University of Pennsylvania Press

The Arts and Intellectual Life in Modern America

Casey Nelson Blake, Series Editor

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

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The Arts and Intellectual Life in Modern America

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Art Work

Women Artists and Democracy in Mid-Nineteenth-Century New York

By April F. Masten

"I was in high spirits all through my unwise teens, considerably puffed up, after my drawings began to sell, with that pride of independence which was a new thing to daughters of that period."—The Reminiscences of Mary Hallock Foote

Mary Hallock made what seems like an audacious move for a nineteenth-century young woman. She became an artist. She was not alone. Forced to become self-supporting by financial panics and civil war, thousands of young women moved to New York City between 1850 and 1880 to pursue careers as professional artists. Many of them trained with masters at the Cooper Union School of Design for Women, where they were imbued with the Unity of Art ideal, an aesthetic ideology that made no distinction between fine and applied arts or male and female abilities. These women became painters, designers, illustrators, engravers, colorists, and art teachers. They were encouraged by some of the era's best-known figures, among them Tribune editor Horace Greeley and mechanic/philanthropist Peter Cooper, who blamed the poverty and dependence of both women and workers on the separation of mental and manual labor in industrial society. The most acclaimed artists among them owed their success to New York's conspicuously egalitarian art institutions and the rise of the illustrated press. Yet within a generation their names, accomplishments, and the aesthetic ideal that guided them virtually disappeared from the history of American art.

Art Work: Women Artists and Democracy in Mid-Nineteenth-Century New York recaptures the unfamiliar cultural landscape in which spirited young women, daring social reformers, and radical artisans succeeded in reuniting art and industry. In this interdisciplinary study, April F. Masten situates the aspirations and experience of these forgotten women artists, and the value of art work itself, at the heart of the capitalist transformation of American society.

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Consuming Pleasures

Intellectuals and Popular Culture in the Postwar World

By Daniel Horowitz

How is it that American intellectuals, who had for 150 years worried about the deleterious effects of affluence, more recently began to emphasize pleasure, playfulness, and symbolic exchange as the essence of a vibrant consumer culture? The New York intellectuals of the 1930s rejected any serious or analytical discussion, let alone appreciation, of popular culture, which they viewed as morally questionable. Beginning in the 1950s, however, new perspectives emerged outside and within the United States that challenged this dominant thinking. Consuming Pleasures reveals how a group of writers shifted attention from condemnation to critical appreciation, critiqued cultural hierarchies and moralistic approaches, and explored the symbolic processes by which individuals and groups communicate.

Historian Daniel Horowitz traces the emergence of these new perspectives through a series of intellectual biographies. With writers and readers from the United States at the center, the story begins in Western Europe in the early 1950s and ends in the early 1970s, when American intellectuals increasingly appreciated the rich inventiveness of popular culture. Drawing on sources both familiar and newly discovered, this transnational intellectual history plays familiar works off each other in fresh ways. Among those whose work is featured are Jürgen Habermas, Roland Barthes, Umberto Eco, Walter Benjamin, C. L. R. James, David Riesman and Marshall McLuhan, Richard Hoggart, members of London's Independent Group, Stuart Hall, Paddy Whannel, Tom Wolfe, Herbert Gans, Susan Sontag, Reyner Banham, and Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown.

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Do Museums Still Need Objects?

By Steven Conn

"We live in a museum age," writes Steven Conn in Do Museums Still Need Objects? And indeed, at the turn of the twenty-first century, more people are visiting museums than ever before. There are now over 17,500 accredited museums in the United States, averaging approximately 865 million visits a year, more than two million visits a day. New museums have proliferated across the cultural landscape even as older ones have undergone transformational additions: from the Museum of Modern Art and the Morgan in New York to the High in Atlanta and the Getty in Los Angeles. If the golden age of museum-building came a century ago, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Field Museum of Natural History, and others were created, then it is fair to say that in the last generation we have witnessed a second golden age.

