Oct These are End Times—can there be any doubt? Yeats was thinking of the slaughter of the Russian Royal Family by the Bolsheviks, but his words reverberate like an ancient premonition. Though he has written on a wide range of topics, his areas of special interest have been 19th and 20th-century poetry in the Romantic tradition; Irish literature and history; the interactions of literature with philosophic, religious, and political thinking; the impact of Nietzsche on certain 20th century writers; and, most recently, Transatlantic studies, exploring the influence of German Idealist philosophy and British Romanticism on American writers. His books include William Butler Yeats:
Regionalism, Modernism, and the Midwest by Debra Bricker Balken This is America -- a town of a few thousand, in a region of wheat and corn and diaries and little groves. Such is our comfortable tradition and sure faith.
Would he not betray himself an alien cynic who should otherwise portray Main Street, or distress the citizens by speculating whether there may not be other faiths?
The center for the pullulation of advanced ideas In the years immediately following the stock market crash ofthe American art scene became particularly embattled, with little critical consensus as to whether one unifying narrative, movement, direction, or trend prevailed.
The crash had been calamitous, destabilizing large sectors of the workforce as well as inducing widespread economic fallout. And while these circumstances obviously had a negative impact on the nation's relatively small community of artists as well, in terms of the modest gains and sales of American art before the crisis, it was the resurgence of a conservative tradition in art that many advocates of modernism perceived to be the most damaging cultural setback.
This resurgence offset the lively aesthetic debates that had surfaced in New York starting arounddebates that had centered on the nature of modernism itself, on its manifold subjects and forms. Unlike that of the overlapping circles of artists and writers who had gravitated around Alfred Stieglitz [illus.
While the relaxation of sexual mores, increased gender equality, and the rapid expansion of advertising and new technologies had enabled a vital, elastic definition of modernism in New York afterthe era that became known as the Great Depression had little empathy for such seeming self-indulgence and emphasis on the artist's subjectivity.
In fact, it would capitulate to known values in art, such as the perfection of the landscape and the figure, tested genres that had been conventionalized since the Renaissance.
Stieglitz in particular, with ongoing provocation from Duchamp, had worked hard to establish the voice and authority of such figures as Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, and Georgia O'Keeffe at his "" Gallery in New York, never doubting their claims that American art had its own singularity, that its abstract, transformative compositional traits were the equal of painting in Paris, the city still touted as modernism's epicenter in the late s.
Whatever its limited understanding of American modernist developments, Paris would always condescend to any offshore iteration of Cubism -- one of its primary early-twentieth-century achievements -- with Duchamp bemoaning a certain dependence upon French prototypes in New York, finding its built environment and towering skyline "more a complete work of art" than any picture he encountered in its salons and exhibition spaces.
Duchamp would never engage in the latter charge; instead he would simply denounce the work of his confreres, stating that "the art of Europe is finished -- dead. However, de Zayas miscalculated by thinking that he could usurp that position and redirect Stieglitz's initiative.
He sought to enlarge the discursive frame for modernist painting by opening his own gallery in He never dared, like Stieglitz, to maintain that the Americans had departed from Parisian models.
In short, he fell back on a vague trajectory predicated on a loose-knit assumption of stylistic continuity -- the makings of a nascent formalist theory that would not be fully systematized in the United States until the late s, largely in response to the political events and revival of retrograde artistic modes that grew out of the Great Depression.
In the immediate aftermath of the crash, the flip side of modernism -- that is, the repressed voices and exponents of tradition, or the artists and interpreters who had never given up on the possibilities of the figure -- resurfaced, with the upshot that the avant-garde became deeply challenged and suffered its own reversals, its emphases on innovation and the elaboration of the artist's inner life no longer capable of remaining a dominant model.
In fact, as soon would become clear, there had always been a number of malcontents, such as Thomas Craven [illus. In publications such as Harpers, American Mercury, The Nation, The Dial, and Scribner's, he would express his doubts as to the efficacy of the modernist movement in the United States; he was never sold on its claims to an indigenous expression.
Craven had always suspected that the work of the Stieglitz circle -- with the salient exceptions of Marin and O'Keeffe -- was largely derivative, that its formal languages were a reworked version of foreign models.
While he would concede in the early s that the "" Gallery had once been "the center for the pullulation of advanced ideas," the acknowledgment was thrown out primarily as a dig at the limitations of a once liberal, forward-thinking culture situated largely in Manhattan, New York being a city that he would depict as being thoroughly depraved and effete, a place where he worried that the "artist had lost his masculinity" through a devotion to stretching the known imagery and inventive parameters of art.
They are flowers of artificial breeding. The marketplace for progressive art had never ever been expansive in New York, with few collectors and museums willing to make a commitment to their homegrown radicals until the late s.
Whatever strides Stieglitz had made for his artists, the commercial results were minimal O'Keeffe being a notable exception. Press coverage and critical enthusiasm for his artists always outweighed sales. In the midst of a colossal economic downturn, then, Craven found a niche for his writing that capitalized on the disdain he had earlier expressed for advanced French painting.
In short, he would become one of the most fervently ideological and conservative critics to emerge during the s, as well as the architect of a new movement known as Regionalism that sought to advance the work of its primary practitioners, figures such as Benton, Grant Wood, and John Steuart Curry.
As Craven's stature grew, he became particularly emboldened in his derision of American modernism. He abandoned all restraint and reason: The critics like the rest of the world are bankrupt Stieglitz initially had no suspicions about Craven's mounting animosity toward his modernist cause.
Indeed, he was grateful for a review that Craven had written of Marin's work in for the short-lived journal Shadowland that not only credited the artist with a modicum of talent but acknowledged Stieglitz's efforts at securing Marin's position within a growing discussion on American art.
The issue of MSS was actually intended as a backhanded accolade, meant to establish Stieglitz as one of the country's foremost photographers [illus. However, as the publication got under way, Stieglitz wrote to Dove that he thought "it's going to be a real amusing affair," a hint that some discord or lack of consensus would prevail.
Clearly, Stieglitz had wanted to integrate Craven into his circle, hoping that he would become like Sherwood Anderson, Paul Rosenfeld, Frank Waldo, and Edmund Wilson, writers whose advocacy of his artists and his own work frequently amounted to rhapsodic veneration. Rosenfeld, in particular, had already declared Stiegltiz to be "the only great artist the United States of America has produced since Walt Whitman, Henry Adams not withstanding," initiating a string of tributes that would actually rankle Craven, fueling the soon-to-be-warring factions of modernism and Regionalism.
Craven's submission to MSS centered on the uses or what he called the "province of photography," in which he asserted that the medium was best deployed by the newspaper and advertising industries, that its deadening "uniformity" stifled any expression of the artist's individuality.
There Craven would concede that Stieglitz was one of the "most accomplished photographers in the world. Craven was now convinced that Stieglitz's work could never approximate the standing of painting, that his craft was engaged in trickery, not deeply pondered or the result of felt experience.
Although Stieglitz was offended, his animus would never become public.Read this essay on Europe in Turmoil: Foreign Influences on Tenth Century Europe. Come browse our large digital warehouse of free sample essays.
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