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Notebook

Notebook, 1993-

Return to - Notes for a Perspective on Art Education

Perspective - The 1880's - 1900-1920, "Composition" - 1900-1920, 'School Arts' - 1900-1920, Art Education Associations - 1900-1920, Art Education in the Museum of Art - 1900-1920, The Modernists - 1914-1920, War and Post War - 1920's, Progressive Education - 1920's-1930's, Professional Stabilization - 1930's, Museum Education during the Depression - 1930's, National Government in Art - 1940's, A Psychology and Philosophy for Art Education

Notes from: Logan, Frederick M . Growth of Art in American Schools, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1955.

Growth of Art
in American Schools

The Years 1900-1920, The Modernists in Art Reach America

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"Literally hundreds of explanations and dissertations try to account for the change in pictorial art in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Much scholarly work explores the subject on trivial and profound levels, and still more publications and public discussion are aimed at the education of the general public. Two fairly evident assumptions may be based on a generous sampling of this material. One is that pictorial art in painting, in photography, in motion picture and animated cartoon, even in television, will continue to reflect the mass of experimentation that the "new vision" of the twentieth century has produced. That vision will persist because it is a combined product of diverse elements which cannot and will not be cancelled out, forgotten, or ignored. These include the science of optics and of color, the broader view of the world and of world arts furnished by archaeology and anthropology, the independence of the artist from the narrow demands of a court or church patron, and, in this century particularly, the use and influence of the mechanics of camera, projector, and electronics in picture production and dissemination."

"It was because they were aware of the extent and [p. 131] power of the schools--not always exercised on high levels--that they were so ambitious to make an impression on the minds of young artists, teachers, and designers . . . . "



This grammar of beauty, the ritualistic ideal human forms called for by Hegelian art concepts, was being attacked by other persons and groups, and far more consciously than by the students of child development.

The people who started educating the United States to see the modern art of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, and to accept other values in art than those of ideal beauty, were artists turned educators, or they might be accurately described as art missionaries. There was an atmosphere of dedication in the [p. 125] efforts they made to educate the American public in the arts. Since 1914 we have been busy assimilating the significance of art forms, contemporary, historical, and primitive, which were unknown or largely ignored before that time, and which certain artist groups succeeded in forcing upon the attention of this country. [p. 125-126]

Delacroix, Corot, Daumier, and Courbet--the first as early as 1825--had exercised great influence on their younger colleagues, painting pictures unlike anything American students encountered in West's studio. The impressionists, from the early days of the 1860's, and the post-impressionists of the 1880's, based part of their practices and their art philosophy on the growth of all French nineteenth-century art. These men and the movements in which they participated were before 1900 but little known even among the artists of this country. As for public-school art education, there was no glimmer of awareness of these great changes in the arts. [p. 126]

In April of 1912, at Stieglitz' gallery, paintings done by children were exhibited. [Sadakichi Harmann, "The Exhibition of Children's Drawings," Camera Work,No. 39, Spring, 1912, p. 45.] [p. 132]

Eventually some individuals and small groups sensed the importance of this gap in our national background in the arts. Every recent history of American art or survey of contemporary art tells the story of the work and influence of Alfred Stieglitz, of the one and only exhibition of the artists who called themselves the "Eight" and, of course, of the huge 1913 Armory Show of paintings and sculpture first shown in New York and then in Chicago and Boston.

All three of these jarring impacts on the serenity of the public eye were initiated by men whose knowledge and understanding of art put them well beyond the conventional art attitudes common to other art professionals.

It followed that they were denounced by a majority of American People interested in the arts; and also that extremists uninterested in a free flow of ideas, and fundamentally without a feeling for democratic processes, loudly urged that modern art be banned completely from public exhibit halls. The artists responsible for introducing the new movements, starting from a high pitch of enthusiasm for the variety of new expression, often fell victim to seizures of gloom and great distrust of the public when they discovered how slowly any intelligent responses were being made. [p. 126]

However, in a world relatively free and flexible, interchange of ideas in every field, art included, had to come. Alfred Stieglitz, [p. 126] gifted with more than ordinary discernment, with a great zeal for public education, and with the advantage of a reliable independent income, was a unique figure in aiding this intercontinental exchange in the arts. [p. 126-27]

He had been one of the young Americans to study in Germany during the eighties and nineties, and during that time began his own great creative work in photography. In 1897 he became active in the Society of American Photographers and began his editorship of the magazine Camera Notes [in 1903 renamed Camera Work]. Stieglitz kept it going as a personal venture until 1917. In 1905 he started his eventful career as exhibitor of advanced experimental work in photography, and the most radical of contemporary European and American art in painting, drawings, and sculpture.

