History of the National Academy of Design, 1825-1953

History of the National Academy of Design, 1825-1953

History of the National Academy of Design, 1825-1953

History of the National Academy of Design, 1825-1953

Excerpt

Art, like other human activities and aspirations, is directly related to the economic, sociologic, and political conditions of a given time and environment. In consequence, the rise and early development of art in America arose from two distinct sources: the cultural and social aspirations of the opulent colonists, who continued the tradition of the mother country; and the more humble desires of the "lower class," who continued its folklore. From this social distinction came two disparate branches in the arts-- one devoted to the agrandisement of the patron, and the other, less pretentious, fulfilling its own needs in "homemade" embellishments and the varied crafts of the artisan.

Socially, the craftsman had been regarded as a member of the working class, and the practicing of the arts, except as an occasional pastime, had been considered beneath the dignity and distinction of the elite. As there were no schools of instruction or native precedent in the arts, the craftsman emulated the works imported from England or copied his designs from engravings.

Portraiture, as the indication of family distinction, continued the tradition of the artisocracy in England. It was natural, therefore, that our early artists should seek instruction in the mother country and follow the style of its renowned practitioners, the artist being aided by his patron while studying abroad. Lacking such favorable opportunity, the uninstructed artisan developed his art by experimentation, and added to his livelihood as carpenter, blacksmith, or other occupation, the small reward of painting effigies, tavern signs, coaches, or over-mantel panels of local scenes.

The end of the Revolutionary War not only resulted in the independence of the former colonies and the formation of a new conception of government; it introduced a new era directly affecting the social and economic order of the republic.

In the arts, the opening of the nineteenth century corresponds with the decline of the English masters in portraiture and, at the same time, the . . .

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