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American Art Collage

American Art - History and Concepts

Started: 1600
American Art Timeline

Native American Art

Before Europeans colonized North America, rich, complex art traditions flourished among many indigenous tribes who had developed a highly stylized vocabulary that employed complex geometric patterns and used near abstracted forms that both evoked the natural world and symbolized ancestral and mythological stories. The objects were often utilitarian and, at the same time, imbued with ritual significance. However, the newly arrived colonists in the Eastern United States primarily viewed those traditions as curiosities or arts and crafts, while aspiring to British fine art traditions and cultural values. Native American artists adapted the new materials and techniques brought by the colonists, including floral embroidery, beads, and silver smithing.

<i>Three Iroquois in Diverse Costumes</i> (c. 1827) by David Cusick adapts European realism to depict Native Americans.

At the same time, some indigenous artists developed a European style to depict native subjects. David Cusick, a Tuscarora artist, published his Sketches of Ancient History of the Six Nations in 1828, and, along with his brother Dennis, a watercolorist, established the Iroquois Realist School. The first Native American art movement included over 25 Iroquois artists, who employed drawing, painting, and printmaking to realistically depict their tribe's beliefs, history, fashion, and lifestyle. Edmonia Lewis, of Mississauga Ojibwe and African-American descent, became internationally known for her Neoclassical sculpture, like The Death of Cleopatra (1876), exhibited at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. In the early 1900s, Native American art began to receive national and international attention. The Kiowa Six, Spencer Asah, James Auchiah, Jack Hokeah, Stephen Mopope, Lois Smoky, and Monroe Tsatoke, were celebrated for their Ledger drawings that employed strong outlined, flat areas of bold color. The group exhibited at the 1928 First International Art Exposition in Prague and the Venice Biennale in 1932.

Folk Art

Harriet Powers' Bible Quilt (1885-86), a unique quilt that illustrates scenes from the bible.

Much American folk art is utilitarian in nature, as sculptures were primarily figureheads for ships, weathervanes, and carved gravestones, but framed embroideries and velvet paintings were also made for wall decorations. Early American folk painters were called limners, from a term limning, meaning, "to outline in clear, sharp detail." Often self-taught, limners travelled from town to town and made a living by offering to paint anything, from signs for local merchants to farm implements and carriages. As the colonies reflected the British cultural values that viewed portraiture as a sign of social standing, fine art portraitists like the French born Henrietta Johnston, who emigrated to Charleston, South Carolina around 1705, gravitated to the cities, while limners made it possible for ordinary people in small towns to have their portraits painted. Boldly colored and outlined without modeling or shading, folk art portrayals were often intimate, depicting the sitter with a few objects that were of personal significance. Beginning his career as limner, Edward Hicks became famous for his The Peaceable Kingdom (1829-31), a work that expressed his Quaker values in a dynamic folk style. Folk art also drew upon African American traditions; in the 1880s Harriet Powers, a former slave, began exhibiting her quilts, depicting powerful narratives in bold color and geometric forms and patterns.

American Architecture

Thomas Jefferson's home Monticello embodied the Neoclassical ideals of the young nation.

After the Revolutionary War, when the young nation was building its identity, early American architecture drew from British and Neoclassical architecture. Based on the work and theory of the Venetian Renaissance architect, Andrea Palladio, Neoclassicism was the dominant architectural style in 18th-century Europe. Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, was also an innovative architect, and his design for Monticello (1772-1809), his home in Virginia, exemplified the Neoclassical style, employing a Palladian portico with four colored columns. During his Presidency, his ideas also informed Benjamin Henry Latrobe's designs of the U.S. Capitol building, launching what became known as the Federal style, favored for official buildings.

Developing around 1830 within the context of Neoclassicism, Beaux-Arts architecture rejected Neoclassicism's formality to incorporate elements from Renaissance, Baroque, and Late Gothic architecture. In the United States, the Beaux-Arts style, led by Richard Morris Hunt, became known as the "American Renaissance," or "American Classicism." Hunt actively promoted the popular style, which was employed in designs for private mansions and public buildings, including the Biltmore House (1889-95) built for the tycoon George Vanderbilt. In the 20th century, American Beaux-Arts architects returned to less ornamental and classical designs, exemplified by Henry Bacon and Daniel Chester French's Lincoln Monument (1914-22).

The Chrysler Building (1930) adapted Art Deco architecture, creating a streamlined, modern style.

