Modern Art in the USA : Issues and Controversies of the 20th Century / Edition 1

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Overview

This chronologically organized and comprehensive anthology of readings tells the whole story of art in America from 1900 to the present. It focuses on the themes, issues, and controversies that occurred throughout the century—using selections that are contemporary with the art—by artists, critics, exhibition organizers, poets, politicians, and other writers on culture. Some recurring themes and issues include issues of identity; the changing nature of modernism and modernity; nationalism; art as individual or community expression; the nature of public art; and the role of criticism, censorship, and government intervention. Texts by well-known writers include Meyer Schapiro, Clement Greenberg, Michael Fried, Donald Kuspit, and Kate Linker. A guide for those interested in both the standard interpretations of American art and in alternative readings.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780130361387
  • Publisher: Pearson
  • Publication date: 9/19/2000
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 643,827
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Preface

This book focuses on the issues and controversies that have energized American art from 1900 to the present. The entries are contemporary with the art (except for a few excerpts from later memoirs) and include the views of artists, critics, exhibition organizers, poets, politicians, art activists, and writers on culture. The book is intended to serve as a handbook for courses on American and contemporary art and also as a guide to those interested in both the standard interpretations of American art and in alternative readings.

A greet number and variety of voices have been included. This broad spectrum better achieves a replication of the artworld itself—a world made up of diverse practitioners who pursue many agendas and various points of view, and who influence and help direct both the production of the art of our time and its critical and popular reception.

These artworkers continually refer to and build on one another's ideas when engaged in, describing, or interpreting art and art activities. As Max Kozloff has observed, "What we feel about visual works of art is . . . conditioned by what has already been said about them." It is the dialogue about art that enables a wide network of people to participate in art movements. These people include studio and art history teachers, dealers, museum directors, government funding officers, publishers, magazine editors, and individual enthusiasts who may also be collectors. They make possible the training and traveling opportunities for artists and critics; they host and finance exhibitions; they enable the distribution of new images and ideas. Both practioners and facilitators, with their complex networkof social and professional relationships, are fully implicated in the consolidation and direction of art movements. Hence, the comments of all artworld people—writing contemporaneously with the new art-are considered as primary documents.

A new movement of artistic trends is not a one-dimensional linear progression, as art history books often present it, but rather an expanding and contracting process. There is a growth period, followed by a consolidation. Then a shifting—of people, ideas, styles—from the margins to the center, and often back to the margins as new people, ideas, styles emerge to challenge or to be absorbed into the previously dominant movements. The older movements, although still attracting loyal curators, dealers, and patrons, often move into the background—removed from all the buzz about the newer art. Galleries may go out of business as the novelty of their artists wanes, or they may establish niche markets for themselves. At the same time, artists may stay with their own cohort in defiance of new trends, or they may change styles—as did many during the 1950s when abstract expressionism swept the artworld. Writers and curators, too, are capable of shifting gears—of adopting new sensibilities and even ideologies as they position themselves to understand, interpret, and promote new movements in art.

During the twentieth century, theories about art, culture, and social life have increasingly and much more self-consciously influenced artworld participants, and, therefore, many theoretical essays are included here. Theories about art, however, need to be tested by the practices adopted by both artists and critics as they confront and question the relevance and applicability of those theories. What we find as the mediation between theory and practice is experience. Hence, many entries in this book focus on the immediately recalled experiences of artists and writers as they approach—both personally and collectively—the art of their time, or as they encounter the social, political, and economic conditions that encourage or suppress specific art ideas and subjects. These experiences, as well as the contested theories and beliefs, will give readers of this book a better understanding of the changing artworld.

Some art world people seem to be in the right place at the right time with the right blend of predispositions. Or, as George Kubler has observed, some artists seem to have a better "entrance" than others. In other words, these artists spoke (and speak) to their contemporaries in ways that resonate with shared experiences. It is risky, however, to predict what will have staying power, since under some historical circumstances people become quick to deny those shared experiences. Documents included in this reader suggest the complex relationships that art has to its history.

Modern Art in the USA presents themes and issues that have reappeared over the century, frequently erupting into highly publicized controversies.

