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American Art

American Art Collage

"...the most distinctive, and perhaps the most impressive, characteristic of American scenery is its wilderness."

Thomas Cole

Summary of American Art

The United States' rich artistic history stretches from the earliest indigenous cultures to the more recent globalization of contemporary art. Centuries before the first European colonizers, Native American peoples had crafted ritual and utilitarian objects that reflected the natural environment and their beliefs. After the arrival of Europeans, artists looked to European tendencies in portraiture and landscape painting to craft representations of the new land, but it was not until the middle of the 19th century with the Hudson River School that American artists were considered to have launched a cohesive movement. Through the early 20th century, artists still took cues from European avant-garde groups but increasingly focused on the denizens of American urban centers and the more rural Midwest. After World War II, the artists that comprised the Abstract Expressionist movement found international fame and notoriety, and for the first time, American artistic influence moved abroad, and later Minimalism and Pop Art greatly impacted the art world. Subsequently, with various global art centers and international connections, it is now more difficult to point to a specific American art trend, although one can still chart the influence of American artists in the global art sphere.

Key Ideas

While not originally recognized by the European colonizers, the artistic creations of the indigenous Native American tribes were varied and long held. Abounding in various media and styles, Native American art encompassed the decorative, utilitarian, and ritualistic. Incorporating European styles and materials in the 19th century, Native American artists transformed traditional subjects and processes to tell their stories and continue to do so today.
As the United States' territory grew through the 19th century due to the annexation of land, both painting and photography propelled manifest destiny's ideas of American exceptionalism and romantic notions of national identity. Large landscape paintings depicting the American West captured the sublimity of the natural landscape, and photography in particular was instrumental in some cases in the creation of National Parks.
For many art historians, the designation "American Art" usually ended at World War II. After the international recognition of Abstract Expressionism, the art world became increasingly globalized and diffuse, with styles and trends practiced in all corners of the world, but recent scholarship has focused on the transnational dialogues that are occurring now and tracing those back to create a richer understanding of the art of the United States.
American Art Image

"What constitutes American painting?... things may be in America, but it's what is in the artist that counts. What do we call 'American' outside of painting? Inventiveness, restlessness, speed, change.." said the innovative Arthur Dove. Here is your guide to the innovations in the arts made by Americans over the last 400 years.

Most Important Art

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