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American Art

Purpose of Course  showclose

This course surveys art of America from the colonial era through the post-war 20th century.  We will consider broad stylistic tendencies in various regions and periods and examine specific artists and works of art in historical and social contexts, with emphasis on the congruent evolution of contemporary American multi-cultural identity.  We will move chronologically, more or less, with many overlaps and cross-chronological, thematic diversions that will help shape this overview and offer different perspectives on the notion of an “American art,” per se.

Overarching issues that have interested major scholars of American art and its purview include the landscape (wilderness, Manifest Destiny, rural settlement, and urban development); the family and gender roles; the founding rhetoric of freedom and antebellum slavery; and notions of artistic modernism through the 20th century.  A background in the basic concepts and terms of art history and art practice, and/or American studies in other disciplines, will be helpful in fully engaging the course material.

Note: The links in the drop-down instructional boxes below will direct you to short essays with images, unless otherwise noted.  Please click on all images encountered, as they will often enlarge or show details; also note the size of the artworks in descriptions, crucial to their form and their functions.  Viewing original works in person is important for any study of art.  Please identify a museum, gallery, or venue where you may closely view a work of American art created before 1980.  A self-evaluation essay based on your choice is assigned at the end of UNIT 3.  Other assignments are based on the reading.

At the end of this syllabus, you will find a worksheet for general reference in studying art and a list of web resources frequently noted below, as well as several additional sites you can use to look up terms (including those bold-faced below), images, artists, and styles.  To comply with all copyright laws, do not save any downloads accessed for your personal viewing through websites assigned below.

Learning Outcomes  showclose

Upon successful completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  • Understand the historical (geographic, political) formation of the present United States of America;
  • Be familiar with renowned influential American artists from the 18th through the 20th century;
  • Be conversant in common stylistic designations used in Western art of the 17th through 20th centuries;
  • Recognize subjects and forms in “American” art through history that mark its distinction;
  • Be able to engage specific images, objects, and structures from different critical perspectives to consider their functions and meanings

Course Requirements  showclose

In order to take this course, you must:

√    Have access to a computer

√    Have continuous broadband internet access

√    Have the ability/permission to install plug-ins or software (e.g. Adobe Reader of Flash)

√    Have the ability to download documents to a computer

√    Have the ability to open and save Microsoft word documents (worksheets)

√    Be competent in the English language

√    Have read the Saylor Student Handbook.

√    Have completed ARTH110 (Introduction to Western Art History: Pre-historic to High Gothic).

It is strongly recommended that you complete ARTH111 (Introduction to Western Art History: Proto-Renaissance to Contemporary Art) prior to taking this course.

Unit Outline show close


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  • Unit 1: The Americas: 16th and 17th Centuries  

    The indigenous and early Colonial culture in South and Central America as well as Native North American society have continued to resonate variously in the art and visual culture of the United States.  The Spanish (funding Christopher Columbus) made the earliest Christian mark, followed by the English and Dutch, who eventually prevailed in privileging Protestantism over Catholicism in the forthcoming new nation. 

    • Web Media: Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s “American Historical Periods”

      Link: Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s “American Historical Periods” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Before beginning Unit 1, work your way through the entire presentation above, which will give you a general idea of our trajectory in this course.  Each section has a short essay accompanied by images; enlarge two or three of these images from each section to get a sense for styles and imagery.  Get a feeling for types of subject matter and composition (i.e. how the images are laid out on the picture plane).  Below, we will look in depth at some of this material.  Continue to refer back to this site for image references. 
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

      The Saylor Foundation does not yet have materials for this portion of the course. If you are interested in contributing your content to fill this gap or aware of a resource that could be used here, please submit it here.

      Submit Materials

    • Reading: Wikipedia’s “History of the United States”

      Link: Wikipedia’s “History of the United States” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Use this basic timeline to keep track of the major events in American history as we proceed through the units below.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 1.1 Pre-Columbian Art Forms  

    Note: At the time of European contact with the Americas, Aztec civilization was producing sophisticated architecture, sculpture, and painted images on pottery and codices.  Their ceremonial capital, Tenochtitlan, beneath modern-day Mexico City, is under continual excavation, yielding new information.  Native North Americans generally employed ephemeral art materials; however, they also created monumental “earth sculptures” before the second millennium that remain part of the American landscape. 