The reigning phenomenon of the twentieth century has been modernism, which has generated a variety of changing definitions from the early decades to the present. Early in the century, modernism meant "to be of one's time" (much like the definition of realism in the nineteenth century). The definition was inclusive and hospitable to experimental techniques, materials, and concepts. It opposed academic rules and set ways of thinking. At mid-century, during the Cold War years and with the dominance of Clement Greenberg's critical authority, modernism came to have a more narrow, formalist definition with a set of seemingly inflexible rules. Greenberg then defined modernism as embodying "purity" of form and characterized by "self-referentiality." By the end of the twentieth century, however, many critics have reasserted the more inclusive definition of modernism that had characterized the earlier decades. Indeed, the term "postmodernism" has often been substituted to describe a modern art that also includes the traditions of realism and the vernacular.

Looking back on the twentieth century, we see that modernism (whatever its definitions) was not the only component to modern art in the USA. Throughout the history of the country, realism—in its many different visual styles—has persisted as a vital outlook. Even when the modernism of abstract expressionism seemed to be in ascendency, realists held their own. In 1955, when the Whitney Museum of American Art mounted the exhibition The New Decade: 35American Painters and Sculptors and the Museum of Modern Art mounted The New Decade: 22 European Painters and Sculptors, it was the Whitney's show that made it a point to showcase contemporary realists along with the rising abstract expressionists. Whitney curator John I. H. Baur explained: "Our aim has been to record something of the diversity and vitality of American art . . . ."

Another component of modern art in the USA has been the continuing fascination artists have had for the commonplace: the vernacular, the practical, the mechanical, and the popular. This attraction to the commonplace results from the fact that many Americans—including a great number of artists—have held on to the ideal that the country is a democracy and that Americans are somehow equal. The French writer and traveler Alexis de Tocqueville noted this dogged belief back in 1832, when he published his Democracy in America; Americans, he observed, had contempt for aristocracy even when they secretly aspired to aristocracy's status. The ideal of democracy and egalitarianism has persisted through the end of the twentieth century, even in the face of the reality of huge income and net-worth differences between the wealthy and the working classes.

A major recurring theme in art throughout the century has focused on the social dimensions of art and art making—of bringing social concerns into the content of art and of debating the relevance of politics to art. Do artists have an obligation to communicate uplifting and positive social and collective values? Or should socially concerned artists confine themselves to criticizing the negative and oppressively materialist aspects of life in the United States and around the globe in order to encourage social change? Such issues were especially debated in artistic and intellectual circles in the 1930s and again from the late 1960s to the present.

This issue of the social responsibility of art and artists ties in with the concept of the audience for art. Should that audience be the moneyed elites who can afford luxury items, that is, expensively priced paintings and sculpture to adorn their personal living spaces? Or should art be directed toward the general populace? And if the latter, what are the best means to reach and engage ordinary people?

Issues of "identity" weave through the art and the art commentary of the entire twentieth century. In the first three decades, questions of identity focused on nationalism. What does it mean to be "American" as opposed to European? With African Americans, identity issues revolved around race and W.E.B. Du Bois's concept of "double consciousness" (see Reading 8). From the 1930s to the mid-1950s social class loomed as a major factor of one's identity. Beginning in the mid-1950s, growing consumerism among the middle classes masked the poverty that still existed in the United States. However, prosperity and the prospect of prosperity encouraged hope. In the modern art of African Americans the theme of racial pride asserted itself.

By the late 1960s and early 1970s gender issues also began to preoccupy many women artists and critics. The continuing exploration of gender and racial identities, joined by critiques of neocolonialist power relations and criticism against norms for sexual behavior, infused much art of the 1980s and 1990s. Inevitably, this exploration of subject matter invited attacks and attempts at censorship from religious organizations and politicians. By the late 1990s, however, the rise of globalism encouraged a shift toward the recognition that people carry multiple identities. And, with the wars in the Balkans and in Africa, it became increasingly acknowledged that fixations on ethnicity and ethnic identity dangerously paved the way for "ethnic cleansing" and genocide.