Beginning in 1890 and influenced by the British Arts and Crafts movement and Japonism, the highly influential Art Nouveau movement featured organic, flowing, floral motifs. Art Nouveau architects viewed the building, its interior spaces, and details, as a unified whole. Louis Comfort Tiffany, Louis Sullivan, and Frank Lloyd Wright were influenced by Art Nouveau. Sullivan's Wainwright Building (1891) used a frieze with a decorative motif of celery-leaf foliage, decorative spandrels, and an elaborate entrance door. Such architectural motifs became popular for skyscrapers and high rises, as seen in New York's Decker Building (1892). Later, in the 20th century, Art Deco was adapted to Public Works projects and iconic buildings such as William Van Alen's Chrysler Building (1930).

Richard Neutra's Lovell Health House showcases the International Style's use of steel, glass, and concrete.

Beginning in 1914, the International Style emphasized the use of steel, glass, and concrete. Emerging during the aftermath of World War I and viewed as reflecting the modern age, it was often used for postwar housing. Austrian architects Richard Neutra and R.M. Schindler introduced the style when they moved to America in the 1910 and worked with Frank Lloyd Wright. Though both men created notable International Style buildings, as seen by Neutra's Lovell Health House (1929), the aesthetic did not truly flourish in the United States until after World War II, when economic expansion led to a boom in skyscraper construction. Leading architects, including Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, came to the United States in the post-war period and taught a new generation of American architects, while designing notable buildings. Mies for instance, built the Seagram Building (1954-58) in New York and the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago (completed in 1956). The International Style, with its glass curtains and industrial construction, was also used for fast-food restaurants and gas stations as America undertook construction of new interstates, connecting the country from coast to coast.

Beginning in 1950, Brutalism, also called New Brutalism, was a style of massive architecture that primarily employed unfinished, precast concrete. The style became popular for university campus buildings, performance art venues, libraries, government buildings, and corporate offices throughout the United States. Paul Rudolph was a leading proponent of the style as seen in his Yale Art and Architecture Building (1958). Due to American enthusiasm for the style, European architects adopted the style in their major commissions; Le Corbusier with Oscar Niemeyer, Wallace Harrison, and Max Abramovitz designed the United Nations Headquarters (1948-52), and Marcel Breuer worked with a number of American architectural teams to design Boston City Hall (1963-68). Breuer and Hamilton Smith's Breuer Building (1966), home to the Whitney Museum of American Art and later an expanded Metropolitan Museum, was also a trendsetting Brutalist design.

Hudson River School (1826-70)

The Hudson River School, led by Thomas Cole, who was born in Britain but emigrated to the United States when he was seventeen, was the first recognized American art movement. Centered in upper New York state, which was then wilderness, the artists associated with the movement emphasized the sublime and unique beauty of the American landscape. Influenced by Romanticism's concept of the sublime and Naturalism's emphasis on precise observed detail, Cole's landscapes like Kaaterskill Upper Fall, Catskill Mountains (1825) and Dunlap Lake with Dead Trees (Catskill) (1825) depicted American scenes to evoke the limitless possibilities of the new nation.

Albert Bierstadt's <i>Among the Sierra Nevada, California</i> (1868) is one of many paintings that helped shape the image of 19<sup>th-</sup>century America as a promised land.

Following Cole's death in 1848, Asher B. Durand, influenced by the French Barbizon School, led the turn toward a more naturalistic painting. The artists Frederic Edwin Church, Albert Bierstadt, John Frederick Kensett, George Inness, and Thomas Moran formed the second generation. Their works became enormously popular, as the exhibition of just one panoramic painting could draw thousands of visitors. In the 1860s, as Manifest Destiny with its call to go West became a dominant national force, Bierstadt and Moran turned their attention to panoramas of the dramatic western landscape, and, along with William Keith and Thomas Hill, were sometimes called the Rocky Mountain School. Their works also inspired and informed the movement to preserve America's natural wonders, including the Yellowstone and Grand Tetons Parks. Alternatively, the intimate scale and feeling of George Inness's works like The Delaware Valley (c.1863), and John Frederick Kensett's depictions of light reflecting on bodies of water played a pioneering role in developing what later came to be called Luminism.

Luminism (1850-75)

<i>Lake George</i> (1869) is one of many scenes of the upstate New York lake that John Frederick Kensett favored.

