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American visions : the epic history of art in America /

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Format: Book
Language: English
Published: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997
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SUMMARY

Writing with all the brilliance, authority, and pungent wit that have distinguished his art criticism for Time magazine and his greatly acclaimed study of modern art, The Shock of the New, Robert Hughes now addresses his largest subject: the history of art in America. The intense relationship between the American people and their surroundings has been the source of a rich artistic tradition. American Visions is a consistently revealing demonstration of the many ways in which artists have expressed this pervasive connection. In nine eloquent chapters, which span the whole range of events, movements, and personalities of more than three centuries, Robert Hughes shows us the myriad associations between the unique society that is America and the art it has produced: "O My America, My New Founde Land"  explores the churches, religious art, and artifacts of the Spanish invaders of the Southwest and the Puritans of New England; the austere esthetic of the Amish, the Quakers, and the Shakers; and the Anglophile culture of Virginia. "The Republic of Virtue"  sets forth the ideals of neo-classicism as interpreted in the paintings of Benjamin West, John Singleton Copley, and the Peale family, and in the public architecture of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Latrobe, and Charles Bulfinch. "The Wilderness and the West"  discusses the work of landscape painters such as Thomas Cole, Frederick Church, and the Luminists, who viewed the natural world as "the fingerprint of God's creation,"  and of those who recorded America's westward expansion--George Caleb Bingham, Albert Bierstadt, and Frederic Remington--and the accompanying shift in the perception of the Indian, from noble savage to outright demon. "American Renaissance" describes the opulent era that followed the Civil War, a cultural flowering expressed in the sculpture of Augustus Saint-Gaudens; the paintings of John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, and Childe Hassam; the Newport cottages of the super-rich; and the beaux-arts buildings of Stanford White and his partners. "The Gritty Cities"  looks at the post-Civil War years from another perspective: cast-iron cityscapes, the architecture of Louis Henri Sullivan, and the new realism of Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, the trompe-l'oeil painters, and the Ashcan School. "Early Modernism" introduces the first American avant garde: the painters Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, Joseph Stella, Charles Demuth, Charles Sheeler, and Georgia O'Keeffe, and the premier architect of his time, Frank Lloyd Wright. "Streamlines and Breadlines"  surveys the boom years, when skyscrapers and Art Deco were all the rage . . . and the bust years that followed, when painters such as Edward Hopper, Stuart Davis, Thomas Hart Benton, Diego Rivera, and Jacob Lawrence showed Americans "the way we live now." "The Empire of Signs"  examines the American hegemony after World War II, when the Abstract Expressionists (Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, et al.) ruled the artistic roost, until they were dethroned by Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, the Pop artists, and Andy Warhol, while individualists such as David Smith and Joseph Cornell marched to their own music. "The Age of Anxiety"  considers recent events: the return of figurative art and the appearance of minimal and conceptual art; the speculative mania of the 1980s, which led to scandalous auction practices and inflated reputations; and the trends and issues of art in the 90s. Lavishly illustrated and packed with biographies, anecdotes, astute and stimulating critical commentary, and sharp social history, American Visions is published in association with a new eight-part PBS televisi


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introductionp. vii
1O My America, My New Founde Landp. 3
2The Republic of Virtuep. 69
3The Wilderness and the Westp. 137
4American Renaissancep. 207
5The Gritty Citiesp. 271
6Early Modernismp. 335
7Streamlines and Breadlinesp. 403
8The Empire of Signsp. 465
9The Age of Anxietyp. 541
Indexp. 621


Review by Choice Review

Companion to an eight-part television series coproduced by BBC-2 and Time-Warner, American Visions attempts to interpret American culture through careful analysis of its arts. Hughes emphasizes several major themes, including the Puritan plain style, the democratic ethos of much 19th-century art, the sanctification of American landscape, and the successive waves of 20th-century modernism. Each of nine chapters probes for evidence of American exceptionalism or for the intersections of artistic and social values, the latter most successfully accomplished in the second chapter, "The Republic of Virtue." The book bears the stamp of the author's aesthetic sensibilities (which value works of art for their technical competence as well as visual and intellectual qualities), his critical acuity, and his accomplished writing. Perhaps surprisingly, this long and appreciative book ends on a elegiac note, dismissing much contemporary art while sounding remarkably like Thomas Cole anticipating the great descent that inevitably would follow the stage of American empire. Hughes's book is not simply an idiosyncratic presentation intended for an audience of educated readers: it is largely based on (though regrettably fails to acknowledge) a generation of important scholarship that has broadened and deepened the field of American art. The absence of a bibliography detracts from its suitability for undergraduate readers. Upper-division undergraduate; graduate; faculty. D. Schuyler; Franklin and Marshall College

