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This volume presents works on paper by many of the country's most significant artists from colonial times to the mid-twentieth century. Featured are pieces by American-born citizens working at home and abroad, as well as images by foreignborn artists who created much of their best work here. The collection's organizing principle is primarily aesthetic, and its goal is to exhibit to the viewer a wide variety of compelling images whose creators they may then be inclined to investigate further on their own.
The dominant aesthetic and spirit behind American Drawings and Prints could fairly be called American Scene, an art-historical term derived from an early-twentieth-century Henry James travelogue of the same name. In the book, James relates his return to America after an absence of nearly a quarter-century, reveling in his ability to look at the country from a new perspective. As an art term, American Scene has somewhat loose boundaries, but generally it describes the attempt by American artists in the second and third decades of the twentieth century to find vitality and significance in native and everyday subjects. Their primarily realist art was in contrast to the more dominant and abstract modernist tendencies imported from Europe and elsewhere, and came to be regarded as one of the most singularly American modes of representation in art history. The term is probably most often applied to the Regionalists (Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry) who, in the present book, define the section "Landscapes and the Country." Their urban predecessors, The Eight, or Ashcan School, are prevalent in the opening section, "Images of the City."
However, American Drawings and Prints exhibits a much wider sampling of American art than American Scene realism, such as works that were made prior to the twentieth century as well as those outside of the fine-art tradition. Since it presents more traditional genres, the section "Portraits and Figures" reaches back furthest into history, beginning with Benjamin West, the first American to gain significant standing in the international art world. West is represented by multiple works, as are other such key figures as Thomas Eakins and James Abbott McNeill Whistler. The section is organized by type only, starting with heads and continuing through pairs to female and, finally, to male figures; eras and pictorial methods are mixed throughout.
Whether because of their origins—anonymous, religious, or commercial—or their extraordinary subjects, the images in the final section, "Folk and Fantastic Art," seemed to demand a heading of their own. The untrained artists at the beginning have developed aesthetics as powerful as many of their fine-art brethren (see, for example, the Pennsylvania-German horse on page 89). Given their subjects, the remainder of the images here can't be tethered to a time or place, but many are as uniquely American as their more realist counterparts.
Excerpted from American Drawings and Prints by EVAN BATES. Copyright © 2007 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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