The term Luminism was developed by art historians in the 1950s to identify a style that flourished from 1850-1870 among a number of American landscape painters. They drew upon a number of influences, including the landscape painting of the Dutch Golden Age, photography, and the genre landscapes of George Harvey, William Sidney Mount, and George Caleb Bingham. John Frederick Kensett, who led the movement, emphasized the landscape itself, with very little, if any, human presence; he focused on the play of light and atmosphere upon a body of water, as seen in his View of the Shrewsbury River, New Jersey (1859). Rather than exploring new vistas and rugged landscapes, each of the Luminists was associated with a particular locale, as the artist returned to the same scenes, painting the changing light and atmosphere from day to day or season to season. The Luminists, who included Kinsett, Fitz Henry Lane, Jasper Francis Cropsey, Sanford Robinson Gifford, and Martin Johnson Heade, preferred small-scale intimate works that emphasized the individual's communion with nature, reflecting Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau's philosophy of Transcendentalism, which held that spiritual truth was revealed in the contemplation of nature.

Tonalism (1870-1915)

James McNeill Whistler's <i>Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket</i> was radical for its abstraction and caused much controversy when shown in London.

Tonalism emerged in the early 1870s in James McNeill Whistler's series of Nocturnes that emphasized tonal harmonies, often in muted greens, blues, and dark colors, to depict landscapes at twilight. Of works like his famous and controversial Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket (c.1875), Whistler said, "A nocturne is an arrangement of line, form and color first," but he also felt tonal harmonies were the visual equivalent of musical compositions. Born in America, Whistler lived most of his life in Britain where he played a pioneering role in a number of movements, including Japonism, the Aesthetic Movement, and the Anglo-Japanese aesthetic. Tonalists George Inness and Albert Pinkham Ryder were also influenced by the Barbizon School. Using gold and brown tones to depict a landscape at sunrise or sunset, Inness emphasized spiritual expression in works like Sunrise (1887), while Ryder often introduced a mythological narrative element into his mysterious landscapes that were precursors of Symbolism. In 1899 Henry Ward Ranger founded the Old Lyme Colony in Connecticut, seeing it as an "American Barbizon." A second generation of Tonalists, including Allen Butler Talcott, Henry Cook White, Bruce Crane, William Henry Howe, Louis Paul Dessar, and Jules Turcas, joined the artistic colony. In 1903 Childe Hassam joined the colony and briefly took up the style before abandoning it in favor of American Impressionism.

American Impressionism (1880-1920)

Mary Cassatt often painted intimate domestic scenes in an Impressionist style, including <i>Lydia Crocheting in the Garden at Marly</i> (1880).

American Impressionism was primarily inspired and influenced by the French Impressionists, including Claude Monet, Pierre-August Renoir, and Alfred Sisley among others, who first exhibited together in Paris in 1874. French Impressionism influenced both the expatriates John Singer Sargent and James McNeill Whistler, though neither fully embraced the movement. Mary Cassatt became America's first well-known Impressionist. Moving to Paris in 1866, she became close friends with Edgar Degas and associated and exhibited with many of the leading Impressionists. Her works, full of vibrant color, expressive brushstrokes, often portrayed intimate gatherings in relaxed bourgeois environments, as well as many depictions of a mother and child, and were enormously popular in the United States. In 1883, the first U.S. exhibition of the French Impressionists Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, and Manet influenced the artists William Merritt Chase, Childe Hassam, and Edmund C. Trabell. A number of thriving artist colonies devoted to American Impressionism developed throughout the country.

Ashcan School (1900-15)

John Sloan elevates the workers and regulars in <i>McSorley's Bar</i> (1912) with his straightforward and generous depiction.

The Ashcan School was a group of artists including John Sloan, George Luks, Everett Shinn, and William James Glackens, all students of Robert Henri, then located in Philadelphia. Drawing upon earlier masters, including Diego Velázquez, Francisco de Goya, and the later Realists like Édouard Manet, the group employed classical methods to create realistic and gritty scenes of modern, working-class life, or what Henri called "art for life's sake." After the group relocated to New York City, a second generation of artists followed, including George Bellows, whose Disappointments of the Ash Can (1915) gave the movement its name. In 1908, Edwin Lawson, Arthur B. Davies, and Maurice Prendergast joined the core group, known as The Eight, as they formed their own exhibition in opposition to the then dominant system of juried exhibitions by the National Academy of Design. Using gestural brushwork and a dark color palette, the artists' unidealized subjects aligned them with an innovative modern sensibility, which influenced the later Social Realism movement and the artists Edward Hopper and Ben Shahn. Sloan and Henri also taught and influenced many of the artists of the Fourteenth Street School.