    • Web Media: Mexicolore’s “Aztec Pages"

      Link:  Mexicolore’s “Aztec Pages” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: This website features excellent images of Aztec art.  Please browse the site after reading the articles listed below:
       
      In the left menu, click “Moctezuma” and then the “Death of Monctezuma” link on the right menu at top of the page you reach.  Read the entire, well-illustrated article on the enigmatic Aztec ruler at the time of Cortes (three parts; attributed to a panel of scholars).  Then return to the previous right menu to browse “art news/exhibition pages” listed near the bottom.  
       
      Return to main Aztec page (as above).  Click “Spanish Conquest” and then read the illustrated article, “What Happened to the Aztec Gods after Conquest?” (found on the top right hand menu) by Dr. Eleanor Wake (2 parts).  
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Reading: The National Park Service: Indian Mounds of the Mississippi: "The Mound Builders" and "Building the Mounds"

      Links: The National Park Service: Indian Mounds of the Mississippi: "The Mound Builders" (HTML) and "Building the Mounds" (HTML)

      Instructions: Please read these two webpages as an introduction to the Mound Builders, the prehistoric inhabitants of North America who built earthen mounds for ritual and residential purposes. "Mound builder" is an inclusive name for a number of cultures that lived in the Great Lakes Region and the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys from the fourth millennium BCE to about 1700CE. These pages focus on Mound Building cultures in the Mississippi Valley, while the following reading is about the famous Serpent Mound in the Ohio Valley.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpages above.

    • Web Media: JQ Jacobs’ “Serpent Mound”

      Link: JQ Jacobs’ “Serpent Mound” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: This site provides summary information on the “Great Serpent Mound,” an ancient native Adena burial site in Ohio.  Please read about the mound and examine the pictures.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 1.2 Early Colonial Art  

    Note: Soon after conquest by the Spanish, native artists of Mexico were enlisted by the new regime; syncretistic art forms (art forms that show cross-cultural influences) ensued.  In the North American southwest and Florida, Catholic churches adopted the adobe techniques of the native pueblos, later mimicked in stone with Baroque flourishes.  The east coast of what became the United States was settled even earlier, with the first extant depictions dating from the 1500s.

  • Unit 2: The 18th Century  

    During the 18th century, threats to Native American societies began in earnest as fights over land between Europeans escalated. “Modern” history painters commemorated the action, including that of the American War of Independence, in a mix of Neoclassical and Romantic styles, following the trends at British (and to a lesser extent other European) royal academies.  This century also saw the design of the capital city of Washington, D.C. and the emergence of a visual discourse (including paintings, prints, and illustrations) around the slave trade and plantation slavery system.

  • 2.1 The Revolutionary Era  

    Note: Major artists from this period include Benjamin West of Pennsylvania and John Singleton Copley of Boston, both of whom settled in England before the war, as well as Connecticut artist John Trumbull (who spent much time there).  Early emblems of the new nation with various personifications and Classical symbolism were designed; these remain prevalent today.

  • 2.2 The First President and the National Capitol  

    Note: The representations of Washington produced during this period set a precedent that generations of future artists would follow.  Architect Thomas Jefferson brought a studied Neo-Classism to the new nation.  The planning of Washington, D.C. and the Capitol building extended over several decades. 

  • Unit 3: 1800 to Circa 1860  

    Portrait painting became popular from the time of Protestant infiltration of the colonies, in a shift from religious art of the earlier Catholic regime.  The spread of photography in the 1840s in turn diminished demand somewhat.  During this period, painter Charles Willson Peale opened the first museum opened to the public in America.  Westward expansion began in earnest and the nation’s population increases dramatically.  Landscape painting gained stature as well.

  • 3.1 Developments in Portraiture  

    Note: A demand for portraits encouraged many artists with varying degrees of training to seize opportunities in this genre in the period between 1800 and 1860.  American portraits of the 18th and early 19th century tend toward a flattened style.  Iconographic details relate to status, occupation, and important events in the sitters’ lives.  

  • 3.2 Romantic Landscape  

    Note: America represented divine wilderness to Europeans.  Painters like Thomas Cole exploited literary and spiritual allusions to create metaphoric visions of America’s natural wonders.  The “Luminists” focused on pristine, dramatic light and overlapped with the “Hudson River School.”  Landscapes of the West often included images of Native Americans; some artists specialized in recording their enclaves and customs in the wake of “Manifest Destiny.” 

