France, and visited this country only a small number of times.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on March 18, 2008 3:50 PM

Not only do they mention Georgia O'Keefe as as "early master of American art," they also throw in Man Ray and Jackson Pollock. Say, do you suppose they mean Man Ray the dog? Oh, that's right, he was even less "early."

Posted by: Lester Hunt on March 18, 2008 4:55 PM

Hmm...why no Whistler? He's a whole generation earlier than any of these guys. Of course, British art museum-goers have seen plenty of Whistler. But the writer should know that.

It's sort of like doing a show of Turner and Constable and calling it "early" British art because, as everyone knows, "real" British Art only arrived in the 1990s with Damien Hirst.

It's hard to tell if the author is ignorant or patronizing, but either way...!

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on March 18, 2008 7:03 PM

Sargent was always proud to call himself an American. I'm not sure if he only visited America a small number of times though, as he worked on and off the Boston Public Library murals for about 25 years. He also painted extensively in the Rockies, Florida, and the east coast. I'd have to check on the length of time, but he certainly knew the Bostonites (and Henry James & Co.) pretty well.

Michael Blowhard is quite correct that the pre-modernist art scene was a panoply of styles and energy. But when color photography, TV, movies, and WWII came along, it all started to unravel. By the 50's and 60's, representational art was hitting the skids.

Yep, the late 19th/early 20th century was a golden age of visual art, maybe the best ever. You correctly notice that this golden age is hardly mentioned in the Art Histories, since after Impressionism, the only movements talked of are the Post Impressionists and then the Cubists, etc. If this isn't a sign of an agenda, I don't know what is.

Posted by: BTM on March 18, 2008 11:47 PM


John Singleton Copley, John Trumbell, Benjamin West, Gilbert Stuart, Charles Willson Peale, Rembrandt Peale, Raphael Peale, Washington Allston, Samuel Morse, William Harnett, George Caleb Bingham, John James Audubon, Charles Bird King, Edward Hicks, Thomas Cole, Asher Durand, George Inness, George Catlin, Alfred Jacob Miller, Fitz Hugh Lane, Martin Johnson Heade, Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran, Frederick Church, Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, Mary Cassatt, Albert Pinkham Ryder, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Frederic Remington, George Bellows...

And that's just painters!

Posted by: Brian on March 19, 2008 1:21 AM

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Posted by: Jennifaer on April 11, 2008 3:39 AM

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