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Voyages of the Self: Pairs, Parallels, and Patterns in American Art and Literature

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Barbara Novak is one of America's premier art historians, the author of the seminal books American Painting of the Nineteenth Century and Nature and Culture, the latter of which was named one of the Ten Best Books of the Year by The New York Times and was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award.
Now, with Voyages of the Self, this esteemed critic completes the trilogy begun with the two earlier works, offering once again an exhilarating exploration of American art and...

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Overview

Barbara Novak is one of America's premier art historians, the author of the seminal books American Painting of the Nineteenth Century and Nature and Culture, the latter of which was named one of the Ten Best Books of the Year by The New York Times and was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award.
Now, with Voyages of the Self, this esteemed critic completes the trilogy begun with the two earlier works, offering once again an exhilarating exploration of American art and culture. In this book, Novak explores several inspired pairings of key writers and painters, drawing insightful parallels between such masters as John Singleton Copley and Jonathan Edwards, Winslow Homer and William James, Frederic Edwin Church and Walt Whitman, and Jackson Pollock and Charles Olson. Through these and other groupings, Novak tracks the varied meanings of the self in America, in which the most salient characteristics of each artist or writer is shown to draw from—and in turn influence—the larger map of American life. Two major threads weaving through the book are the American preoccupation with the "object" and our continuing return to pragmatism. Novak notes for instance how Copley's art mirrors the puritan denial of self found in Jonathan Edwards and how as colonial scientists they share an interest in sensation and observation. She sees Winslow Homer and William James as practitioners of a pragmatic self grounded in an immediate experience that looks for concrete results. Through such fruitful comparisons—whether between Copley and Edwards, or Lane and Emerson, or Ryder and Dickinson—Novak sheds unmatched light on our nation's artistic heritage.
Wonderfully illustrated with dozens of black-and-white pictures and sixteen full-color plates, here is a stunning work that yields a wealth of insight into American art and culture—and concludes Novak's landmark trilogy.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A breathtaking achievement, Barbara Novak's brilliant inquiry into the transactons of the American self both accepts the mystery of Ameria's many dualities and explains how they coexist and even reinforce each other."—Marc Pchter, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

"While the identity of the Amerian self is a perennially fascinating subject, no one, to my knowledge, has played off several of the most representative explorations of these journeys in both literature and the visual arts before, and there is no one in American literary or art history who could do it as well as Barbara Novak. Long acknowledged as America's premier guide across these borders, she is true to form in Voyages of the Self.... It is a pleasure to read prose so wholly free of jargon, always sure of its footing, at the same time elegant and economical in its formulations, and always intriguing. Would that the literature contained more writing like hers and more thinking this perceptive and steadily revealing."—Giles Gunn, University of California, Santa Barbara

"With her unmatched knowledge of the total range of American art, Novak uncovers many hitherto unseen correspondences between painting and literature. Voyages of the Self is a sweeping contribution to American cultural history, brimming with fresh insights and unexpected revelations. Along with Oxford's new editons of Novak's classic books American Painting of the Nineteenth Century and Nature and Culture, it becomes part of a triumphant trilogy and the capstone of Novak's distinguished career as the dean of American art historians."—David S. Reynolds, author of John Brown, Abolitionist and Walt Whitman's America

"No one has done more to further the place of this work in museum collections and in history booksVoyages of the Self, generously illustrated, is billed as the last in a trilogy, though there's no need to read her previous efforts to appreciate it. Novak distills, refines and expands upon her earlier books, looking at painters in relation to the literature and major philosophical trends of the dayHer insights about writers are as fine as those about artistsThe chapters have a momentum that carries us from chapter to chapter, from the mid-18th century through the mid-20th century. And her way of conveying the stories of these artists and writers makes one want to view and read them anew. What better purpose can arts criticism and history serve?"—San Diego Union Tribune

Library Journal

Novak's (art history, emerita, Barnard Coll. & Columbia Univ.) seminal American Painting of the Nineteenth Century(1969) and her National Book Critics Circle Award-winning Nature and Culture(1980) are being reissued in third editions by Oxford with the publication of this final book in her trilogy on American art and culture. Here, she pairs some of her earlier artist subjects, as well as some 20th-century artists, with a major writer of the same period (e.g., John Singleton Copley and Jonathan Edwards, Winslow Homer and William James, Frederic Edwin Church and Walt Whitman, Jackson Pollock and Charles Olson), drawing remarkable parallels between their themes, philosophies, and aesthetics and revealing what she sees to be their uniquely American pragmatism. While her scholarship is meticulous, her writing style is accessible to general readers who follow American art and literature. This multidisciplinary work is highly recommended for public libraries where there is interest and for academic art history, literature, and American studies collections.
—Marcia Welsh Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195305906
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 11/30/2006
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Barbara Novak is Helen Goodhart Altschul Professor of Art History Emerita at Barnard College and Columbia University. She is the acclaimed author of American Painting of the Nineteenth Century ("surely the best book ever written on the subject"—Hilton Kramer, The New York Times Book Review) and Nature and Culture ("awesomely good"—Anatole Broyard, The New York Times). She has been a Commissioner of the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery for the last twenty-five years.

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Table of Contents

Preface
Acknowledgements
Introduction
1. Copley and Edwards: Self, Consciousness, and Thing
2. Emerson and Lane: Luminist Time and the Transcendental Aboriginal Self
3. Thoreau and Indian Selfhood: Circles, Silence, and Democratic Land
4. Whitman and Church: Transcendent Optimism and the Democratic Self
5. Homer and James: The Pragmatic Self Made Concrete
6. Dickinson and Ryder: Immortality, Eternity, and the Reclusive Self
7. Pollock and Olson: Time, Space, and the Activated Bodily Self
Notes
Selected Bibliography
Illustration Credits
Index

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