  • 3.3 Painting Everyday Life  

    Note: American genre painting—depictions of ordinary life, as well as still life “genre” (or “type”)—were visual commentaries on the diversity of lifestyles emergent in the United States.  They could appear “realistic” but were often composed to convey moral messages, sometimes based on literary subjects.  “History” paintings were influenced by genre subjects in terms of sentimentality and melodrama.

    • Web Media: Metropolitan Museum of Art: “American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life, 1765-1915”

      Link: Metropolitan Museum of Art: “American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life, 1765-1915” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: At the top of the page, click the first section, “Inventing American Stories 1765-1830.”  Read the introduction and view the 13 images/entries.  (Please note that images can be enlarged twice.)  Pay special attention to the following entries: 
      -#3 and #4: Review John Singleton Copley.
      -#10: John Lewis Krimmel, The Quilting Frolic, 1813.  Note the exaggerated coloration, ragged clothing, and marginal position of the black fiddler.  Black musicians would become a staple of the 19th-century genre in which some artists specialized, and which have inspired diverse interpretations of artist intent and the appeal to the (white) market.  Disturbing depictions, which became stereotypes through repetition and by virtue of a lack of alternative, naturalistic images of real people of African descent were influenced by grotesque visages of “black-face” minstrelsy, a hugely popular entertainment in much of America into the 20th century.  Note the young black serving girl, whose heavily laden serving tray is nearly her size.  
      -#8 and #11: Charles Willson Peale, Exhumation of the Mastadon, 1805-08, and The Artist in His Museum, 1822.  In a new window, open related supplemental essay from The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.
       
      Return to the exhibition home/index page; click “Stories for the Public, 1830-1860,” and read the introduction and view the 28 images/entries.  Listen to the audio commentaries provided for the following entries:
      -#19, George Caleb Bingham,The County Election, 1851-52.
      -#23, Lilly Martin Spencer, Young Husband: First Marketing, 1854 and
      - #25, Spencer, Kiss Me and You’ll Kiss the ‘Lasses, 1856 (one 6-minute audio on both works; #25 is spoken about first)
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Web Media: National Gallery of Art: “Raphaelle Peale, A Dessert (1814)” Link: National Gallery of Art: “Raphaelle Peale, A Dessert (1814)” (HTML)

      Link: National Gallery of Art: “Raphaelle Peale, A Dessert (1814)” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Raphaelle Peale, a son of Charles Willson Peale (whose work you observed in "Inventing American Stories 1765-1830"), was the first acclaimed American still life painter.  The meticulous attention to surface and texture (derived from European, especially Dutch precedents) would be developed by the end of the century into amusing “trompe l’oeil” paintings that can almost appear to incorporate real objects (more in upcoming sections). 
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Web Media: Philadelphia Museum of Art: “Charles Willson Peale, Staircase Group, 1795”

      Link: Philadelphia Museum of Art: “Charles Willson Peale, Staircase Group, 1795” (HTML and Adobe Flash)
       
      Instructions: Charles Peale experimented directly with “trickery” in this life-size work of two of his children on a staircase.  It includes a real wooden step coming into the gallery space at the bottom to enhance the illusionism.  Listen to the brief audio clips on the page.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Web Media: National Gallery of Art: “Will Harnett’s, The Old Violin (1886)”

      Link: National Gallery of Art: “Will Harnett’s, The Old Violin (1886)” (HTML)
       
      Instructions:  Read through this presentation in three steps: a close look at the painting, the career of Harnett, and the subject of money in still life painting; make comparisons with other artists.  While Harnett’s best work is late in the century, it is the epitome of what became associated with distinctly American 19th-century trompe l’oeil.   The detail is hard to capture on screen; for larger images of works by Harnett, you may want to enlarge images from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Search “Harnett” (any search window) to retrieve enlarged images of his artwork.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 3.4 History Painting: Emanuel Leutze’s “George Washington Crossing the Delaware” (1851)  

    Note: Perhaps the most widely recognized and reproduced American painting in history, and the most frequently copied by other artists and illustrations (whether in parody, homage, or both), Leutze’s “George Washington Crossing the Delaware” is traditional for the period in terms of composition, with the centered hero at its “peak.”  It does, however, evoke a naturalistic sense of the setting and, while still detailed, the brush strokes are somewhat looser than those in some of the precedents we have seen; this is not as clear in reduced reproduction as it would be in a first-hand viewing of the 25-foot-long canvas.  