Photography: Pictorialism, Straight Photography, and Beyond (1902-Present)

Modern Photography, emerging out of scientific explorations of botany, archaeology, and movement, incorporated a host of artistic styles. Pictorialism was an international photographic movement that used darkroom manipulations, composite images, posed and staged scenes, and blurred and soft focus to emphasize individual expression. Beginning in Britain in the 1840s, by the mid-1880s Pictorialism had become a flourishing movement. In 1902 in New York, Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen advocated for the importance of photography and launched the journal Camera Work in 1903 and The Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession in 1905.

The composition of Paul Strand's <i>Porch Shadows</i> (1916) uses light, shadow, and line to create an almost-abstract photograph.

Straight Photography, emphasizing the technology of the camera itself, rejected Pictorialism in favor of sharply focused images that were rich in detail. In 1907, Stieglitz in his photographs like The Steerage began to explore the "straight" image without prior posing of the subject or subsequent use of darkroom manipulations. He influenced a number of leading photographers and ardently promoted the works of Paul Strand in a 1917 issue of Camera Work. Many of these works employed close-up shots with tight cropping to emphasize near abstract patterns and form, as seen in Strand's Porch Shadows (1916). Straight Photography became a dominant trend that continues to the present day.

The emphasis upon abstract pattern and form influenced the development of Abstract Photography, which began in 1916 with Alvin Langdon Coburn's Vortographs (1916). Stieglitz called him the "youngest star" of the Photo-Secession group, and Coburn began exploring abstract images as early as 1912. Both Paul Strand and Stieglitz were to explore near abstraction as well.

Ansel Adam's <i>Tetons and the Snake River</i> (1942) captures Group f/64's pure photography aesthetic in one of his signature landscapes.

In 1931, Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, Ansel Adams, and Willard Van Dyke formed Group f/64 in San Francisco. The movement emphasized what Van Dyke described as "pure photography...defined as possessing no qualities of technic, composition or idea, derivative of any other art-form" and made its public debut in a 1932 exhibition at the M.H. de Young Museum. Though many of the photographers had begun their careers as Pictorialists, they now firmly rejected that movement's emphasis on fuzzy "artistic" effects, composed scenes, and darkroom manipulations. Their subject matter was often ordinary and frequently taken from nature, as Cunningham became known for her series of Magnolia blossoms, Weston for his images of a single green pepper, Adams for his images of Yosemite Park. Group f/64, and in particular Weston and Adams, also revitalized Abstract Photography, which re-emerged in the 1940s in the works of Minor White and Aaron Siskind.

Synchromism (1912-24)

Morgan Russell, <i>Cosmic Synchromy</i> (1913-14) manipulated color and form to create compositions he likened to musical scores.

Synchromism emphasized abstract paintings that primarily employed the color scale to create a visual "symphony," or musical effect. Morgan Russell and Stanton Macdonald-Wright, both young Americans living in Paris, founded America's first avant-garde movement in 1912. They adopted the color theories of Ernest Percyval-Tudor, a Canadian living in Paris, who believed that twelve colors of the spectrum corresponded to the twelve steps of the musical scale, and Russell coined the name for the movement by combining "symphony" with "chrome." Russell's Synchromy in Green (1913) launched the movement at the 1913 Salon des Indépendants in Paris, where it influenced Lee Simonson, a modernist theater set designer, and John Edward Thompson who later became known as the "dean of Colorado art" for introducing modern art to the area.

Harlem Renaissance (1920 - early 1940s)

Meta Vaux Warrick's <i>Ethiopia</i> Awakening (1921) captured Alain Locke's idea of the “New Negro.”

The term Harlem Renaissance defines a period when music, literature, theater, painting and sculpture flourished within the rich and vibrant culture of New York's Harlem neighborhood. The movement, known for diverse styles, celebrated the "New Negro," a concept advanced by writer Alain Locke that emphasized a new African American sense of dignity, founded in equal rights and connected to the rich cultural traditions of Africa and Egypt. Following the Great Migration that began around 1910 when many African Americans left the southern states for the greater opportunity and freedom of the north, vibrant communities developed in Harlem as well as Chicago and Philadelphia. Meta Vaux Warrick's sculpture Ethiopia (1921) was an early pioneering influence, and international success of the earlier African American artists Mary Edmonia Lewis and Henry Ossawa Tanner became a defining model. Working in a variety of styles, artists including Aaron Douglas, Augusta Savage, Archibald J. Motley Jr. and the photographer James Van Der Zee became leading figures of the new movement. Their work and teaching subsequently informed a subsequent generation that included Jacob Lawrence, Beauford Delaney, and William H. Johnson.