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Booklist Review

It has been 16 years since Hughes' book and PBS series The Shock of the New (1981); now he has returned to that winning combination with this equally sensational history of American art. Determined to answer the question, "What can we say about Americans from the things and images they have made?" Hughes has orchestrated a spectacular integration of facts, observations, and insights in this ambitious, lively, and gloriously illustrated volume. Equally conversant in aesthetics, biography, and history, and utterly fascinated by personality, Hughes charts the evolution not only of American art but also of the American character. Careful to embrace the West as well as the East, Hughes defies convention by beginning his colorful chronicle not in New England but in Florida and the Southwest, and not with the British but with the Spanish. New York, of course, is the focus of much of the book, but the Southwest connection remains vital as Hughes discusses white artists' depictions of Plains Indians and, in the modern era, the work of Georgia O'Keeffe. The contrast between the influence of nature and of the city on American art is the fulcrum of Hughes' entire narrative as he offers vivid portraits of Thomas Cole, Winslow Homer, and Arthur Dove as well as Thomas Eakins, George Bellows, and Edward Hopper, who captured both worlds. Hughes' descriptions of paintings are luscious and his analyses of sculptural works are exceptional, but it is his vision of American art as a great chain of inspiration and discovery--forged artist by artist, image by image--that infuses his history with drama and excitement. The PBS series airs this spring. --Donna Seaman

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Hughes, an Australian citizen who has lived in New York since 1970, when he became the art critic at Time magazine, describes his history of the objects and images created in America since the arrival of Europeans as a "love letter to America." Judging from the impassioned, often scathing tone of this unabashedly personal book, theirs has been a stormy affair. Like The Shock of the New, Hughes's 1981 look at modernism, this richly illustrated (330 illustrations, almost all in color) chronicle of American art from Puritan meetinghouses to Barbara Kruger's photo collages grew out of a public television series. But this is no bland, dumbed-down survey intended to flatter its subject or its audience. Hughes writes with an aesthete's disdain for political posturing, a traditionalist's belief in the importance of technical skills (painters are frequently taken to task for their shoddy draftsmanship) and a pragmatist's contempt for mystagogical bunk. Perhaps because he ultimately distrusts grand schemes, his overview isn't determined by a larger argument, such as defining what makes American art American. And while initially he uses art as a window onto American culture as a whole, that sense of perspective ebbs as Hughes approaches our contested times. With his rhetorical temperature rising, he seems almost burned out by the end, and his account of the contemporary scene is disappointingly brief. (Readers of his 1993 jeremiad, The Culture of Complaint, will recognize the tone and themes‘and at least one recycled passage.) This slashingly witty, briskly paced, ferociously opinionated tour of the American visual landscape is a book that even the most un-likeminded readers will love to hate. 100,000 first printing; BOMC and QPB main selections; author tour. (Apr.) FYI: This book grew out of scripts for the eight-part TV series due to air from late May through early June. As Hughes points out in his introduction, each 3000-word script translated into a book chapter of more than 20,000 words. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Art critic for Time magazine and an influential author (e.g., The Culture of Complaint, LJ 3/15/93), Hughes has written an indispensable guide, covering the sweep of art and architecture in America from the earliest Spanish works in New Mexico to contemporary art done in the late 1990s. All media are covered, as are the American incarnations of important movements such as Cubism, Impressionism, Minimalism, and more. Though Hughes has strong opinions on the relative importance of most artists or works in their oeuvre, his critiques are well founded, and he never simply omits an artist. A major flaw is the lack of footnotes and a bibliography, though, writes Hughes, this was purposely done in emulation of Kenneth Clark's Civilization and Jacob Bronowski's The Ascent of Man. Ultimately, this is an excellent introduction to art in America for the novice and will provide a handy reference for more advanced researchers. Written as the companion to a PBS series, this title is sure to be in demand. Highly recommended for all libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/96.]‘Martin R. Kalfatovic, Smithsonian Inst. Libs., Washington, D.C. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
AUTHOR NOTES

Robert Hughes was born in Sydney, Australia on July 28, 1938. He studied art and architecture at the University of Sydney. He pursued art criticism mostly as a sideline while painting, writing poetry and serving as a cartoonist for the weekly intellectual journal The Observer. He left Australia and spent time in Italy before settling in London, where he became a well-known critical voice and wrote for several newspapers. He was chief art critic for Time magazine for over 30 years.

He wrote several books including The Fatal Shore, American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America, Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America, Things I Didn't Know, and Rome. He also hosted an eight-part documentary about the development of modernism from the Impressionists through Warhol entitled The Shock of the New. It was seen by more than 25 million viewers when it ran first on BBC and then on PBS. He also wrote a book by the same name about the series. He died after a long illness on August 6, 2012 at the age of 74.

(Bowker Author Biography)


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