The Use of Art: Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The ideals of America have always had a difficult relationship with the ideals of the artist. America was founded on the principals of agrarian strength and simple thought. Creating works with no other purpose then to be beautiful seemed to be a waste of time, elitist, and against the common good. Rebelling against the supposed over-indulgent European culture, things had to be of use in America, and if they were not of use, they had no place here. This left the American artist in a state of limbo, and the 19th century saw a philosophical battle for the soul of the artist exemplified through the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson. In Hawthorne’s piece “The Artist of the Beautiful” and Emerson’s essay “Art”, one can see the conflict of whether or not the artist would have a place in America, whether or not they will be like the European artist, and how the artist will have to change and adapt in such a fledgling democracy. Hawthorne began work on “Artist of the Beautiful” in 1844, shortly after his wife Sophia had their first child, Una. He and Sophia were to have a child before Una, but she miscarried after slipping on ice near their home, the Old Manse. Before this miscarriage the Hawthorne’s viewed themselves as Adam and Eve, walking in their own Eden, and considered this miscarriage as their own original sin and expulsion from perfection. After Una was born, Hawthorne began contemplating his experiences with sexuality, spirituality, and their application to his own life as an artist. In the short story, his avatar is Owen Warland. Owen is an ingenious if frail young artisan, gifted in his understanding of delicate mechanisms and is filled with a love of, and an ability to represent, the ethereally beautiful. After the mundane task of fixing watches stifles his creative abilities to the point of sickness, he becomes determined to create an
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