Fourteenth Street School (1920-40)

In the 1950s, the term Fourteenth Street School was developed to define the works of Kenneth Hayes Miller, Isabel Bishop, and Reginald Marsh made in the 1920s and 1930s. Their subjects were taken from the New York neighborhood around Union Square and Fourteenth Street. The area, known as the "poor man's 5th Avenue," was a rising mercantile center, featuring retail department stores, whose sales, featuring the latest fashion at inexpensive prices, drew thousands of middle-class shoppers. Miller, a leader of the movement, began painting portrayals of the women shoppers in the 1920s. Teaching at the Art Center League, he influenced Bishop and March, as well as Raphael Soyer and Edward Laning, who also became later members of the group. Influenced by the Renaissance and Baroque masters, the group's figurative treatments often lent a kind of classical dignity to the portrayals of matronly shoppers, office girls, and career girls, who were seen as the embodiment of the "New Woman" and progressive prosperity. Due to realistic treatment of modern life, the movement is often included under Social Realism, though it shared little of that movement's attack upon the status quo or interest in political content.

American Regionalism (1928-43)

John Steuart Curry's <i>Baptism in Kansas</i> (1928) is typical of Regionalism's depiction of rural life in the Midwest.

American Regionalism was not a deliberately formed movement but a style and approach that developed organically in the works of Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry, and Grant Wood. The three emphasized realistic depictions of rural life and ordinary situations, and each of them was associated with a particular region: Curry with Kansas, Benton with Missouri, and Wood with Iowa. They drew upon a number of divergent influences: Wood was influenced by the Northern Renaissance artist Hans Memling, Benton had been part of the Synchromist movement, and Curry utilized his prior experience in illustration, but their work consistently rejected modern European art and abstraction, in favor of a figurative approach to subjects that reflected what they saw as a uniquely American spirit. Wood's American Gothic (1930), when awarded a bronze medal at an Art Institute of Chicago competition, publicly launched the movement, as the work received national attention in newspapers and magazines. By the end of the 1930s, as Fascism threatened Europe, the movement's identification with a nationalist art came under critical fire, though other artists, including the well-known illustrator Norman Rockwell and the artist Andrew Wyeth continued to portray realistic scenes of ordinary American life, often connected to particular regions.

Social Realism (1929 - late 1950s)

In <i>Construction of a Dam</i> (1939) William Gropper emphasizes the role of labor in dynamically building the modern era.

Social Realism developed organically among artists who emphasized realistic depictions of the lower and working class, often within an urban environment, in order to radically transform society. Focusing on the plight of workers, the artists associated with the movement were influenced by the murals of José Clemente Orozco, the rise of labor rights organizations, and the call to worker's rights from leftist organizations like the John Reed Society. The movement initially drew upon the optimism following the Mexican and Russian revolutions and was further shaped by the global depression that began in 1929 as well as the rise of Fascism in the 1930s. Rejecting European avant-garde movements for their isolation from social issues, artists like William Gropper, Hugo Gellert, Max Weber, and Moses and Raphael Soyer viewed art as a weapon to fight the capitalist exploitation of the working class. The artists Ben Shahn, Philip Evergood, and Antonio Berni were also important members of the movement, as were Aaron Douglas and Jacob Lawrence, both also part of the Harlem Renaissance. In the 1930s, WPA-sponsored documentary photographers, including Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, were loosely associated with the movement as they depicted the rural poor and the devastating impact of the Great Depression, as well as the Dust Bowl that ravaged the agricultural Midwest.

Abstract Expressionism, Color Field Painting, Post-Painterly and Hard-Edge Abstraction (1943-65)

An early pioneer of Abstract Expressionism, Clyfford Still's works, as shown in <i>1957-D No. 1</i> (1957), also informed the development of Color Field Painting

Abstract Expressionism began in the early 1940s, centered in New York and led by Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, and Adolph Gottlieb. As the leading Surrealists fled Europe during World War II for New York, the Abstract Expressionists were influenced by Surrealism's emphasis on automatism, an art that tapped into the unconscious. While the artists had begun their careers painting representational images, they moved toward increasing abstraction. Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century Gallery exhibited and supported the emerging movement, and she commissioned Pollock's monumental and innovative Mural (1943). The critic Clement Greenberg played a leading role in advocating for the movement, emphasizing purely visual and abstract effects of the paintings. American's first international art movement, Abstract Expressionism also effectively established New York as the center of the modern art world and led to a number of other developments, including Color Field Painting, Action Painting, Post-painterly abstraction, and hard-edge painting.

