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Dance and American Art

A Long Embrace

Sharyn R. Udall

Publication Year: 2012

From ballet to burlesque, from the frontier jig to the jitterbug, Americans have always loved watching dance, whether in grand ballrooms, on Mississippi riverboats, or in the streets. Dance and American Art is an innovative look at the elusive, evocative nature of dance and the American visual artists who captured it through their paintings, sculpture, photography, and prints from the early nineteenth century through the mid-twentieth century. The scores of artists discussed include many icons of American art: Winslow Homer, George Caleb Bingham, Mary Cassatt, James McNeill Whistler, Alexander Calder, Joseph Cornell, Edward Steichen, David Smith, and others.
    As a subject for visual artists, dance has given new meaning to America’s perennial myths, cherished identities, and most powerful dreams. Their portrayals of dance and dancers, from the anonymous to the famous—Anna Pavlova, Isadora Duncan, Loïe Fuller, Josephine Baker, Martha Graham—have testified to the enduring importance of spatial organization, physical pattern, and rhythmic motion in creating aesthetic form.
    Through extensive research, sparkling prose, and beautiful color reproductions, art historian Sharyn R. Udall draws attention to the ways that artists’ portrayals of dance have defined the visual character of the modern world and have embodied culturally specific ideas about order and meaning, about the human body, and about the diverse fusions that comprise American culture.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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List of Illustrations

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pp. viii-xii

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pp. xiii-xiv

This book grew out of a curiosity about the affinity of visual art and dance. During two decades of teaching and looking at American art, I began to notice the surprising frequency and quality of visual representations of dance in painting, sculpture, prints, and photographs. Why, I asked myself, were so many artists drawn to the subject? ...

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pp. xv

Laura Addison, New Mexico Museum of Art; Jan Adlmann; Ana Archuleta and Molly Wagoner, Gerald Peters Gallery, Santa Fe; Susan Barger; Ellen Berkovitch; Mary Brannen; Merrill Brockway; Sarah Burt; Leslie Calmes, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona; Allison Colborne; Amy Conger; Lee Cox, San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum; ...


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pp. xvii-xxx

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pp. 3-7

Why have visual artists looked so often and so insistently at dance? In its largest sense, dance has interested visual artists as part of the moving surface of the world, and it is clear that the dancer’s will to move has been, in many cases, no less urgent than the visual artist’s will to record that movement. The visual artist has often been faced with the paradox of trying to fix—to make permanent—an image of ...

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Part One. Art, Dance, and American Consciousness

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pp. 9-12

Americans, blending heritages from Europe, Africa, and Asia, have invented and reinvented their culture repeatedly. Nowhere is this more visible than in the words printed on every American dollar bill: Novus ordo seclorum, a new order of the ages. Because of our relatively recent formation as a nation, Americans have often seemed less constrained by history, or guided ...

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1. Expressing the Real or Imagined Heritage of a Nation

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pp. 13-52

From the earliest arrivals of Europeans on the shores of what would become the United States, a scattering of visual artists stepped off ships to gaze for the first time on new landscapes and their indigenous inhabitants. Artists’ images of Native American ceremonials were among the first records of what they saw. Often referred to as dances, they were more properly ritual ...

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2. African American Dance and Art: A Confluence of Traditions from Minstrelsy to the Harlem Renaissance

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pp. 53-89

By the 1870s, when the West was still dancing out a complex interplay between myth and artistic representation, another cultural tradition, the American minstrel show, had reached its full flowering. Minstrelsy crystallized in the 1840s as combined performances of dance, songs, and jokes. Despite the paralyzing stereotypes of African Americans endemic in the heyday ...

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Part Two. Dance and the Legacies of Romanticism in American Art

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pp. 91-94

American visual artists have given much attention to the physicality of dance itself, its sensuous appeal, and consequent broad potential for both formal and emotional interpretation. The dancing body fascinates the visual artist because it can never be entirely grasped: just as soon as the artist approaches and attempts to fix an image, that body is somewhere else. ...

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3. Revisiting Arcadia: America’s Longing for the Natural, the Pagan, and the Passionate

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pp. 95-107

One means of liberating the American senses was seen to emanate from the conscious revival of “pagan” ideas, which gained widespread attention late in the nineteenth century. For purposes of this study, paganism involves the simultaneous rejection of external religions or moral restrictions and the cultivation of natural drives.1 ...

