Response: Romancing the Modern: Nemerov, Wyeth, and the Limits of American Art History

By Rosenberg, Eric | The Art Bulletin, March 2006 | Go to article overview

Response: Romancing the Modern: Nemerov, Wyeth, and the Limits of American Art History


Rosenberg, Eric, The Art Bulletin


Though hardly announcing itself as such, Alexander Nemerov's "The Boy in Bed: The Scene of Reading in N. C. Wyeth's Wreck of the 'Covenant'" might stand as a kind of description of the state of the field of the history of art in the United States before 1945. I realize that there is something arcane about subdividing the field in this way, but it is unavoidably implied in Nemerov's choice of subject, and the thrust of his argument is deeply dependent on our believing in a character of American painting that is peculiar to a period markedly segregated from that which produced Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning and Lee Krasner. He is working from the premise that a strain of classic Romanticism survives in American art into the early twentieth century and that we come to understand how to interpret such work by acknowledging the ways in which it mobilizes the devices, tropes, and ideologies of the Romantic.

Nemerov's assertion is hardly new, and I doubt he would claim it as such. The argument has served for many years to keep a hold on the place of the modern in American painting in this moment, and not always misguidedly. In fact, much of the history of American painting prior to 1945 has been dependent on a couching of the nascent modern in the Romantic ideology, whether the latter be called nationalism, or Americanism, or, in Nemerov's case, the construction of the individual identity as sign of the psyche's vicissitudes. In this case, the Romantic serves as a foil to the disconcerting uncertainties of the modern and its forms of representation and aesthetic. Of course, it is true that at times the Romantic is merely that, and the modern less present, despite the pregnancy of a date like 1900 or so. Or, at times, the terms are simply of little use. In the end, art historical clinging to the supposed ideologies of one kind of romanticism or another to explain a moment beyond its historical effulgence has produced accounts of the history of American art that have their virtues but seem very much a part of an earlier and less critical project, an undertaking that substitutes the cover of Romanticism for the complexities of another moment in history.

The problem might also be put like this: How do metaphor and history entwine? Is the production of one indebted to the conditions of another? Or does the former transcend the limitations of the latter? Concomitantly, is imagination a situational cognitive operation or does its entanglement with the unconscious aid in the disregard for the moment better associated with the latter's timelessness or affinity for the eternal?

These are questions begged by Nemerov's article. He takes as his intention to uncover the look of the imagination in American painting in about 1900. Through an examination of the intersection of literature and the visual he means to ask of reading what it requires of its illustration, and of illustration what it holds immanent of reading. Nemerov intends to diminish the estrangement of word and image by exposing metaphor's agency as a unifier of literature and painting. Ultimately, in his own words, Nemerov wants to show "what an image does that it does not know it is doing," an operation "more broadly relevant to the study of American art"-and a task determined to produce a history specific to its moment of reference and production of materials and materiality.

Nemerov's terms, and perhaps more particularly, their phrasing, are of the utmost importance to his analysis, his account of history. It is not simply that metaphor, history, imagination, and art embed signs of specificity that make for the historical, but that our ability to interpret by dint of these terms' linguistic manipulation is history itself, is the definition of a moment, an episode, an action or event in historical time. In turn, such an assumption begs pressuring, teasing out of inconsistencies and contradictions, consistencies and continuities that invite critical questioning and disagreement, argument.

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 ...
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

Response: Romancing the Modern: Nemerov, Wyeth, and the Limits of American Art History
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
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.