Angels of Reality: Emersonian Unfoldings in Wright, Stevens, and Ives

Angels of Reality: Emersonian Unfoldings in Wright, Stevens, and Ives

Angels of Reality: Emersonian Unfoldings in Wright, Stevens, and Ives

Angels of Reality: Emersonian Unfoldings in Wright, Stevens, and Ives


In this exciting new book, David Michael Hertz demonstrates how three major artists - Frank Lloyd Wright, Wallace Stevens, and Charles Ives - were influenced by Emerson's nineteenth-century transcendentalism. By focusing on the relative statements of the artists themselves, Hertz shows that Emerson's belief that all things are in flux, including matter and spirit, had direct bearing on the form and content of their works. Hertz writes the book as a meditation on the condition of the artist in America, including biographical and historical information as well as his own interpretations of the three artists' works. In Part 1 he examines the emerging creative mind of the architect, poet, and composer, citing Emerson as the central figure who, through his essays, influenced each of them. By tracing their development as powerful and original thinkers, Hertz examines the processes that enabled them to become unique. In Part 2 he connects Emerson, Wright, Stevens, and Ives through a shared ideology, evident both in their critical statements and in their creative work. He shows how all three artists had specific documented knowledge of Emerson's major works. Their pragmatism, their preoccupation with the primacy of the senses, their predilection for analogy and loose metaphor, their dedication to individuality and self-reliance, and their eclecticism and conception of originality were shared traits and beliefs gleaned from Emerson. Hertz is the first writer to bring these four major American figures together in a single work. He makes it clear that Emersonianism reaches far into twentieth-century American culture and into the realms of art and music as well as literature. This book willinterest not only Emerson, Wright, Stevens, and Ives scholars but other individuals involved in the arts, the humanities, and interdisciplinary studies as well.


It is not in the premise that reality

Is a solid. It may be a shade that traverses

A dust, a force that traverses a shade.

-- Wallace Stevens, An Ordinary Evening in New Haven

The same urge impelling me build has impelled me to write.

-- Frank Lloyd Wright, The Living City

W hen Ralph Waldo Emerson published Nature in the fall of 1836, America heard its first powerful critical voice calling for the visionary conception of an indigenous, organic art. and with the appearance of Leaves of Grass in 1855, Walt Whitman articulated many of Emerson's ideas in a poetry more persuasive and more clearly original than Emerson's own verse. Then intuiting an innate pact, Louis Sullivan observed Emerson's religion of nature in Whitman's powerful verse. Sullivan wrote to Whitman from Chicago in 1887, praising the author of Leaves of Grass as "a man who can resolve himself into subtle unison with Nature and Humanity...who can blend the soul harmoniously with materials, who sees good in all and overflows in sympathy toward all things." Sullivan's architecture, critical writings, and Whitmanesque poetry broadened the reach of the Emersonian message. But the far-reaching reverberations of Emersonian ideas in the arts were not heard until the turn of the twentieth century.

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), Wallace Stevens (1879-1955), and Charles Ives (1874-1954), three of the most original Americans in the arts of the early twentieth century, are also very clearly linked to nineteenth-century American transcendentalism. Following Emerson's vision, Wright, Stevens, and Ives showed that American art need not in any way be basely derivative of earlier European creations, yet they managed to absorb a wide variety of foreign ideas. in the purest Emersonian sense, they appropriated knowledge from the works of others, but only borrowed what would preserve the integrity of their native voices. Theirs were strong voices, independent of the older culture, yet handsomely bearing the familial traits of their precursors.

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