Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Ashcan School (pt. 1)

Meanwhile in America, an art world was developing entirely of its own invention.  Although success and popularity in the art world then still required study in Europe, many painters chose not to follow the methods of European Cubism and Abstract Art because they found those ways too complicated.  Instead, this class of American artists in the early 1900s focused their efforts on more conservative art and paintings of traditional subjects and subject matter, not focusing on finding new approaches and images to paint.  It may not have been the most exciting of developments in the history of art given the apparent lack of progress toward artistic theories and innovative styles, but this counter-movement, so to speak, found a niche of its own.
The world did not stop developing technologically.  The business world (especially of America) was on an incline, and city populations continued to rise.  The world was an environment of growing industrial nations, at least until the war.  Newer generations adapted to the changed scenery, and a new Modern life was fully adopted.  With these changes came questions of identity and the shrinking away of the old customs, but some artists sought to answer these philosophical problems through simply opening one's eyes to the contemporary world.  Such was the itinerary of the Ashcan School.
The Ashcan School became the popular name identifying the group of artists who made realistic pictures of the most ordinary features of the contemporary scene.  These were artists who rebelled against the idealism of an academic approach to art and instead sought to paint life as they saw it being played out all around them.  American art, then, focusing on what was to be seen on the Modern scene, turned to city's night-life and cafés, streets, alleys, and theaters.  The Ashcan School in particular played a major role in American art from about 1908 to 1913, culminating in the great Armory Show of 1913, which was the first large exhibition of modern art in America.  For the first time on such a grand scale, the works of Paul Cézanne, Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, Edvard Munch, and Pablo Picasso (among many others) were brought to the attention of the American public, effectively involving them in the historical scene of European art (though Paris remained—and in some respects has remained even to this day—the center of the art world on a whole).  In total, the show presented 1300 works by 300 artists.
The European works caused the greatest excitement and controversy.  Some tried to understand the new works; some tried to explain them; but most just laughed at them or were enraged.  The finer delicacies of Cubist and Expressionist art are, after all, not easily detectable upon a first glance, but the Ashcan artists took particular disgust in such abstract-minded works.  The room where the Cubist paintings were hung became known as "the Room of Horrors" to them.  Surely art should be truer to real-life humanity, they concluded.  And I think there is a good chunk of the population today which would agree with them.

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