Levelheaded Mysticism: Arthur Dove at the Whitney

By Naves, Mario | New Criterion, March 1998 | Go to article overview

Levelheaded Mysticism: Arthur Dove at the Whitney


Naves, Mario, New Criterion


The painter Arthur Dove (1880-1946) is an artist whose work has not been much on view in New York in recent years. The lone watercolor or painting included in survey exhibitions has been intriguing, but also puzzling: seen piecemeal, Dove's work can seem remote. His painting The Inn (1942) was on view last year in a show at the Met honoring the collectors Edith and Milton Lowenthal. Yet viewed in the context of American modernism, the picture may as well have come from Mars. This is due not only to the singularity--one might say the solitariness--of Dove's art, but also to the fact that it isn't well known to a lot of us. To be sure, the name of Arthur Dove is likely to prompt vaguely recalled historical tidbits: that he was part of Stieglitz's circle; that he created collages which were, at the time, aesthetically radical; and that he may have been the first artist to paint a nonobjective painting. Dove has, in other words, entered the canon of art history. But when has that ever guaranteed a true understanding of an artist's accomplishment?

It is unexpected, then, that there are no fewer than four separate museum and gallery, exhibitions devoted to Dove currently on view in Manhattan. (One of them pairs Dove's work with that of his wife, the painter Helen Tort.) Multiple and simultaneous shows are usually devoted to art-world hotshots, "major" artists whose work rarely deserves (or sustains) such attention. In contrast, the paintings of Arthur Dove seem the least likely candidates for such treatment. Their quietude is out of sync with the free-for-all of late twentieth-century culture. If the current focus can't be called "Dovemania" (these arc, after all, paintings impervious to hype), the shows are nonetheless a welcome surprise. Indeed, they are more than that. The most important of these exhibitions, "Arthur Dove: A Retrospective" at the Whitney Museum of American Art, is the first comprehensive overview of Dove's oeuvre in twenty-two years.(1) It's about time, for the show is a revelation.

"Arthur Dove" traces the artist's career from the Fauvist-inspired Still Life Against Flowered Wall Paper (1909) to the monumental Flat Surfaces (1946), painted in the year of the artist's death. In between are almost forty years of unwavering commitment to a peculiar--and peculiarly American-vision. To understand Dove's work, one must look to his relationship with the European avant-garde and, more importantly, with the natural world. While it is possible to divine in his work traces of Futurism, Expressionism, Orphism, Klee, and Kandinsky, his art is beholden to none of them. Dove inherited modernist impulses less by direct influence, one feels, than by a process not dissimilar to osmosis. Dove was, to be certain, a cultured artist, but also an idiosyncratic one. Like many American artists, Dove made the ritual journey to France, but he spent most of his time there painting outside of Paris. Such an eccentric move suits a modern artist whose work can resemble the relics of some bygone age: Dove's evocations of natural forces--particularly his omnipotent, pulsating suns--are primordial and unhewn. He can, at times, seem like an inspired primitive. Dove puts me in mind of Clyfford Still, another homespun oddball whose paintings elude pigeonholing.

If there is one artist whose work Dove's can be likened to it is his friend Georgia O'Keeffe. Like O'Keeffe, he was what could be termed a Yankee mystic: a painter prone to big metaphors that were nonetheless modestly scaled and levelheaded. For Dove, nature was innately concrete. Clouds acquire the consistency of matzoh balls; sunlight has an almost sculptural presence. His depictions of nature can be ominous or inviting, but they are always deeply felt. Stating once that he would paint "the wind and a landscape chastised by the cyclone!" Dove had an uncanny empathy with natural phenomena, as well as a predilection for the mythic. If he did not find God in the rustle of leaves or in the mass of a geological formation, he did intuit a preternatural vitality informing them. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Levelheaded Mysticism: Arthur Dove at the Whitney
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.