American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America

Front Cover
Harvill Press, 1997 - Art - 635 pages
The intense relationship between the American people and their surroundings has been the source of a rich artistic tradition. American Visions is a consistently revealing demonstration of the many ways in which artists have expressed this pervasive connection. In nine eloquent chapters, which span the whole range of events, movements, and personalities of more than three centuries, Robert Hughes shows us the myriad associations between the unique society that is America and the art it has produced: O My America, My New Founde Land explores the churches, religious art, and artifacts of the Spanish invaders of the Southwest and the Puritans of New England; the austere esthetic of the Amish, the Quakers, and the Shakers; and the Anglophile culture of Virginia. The Republic of Virtue sets forth the ideals of neo-classicism as interpreted in the paintings of Benjamin West, John Singleton Copley, and the Peale family, and in the public architecture of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Latrobe, and Charles Bulfinch. The Wilderness and the West discusses the work of landscape painters such as Thomas Cole, Frederick Church, and the luminists, who viewed the natural world as the fingerprint of God's creation, and of those who recorded America's westward expansion, George Caleb Bingham, Albert Bierstadt, and Frederic Remington, and the accompanying shift in the perception of the Indian, from noble savage to outright demon. American Renaissance describes the opulent era that followed the Civil War, a cultural flowering expressed in the sculpture of Augustus Saint-Gaudens; the paintings of John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, and Childe Hassam; the Newport cottages of the super-rich; and the beaux-arts buildings of Stanford White and his partners. The Gritty Cities looks at the post-Civil War years from another perspective: cast-iron cityscapes, the architecture of Louis Henri Sullivan, and the new realism of Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, the trompe-l'oeil painters, and the Ashcan School. Early modernism introduces the first American avant-garde: the painters Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, Joseph Stella, Charles Demuth, Charles Sheeler, and Georgia O'Keeffe, and the premier architect of his time, Frank Lloyd Wright. Streamlines and Breadlines surveys the boom years, when skyscrapers and art deco were all the rage, and the bust years that followed, when painters such as Edward Hopper, Stuart Davis, Thomas Hart Benton, Diego Rivera, and Jacob Lawrence showed Americans the way we live now. The Empire of Signs examines the American hegemony after World War II, when the abstract expressionists, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, et al., ruled the artistic roost, until they were dethroned by Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, the pop artists, and Andy Warhol, while individualists such as David Smith and Joseph Cornell marched to their own music. The Age of Anxiety considers recent events: the return of figurative art and the appearance of minimal and conceptual art; the speculative mania of the 1980s, which led to scandalous auction practices and inflated reputations; and the trends and issues of art in the 1990s. Writing with all the brilliance, authority, and pungent wit that have distinguished his art criticism for Time magazine and his greatly acclaimed study of modern art, The Shock of the New, Robert Hughes now addresses his largest subject: the history of art in America. Lavishly illustrated and packed with biographies, anecdotes, astute and stimulating critical commentary, and sharp social history, American Visions is published in association with a new eight-part PBS television series. Robert Hughes has called it "a love letter to America." This superb volume, which encompasses and enlarges upon the series, is an incomparably entertaining and insightful contemplation of its splendid subject.

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - questbird - LibraryThing

A well-written overview of the history of American art, from Puritan origins through civil war, growing prosperity, modernism, depression, war, and rampant capitalism at the end of the twentieth ... Read full review

AMERICAN VISIONS: The Epic History of Art in America

User Review  - Kirkus

The ever voluble Hughes tackles 350 years of history with irony and gusto in this eminently readable handbook on American art. We live in a country shaped by colonization and immigration. This means ... Read full review

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About the author (1997)

Robert Hughes was born in Sydney, Australia on July 28, 1938. He studied art and architecture at the University of Sydney. He pursued art criticism mostly as a sideline while painting, writing poetry and serving as a cartoonist for the weekly intellectual journal The Observer. He left Australia and spent time in Italy before settling in London, where he became a well-known critical voice and wrote for several newspapers. He was chief art critic for Time magazine for over 30 years. He wrote several books including The Fatal Shore, American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America, Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America, Things I Didn't Know, and Rome. He also hosted an eight-part documentary about the development of modernism from the Impressionists through Warhol entitled The Shock of the New. It was seen by more than 25 million viewers when it ran first on BBC and then on PBS. He also wrote a book by the same name about the series. He died after a long illness on August 6, 2012 at the age of 74.

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