American Painting of the Nineteenth Century: Realism, Idealism, and the American Experience

By Barbara Novak | Go to book overview

Preface to the Second Edition

In the decade since the publication of the first edition, scholarship in the field of American art has matured, and methodology has become more sophisticated. Further study of the ideas forming the matrix for the art has yielded useful insights, in the process establishing firmer liaisons with the field of American Studies.

American artists once lost to us are surfacing; their works are being catalogued and their ideas made available. Some of the missing monographs have been written, or are in progress. Graduate student papers, dissertations and articles have been highly productive. Archival research has proved especially helpful: letters, journals and notebooks, as well as contemporary periodicals, continue to give us a fuller picture of the society and the attitudes that produced American art. Despite all this diligent activity, there seems to be more to do than ever. The "archaeologists" of the American nineteenth century are discovering that the more they dig, the more they find.

Several of the ideas in this volume have been fortified by further research. The relationship of photography to painting in America has received more adequate notice. The connections between primitivism, classic planarism, and concept have become a useful key to the understanding of American pictorial space. Certain national traits, once recognized, have been identified in new contexts.

Some of the ideas offered in the first edition have, however, been misread. Perhaps it is in the nature of interpretation that meanings may sometimes be compromised in ways that quite contradict the original text. Most of these misunderstandings center around luminism and its American traits.

As stressed in the preface to the first edition, my reading of the factors that comprise American luminism does not claim uniqueness for that complex mode, in the sense that certain of its properties are absent from other traditions.

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