As we review the century, we see modernism's inclusiveness has triumphed. Photography has rightly won its place as a category for serious art. Conceptual art, with its roots in the ideas of Marcel Duchamp and the Dadaists, has also found a permanent place in the artworld, as have installations, video, multimedia art, and performance art—in spite of admonishments in the 1960s to artists that such innovations were "theater" and should be avoided in the plastic arts. The digitized and computer generated arts will no doubt come into their own in the twenty-first century, for they are already firmly established in experimental labs in industry and have become part of the curriculum in many studio art programs. This expansion of the category of "art" to include all kinds of activities, processes, and objects will change the way we teach and think about visual culture in the future.

In conclusion, twentieth-century American art was forged in a cauldron of contentions, arguments, and ideological struggle. It is not a smooth, seamless history, but a history punctuated by controversy and debate. What arises as a fierce controversy in one generation becomes resolved, ignored, or absorbed into the next generation's art and art commentary. The art of the present is the richer for these controversies and struggles.

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Table of Contents

1. 1900-1920: Cultural and Historical Context for the First Twenty Years.

Early Twentieth-Century Realists.
The Younger American Painters, Giles Edgerton (Mary Fanton Roberts). Progress in Our National Art…, Robert Henri. Diaries (1906, 1908, 1909, 1911, 1912), John Sloan.

The Critical Issues: Modernism and American Consciousness.
Art: Life's Prismatic Glass, Benjamin DeCasseres. Modern Painting: Its Tendency and Meaning, Willard Huntington Wright. Artists and Others, John Weichsel. African Negro Art: Its Influence on Modern Art, Marius DeZayas. Of Our Spiritual Strivings, W.E.B. DuBois. American Art, Robert J. Coady.

New Forms for a New Century.
Notes for a Catalogue, Elie Nadelman. The Fourth Dimension from a Plastic Point of View, Max Weber. Statement for 291 Exhibition, John Martin. The Georgia O'Keeffe Drawings and Paintings at '291,' William Murrell Fisher.

Photography as Art, Photography as Tool for Reform.
Photography as a Fine Art, Charles H. Caffin. Photography, Paul Strand. Social Photography, Lewis Hine.

Armory Show, Independents Show of 1917, and New York Dada.
A Layman's Views of an Art Exhibition, Theodore Roosevelt. Cubists and Post-Impressionism, Arthur Jerome Eddy. Collection of the Société Anonyme: Museum of Modern Art, Marcel Duchamp. We Are Living in the Age of the Machine, Paul B. Haviland. The Blind Man, Marcel Duchamp et al. Mefk Maru Mustir Daas, Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.
2. The 1920s: Cultural and Historical Context for the Jazz Age.

Machine Age Modernism and Modernity.
The Brooklyn Bridge, Joseph Stella. The Americanization of Art, Louis Lozowick. Ford Plant Photos of Charles Sheeler, Samuel M. Kootz. The Great Figure, William Carlos Williams.

Cultural Nationalism—Defining American: The Usable Past, the Local the Popular.
On Creating a Usable Past, Van Wyck Brooks. My American Epic in Paint, Thomas Hart Benton. Advertures in the Arts, Marsden Hartley. The Great American Billposter, Matthew Josephson.

Cultural Primitivism—Defining Authenticity: The Usable “Other” Natural Men and Women.
America Has Its Primitives, Holger Cahill. A Negro Artist Plumbs the Negro Soul, Edward Alden Jewell. Introduction to Max Weber, Primitives: Poems and Woodcuts, Benjamin DeCasseres. Georgia O'Keeffe: White Paint and Good Order, Waldo Frank.

The New Negro.
The Legacy of the Ancestral Arts, Alain Locke. The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain, Langston Hughes. An Autobiography, Augusta Savage.

Artists Abroad.
Why Do Americans Live in Europe?, Robert McAlmon et al. Letters from Paris, Stuart Davis.
3. The 1930s: Cultural and Historical Context for the Depression Years.

The Depression Experience.
An Artist's Experience in the 1930s, Raphael Soyer. Interview with Philip Evergood, Philip Evergood. American Rhapsody (2), Kenneth Fearing. Interview…, Jacob Lawrence.