In the course of years, the Little Gallery at 291 showed work of Picasso, Van Gogh, Picabia, Rodin [the drawings], Matisse, Toulouse-Lautrec, Cézanne, and Renoir. Younger American painters whose work was welcome at the 291 gallery were John Marin, Marsden Hartley, Arthur G. Dove, Abram Walkowitz, Alfred Maurer, and Max Weber. In Stieglitz' magazine, articles appeared on the work of each of these artists. The articles that appeared on photography were uncompromising in a devotion to experiment, to seeking the true development of the medium, to exposing the phony, the imitation painting or etching achieved falsely through altering the print from the film.

The gallery attracted unbelievably large numbers of people and is unrivaled in the currents it set in motion from so tiny a spot and with so slight an endowment . . . . Other gallery owners and directors then and now have wished to show "the latest thing" but the art Stieglitz sponsored broke all too clearly from the art forms customarily admired at the time. His exhibitions were almost always from the work of artists who insisted on experiment, both in the media they used and in the organization of their pictorial subject matter . . . . [p. 127]

At its simplest, the visual aspect of modern art claimed for the painters nothing more than the right to use any visualization they found forceful. This might be derived from the magnified distortions of African sculpture, from the unconscious symbolism and vagary observed in children's work, from the pictorial organization practiced in the Orient, or by making use of the arbitrary and brilliant color usage of the Persian ceramist. [p. 128]

Literally hundreds of explanations and dissertations try to account for the change in pictorial art in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Much scholarly work explores the subject on trivial and profound levels, and still more publications and public discussion are aimed at the education of the general public. Two fairly evident assumptions may be based on a generous sampling of this material. One is that pictorial art in painting, in photography, in motion picture and animated cartoon, even in television, will continue to reflect the mass of experimentation that the "new vision" of the twentieth century has produced. That vision will persist because it is a combined product of diverse elements which cannot and will not be cancelled out, forgotten, or ignored. These include the science of optics and of color, the broader view of the world and of world arts furnished by archaeology and anthropology, the independence of the artist from the narrow demands of a court or church patron, and, in this century particularly, the use and influence of the mechanics of camera, projector, and electronics in picture production and dissemination. [p. 128]

The second assumption, which few are likely to question, is that the general public will continue to be confused and baffled and at the same time conditioned by manifestations of what we call, too vaguely, modern art. The perplexing associations and dissociations of much modern painting will continue to infuriate millions of people when they see reproductions in the mass press, particularly so when the publication using such pictures does so with editorial comment likely to stir up resentment for the unfamiliar. In the same publication a large proportion of the biggest advertising pages will [p. 128] make use of pictorial devices for catching attention which were unknown in 1900. [0p. 128-129]

The Exhibit of the "Eight" was held in 1908 and was deeply disturbing to the art world. The novelty it offered has long since been accepted because the painters changed only the content of their pictures, not the form of picture making. To raise a ruckus among art lovers, all these painters did was to submit, as examples of serious art, pictures of men and boys caring for pigeons on the rooftops of the slums, or shopgirls going in to a dance hall, or the portrait of an old bum with his hat pulled down over his eyes. In 1908, subjects like these were distasteful as "fine" art because the activities and people portrayed were common, not "elevating," even though the manner of painting employed by the artists was not difficult to comprehend. [p. 129]

The story of the Armory Show is a perennial favorite among artists and writers, probably because it is one of the few times that a carefully planned event lived up to its advance billing and to the hopes of its sponsors. This 1913 art event introduced to the New York City art world post-impressionism, Fauvism, futurism, and cubism. Works in these categories were the spectacular items which caught the eyes of newsmen, caricaturists, guardians of the public morals, and all the artists, young and old, the most conservative one, and those most eager to welcome change. More quietly, the exhibit showed much work, European and American, of the nineteenth century which unfortunately had been missing in the public or private American galleries. [p. 129]

In 1893 the art exhibitions at the Chicago World's Fair had been devoted almost exclusively to salon painters, both French and English, covering yards of canvas with full-length peasant girls blushing vividly at handsome noblemen mounted on shiny horses. The great men of the beginning of the century, David and Delacroix, all the [p. 129] impressionist, the young leaders of the decade before 1893, Seurat, Lautrec, and Van Gogh--all were missing at Chicago; the latter were, of course, not much better known in Paris itself at the time.

