Modern Art in America

By Martha Candler Cheney | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

THIS BOOK is an attempt to separate some of the influences that have been active throughout the present century in the production of an American art based upon American life by artists who are now able to give their work independent aesthetic significance.

It is offered to that part of the public for which this art appears surrounded by confusions. One of its intentions is to emphasize the importance of the individual artist; and insofar as possible, the material is presented in terms of contemporary work, with regard for the points of view of the individuals who have produced it.

The artist is first a craftsman who colors or cuts or models according to the slow-changing traditions of crafts that are hundreds of years old. He can learn to work expertly in his craft, as in any other, given the intelligence and the character to serve his apprenticeship. But he is also a product of his age. Because gifted with exceptional sensibility he is able to make a record of the sentiments and the ideals of his time, and to summarize changes going on in human affairs. He is often able to share a sense of beauty and, at a time of transition such as the present, to suggest aspects of life that are of more permanent worth than the dominant scientific materialism. Not that he voluntarily, or even consciously, assumes the role of seer or dialectician. Notoriously, in past art, the meaning of his work has been clear only subsequently, and after much new history has been made.

This American painting and sculpture took its rise in revolt. All new European art of the past hundred and fifty years has been produced under the urge to return to sources: sources in history, sources in craft traditions, sources in human nature (whether the fresh springs

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