Revolutionary Theory and Practice—The Search for Styles.
The World Crisis Expressed in Art…, John Reed Club. Why an Artists' Congress?, Stuart Davis. New Content—New Form, Grace Clements. Towards a Revolutionary Art, Louis Lozowick. What's the Matter with Sculpture, Isamu Noguchi. Civic Documentary History, Bernice Abbott.

Mexican Artists in the United States.
The Radio City Mural, Diego Rivera. I Paint What I See, E.B. White. Frida Kahlo de Rivera, André Breton.

Government Projects.
American Resources in the Arts, Holger Cahill. Harlem Community Art Center, Gwendolyn Bennett. Official Art, Elizabeth Noble. Memorandum, 1942, Roy Stryker.

Nationalism and Racialism in the Arts as Issues in the 1930s.
Modern Art: The Men, the Movements, the Meaning, Thomas Craven. Reviews: The New York American Scene in Art, Stuart Davis. The Negro Artist and Modern Art, Romare Bearden. Race, Nationality and Art, Meyer Schapiro.
4. 1940s-Mid-1950s: Cultural and Historical Context for World War II and the Cold War.

Critical Responses: The Transition to Abstract Expressionism and “Pure” Painting.
Abstract Art, Clement Greenberg. The American Action Painters, Harold Rosenberg. de Kooning Paints a Picture, Thomas B. Hess. The Liberating Quality of Avant-Garde Art, Meyer Schapiro.

New York School: Voices of Individual Artists.
Garden in Sochi, Arshile Gorky. Thesis, Norman Lewis. The Modern Painter's World, Robert Motherwell. The Romantics Were Prompted, Mark Rothko. My Painting…, Jackson Pollock. The Ideaographic Picture, Barnett Newman. 12 Americans, Grace Hartigan. Notes for David Smith Makes a Sculpture, David Smith.

The Figurative Artists in the Post-War Years.
Interview…, Henry Koerner. Negro Artists, Elizabeth Catlett. Statement, Milton Avery et al. The New Decade, Stephen Greene. Northern California, David Park. New Images of Man, Leon Golub.

The Cold War and the Arts.
Modern Art Shackled to Communism, Representative George A. Dondero. Truth, Freedom, Perfection, Alfred H. Barr, Jr. File on Ben Shahn, Newark Branch, Federal Bureau of Investigation.
5. 1955-1967: Cultural and Historical Context for a Consumer and Technological Society.
America, Allen Ginsberg.

Assemblage, Installations, Happenings, Events, Performance.
Happenings in the New York Scene, Allan Kaprow. I Am for an Art…, Claes Oldenburg. Manifesto, George Maciunas. I Want the Dancers… and Be Prepared, Carolee Schneemann.

New York Pop, West Coast Funk, and Chicago “Sub-Pop.”
Sixteen Americans, Robert Rauschenberg. Contemporary Art and the Plight of Its Public, Leo Steinberg. An Interview with Roy Lichtenstein, John Coplans. What Is Pop Art?, G.R. Swenson. The Underground Pre-Raphaelitism of Edward Kienholz, Sidney Tillim. Chicago, Franz Schulze.

Minimal Art.
Frank Stella, Carl Andre. Questions to Stella and Judd, Lucy R. Lippard. Notes on Sculpture, Robert Morris. Shape as Form: Frank Stella's New Paintings, Michael Fried. Agnes Martin, Lawrence Alloway.
6. 1968-1980: Cultural and Historical Context for the Vietnam War Era.

Dematerialization: Conceptual Art, Systems, Earth Art.
Paragraphs on Conceptual Art, Sol LeWitt. A Sedimentation of the Mind, Robert Smithson. Problems of Criticism, IV: The Politics of Art, Barbara Rose. Introduction to Stolen, Lawrence Alloway. Eva Hesse: The Circle, Lucy R. Lippard. Christo's Public Art, Calvin Tomkins.

Realism and Figuration.
Figure Painters Today Are Not Made in Heaven, Philip Pearlstein. Alice Neel, Alice Neel. Color, Audrey Flack. Artists's Statement, Robert Bechtle. Bob Colescott Ain't Just Misbehavin,' Lowery Stokes Sims.