  • Unit 4: The Civil War Era to the Gilded Age  

    The visual culture of the Civil War is extensive, with the explosion of the popular illustrated press.  For the first time, the death and devastation of war was conveyed to those removed from the action through photography.  Naturalistic, “realistic” styles become pervasive.  The progress, hopes, and disintegration of the Reconstruction platform for African Americans was documented by and expressed through art.  During the same period, the Indian Wars were brought to their devastating conclusion.  Impressionism came to American late in the century, when nouveau riche industrialists began many of America’s major art collections.   

  • 4.1 The War Years  

    Note: Leaving behind the heroic military painting of the past, Winslow Homer and other prominent artists of the era infused war scenes and ancillary subjects with up-close, subtle solemnity.  They also provided eyewitness sketches of the conflict for reproduction in illustrated journals.  Commemorative prints included African American soldiers, although public war memorials and commemorations of the Emancipation Proclamation were fraught with racial politics. 

  • 4.2 The Late 19th Century  

    Note: Impressionism originated in France in the 1870s and took some time to cross the Atlantic, where it also generally remained closer to earlier naturalistic Realism (as we have seen in later Homer works).  Industrialism and mercantilism demanded new architectural forms.  In a backlash to Reconstruction, graphic racial stereotypes facilitated the on-set of “Jim Crow” segregation.

  • 4.2.1 American Impressionism  
  • 4.2.2 The World’s Columbia Exposition, 1893 / Turn of the Century  
  • 4.2.3 Special Topics  
  • Unit 5: The New Century to the Great Depression  

    In the early 1900s, for the first time in American history, the wealthy class in America rivaled the wealthy in Europe, and this development was reflected in portraiture and collecting. However, America also saw growing class division, facilitated by large waves of immigration. A new underclass became subjects in art.  World War I brought United States directly into world affairs and alliances.  The Harlem Renaissance takes shape. 

  • 5.1 The Ashcan School and Early Abstraction  

    Note: Impressionism finally became popular in the early part of the 20th century, while “modern” urban American painters embraced immigrant life as subject matter.  Photographs of the urban poor began to affect public sentiment.  At the same time, the Armory Show brought European abstraction to New York. 

  • 5.2 Harlem Renaissance  

    Note: In 1925, philosopher Alain Locke published an interdisciplinary anthology entitled “The New Negro” that initiated the loose movement, which extended far beyond Harlem.  Overall, Locke advocated the embrace of an African past in the development of new cultural forms.  Please note that this loose movement emerged during WWI and that its formative phase faded with the Depression.  However, the best known works by associated artists date from the 1930s-40s. 

  • Unit 6: The 1930s Through WWII  

    The New Deal offered government employment for artists.  Themes related to self-reliance, as represented in broad categorical styles best known as Regionalism and Social Realism, crossed racial lines in the art world.  Public murals were a new feature of the national cultural landscape, and were largely influenced by Mexican mural painters.  Documentary photography gained prominence.  Artists fleeing Europe in the 1930s brought “avant-garde” art forms to America, definitively.     

  • 6.1 "American Scene” Painters and Documentary Photography  

    Note: Generally, rural artists or artists focusing on rural subjects were considered Regionalist, while those in and of the cities were known as Social Realists, although the artists themselves, as well as their subjects, overlapped.  Many combined narrative figuration with idiosyncratic stylization that was likely influenced by contemporary abstraction.  The Farm Securities Administration (FSA) commissioned extensive photographic documentation of rural families around the country that had been deeply affected by the Depression for widespread publication.  FSA photographs have been much studied in terms of “deconstructing” the supposed neutral and mechanical work of the journalistic photographer.

  • 6.2 Abstraction and Surrealism  

    Note: Abstraction and other “progressive” styles from Europe were fostered by emerging art criticism in New York; this development helped establish New York’s prominence as the center of the contemporary art world after WWII.

  • 6.3 Case Study: Frank Lloyd Wright, America’s Premier Architect  

    Note: Wright became the first internationally recognized American architect.  His unique “Prairie Style” for domestic buildings was inspired by the mid-Western landscape.  He rarely looked to European forms and was instead influenced by Japanese aesthetics (this is especially apparent in his use of natural materials).  He deplored the verticality of New York City and only reluctantly took on the commission for the Guggenheim Museum in the late 1940s.

