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Critical Shift

Rereading Jarves, Cook, Stillman, and the Narratives of Nineteenth-Century American Art

By Karen L. Georgi

Publication Year: 2013

War was less a disruptive dividing line between radically different artistic eras than a blip on an aesthetic continuum from the antebellum decades to the Gilded Age. To make the case, Georgi closely examines the influential writings of prominent art critics James Jackson Jarves, Clarence Cook, and William James Stillman and finds that the war had little or no impact on their ideas about what art should be and what role it should play in society. With its bold new challenge to the model of periodization that has shaped the history, and historiography, of nineteenth-century American art in the modern era, Critical Shift is a provocative contribution to the history of American art theory and criticism in the nineteenth century.” —Sarah Lea Burns, Indiana University American Civil-War era art critics James Jackson Jarves, Clarence Cook, and William J. Stillman classified styles and defined art in terms that have become fundamental to our modern periodization of the art of the nineteenth century. In Critical Shift, Karen Georgi re-reads many of their well-known texts, finding certain key discrepancies between their words and our historiography, pointing to unrecognized narrative desires. The book also studies ruptures and revolutionary breaks between “old” and “new” art, as well as the issue of the morality of “true” art. Georgi asserts that these concepts and their sometimes-loaded expression were part of larger rhetorical structures that gainsay the uses to which the key terms have been put in modern historiography. It has been more than fifty years since a book has been devoted to analyzing the careers of these three critics; and never before has their role in the historiography and periodization of American art been analyzed. The conclusions drawn from this close re-reading of well-known texts are significant for more than just our understanding of nineteenth century criticism. They challenge the fundamental nature of “historical context” in American art history.

Published by: Penn State University Press

Front Cover

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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

I wish to acknowledge most gratefully Berklee College of Music for a yearlong leave of absence in which to concentrate on this book before my allotted sabbatical year arrived. In particular, I thank former department chair Charles Combs and former division dean Lawrence McClellan, who very kindly facilitated this leave, ...

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pp. 1-20

Everything in a picture, it must be added, depends on the composition; if it be the subject that makes the interest, it is the composition that makes, or that at any rate expresses, the subject. By that law, accordingly, our boxful of ghosts [the correspondence of W. W. Story] “compose,” hang together, consent to a mutual relation, confess, in fact, to a mutual dependence. ...

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Chapter 1: Rereading James Jackson Jarves’s Art-Idea

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pp. 21-42

It could be argued that James Jackson Jarves entered modern art history in the 1930s, or perhaps it was at that moment when he assumed the dignified and conspicuous place he now occupies in the historiography of American art and art criticism. In 1933, Theodore Sizer, then director of the Yale University Art Gallery, ...

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Chapter 2: Clarence Cook and Jarves: Fact, Feeling, and the Discourse of Truthfulness in Art

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pp. 43-57

The previous chapter concluded that the current historiographic role of writer and collector James Jackson Jarves might be reassessed on the basis of his texts. Looking closely at the patterns of his rhetorical structures and putative methodological principles in his work as a whole, ...

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Chapter 3: A Further Look at Clarence Cook and the “Revolution” in Art

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pp. 58-75

The study of Clarence Cook in the preceding chapter was limited to his early writing. The New-York Daily Tribune reviews discussed there represented his thinking from roughly 1863 to 1865. They expressed his opinions to the broad readership of that paper. His philosophy and his tone were also integral to his other main publication at this time: ...

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Chapter 4: William J. Stillman’s Ruskinian Criticism: Metaphor and Essential Meaning

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pp. 76-91

This chapter studies the critical writing of the book’s last central figure, William J. Stillman. Stillman’s writing was well known in the antebellum American art world, though today his name is less familiar than Jarves’s or Cook’s. In addition to his antebellum work, Stillman authored archeological studies and political reports in the latter half of the century ...

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Chapter 5: Art Discourse after Ruskin: Time and History in Art

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pp. 92-110

William Stillman’s career from 1855 to 1868 shows that we have good reason to perceive that Ruskinian aesthetics and moralism went out of fashion. Stillman’s change of heart from his Crayon essays in 1855–56 to his numerous critiques of Ruskin beginning in 1868 might stand as proof of such. ...


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pp. 111-122


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pp. 123-130


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pp. 131-136

Back Cover

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p. 150-150

E-ISBN-13: 9780271060941
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271060668
Print-ISBN-10: 0271060662

Page Count: 152
Publication Year: 2013