Color Field Painting, which began in the late 1940s, led by Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, emphasized color as a powerfully expressive object. Still's canvases deployed bold colors in jagged forms; Rothko turned toward diaphanous rectangles of color, and Newman created "zip" paintings, where vertical strips of color intersected large horizontal fields of color. Greenberg championed Color Field Painting, with its emphasis on flatness and non-illusionistic space, as the way forward for advanced painting.

In 1952, influential art critic Harold Rosenberg in his essay "The American Action Painters" focused on the act of the artist in deciding to paint, thus coining the term Action Painting in favor of Abstract Expressionism. Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, and Jackson Pollock were associated with the term, as Rosenberg saw their works as emphasizing the event and process of painting itself. The spontaneous movements of the artist, random drips and splashes, and energetic gestures, resulted in a work that conveyed the action of the work's making.

In 1964, Greenberg curated the exhibition Post-Painterly Abstraction for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The show included work by 31 artists, including Morris Louis and Helen Frankenthaler, as well as the West Coast artists Sam Francis and John Ferren. Ellsworth Kelly, Howard Mehring, Jules Olitski, and Kenneth Noland were also included. Greenberg wrote that these artists "have a tendency...to stress contrasts of pure hue rather than contrasts of light and dark...In their reaction against the 'handwriting' and the 'gestures' of Painterly Abstraction, these artists also favor a relatively anonymous execution." The Washington Color School, led by Noland and included Gene Davis, Morris Louis, and Thomas Downing among others, emphasized abstract art where color was emphasized to create form.

Drawing from the Color Field Painters, hard-edge painting was a term that defined a trend toward economical forms, impersonal execution, and clean lines. In the 1950s, Californian art critic Jules Langsner described the trend that used "forms [that] are finite, flat, rimmed by a hard, clean edge...They are autonomous shapes, sufficient unto themselves as shapes." In the 1960s the trend was also associated with Al Held, Ellsworth Kelly, Morris Louis, Frank Stella, Miriam Schapiro, and Kenneth Noland.

Around 1950 in the Bay Area of San Francisco, David Park, Richard Diebenkorn, and Elmer Bischoff rejected pure abstraction in favor of figurative subjects. The Bay Area Painters also included Manuel Neri, Nathan Oliveira, and Joan Brown. Many of the artists had begun their careers as Abstract Expressionists and retained elements of that movement in their landscapes and portraits, while at the same time celebrating local culture and landscape.

Also, by the mid-1950s a number of Second Generation of Abstract Expressionists, including Jack Beal, Jane Freilicher, and Nell Blaine, rejected the movement and turned toward figurative art. Including Fairfield Porter, Alex Katz, and Lois Dodd, the loose association of New York artists spearheaded a new emphasis on realism that became known as Contemporary Realism.

Neo-Dada (1952-70)

Robert Rauschenberg combined found objects and images from newspapers and magazines to create <i>Monogram</i> (1955-59)

Beginning in 1952, Neo-Dada developed, as Jasper Johns, Allan Kaprow, and Robert Rauschenberg, began to employ "readymades," mass media, and performances. The artists rejected the existentialist heroics connected with Abstract Expressionism in favor of mundane subjects and blurred the traditional boundaries between media. Influenced by Marcel Duchamp and Dada, the movement had its start at Black Mountain College in North Carolina in 1952 and included Rauschenberg, the choreographer Merce Cunningham, and the composer John Cage. Cage's Theatre Piece No. 1 (1952) exemplified the group's emphasis on audience interaction, multiple media, and the role of chance.

Allan Kaprow created "environments," using sculptural collages to create installation pieces and later, after taking Cage's class, added aural components. He developed the term "happenings" to describe the quasi-theatrical events where, influenced by Futurism's concept of the event as overwhelming all boundaries and Dada's emphasis on the role of chance, the boundary between event and audience was broken.

Many Fluxus artists, including George Brecht, Robert Whitman, and Robert Watts, were interested in Neo-Dada and happenings. Fluxus, described as an "anti-art" movement, had utopian goals of wanting to change one's relation to art and to underscore the artfulness of everyday objects and actions. Leading members of the group Dick Higgins, Jackson Mac Low, and Al Hans met in Cage's 1959 class at the New School. Fluxus artists often used humor to undercut and dismiss high art. George Maciunas, the founder of Fluxus, described Fluxus as "a fusion of Spike Jones, gags, games, Vaudeville, Cage, and Duchamp." Fluxus was an international movement that also included Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, and Joseph Beuys. Paik pioneered the development of Video Art, when he presented his video footage of the Pope's visit to New York as a serious artwork in 1965.

