DIRECTIONS IN THE STUDY OF AMERICAN PAINTING

After neglecting American artistic creation for many decades, the Metropolitan Museum decided to make amends by staging a three-day seminar. The honor of delivering the "Keynote Address" was given to me.

Although this has been billed as a keynote address, it cannot really be that. A keynote address tries, as it opens a political convention, to lay down a consensus. We, however, are not seeking unity. The object of this symposium is to foster the processes, sometimes heated, by which people learn from each other. I do not flatter myself that the ideas I shall now present will met with universal or even general agreement. If they spark controversy, that may well contribute to this symposium the more.

Certainly, it is possible to open on a happy note. At this time, when after so many dark years our speciality has at last come into its own, we may be forgiven if we pat ourselves on our own backs. We have, as a group, much to be proud of Yet let us remember what Benjamin West often said to a pupil: "You have done well. You have done very well. Now go away and do better."

Much as I like to think of myself as a dashing young man, I cannot hide the fact that my first book on American painting was published thirty-two years ago. If we assign three generations to a century, America's Old Masters appeared a generation ago. What a terrifying thought! I feel like Longfellow Skeleton in Armor: "Speak, speak, thou fearful guest!"

The sponsors of this exibition feel that its most original impact will not be in the field of painting, which is already coming into its own. They hope that the sections on decorative arts will create a wave of interest in an aspect of nineteenth-century American creativity that has

____________________
An earlier version of this essay appeared in R. J. Clark, The Shaping of Art and Architecture in Nineteenth-Century America ( New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1972), pp. 11-26.

-71-

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