    • Web Media: Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust: “Robie House”

      Link: Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust: “Robie House”  (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Read the introduction; click on the link for “Prairie Style” (in the left menu or embedded in the text) for an explanation of the term. 
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Web Media: Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Website

      Link: Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Website (HTML)
       
      Instructions: On the menu at the top, click on the link for “Wright’s Life and Work” and read the overview.  Then read “A Brief Biography” from the menu at left.  Return to the left menu and click on “Public Sites.”  Scroll down column of images; click website links for the following: 
       
      -Beth Shalom Synagogue (PA); from the bottom menu of the homepage, click on and read “History; then return to choose “Virtual Tour,” and visit.
       
      -Fallingwater (PA); a major, extensive website.  By clicking on “Explore,” then “Multimedia,” and then “Tours,” you can take the “Seasonal Tour” to get a feel for the site; then return to take the “Architectural Tour.”
       
      -Hollyhock House (CA); from the top menu, click on “Media”; then scroll to “Main Gallery” and click through the images.  
       
      -Unity Temple (IL); from the top menu, click on “The Building” and then “Explore Unity Temple,” then “Photo Galleries.”  Browse the images.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Web Media: Guggenheim Museum: “Keeping Faith with an Idea: A Time Line of the Guggenheim Museum 1943-1959”

      Link: Guggenheim Museum: “Keeping Faith with an Idea:  A Time Line of the Guggenheim Museum 1943-1959” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Explore the “Timeline.”  Note that Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth are prominent among artists who continue with “American Scene” painting into the post war years.  See the links below for further information on them:
       
      - Whitney Museum of American Art: “Modern Life: Edward Hopper and his Time” (HTML)
       
      -Andrew Wyeth Website (HTML)
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Unit 7: Post-War America and the Art World: Abstract Expressionism to New Political Art, Stylistic Pluralism, Diversity  

    In the wake of a decimated Europe, post-war America prospered.  The Cold War with the Soviet Union (USSR) ensued.  Abstraction triumphed as the dominant mode of picture-making, but was challenged substantially by the emergence of Pop Art, which attempted to reconnect directly with modern American life.  Gradually, diverse representational forms made a come-back, influenced by “counter-cultural” politics, along with tendencies towards artistic expressions of gender and ethnic identity. 

  • 7.1 Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism  

    Note: “Non-objective” abstraction on a super-sized scale became nearly a national style in America.  Much (but by no means all) of it was gestural and also known as “Action Painting.”  Until recently, a small number of artists (white; male) were seen as the embodiment of its essence, although it actually encompassed diverse sensibilities and intentions, including spiritual, emotional, and political ones.  An off-shoot known as Minimalism toned down the gesture and expressive color and focused on surface texture, shape, and light in both painting and sculpture.

    • Reading: Encyclopedia of Irish and World Art: “Abstract Expressionism”

      Link:  Encyclopedia of Irish and World Art: “Abstract Expressionism” (HTML)
       
      Instructions:  Read through the entire entry on the background and main figures of the loose movement or style.  (Extensive links are provided; look at other material on Abstract Expressionism below and then perhaps return and explore additional links here.) 
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Web Media: National Gallery of Art: “Mark Rothko”

      Link: National Gallery of Art: “Mark Rothko” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: View the entire presentation.  Rothko’s oeuvre moves from Surrealism to total abstraction focused on expansive planes of color.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Web Media: Museum of Modern Art: “Abstract Expressionism New York”

      Link: Museum of Modern Art: Abstract Expressionism New York (HTML)
       
      Instructions:  Read the introduction and click the embedded link titled “view the video” in order to listen to curator Ann Temkin.  From the right hand column menu, choose “From the Curator: Franz Kline” and view the linked video (about 4 minutes).  Then return to exhibition homepage (above) and choose “Featured Works” (top menu).  Enlarge/view data on the eight works.  Each entry has links to other works by the artists represented.  View a few; choose the one whose work most immediately appeals to you for the assignment below.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Activity: The Saylor Foundation’s American Art Activity 8

      Link: The Saylor Foundation’s American Art Activity 8 (PDF)
       
      Instructions: Pretend you are writing an art review (1 – 2 pages in length) for a one-person show by the artist you choose.  Describe the basic aesthetic of the work.  Try to assess what is engaging and interesting about it in terms of how the artist uses form (color; technique; etc.).  Do not use “first person” (i.e., “I like…”).  While reactions to abstract art focus on formal perceptions and emotional responses, think about whether any content is suggested based on the socio-political contexts of the era; comment briefly. 