Pop Art and Photorealism (mid 1950s-1970s)

Pop Art was an international movement that had begun in Britain in 1952, led by the Independent Group, including Richard Hamilton, Eduardo Paolozzi, and the architects Alison and Peter Smithson, but the American version became the trendsetting and dominant form. Led by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, and James Rosenquist, the artists used images taken from mass media and popular culture to challenge the distinction between "high" and "low" art and to critique and celebrate consumer culture. Warhol, Rosenquist, and Ed Ruscha were influenced by their early work as graphic designers and illustrators.

Photorealism, also called Hyperrealism, painted photographic images projected onto a large canvas, often with an airbrush, to resemble a finished photograph. Richard Estes, Chuck Close, Robert Bechtle, Ralph Goings, and Audrey Flack drew upon different influences, including Pop Art and Minimalism, and employed a variety of techniques, as they worked independently of one another. They often depicted objects from consumer culture, as in Ralph Goings' McDonalds Pickup (1970) or Richard Estes's Supreme Hardware Store (1970).

Minimalism and Post-Minimalism (1960 - Present)

Tony Smith's <i>Free Ride</i> (1962) is fabricated from steel to create a minimal composition.

In New York in the early 1960s, Minimalist artists such as Donald Judd, Carl Andre, Sol LeWitt, and Robert Morris created works from industrial materials while employing a cool and anonymous approach. Influenced by Russian Constructivism, Minimalists emphasized the materiality of the medium as perceived by the viewer and preferred industrial materials and fabrication. Rejecting Greenberg's formalist conception of painting, they emphasized an approach that, using a minimum of shape, color, and other elements, was also called "Systemic Painting," or "Reductive Art." Frank Stella, Tony Smith, Richard Serra, Ronald Bladen, and Dan Flavin were associated with the movement that quickly became dominant in America and internationally, while informing other developments, including Post-Minimalism and the Light and Space movement.

Post-Minimalism included a number of trends, including Process Art, Performance and Body Art, Site-Specific Art, and some aspects of Conceptual Art. Art critic Lucy Lippard curated Eccentric Abstraction in 1968, an exhibition that included work by Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse, and Bruce Nauman, whose pieces were made of soft or pliable materials. Some artists associated with Post-Minimalism extended the Minimalist interest in anonymous and abstract objects into other areas, while others reacted against Minimalism's cool anonymous approach in favor of emotional expression. Lynda Benglis, Eva Hesse, and Louise Bourgeois used resins and latex, while Nancy Graves used materials to simulate animal hides, and the resulting works created an organic expressive effect. Sol LeWitt, Richard Serra, and Vito Acconci were also included among the Post-Minimalists.

Based in California and influenced by Minimalism, Robert Irwin began creating large installations using light sources in 1969 and pioneered what became known as the Light and Space movement. Larry Bell, James Turrell, John McCracken and Helen Pashgian were all associated with the movement that used industrial materials, including neon and argon lights, cast acrylic, and polyester resins to create perceptual experiences. Drawing upon new scientific research and technologies, they created works that emphasized the interaction of light and space.

Earth Art and Environmental Art (1960s - Present)

<i>Sun Tunnels</i> (1973-76) by Earth artist Nancy Holt installed in Great Basin Desert, Utah

Also called Land Art or Earthworks, Earth Art was an outgrowth of Minimalism, as the earth itself became both the material object and the site specific to art, and artists used the site's available natural materials, such as mud, earth, and stone, to design large-scale projects that were keyed to the site's significance. Often including some element of performance, Earth Art shared certain trends with Post-Minimalism, including Performance Art, process art, and Installation Art. The 1969 Earth Art exhibition at Cornell University, which including the works of Robert Smithson, Walter de Maria, Michael Heizer, Robert Morris, Dennis Oppenheim, and Hans Haacke, launched the movement. The artists, like Smithson, were often inspired by ancient sites, including Stonehenge or the Native American Serpent Mound, and saw their works as subject to changing conditions and entropy, the devolution of a system over time. Nancy Holt, Richard Long, Agnes Denes, and Andy Goldsworthy were also leading Earth Work artists.

The movement influenced the development of Environmental Art, also known as ecological art. Emphasizing a non-invasive approach, Environmental artists saw themselves as collaborating with the environment and exploring human interaction with natural environments. Betty Beaumont, Andy Goldsworthy, Agnes Denes, Meg Webster, Olafur Eliasson, herman de vries, Nils Udo, and Chris Jordan are the leading artists of the movement. They employed a variety of approaches; Beaumont transformed power plant waste into an underwater reef in her Ocean Landmark (1978-80), while Goldsworthy, over a period of four years, working, as he said, "in collaboration with nature," arranged pieces of limestone from fields where he worked as a gardener to create his Pinfold Cones (1981-85).