The Vietnam War, Political Art, Political Criticism.
Art Workers' Coalition, Lucy R. Lippard. Communiqué, Guerrilla Art Action Group. To All Interested Parties, Hans Haacke. Art Is a Political Act, Max Kozloff et al. The Artist as Anthropologist, Joseph Kosuth. Art of Conscience: The Last Decade, Donald B. Kuspit.

Black Arts Movement.
A Poem for Black Hearts, Amiri Baraka (Le Roi Jones). Any Day Now: Black Art and Black Liberation, Larry Neal. A New Criticism Is Needed, Edmund B. Gaither. For the Women's House, Michele Wallace.

Women's Movement.
Judy Chicago Talking to Lucy R. Lippard, Lucy R. Lippard. Feminist Abstract Art—A Political Viewpoint, Harmony Hammond. The 7000 Year Old Woman, Betsy Damon. Visions and Re-Visions, Moira Roth. Taking Art to the Revolution, May Stevens.
7. 1980s-1990s: Cultural and Historical Context for the Age of Reagan and Postmodernism.

Exit Modernism, Enter Postmodern Critique.
Farewell to Modernism, Kim Levin. Nature and Culture, Peter Halley. Whatever Happened to Postmodernism?, Hal Foster. The End of the Art World, Robert C. Morgan.

New Painting and Sculpture.
New Image Painting, Susan Rothenberg. Popeye Meets Picasso in MoCA Survey, Christopher Knight. The Radiant Child, Rene Ricard. Mark Tansey, Jonathan P. Binstock. The Matter at Hand, Robert Storr.

Word-Based, Photo-Based and Theory-Based Art.
Pictures, Douglas Crimp. Women in Theory, Sheila Tebbatt. Went Looking for Africa: Carrie Mae Weems, Kate Linker.

Identities Unmasked, Classifications Resisted.
Seventies into Eighties—Neo-Hoodooism vs. Postmodernism: When (Art) Worlds Collide, Judith Wilson. Sharp Rocks, Edgar Heap of Birds. Documented/Undocumented, Guillermo Gómez-Peña. Asia/America: Identities in Contemporary Asian American Art, Margo Machida. The Shadow Knows: An Hysterical Tragedy of One Young Negress and Her Art, James Hannaham. The Passionate Camera: Photography and Bodies of Desire, Deborah Bright.

Bodies Reclaimed.
Hannah Wilke: 'The Body Politic,' Lowery Stokes Sims. An Interview with Kiki Smith, Robin Winters. The Artifact Piece, James Luna.

Censorships and Propaganda in Art and Visual Culture.
Welcome to America's Finest Tourist Plantation, Elizabeth Sisco et al. The Many Roles of Mapplethorpe, Michael Brenson. DIS-IN-FOR-MA-TION, Rudolf Baranik. War Stories: Narrative Reporting of the Gulf War, Patricia Johnston. Statement 1992, Bill Viola.

The Construction of Knowledge: Museums, Art History, and Studio Practices.
Revisionism Has Transformed Art History but Not Museums, Alan Wallach. Interview with Fred Wilson, Martha Buskirk. The Future of Art History and the Undoing of the Survey, Mark Miller Graham. Teaching Students the Way They Learn, Amalia Mesa-Bains.

Art in Public Spaces.
A Conversation with the Artist, Hayden Herrera. An Interview with Maya Lin, Elizabeth Hess. Editorial: Which Way the Titled Arc?, Alan Wallach. Murales del Movimiento: Chicano Murals and the Discourses of Art and Americanization, Marcos Sánchez-Tranquilino. The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist and Do Women Have to Be Naked to Get into the Met. Museum?, Guerrilla Girls. The Government Has Blood on Its Hands, Gran Fury. Comments on Code 33: Emergency Clear the Air, Suzanne Lacy.
Index.