By closely observing the cultural, intellectual, and political roles that museums play in contemporary society, while also delving deeply into their institutional histories, historian Steven Conn demonstrates that museums are no longer seen simply as houses for collections of objects. Conn ranges across a wide variety of museum types—from art and anthropology to science and commercial museums—asking questions about the relationship between museums and knowledge, about the connection between culture and politics, about the role of museums in representing non-Western societies, and about public institutions and the changing nature of their constituencies. Elegantly written and deeply researched, Do Museums Still Need Objects? is essential reading for historians, museum professionals, and those who love to visit museums.

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Haunted Visions

Spiritualism and American Art

By Charles Colbert

Spiritualism emerged in western New York in 1848 and soon achieved a wide following due to its claim that the living could commune with the dead. In Haunted Visions: Spiritualism and American Art, Charles Colbert focuses on the ways Spiritualism imbued the making and viewing of art with religious meaning and, in doing so, draws fascinating connections between art and faith in the Victorian age.

Examining the work of such well-known American artists as James Abbott McNeill Whistler, William Sydney Mount, and Robert Henri, Colbert demonstrates that Spiritualism played a critical role in the evolution of modern attitudes toward creativity. He argues that Spiritualism made a singular contribution to the sanctification of art that occurred in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The faith maintained that spiritual energies could reside in objects, and thus works of art could be appreciated not only for what they illustrated but also as vessels of the psychic vibrations their creators impressed into them. Such beliefs sanctified both the making and collecting of art in an era when Darwinism and Positivism were increasingly disenchanting the world and the efforts to represent it. In this context, Spiritualism endowed the artist's profession with the prestige of a religious calling; in doing so, it sought not to replace religion with art, but to make art a site where religion happened.

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Late Modernism

Art, Culture, and Politics in Cold War America

By Robert Genter

In the thirty years after World War II, American intellectual and artistic life changed as dramatically as did the rest of society. Gone were the rebellious lions of modernism—Joyce, Picasso, Stravinsky—and nearing exhaustion were those who took up their mantle as abstract expressionism gave way to pop art, and the barren formalism associated with the so-called high modernists wilted before the hothouse cultural brew of the 1960s. According to conventional thinking, it was around this time that postmodernism with its characteristic skepticism and relativism was born.

In Late Modernism, historian Robert Genter remaps the landscape of American modernism in the early decades of the Cold War, tracing the combative debate among artists, writers, and intellectuals over the nature of the aesthetic form in an age of mass politics and mass culture. Dispensing with traditional narratives that present this moment as marking the exhaustion of modernism, Genter argues instead that the 1950s were the apogee of the movement, as American practitioners—abstract expressionists, Beat poets, formalist critics, color-field painters, and critical theorists, among others—debated the relationship between form and content, tradition and innovation, aesthetics and politics. In this compelling work of intellectual and cultural history Genter presents an invigorated tradition of late modernism, centered on the work of Kenneth Burke, Ralph Ellison, C. Wright Mills, David Riesman, Jasper Johns, Norman Brown, and James Baldwin, a tradition that overcame the conservative and reactionary politics of competing modernist practitioners and paved the way for the postmodern turn of the 1960s.

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The Modern Moves West

California Artists and Democratic Culture in the Twentieth Century

By Richard Candida Smith

In 1921 Sam Rodia, an Italian laborer and tile setter, started work on an elaborate assemblage in the backyard of his home in Watts, California. The result was an iconic structure now known as the Watts Towers. Rodia created a work that was original, even though the resources available to support his project were virtually nonexistent. Each of his limitations—whether of materials, real estate, finances, or his own education—passed through his creative imagination to become a positive element in his work. In The Modern Moves West, accomplished cultural historian Richard Cándida Smith contends that the Watts Towers provided a model to succeeding California artists that was no longer defined through a subordinate relationship to the artistic capitals of New York and Paris.

