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TheCanadian Review of American Studies, Volume 11,No. 3, Winter 1980 AmericanArt History JoshuaC. Taylor. The Fine Arts in America. Chicago: TheUniversityof Chicago Press, 1979.264 + xvi pp. AbrahamA. Davidson. The Eccentrics and other American r11 1011a1:vPainters. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1978.202 + xxii pp. BenMerchant Vorpahl. Frederick Remington and the West. Au~tm & London: University of Texas Press, 1978.294 + xviiipp. Ann Davis These three books provide an interesting overview of the state of current American art history. They demonstrate new methodologies as well as new areas of study and attest to the vivacity of the discipline. In methodology, narrow stylistic analysis, hardly old within the development of this young study, is being severly challenged by structuralist and phenomonological theories. As these books suggest, strict formal analysis seems to be on the wane. In scope these volumes range from survey, through thematic study, to monograph. They are worthy of attention both for what they include and for what they omit. The Fine Arts in America covers a breadth that befits its author's perspective and duties: Joshua C. Taylor is the Director of the National Collection of Fine Arts of the Smithsonian Institute. His previous books include America as Art and Learning to Look. Taylor covers the fine arts from 1670to 1978, emphasizing painting and sculpture, but also commenting on printmaking, architecture and the decorative arts. Specifically excluding the Spanish and French cultures before the nineteenth century and all native art, he deals with the culture which spread from the eastern colonies. Right from the first chapter Taylor makes it clear that he has a conĀ· siderable grasp of the broad cultural development. Rejecting the theory of a "new" cultural entity in America, Taylor contends that the colonists 366 Ann Davis arrived with their cultural baggage of possessions and memories and that colonial America therefore possessed a transplanted culture. This required adaptation to local conditions but not a whole new initiative. Pursuing this theory, Taylor suggests that the small support the arts received in the colonies should not be blamed on Puritanism but must be seen in the English social context-the arts did not figure prominently in the life of the same class of Englishmen who stayed at home. In general, according to Taylor, the culture of the colonies was not that of frontiersmen seeking the new, but that of God-fearing men looking for a place to preserve the old. Taylor uses this broad social approach to justify the early dominance of portraiture and to analyze the development of styles from the linear limner approach to the interest in modeling of form. The career of J. S. Copley ably demonstrates this eighteenth-century shift in perception. The next large section, 1776 to 1860, traces the new motivation of both artist and patron to develop an American consciousness and outlines the results. The symbolic depictions of the new nation, artistic institutions, and the recording of landscape, flora and fauna, and natives all played parts. In approaching modern times, Taylor resists the temptation to pack his text with superficial biographies of the increasingly numerous artists. Rather he continues his judicious mix of selective analysis within a social, economic and intellectual context. Unlike many surveys, this one continues right to the very immediate past, 1978. Taylor aptly integrates political and social events into his artistic chronology , dividing his chapters by a variety of means, not just by stylistic trends. In this way he avoids, as he says, "the abstract history of art by styles... a method that rarely penetrates the realm of content and that makes art seem self-contained and self-perpetuating, with only tangential human contact " (p. ix). In fact the entire book is predicated on the importance of the individual- be that an artist, a collector or a critic- and the dominance of local sources-a negation of identifiable national characteristics. The third variable in this history, of course, is time. These three determinants are skillfully knit together, so that the individuality of the creator is acknowledged, the particularity of location is understood, and the effect of time is noted. In this way Taylor comments on the specific achievements of the Hudson River School, but...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 365-369
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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