The Multinational Flavors of Postmodernism (1960s - Present)

Sculpture <i>Another Twister (João)</i> by American sculptor Alice Aycock, installed in front the entrance of Sprengel Museum Hannover, Germany.

In the 1960s, a heady atmosphere of experimentation reigned, leading to the development of Conceptual Art, Feminist Art, Body Art, and Performance Art. Though these art movements were international, American artists played a significant role in their development, and their subsequent expansion into a number of trends.

Influenced by Minimalism's reductive simplicity, Conceptual art emphasized that the concept of a work was more important than its form or even completion. Sol LeWitt's "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art" (1967) became the de facto manifesto of the movement; he wrote that the artwork "no matter what form it may finally have it must begin with an idea." Walter de Maria, Ed Ruscha, Marina Abramović, Dan Graham, and the German artist Joseph Beuys were just a few of the leading artists who became part of the movement. In the atmosphere of experimentation, new trends developed, including Institutional Critique, led by an international array of artists, including Hans Haacke, Michael Asher, Daniel Buren, and Marcel Broodthaers, and The Pictures Generation, including Sherrie Levine, Cindy Sherman, Robert Longo, Barbara Kruger, and Richard Prince. A number of Conceptual artists created installation pieces, as Installation Art became a primary trend, employed in a number of movements. Additionally conceptual practices informed Neo-Geo, or Neo-Geometric Conceptualism, a term that defined the works of Peter Halley, Ashley Bickerton, Jeff Koons, and Meyer Vaisman following their 1986 exhibition in New York. Using appropriative strategies, the group used geometric form to ironically distance itself from abstract painting, while also using previous works as readymades that could be appropriated.

Judy Chicago's <i>The Dinner Party</i> (1974-79) combines installation, craft, and feminist ideas to create an arresting and controversial work.

Out of the Civil Rights movement, the emerging Gay Pride movement, and anti-war fervor, Feminist Art developed in the late 1960s. Women's art organizations like the Art Worker's Coalition and Women Artists in Revolution were formed to address gender inequity and other feminist issues within the art community. Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro founded the California Institute of the Art's Feminist Art Project and Womanhouse, a project where women artists could collaborate and create major installations. Mary Beth Edelson, Lynda Benglis, Martha Rosler, Carolee Schneemann, Suzanne Lacy, Leslie Labowitz, Bia Lowe, Barbara Kruger, and the Guerilla Girls were leading feminist artists, as the movement explored diverse approaches, and the artists involved became associated with several movements simultaneously. Judy Chicago became famous for her Dinner Party (1974-79), an iconic example of both Feminist Art and Installation Art, while Carolee Schneemann's performances were pioneering in the Feminist, Body Art, and Performance movements. Feminist Art actively supported and inspired the development of Queer Art, focused on queer identity and connected to the Gay Pride movement and the AIDS crisis, and ushered in an era of Identity Politics that focused on the experience of marginalized groups and the inequities they faced.

In the 1960s, Performance art emphasized live events where the artist, sometimes with collaborators or performers, erased all boundaries between the artist and the artwork. The international movement drew upon a number of early avant-garde trends, including Dada, Futurism, and Surrealism, but was more recently sourced in the 1950s works of John Cage, Fluxus artists, and Allan Kaprow's happenings. Staging what were sometimes called "actions," performance artists often confronted the audience. The movement was closely linked to the development of Body Art, as American artists, including Chris Burden, Carolee Schneemann, and Hannah Wilke, employed their own body as the medium.

Do Not Miss

  • A tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and '50s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraced the gestural abstraction of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and the color field painting of Mark Rothko and others. It blended elements of Surrealism and abstract art in an effort to create a new style fitted to the postwar mood of anxiety and trauma.
  • British artists of the 1950s were the first to make popular culture the dominant subject of their art, and this idea became an international phenomenon in the 1960s. But the Pop art movement is most associated with New York, and artists such as Andy Warhol, who broke with the private concerns of the Abstract Expressionists, and turned to themes which touched on public life and mass society.
  • Modern photography refers to a range of approaches from Straight Photography, New Vision photography, Dada and Surrealist photography, and later abstract tendencies.
  • Modern Art is a period of art making that promoted the new and industrial world, free from derivation and historical references. And for the new to be possible, old ideas about art were often altogether abandoned, or deconstructed.

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Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Valerie Hellstein

"American Art Definition Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Valerie Hellstein
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First published on 13 Feb 2019. Updated and modified regularly
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