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Preface

Preface

This book focuses on the issues and controversies that have energized American art from 1900 to the present. The entries are contemporary with the art (except for a few excerpts from later memoirs) and include the views of artists, critics, exhibition organizers, poets, politicians, art activists, and writers on culture. The book is intended to serve as a handbook for courses on American and contemporary art and also as a guide to those interested in both the standard interpretations of American art and in alternative readings.

A greet number and variety of voices have been included. This broad spectrum better achieves a replication of the artworld itself—a world made up of diverse practitioners who pursue many agendas and various points of view, and who influence and help direct both the production of the art of our time and its critical and popular reception.

These artworkers continually refer to and build on one another's ideas when engaged in, describing, or interpreting art and art activities. As Max Kozloff has observed, "What we feel about visual works of art is . . . conditioned by what has already been said about them." It is the dialogue about art that enables a wide network of people to participate in art movements. These people include studio and art history teachers, dealers, museum directors, government funding officers, publishers, magazine editors, and individual enthusiasts who may also be collectors. They make possible the training and traveling opportunities for artists and critics; they host and finance exhibitions; they enable the distribution of new images and ideas. Both practioners and facilitators, with their complex network of social and professional relationships, are fully implicated in the consolidation and direction of art movements. Hence, the comments of all artworld people—writing contemporaneously with the new art-are considered as primary documents.

A new movement of artistic trends is not a one-dimensional linear progression, as art history books often present it, but rather an expanding and contracting process. There is a growth period, followed by a consolidation. Then a shifting—of people, ideas, styles—from the margins to the center, and often back to the margins as new people, ideas, styles emerge to challenge or to be absorbed into the previously dominant movements. The older movements, although still attracting loyal curators, dealers, and patrons, often move into the background—removed from all the buzz about the newer art. Galleries may go out of business as the novelty of their artists wanes, or they may establish niche markets for themselves. At the same time, artists may stay with their own cohort in defiance of new trends, or they may change styles—as did many during the 1950s when abstract expressionism swept the artworld. Writers and curators, too, are capable of shifting gears—of adopting new sensibilities and even ideologies as they position themselves to understand, interpret, and promote new movements in art.

During the twentieth century, theories about art, culture, and social life have increasingly and much more self-consciously influenced artworld participants, and, therefore, many theoretical essays are included here. Theories about art, however, need to be tested by the practices adopted by both artists and critics as they confront and question the relevance and applicability of those theories. What we find as the mediation between theory and practice is experience. Hence, many entries in this book focus on the immediately recalled experiences of artists and writers as they approach—both personally and collectively—the art of their time, or as they encounter the social, political, and economic conditions that encourage or suppress specific art ideas and subjects. These experiences, as well as the contested theories and beliefs, will give readers of this book a better understanding of the changing artworld.

Some art world people seem to be in the right place at the right time with the right blend of predispositions. Or, as George Kubler has observed, some artists seem to have a better "entrance" than others. In other words, these artists spoke (and speak) to their contemporaries in ways that resonate with shared experiences. It is risky, however, to predict what will have staying power, since under some historical circumstances people become quick to deny those shared experiences. Documents included in this reader suggest the complex relationships that art has to its history.

Modern Art in the USA presents themes and issues that have reappeared over the century, frequently erupting into highly publicized controversies.

The reigning phenomenon of the twentieth century has been modernism, which has generated a variety of changing definitions from the early decades to the present. Early in the century, modernism meant "to be of one's time" (much like the definition of realism in the nineteenth century). The definition was inclusive and hospitable to experimental techniques, materials, and concepts. It opposed academic rules and set ways of thinking. At mid-century, during the Cold War years and with the dominance of Clement Greenberg's critical authority, modernism came to have a more narrow, formalist definition with a set of seemingly inflexible rules. Greenberg then defined modernism as embodying "purity" of form and characterized by "self-referentiality." By the end of the twentieth century, however, many critics have reasserted the more inclusive definition of modernism that had characterized the earlier decades. Indeed, the term "postmodernism" has often been substituted to describe a modern art that also includes the traditions of realism and the vernacular.

