American Art of Our Century

By Lloyd Goodrich; John I. H. Baur | Go to book overview

9 representational painting

In painting we have so far considered mostly the in novating tendencies, from the Eight's revolution in subject matter to the modernist's revolution in the language of art, which reached its furthest development in the abstractionists' rejection of representation. Nevertheless, representational painting continued--was indeed much more widely practiced than advanced styles in America until the late 1930's --and is still a major tendency today. But like all vital art in our century, it was affected by the new concepts. Academicians still clung to the nineteenth- century concept of naturalistic representation. But representational painting had another aspect, nonacademic and creative. The creative representational painters shared in the formal discoveries of the time: they recognized that formal values were basic, that representation without them was valueless. But they believed that there need be no conflict between representation and formal elements. They were aware that the great art of the past had never been mere naturalism; that even in its most realistic tradition, that of Europe since the early Renaissance, realism had been united with design--three-dimensional design in line and color, in round form and deep space, physical elements which speak as directly to the senses, and through the senses to the mind, as do sounds in music. Such design, they believed, could be achieved within a representational style, as it had been through the centuries. They were basically traditionalist, but their tradition was not that of the academy; it was the tradition transmitted directly by great art.

One of the leading characteristics of American art since 1913 has been its diversity. In the swift successive movements of the period, some artists had been in the forefront, while others remained comparatively little influenced. Hence individuals and schools of many different viewpoints continued to exist simultaneously, all with their measure of validity. Some of the strongest figures of the time kept on working in styles uninfluenced by modernism, yet profiting from the discoveries of the century.

The painters included in this chapter were widely varied, but they had certain things in common. Although some were closer to modernism than others, they all painted in generally realistic styles, without the distortions of expressionism. Most (though not all) centered their art on the human figure. They were interested in the figure for itself, for its character, sensuous appeal, or qualities of form, rather than merely as part of an environment. In general, they were not concerned with storytelling, ideology, or subjective fantasy; their purpose was primarily aesthetic.The sensuous element was important to them, in varying ways and degrees. Compared to the precisionists, they were more painterly; while form was

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American Art of Our Century
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 5
  • Part One - 1900-1939 7
  • 1 - American Art in 1900 9
  • 2 - The Whitney Museum of American Art 12
  • 3 - The Eight and Other City Realists 20
  • 4 - Primitives 29
  • 5 - Pioneers of Modernism: Post-Impressionism and Expressionism 32
  • 6 - Pioneers of Modernism: Abstraction 42
  • 7 - Precisionists 50
  • 8 - Sculpture, 1910-1939 58
  • 9 - Representational Painting 67
  • 10 - The American Scene 84
  • 11 - The Social School 98
  • 12 - Fantasy 104
  • 13 - The Trend toward Abstraction 109
  • Part Two - 1940-1960 119
  • 14 - Romantic Realism 121
  • 15 - Traditional Sculpture 133
  • 16 - Precise Realism 138
  • 17 - Fantasy and Surrealism 148
  • 18 - Social Comment 157
  • 19 - Expressionism: Painting 169
  • 20 - Expressionism: Sculpture 190
  • 21 - Semi-Abstraction 197
  • 22 - Free-Form Abstraction: Painting 208
  • 23 - Free-Form Abstraction: Sculpture 230
  • 24 - Formal Abstraction: Painting 239
  • 25 - Formal Abstraction: Sculpture 252
  • Whitney Museum of American Art 265
  • Whitney Museum of American Art 266
  • Catalogue of the Collection 267
  • Index by Mediums 298
  • Exhibitions, 1914-1960 301
  • Books Published by the Whitney Museum of American Art 306
  • Friends of the Whitney Museum of American Art, 1956-1960 307
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