Thomas Hart Benton and the American Sound

Thomas Hart Benton and the American Sound

by Leo G. Mazow, Thomas Hart Benton
     
 

Alternately praised as “an American original” and lampooned as an arbiter of kitsch, the regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton has been the subject of myriad monographs and journal articles, remaining almost as controversial today as he was in his own time. Missing from this literature, however, is an understanding of the profound ways in which sound

Overview

Alternately praised as “an American original” and lampooned as an arbiter of kitsch, the regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton has been the subject of myriad monographs and journal articles, remaining almost as controversial today as he was in his own time. Missing from this literature, however, is an understanding of the profound ways in which sound figures in the artist’s enterprises. Prolonged attention to the sonic realm yields rich insights into long-established narratives, corroborating some but challenging and complicating at least as many. A self-taught and frequently performing musician who invented a harmonica tablature notation system, Benton was also a collector, cataloguer, transcriber, and distributor of popular music. In Thomas Hart Benton and the American Sound, Leo Mazow shows that the artist’s musical imagery was part of a larger belief in the capacity of sound to register and convey meaning. In Benton’s pictorial universe, it is through sound that stories are told, opinions are voiced, experiences are preserved, and history is recorded.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Leo Mazow’s much-anticipated Thomas Hart Benton and the American Sound contains many delightful surprises. For one, it opens up Benton to new lines of inquiry: much has been written about this modern American painter, and authors have long noted his interest in music—especially American folk songs—but now, at last, we have a book that considers Benton’s trenchant absorption in American sound in the context of diverse theories and the rich pageantry of his era. Moreover, the book is superbly researched and well written. And in rendering Benton and his interests as fresh and novel, Mazow performs an enormous favor for anyone interested in modern American culture. Here’s yet another guise for a controversial and outspoken artist. A superb book that’s sure to leave a lasting mark.”

—Justin Wolff, University of Maine

“An interesting and compelling project exploring the centrality of ‘sound’ in the work and career of American artist Thomas Hart Benton.”

—A. Joan Saab, University of Rochester

“While the main focus of Thomas Hart Benton and the American Sound is to show the many levels of influence that the idea of not just music, but also sound, had on his visual work, what really is at the heart of Mazow's book is the notion that as an American artist working in the twentieth century what drove Benton's works more than anything else was the trials, tribulations, lives, passions, movements and dramas of real American people.”

American Fine Art

“In this beautifully written and well-illustrated study, Mazow . . . traces the impact of American vernacular music on the murals and easel paintings of the celebrated regional artist Thomas Hart Benton. . . . Mazow goes beyond the mere citation of the presence of musical instruments and performance in Benton's paintings to include a provocative thesis that the artist was interested in the almost ephemeral pursuit of trying to represent sound—the noise and cacophony of trains, cars, jackhammers, speakeasies—and to discuss how this abstract idea informed Benton's concept of the American scene.”

—S. Webster, Choice

“Leo Mazow’s book offers a new model for examining artworks that combines formal, archival and social analysis with fascinating results.”

—Elizabeth Broun, Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

“Mazow’s Thomas Hart Benton and the American Sound reverberates with potent ideas about the relationship between the history of visual art and sound. By contextualizing Benton’s paintings within a sonic environment—a world of radio, recordings, the whistles of trains and the scream of machinery—Mazow illuminates our understanding of the artist’s formal designs and rhythms and expands the manner in which we perceive his vernacular subjects. Delightfully written in language that sings and shouts along with its themes, Mazow’s book offers an entirely new way of relating Benton’s work to the sounds of his time.”

—Jurors for the Charles C. Eldredge Prize for Distinguished Scholarship in American Art

“One of the finest contributions of Mazow’s project is that it seamlessly links Benton’s Regionalist agenda with his aural endeavors, highlighting the artist’s interest in not only folk songs, but also . . . numerous modes of civic discourse. The reader can see that Benton’s life was filled with town hall meetings, lectures, sermons, and, one can imagine, many “shooting the breeze” conversations with the citizens of the regions that he visited for months at a time. With so much imagery and so many overlapping themes and issues regarding sound in Benton’s oeuvre, imagining Benton’s own oral history is no small task. In effect, Mazow dissects the artist’s crowded, hyperbolic narratives to point out significant sonic moments—their visual language, the biography of the subjects, and the circumstances of the scene—while building an overall cohesive framework that organizes these sound bites of history for the reader.”

—Asma Naeem, CAA.Reviews

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780271050836
Publisher:
Penn State University Press
Publication date:
07/19/2012
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
216
Product dimensions:
9.20(w) x 10.30(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

Leo G. Mazow is Associate Professor of American Art History at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

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