Looking back on the twentieth century, we see that modernism (whatever its definitions) was not the only component to modern art in the USA. Throughout the history of the country, realism—in its many different visual styles—has persisted as a vital outlook. Even when the modernism of abstract expressionism seemed to be in ascendency, realists held their own. In 1955, when the Whitney Museum of American Art mounted the exhibition The New Decade: 35American Painters and Sculptors and the Museum of Modern Art mounted The New Decade: 22 European Painters and Sculptors, it was the Whitney's show that made it a point to showcase contemporary realists along with the rising abstract expressionists. Whitney curator John I. H. Baur explained: "Our aim has been to record something of the diversity and vitality of American art . . . ."

Another component of modern art in the USA has been the continuing fascination artists have had for the commonplace: the vernacular, the practical, the mechanical, and the popular. This attraction to the commonplace results from the fact that many Americans—including a great number of artists—have held on to the ideal that the country is a democracy and that Americans are somehow equal. The French writer and traveler Alexis de Tocqueville noted this dogged belief back in 1832, when he published his Democracy in America; Americans, he observed, had contempt for aristocracy even when they secretly aspired to aristocracy's status. The ideal of democracy and egalitarianism has persisted through the end of the twentieth century, even in the face of the reality of huge income and net-worth differences between the wealthy and the working classes.

A major recurring theme in art throughout the century has focused on the social dimensions of art and art making—of bringing social concerns into the content of art and of debating the relevance of politics to art. Do artists have an obligation to communicate uplifting and positive social and collective values? Or should socially concerned artists confine themselves to criticizing the negative and oppressively materialist aspects of life in the United States and around the globe in order to encourage social change? Such issues were especially debated in artistic and intellectual circles in the 1930s and again from the late 1960s to the present.

This issue of the social responsibility of art and artists ties in with the concept of the audience for art. Should that audience be the moneyed elites who can afford luxury items, that is, expensively priced paintings and sculpture to adorn their personal living spaces? Or should art be directed toward the general populace? And if the latter, what are the best means to reach and engage ordinary people?

Issues of "identity" weave through the art and the art commentary of the entire twentieth century. In the first three decades, questions of identity focused on nationalism. What does it mean to be "American" as opposed to European? With African Americans, identity issues revolved around race and W.E.B. Du Bois's concept of "double consciousness" (see Reading 8). From the 1930s to the mid-1950s social class loomed as a major factor of one's identity. Beginning in the mid-1950s, growing consumerism among the middle classes masked the poverty that still existed in the United States. However, prosperity and the prospect of prosperity encouraged hope. In the modern art of African Americans the theme of racial pride asserted itself.

By the late 1960s and early 1970s gender issues also began to preoccupy many women artists and critics. The continuing exploration of gender and racial identities, joined by critiques of neocolonialist power relations and criticism against norms for sexual behavior, infused much art of the 1980s and 1990s. Inevitably, this exploration of subject matter invited attacks and attempts at censorship from religious organizations and politicians. By the late 1990s, however, the rise of globalism encouraged a shift toward the recognition that people carry multiple identities. And, with the wars in the Balkans and in Africa, it became increasingly acknowledged that fixations on ethnicity and ethnic identity dangerously paved the way for "ethnic cleansing" and genocide.

As we review the century, we see modernism's inclusiveness has triumphed. Photography has rightly won its place as a category for serious art. Conceptual art, with its roots in the ideas of Marcel Duchamp and the Dadaists, has also found a permanent place in the artworld, as have installations, video, multimedia art, and performance art—in spite of admonishments in the 1960s to artists that such innovations were "theater" and should be avoided in the plastic arts. The digitized and computer generated arts will no doubt come into their own in the twenty-first century, for they are already firmly established in experimental labs in industry and have become part of the curriculum in many studio art programs. This expansion of the category of "art" to include all kinds of activities, processes, and objects will change the way we teach and think about visual culture in the future.

In conclusion, twentieth-century American art was forged in a cauldron of contentions, arguments, and ideological struggle. It is not a smooth, seamless history, but a history punctuated by controversy and debate. What arises as a fierce controversy in one generation becomes resolved, ignored, or absorbed into the next generation's art and art commentary. The art of the present is the richer for these controversies and struggles.

Read More Show Less

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