Tracing the development of abstract painting, assemblage art, and efforts to build new arts institutions, Cándida Smith lays bare the tensions between the democratic and professional sides of modern and contemporary art as California developed a distinct regional cultural life. Men and women from groups long alienated—if not forcibly excluded—from the worlds of "high culture" made their way in, staking out their participation with images and objects that responded to particular circumstances as well as dilemmas of contemporary life, in the process changing the public for whom art was made. Beginning with the emergence of modern art in nineteenth-century France and its influence on young Westerners and continuing through to today's burgeoning border art movement along the U.S.-Mexican frontier, The Modern Moves West dramatically illustrates the paths that California artists took toward a more diverse and inclusive culture.

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Things American

Art Museums and Civic Culture in the Progressive Era

By Jeffrey Trask

"Things American gives us, at last, a history of the Metropolitan Museum of Art based on genuine archival materials. Moreover, it reorients our thinking about art museums in the United States, demonstrating that there were important democratic, utilitarian, and civic impulses at work behind them. The book also broadens our thinking about progressivism, reminding us how it shaped art museums and how those museum-related programs it spawned continued beyond World War I."--Steven Conn, author of Do Museums Still Need Objects? American art museums of the Gilded Age were established as civic institutions intended to provide civilizing influences to an urban public, but the parochial worldview of their founders limited their democratic potential. Instead, critics have derided nineteenth-century museums as temples of spiritual uplift far removed from the daily experiences and concerns of common people. But in the early twentieth century, a new generation of cultural leaders revolutionized ideas about art institutions by insisting that their collections and galleries serve the general public. Things American: Art Museums and Civic Culture in the Progressive Era tells the story of the civic reformers and arts professionals who brought museums from the realm of exclusivity into the progressive fold of libraries, schools, and settlement houses. Jeffrey Trask's history focuses on New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, which stood at the center of this movement to preserve artifacts from the American past for social change and Americanization. Metropolitan trustee Robert de Forest and pioneering museum professional Henry Watson Kent influenced a wide network of fellow reformers and cultural institutions. Drawing on the teachings of John Dewey and close study of museum developments in Germany and Great Britain, they expanded audiences, changed access policies, and broadened the scope of what museums collect and display. They believed that tasteful urban and domestic environments contributed to good citizenship and recognized the economic advantages of improving American industrial production through design education. Trask follows the influence of these people and ideas through the 1920s and 1930s as the Met opened its innovative American Wing while simultaneously promoting modern industrial art. Things American is not only the first critical history of the Metropolitan Museum. The book also places museums in the context of the cultural politics of the progressive movement--illustrating the limits of progressive ideas of democratic reform as well as the boldness of vision about cultural capital promoted by museums and other cultural institutions. Jeffrey Trask teaches at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

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This Is Our Music

Free Jazz, the Sixties, and American Culture

By Iain Anderson

This Is Our Music, declared saxophonist Ornette Coleman's 1960 album title. But whose music was it? At various times during the 1950s and 1960s, musicians, critics, fans, politicians, and entrepreneurs claimed jazz as a national art form, an Afrocentric race music, an extension of modernist innovation in other genres, a music of mass consciousness, and the preserve of a cultural elite. This original and provocative book explores who makes decisions about the value of a cultural form and on what basis, taking as its example the impact of 1960s free improvisation on the changing status of jazz.

By examining the production, presentation, and reception of experimental music by Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, John Coltrane, and others, Iain Anderson traces the strange, unexpected, and at times deeply ironic intersections between free jazz, avant-garde artistic movements, Sixties politics, and patronage networks. Anderson emphasizes free improvisation's enormous impact on jazz music's institutional standing, despite ongoing resistance from some of its biggest beneficiaries. He concludes that attempts by African American artists and intellectuals to define a place for themselves in American life, structural changes in the music industry, and the rise of nonprofit sponsorship portended a significant transformation of established cultural standards. At the same time, free improvisation's growing prestige depended in part upon traditional highbrow criteria: increasingly esoteric styles, changing venues and audience behavior, European sanction, withdrawal from the marketplace, and the professionalization of criticism. Thus jazz music's performers and supporters—and potentially those in other arts—have both challenged and accommodated themselves to an ongoing process of cultural stratification.

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