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4. Romantic Imports: American Art’s Love Affair with European Dance

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pp. 108-132

The cultural influences, Asian and Spanish, that nudged Martha Graham toward paganism must both be considered within the eclectic American cultural mix shared by dancers and visual artists. In California, Graham would have encountered Spanish influence in centuries-old architectural forms, but also in Spanish dance, which had by then engaged Americans for decades ...

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5. The Ballets Russes and the “Exotic” East: Folklore and Modernist Primitivism Invade American Art

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pp. 133-172

To understand the revolutionary impact of the Ballets Russes, it is necessary to look at its cultural roots in the twin phenomena of modernism and of modernist primitivism, the latter a powerful factor in Russia’s modern search for its own cultural sources in folklore, religion, and history. The appeal of modernist primitivism was both broad and deep, beginning with the ...

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Part Three. “The Complete Actual Present”: Dancers and Visual Artists Explore the Immediate Cultural Moment

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pp. 173-175

Gertrude Stein declared prophetically that “the business of art is to live in the actual present, that is the complete actual present, and to express the complete actual present.”1 Stein, keen observer of modern art and pioneer of the avant-garde in literature, understood the braiding of historical processes with cultural ambitions. Like much of modern visual art, her writing embraced episodic structure, employed movement ...

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6. Loïe Fuller, Art Nouveau, and the Technological Present

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pp. 177-186

American-born Loïe Fuller (1862–1928) became, for a few decades, the world’s most famous dancer. Her relationship to the exotic dances of the “Orient” has been introduced in a previous chapter, but it was Fuller’s parallel promulgation of technology that made her a unique cultural presence early in the twentieth century. In her practical adaptation of science to art, ...

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7. Social Dance: Visual Artists Take the Pulse of Twentieth-Century America

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pp. 187-198

Social dance, a kind of conversation between bodies, has often been celebrated, as well as inevitably altered, when seen through the bending lens of artistic representation. At the turn of the twentieth century, American artists looked to their own cultural lineage, as well as to European precedents, for ways to explore the expressive potential of social dance. The Impressionists, for example, had often enlisted the material ...

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8. American Vernacular: Visual Art and the Dancing Mechanized Body

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pp. 199-220

John Marin (1870–1953), who lived in Europe from 1905 to 1910, returned to New York to find a city alive with change. Elevated trains rumbled, subways shook the ground, and new skyscrapers stretched overhead to unprecedented heights. To Marin, such pulsing energies were proof of life—“pushing, pulling, sideways, downwards, upwards, I can hear the sound of their strife and there is great music being played.” ...

Part Four. Terpsichore Transformed: Dance, the Liberated Body, and America’s Artistic Revolutions

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9. Class, Vice, and the Revolt against Puritanism

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pp. 223-252

As we have seen in previous chapters, dance in all its variety, from classical ballet to the explosive abandon of the Montmartre, gave nineteenth-century American audiences a wide range of dance performances appealing to the most educated or most vernacular tastes. The accolades granted to foreign dancers visiting the United States in the nineteenth century undoubtedly ...

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10. Dance, Visual Art, and America’s Countercultures

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pp. 253-263

The American painter Florine Stettheimer once reported seeing Duncan and the Russian sculptor Paul Troubetzkoy “dancing about together” at a private party in Paris. But Stettheimer, unlike so many of her artist compatriots, was not tempted to render that moment or any other Isadora idyll on canvas. She found Duncan’s movements undisciplined, elusive, and—for her— unpaintable. ...

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pp. 265-270

If there is anything that is made clear by looking at a broad picture of the relationship between American art and dance, it is this: that dance has drawn on the nation’s deepest resources of historical awareness and imaginative reflection. At important moments, it has embodied our culture’s prevailing cultural assumptions or myths, while sometimes filtering them through the distorting lens ...


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pp. 271-302


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pp. 303-319


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pp. 321-348

E-ISBN-13: 9780299288037
E-ISBN-10: 029928803X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299288006
Print-ISBN-10: 0299288005

Page Count: 456
Publication Year: 2012