What Is American About American Art? Essay

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Ruhr University Bochum InStudies American Studies Program What is American about American Art? Paper for the Seminar “Picturing America: A Survey of American Art from Colonization to the Present” Summer 2013 Shana Klein Submitted by Kristina Kiak Rather Straße 16 40476 Düsseldorf Kristina.Kiak@rub.de A nation´s identity is expressed through its art. Paintings can reflect hopes, anxieties, aspirations and the belief system of an entire nation and culture at a specific point in time. They can function as a historical record, recording the lives of its citizens and reflecting the personality of an entire population. Era´s of the history of the United States of America can be viewed through the lens of great art and its historical paintings; paintings that capture the portrait of a nation as it grows and changes. The belief of American art being a reliable and important source of cultural history was unfortunately not wide-spread in scholarship and especially in the beginning of the field, according to Wanda M. Corn, the study of American art did not enjoy the respectability and legitimacy which, for example, European art enjoyed and still enjoys today (Corn 1988, 188-189). First, I would like to elaborate shortly on the inferior status of American art throughout its history in respect to institutions and study. Following, I will inform about what I believe constitutes the Americanness of American art: its shaping of national identity and promoting of national beliefs as well as being an important source of historical display. However, at last I will show that a shift in focus has occured throughout the centuries. American art was widely seen as being “the impoverished, unwanted stepchild of art history” (Corn 1988, 188). By having almost no specialized literature and very little financial and intellectual

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