Modern Art USA: Men, Rebellion, Conquest, 1900-1956

By Rudi Blesh | Go to book overview
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15. Go West, Young Art, Go West

The Russians claim to have invented everything under the sun. We firmly believe that we did. It is no propaganda from Washington, it is just our comfortable illusion. An illusion like the average man's idea that because he lives in a scientific age, he is a scientist. His illusion explodes the first time his new car, automatic transmission and all, breaks down on a deserted highway.

The truth in both cases is a little different. Who invented the steam engine? A Scot. The locomotive? An Englishman. Who first ascended in a balloon? Someone in France. Another Frenchman invented photography. Who invented gunpowder? A Chinese while a fellow citizen was busy with the invention of printing. Egypt had already taken care to provide the paper to print on.

All pretty discouraging until we come to the telegraph, the phonograph, and the electric light. Going on, we find ourselves in a three-cornered argument with the French and the English about both the motion picture and the automobile. As to radio, there is no question: Italy gets the credit. Then there is the trick question of who invented the military tank. Being fair, we have to admit that it was an Italian, too-- Leonardo da Vinci.

Although you can get an argument on the airplane, we at least flew the first one. This brings us far enough up to date-- without going into the touchy subject of bombs--to show that it is all pretty much a dead heat. Everyone will agree, however, that we are tops when it comes to developing anybody's inventions. Remember that harmless little atom that Einstein found?

With all that, for five hundred years--or maybe twice as many--an overmastering current has been moving west over

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