Let’s take a look at art around the world. This week we’re going to start a series of blog posts. We’ll pick a country and take a quick tour through some significant moments in its artistic history.
Art, like food, clothing, and religion, has been an integral part of human society since the beginning. If you study the changes over time in the art of any given country, you can learn a lot about that country’s history. Learning even a little bit about historical paintings, painters, and artistic movements is a beautiful, enriching way to feel connected to a country, a people, and humanity as a whole.
Up first: The United States
The most significant trend in early American art was history paintings. These are, of course, paintings with real-life subjects, such as battle scenes and portraits. Most of the history paintings of this period were portraits, produced by artists such as Joseph Badger, Robert Feke, and John Singleton Copley. These portraits might be of ordinary people, but they were often of prominent figures as well. One of Copley’s famous works, for example, is a portrait of Paul Revere. Gilbert Stuart is remembered for his portraits of government officials. Looking back, we can see that these artists were creating history as they were recording it.
As the American people moved west, so did American art. Grandiose landscape paintings of the frontier became common in this period. They are classified as part of the Hudson River School, which also includes equally impressive landscape paintings of the already-settled New England area. Art tells us about history again: Writers during this period, such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, shared the love and appreciation of nature that inspired the works of the Hudson River painters.
Modern dance, modern literature, even modern physics. The twentieth century was the modernist century. And “modern art” is perhaps the most famous label from that time. Modernists are often described as rebellious and angry; and there was certainly a lot of that going around. Modernists, including modern artists, were constantly abandoning old methods and exploring new ones. Georgia O’Keeffe is a good example of this kind of innovation. But the modernists’ greatest contribution (or perhaps the two are inseparable) was in what they created, rather than in what they fled from. After all, the postmodernists needed something to rebel against.