But in the Armory Show all this panorama of growth was on the walls--and more, too, in the first revival of interest in the three American painters, Eakins, Homer, and Ryder. Their paintings, in the aurora borealis setting of the exhibit, displayed more quiet strength and durability than the work of the better-known contemporaries.

Reams of paper were used up and quantities of ink spilled in criticism and comment on the show. [p. 129-130]

As had been the case in the arts of canvas and sculptured stone and metal, so it was in architecture. Louis Sullivan in 1910 was a somewhat forgotten, sharp-tongued eccentric, tremendously able in architecture but unwilling to adapt himself to the "direction and needs of American business." Wright was Sullivan's young disciple, architect of a hundred unusual and distinguished homes of rather bizarre exterior appearance; he was seldom approached to work on major industrial or office structures for fear he might not be amenable to compromise.

Both men, however, were leaders in the thinking which was to create the architecture of the future. Frank Lloyd Wright had had examples of his work widely circulated in national magazines . . . . Wright's ideas, based on Sullivan's and developed in the course of fifteen years of independent work, were reaching a larger public every year [p. 130] . . . . He wanted desperately to teach young architects to see the sham of eclectic architecture, of the style shopping which constituted most of the architectural work on large American business and public buildings. Sullivan was intensely the idealist, the thorough artist, who desired that architecture should be an organic art form, reflecting, and at the same time shaping, a fundamentally democratic life . . . . A listing of his buildings and the bibliography of his occasional writings suggest, rather, that he had enough work to keep him busy, and that he had some status as a philosopher in the field. He was assuredly not, in the days that he lived, the dominating figure he has since become. [p. 130-131]

The photographer, gallery director, art missionary Stieglitz, the American painters who began their work under the influence of the 291 Gallery, the painters who formed the "Eight" and later led in organizing the Armory Show, and the architects and designers whose work shared the creative direction best known in the work of Sullivan and Wright--these artists were and are great art educators. Not one among them failed, through writing, actual teaching, or in personal activities, to teach compellingly. The fervor of their wish to reach the public may have been an indication that all of them were philosophically ardent democrats and defenders of individualism, and wished to transmit a democratic aesthetic to their society.

Education and the schools were constantly in their thoughts . . . . a more productive view of their contribution to education would recognize that men like Sullivan in "Kindergarten Chats," and Robert Henri as he was quoted by his students in The Art Spirit, [Robert Henri, The Art Spirit, Lippincott, 1923.] were taking for granted the existence and power of the huge Americana school system. It was because they were aware of the extent and [p. 131] power of the schools--not always exercised on high levels--that they were so ambitious to make an impression on the minds of young artists, teachers, and designers. [p. 131-132]

Criticism and evaluation of art forms are implicit parts of any art education. The artists and the exhibits we have been reviewing, the work of these artists, considered in their total impact on education, demonstrated convincingly that the arts of our time must face forward; must evolve their own forms based on our social organization.

They taught the leaders in their generations, and we are now fairly united in accepting the doctrine that, while the principles of art and life in the Greece of Plato's time may be valid today, nevertheless the contemporary interpretation, the pictures painted, the books written, buildings erected, cannot reflect principles except in art forms likely to be as strange to Plato as the automobile or the airplane.

Too much of the art of the nineteenth century was predominantly a continuation of the outward forms of the past. Many artists and art teachers whose instincts for the good life were offended and often directly thwarted by the disorganization, the dirt and clutter, of twentieth-century urban life looked toward art--the art of the past --as a mode of spiritual release from the torments of the present. This doctrine was not acceptable to the modernists. Art, they believe, must be of its day, expressive of the life being lived, and , one might hope, partly improving the conditions of life. Whatever contribution art might make to society must be as an interpretation of the society of the present, or as an architecture shaping a more tolerable existence. [p. 132]

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[Notes from: Logan, Frederick M . Growth of Art in American Schools, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1955.]




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