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Victoria Chick is the founder of the Cow Trail Art Studio and received a B.A. in Art from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and awarded an M.F.A. in Painting from Kent State University in Ohio. visit her website at www.ArtistVictoriaChick.com
Art in The Land of The Free
By Victoria Chick, Artist and 19th & 20th Century Print Collector
American Art. What is it? It spans 236 years of styles, fashions, and fads, and changing technology. Are American artists different than artists in other parts of the world?
American Art has been the product of a county that has held high the concepts of independent thought, and of “pushing the limits” in the same way our ancestors crossed the oceans and explored the American Continent. However these concepts are not limited to American artists alone. All artists thrive in an atmosphere of freedom.
American history contains a series of immigrations by people coming to the United
States from what they considered oppressive conditions and who shared a common attitude
of wanting to be Americans because of the promises written in the Constitution and
the Bill of Rights. One of these rights, Freedom of Speech, also meant freedom of
expression, a right not available in some of the countries from which immigrants
came. And, in many places and times, places artists chafed, not because of governments,
but because of Art Guilds or Societies acting as unions that decided who could hang
their paintings or exhibit their sculpture. Let’s take a look at some historic situations
where freedom to produce and exhibit art has been restricted.
The most recent example of extreme control of art was during the Nazi control in
Germany and Austria, when government decided what was “good” or “bad” art.
Many works, especially by Expressionist artists, were destroyed or sold out of the country to finance the Nazi party. Only hyper-
In Russia, during the latter part of the 19th and early 20th centuries, there were
many avant garde artists.
Before the Communist Revolution, travel was unrestricted with the rest of Europe allowing a free exchange of ideas between artists. After the Revolution many Russian artists stayed in other European countries – some even changing citizenship. One group of artists that stayed in Russia was experimenting with forms inspired by new industrial materials and new theories of physics. They had already successfully exhibited as a group in Germany. They saw themselves as revolutionary and their art as the expression of the revolutionary spirit that was trying to change a monarchical system to a socialist system and their economy from farming to industrial. Stalin hated their art however, and, when he came to power, began to root out the artists unless they were willing to produce commercial propaganda posters or do paintings now termed Socialist Realism. It was not realism at all but idealism; happy people with idealized bodies in idealized situations – in fact, propaganda art to show the success of the Soviet way. Government controlled all aspects of life and artists not willing to paint or sculpt according to government dictates were considered dangerous to the state.
Compared to the rest of Europe, England was rather late in its development of painting.
Having no painting tradition of its own by the 17th century, England was obliged to commission great Flemish portrait painters whose style and techniques became the standard by which later English portrait painters were judged. The English also admired Dutch landscape artists of the 17th century. Additionally, English aesthetic preferences continued to be formed by the “Grand Tour” of Europe, taken by well-
King George approved the founding of the English Royal Academy. This was done to raise the status of artists, improve education, and, generally, increase the consciousness of society to good design and good taste. Although well – intentioned and without realizing it, The Royal Academy set up restrictions to creativity. For over a century, English painters did Flemish style portraits as a basis for livelihood and large, historical paintings to exhibit in the Royal Academy galleries. The formula for composing historical paintings from imagination was so ingrained that when John Constable began producing paintings from nature they were considered very radical and not well received by the English. He sold most of his paintings in France.
The French Academy of Painting and Sculpture rose in the 17th century and wielded power for over 350 years although its hold on the art world gradually declined.
Artists began to resist the academy’s power in the late 19th century. The French Academy, like the British Royal Academy, underwent name changes and modifications of policy. But inclusion in their annual Paris Salon exhibitions was important to the success of artists. If their work was not accepted by the French Academy there were few other options for showing it, and certainly none as prestigious. Splinter groups began to form when artists, whose work as rejected for not conforming to accepted painting or sculpture styles, came together to seek alternative exhibition space. The most well – known of alternative exhibitions was actually decreed by Napoleon III in response to the outcry when the Paris Salon had refused thousands of paintings in 1863. Napoleon III made arrangements for the public to decide the worthiness of the art by arranging a Salon de Refuses in a building near the official Paris Salon. Artists exhibiting included Impressionist painters now considered masters of light and color. Art critics and most of the public were shocked by the artists’ new ways of seeing. One critic warned pregnant women to stay away.
Freedom to create, to experiment, to express feelings and ideas is needed by all
artists and has been needed in all generations.
Providentially, this freedom has been experienced in many centuries and geographical areas. A survey of the history of art confirms this. America is one of the places where art has flourished and has the potential to continue flourishing because we have a Constitution and a Bill Of Rights that guarantee our freedom to express ourselves.
2. Kathe Kollwitz woodcut. Kollwitz was a Russian-
3. Arno Breker was a sculptor whose super-
4. Knife Grinder by Malevich. Russian painters who were Modernists or did work not extolling Socialism were considered enemies of the state.
5. This head is by Naum Gabo. Plastics were new industrial materials used by Russian Constructivist sculptors.
6. A two story model of Vladimir Tatlin's, Monument to the Third International. The Monument, which would have been taller than the Eiffel Tower, was never built.
7. Van Dyke's portrait of King Charles I. The main figure just off center, a partial landscape background, and a subservient background figure, animal, or architectural fragment became a formula for English portraiture for over a century.
8. Van Dyke painting of Sampson and Delilah was a historical subject posed from the artist's imagination. English artists considered historical events as tasteful and worthy subjects.
9. English artist John Constable created a stir among fellow artists and patrons when he began painting directly from nature.
10. The annual Paris Salon. Besides rejecting entries, those accepted were rated as to where they were hung. Too high or too low were considered bad locations.
11. Edward Manet's Bar at the Follies -
12. The Thinker, by Rodin, is one of the most recognized works in the world. Rodin was one of the artists whose work was considered too inferior to exhibit.
13. The Impressionist, Claude Monet, was forced to show his work at alternative sites.
The term Impressionist was originally a derogatory name given by a critic based on
a Monet painting, Impression -
14. Painting by Jacques-