    • Web Media: Museum of Modern Art: “Minimalism”

      Link: Museum of Modern Art: “Minimalism” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Read the introduction and view the six linked images. (You can enlarge them.)
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Web Media: Guggenheim Museum: “Minimalism”

      Link: Guggenheim Museum: “Minimalism” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Read the introduction and view the 17 images. (You can enlarge them and read notes on each.)
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Web Media: The New Yorker: Peter Schjeldahl’s “Finish Fetish”

      Link: The New Yorker: Peter Schjeldahl’s “Finish Fetish” (Adobe Flash)
       
      Instructions: View this presentation on a New York exhibition of California Minimalists from The New Yorker, January 25, 2010 (4 minutes).
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 7.2 Pop Art and Other Figurative Styles  

    Note: Some artists were alienated by abstraction’s lack of connection to everyday life.  Consumer products, comic book heroes, movie stars, and front page news became the subjects of Pop Art.  Photorealist painting, which imitated photographic effects in painstaking detail, was an off-shoot of the movement.  This genre looked back to the early trompe l’oeil traditions we saw earlier in this course.  These artists used tracing and photographic projection to create compositions in ways that pre-figure digital image programs like Photoshop.  Looser representational styles harking back to earlier Realism eventually made a comeback.  

  • 7.3 Feminist, Conceptual and Earth Art  

    Note: The National Organization of Women (NOW) was founded in 1966.  Women artists drew attention to gender inequities in career opportunities by challenging what they considered the chauvinistic standards in place throughout the entire history of Western art with blunt imagery and non-traditional techniques (such as fabric-based craft).  Conceptual art, which privileged idea over execution, was ultimately rooted in early European experiments, but flourished in the context of American freedom of speech.  Monumental art in site-specific landscapes and urban environments, as well as comprehensive gallery installations (rather than displays of individual portable works), were the climatic legacy of Abstract Expressionism.  

    In 1971, art historian Linda Nochlin published an article entitled, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” (Artnews, January 1971), which was crucial to the emergence of “Feminist” art and art history. Conduct a web search for a reprint of the full text or excerpts.

    • Web Media: Brooklyn Museum: “Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party, 1974-1979”

      Link: Brooklyn Museum: “Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party, 1974-1979” (HTML)
       
      Instructions:  Read the introduction and click the link at right labeled “Website.”  From the left hand side menu, click on “Components of the Dinner Party”; view all sections/images.  Back on the previous Website page, read the “Curatorial Overview,” accessible via the menu on the left.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Web Media: The Woman’s Building Website

      Link: The Woman’s Building Website (HTML)
       
      Instructions: From the menu on the left, select “History” and read the linked essay.  At the bottom of the page, click on the link to read the “Photoessay” by Terry Wolverton (2003).
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Web Media: Hannah Wilke Collection and Archive

      Link: Hannah Wilke Collection and Archive (HTML)
       
      Instructions: View the linked selection of Hannah Wilke’s “radical” feminist art in a variety of mediums.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Web Media: hannahwilke.com: Excerpts from Writings

      Link: hannahwilke.com: “ Excerpts from Writings” (HTML)

      Instructions: Read these excerpts from Wilke’s writings and spend some time browsing the links listed on the left-hand side of the webpage.  Wilke’s works were provocative in their open sexuality, and the ways in which she drew upon her own body – from its youthful beauty through the ravages of cancer – broke new conceptual and performative ground.
       
      Expect to spend approximately 30 minutes reading Wilke’s writings and browsing the site.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Reading: feldmangallery.com: Amelia Jones’s “Everybody Dies…Even the Gorgeous: Resurrecting the Work of Hannah Wilke”

      Link: feldmangallery.com: Amelia Jones’s “Everybody Dies…Even the Gorgeous: Resurrecting the Work of Hannah Wilke”  (HTML)

      Instructions: Scroll partway down the webpage to the year 2003 and click on Jones’s article.  The link will open a .pdf of the text.  Consider the ways in which Wilke’s art intersects with Body Art, Feminism, and Performance and the gendered nature of her reception during the 1960s and ‘70s.  In which ways is her career emblematic (or not) of the challenges facing female artists during this time?
       
      Expect to spend approximately 30 minutes on this reading.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Reading: Wikipedia’s “Betye Saar”

      Link:  Wikipedia’s “Betye Saar” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Several African American women artists were important in the spread of feminist-inspired art, although they did not generally receive “mainstream” attention until the 1980s.  Betye Saar began her career in California by creating a now iconic “assemblage” that has proved influential in the work of many younger artists.  See the page above for links for further study. (Saar continues to be prolific, with frequent exhibitions in all media.)
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Reading: ArtLex Art Dictionary: “Conceptual Art”

      Link: ArtLex Art Dictionary: “Conceptual Art” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Read the linked entry above.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Web Media: Guggenheim Museum: “The Panza Collection”

      Link: Guggenheim Museum: “The Panza Collection” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: This presentation of images and entries focuses on American Minimal and Conceptual artists.  Review the Minimalist artists (above) and focus on the Conceptual artists Bruce Nauman (page 2) and Lawrence Weiner (page 3). 
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Web Media: Estate of Robert Smithson Website

      Link: Estate of Robert Smithson Website (HTML)
       
      Instructions:  View the images on this site, which present perhaps the most renowned site-specific “earth work” in the United States.  Click on the link at bottom of the page in order to read an article by Melissa Sanford that discusses issues with upkeep/preservation.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 7.4 Post-Modernism Pluralism  

    Note: Steel-frame construction allowed for the rise of “glass towers” that filled the urban landscape in the post-war years, coinciding with total abstraction and, eventually, Minimalism.  By the late 1970s, however, architects were returning to earlier ornamentation to counter the cold geometry of high modernism; in this context, “postmodern,” as an aesthetic term, was first popularized.  It has come to signify the gradual move away from stylistic, media, and other strict, qualitative aesthetic precepts and designations.  Painters began to appropriate historical styles as well as specific works of art in new ways.  Some focused on the expression of racial, ethnic, and gender identities that had been previously denied by the mainstream. 

    • Reading: Wikipedia’s “Philip Johnson”

      Link: Wikipedia’s “Philip Johnson” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Read this entry on Philip Johnson, who is likely the most acclaimed American architect of the postwar 20th century.  Scroll down to “Contents” and choose “The Seagram Building.”   Then click on the hyperlink in the text to view a “high modern” skyscraper of the 1950s (Johnson collaborated here with a mentor).  Back at the “Johnson” homepage, click on “Contents” and then “Later Buildings” to read a description and view an image of “The Sony Building.”  Note the roofline design, which he borrowed from earlier architectural ornament.  This has been discussed as a “postmodern” design.  A more extreme example is the “Piazza d’Italia” in New Orleans; view it on Wikipedia’s entry on the building.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Web Media: Faith Ringgold Website

      Link: Faith Ringgold Website (HTML)
       
      Instructions: In painting and sculpture, “postmodernism” includes both borrowing from the past (whether in terms of subject or style) and going beyond European-based criteria for definitions of “modernity” in art, which focus on “pure” abstraction.  The fact that Pop and Photorealism were “modern” offered other ideas, as well.  Postmodernism is most often characterized by specific expressions of ethnic, racial and gender identities previously “hidden” in modernist styles.  Mixed media and new media based on new technologies all made for an unprecedented, pluralistic scene by the 1980s.  The Faith Ringgold website linked above is the first in a series of websites featuring a number of diverse (in terms of background, styles, and content) artists, who could be placed under this umbrella.
      On the Faith Ringgold site, scroll down to “Images”; click on and begin with “1991,” which includes her best-known works.  These works feature her “signature” style, making use of a medium she developed that combines quilting (in reference to folk traditions among African American women) and painting.  In several series, she appropriates European “modernist” art in her new form to create new messages.  Like Saar (above), Ringgold did important feminist work in the late 1960s and 1970s (some can be viewed at this site), and is still working and exhibiting prolifically.  (Please note that some of the “enlargement” links on the site may not work; however, most images as provided are adequate for an introduction.)
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Web Media: Arthur Rogers Gallery: Robert Colescott

      Link: Arthur Rogers Gallery: Robert Colescott (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Beginning in the 1970s, Colescott relied heavily on appropriating compositions and subjects from art-historical masterpieces to create satiric paintings about the exclusion of African Americans from art history and history more generally.  He adopted a purposefully crude style influenced by comics and European “primitivism.”  Later, he expanded his oeuvre to include large-scale paintings jam-packed with darkly humorous iconography related to postcolonial reinterpretations of history, as well as political commentary on continuing racial tensions, crime, and consumerism engulfing American society. 
                 
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Reading: Americana: Journal of American Popular Culture: Jody B. Cutler’s “Art Revolution: Politics and Pop in the Robert Colescott Painting George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware”

      Link: Americana: Journal of American Popular Culture: Jody B. Cutler’s “Art Revolution: Politics and Pop in the Robert Colescott Painting George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware (HTML)
       
      Instructions:  Read the linked article (2010).
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Web Media: Artnet.com: Peter Schjeldahl’s “The Social Comedian”

      Link: Artnet.com: Peter Schjeldahl’s “The Social Comedian” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Read this exhibition review, taking a look at the embedded images (1998).
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Web Media: The Broad Art Foundation: “Julian Schnabel”

      Link: The Broad Art Foundation: “Julian Schnabel” (Adobe Flash)
       
      Instructions: Schnabel was perhaps the first major American “art star” of the postmodern era.  He broke onto the scene in the early 1980s with paintings that brought back the intuitive brushwork of the Abstract Expressionists and figuration related to European Expressionist style of the 19th century.  His imagery remains enigmatic, but he has also done portraits and narrative works harking back to art history and used collage elements for bold, physical effects in much of his work.  He is often categorized as a “Neo-Expressionist.”  Visit the website above for some good examples of his work.
                 
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Web Media: Saatchi Gallery: “David Salle”

      Link: Saatchi Gallery: “David Salle” (HTML and Adobe Flash)
       
      Instructions: Salle is a contemporary of Schnabel who broke onto the American art scene around the same time.  Borrowing from Photorealism, Salle expresses the flux of “visual culture” characteristic of “postmodern” at the start of the electronic revolution.  His juxtapositions of seemingly unrelated images are like puzzles; the question of how and whether they add up to particular meanings is ambiguous.  
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Web Media: Museum of Modern Art: “David Hammons”

      Link: Museum of Modern Art: “David Hammons” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Click on the link above for an introduction and several images of works by Hammons in the MOMA’s collection.  Hammons is a multi-media artist, with Conceptual underpinnings.  Several of his “breakthrough” works in the 1980s were site-specific projects in New York that made use of playground basketball hoops.  Good reproductions of one of them are posted on this Visual Resources webpage, published by Franklin & Marshall College.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Web Media: Barbara Kruger Website and Cindy Sherman Website

      Links: Barbara Kruger Website (HTML) and Cindy Sherman Website (HTML)
       
      Instructions: These photography-based artists are sometimes referred to as “second generation feminists”—especially Kruger, who brings her background in advertising to the fine art world, using language as a kind of new iconography.  Sherman has used herself in virtually all of her work for several decades, though she always appears in different disguises and contexts, obscuring and complicating the notion of self-portraiture.  Visit the sites above to review their work.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Web Media: PBS: “Art 21: Peon Osorio”

      Link: PBS: “Art 21: Pepon Osorio” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: The website above presents an abundance of information on renowned Puerto Rican artist Pepon Osorio, who works in mixed media, focusing on full-scale installations.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Web Media: Keith Haring Foundation Website

      Link: Keith Haring Foundation Website (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Visit the website above for information on Keith Haring, who is famous for bringing graffiti art into the international “fine art” world through his distinctive linear style.  His works often focus on gay politics and activism (the artist died of AIDS at the age of 31).
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Web Media: The Brooklyn Museum: “Basquiat”

      Link: The Brooklyn Museum: Basquiat(HTML)
       
      Instructions: Like Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat began as a street-graffiti artist, with a particularly raw style.  He was “discovered” by a prominent New York art dealer and became internationally famous before his tragic death at the age of 27.  He hedged his public identity as a mainstream Neo-expressionist and African American artist (of Caribbean heritage), bringing his unique concerns into the elite art world.  Read about him and his work on the linked page above.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Web Media: The Aids Quilt Website

      Link: The Aids Quilt Website (HTML)
       
      Instructions: The Aids Quilt is a unique, ongoing, and public American art project, begun in 1987 and with headquarters in Atlanta, GA.  Anyone may contribute and portions are continually exhibited throughout the country.  See the history and images linked above.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 7.5 Case Studies: Public Monuments and Sculpture  

    Note: In a country predicated on government and taxation by the people, decisions about the art that will be publicly sponsored and displayed are complicated and widely debated, with tensions often arising between  professionals in the visual arts and the lay public.  A look at two cases, Richard Serra’s “Tilted Arc for Foley Square,” New York City (1981), and Maya Lin’s “Viet Nam Veterans Memorial” for the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (1982) give some insight into the nature of these ongoing negotiations as they arise.  (Many additional photographs of these projects can be found via web searches.)

  • Final Exam  

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