views updated May 29 2018


This article is arranged according to the following outline:

Antiquity to 1800
introduction: jewish attitude to art
biblical period
the sanctuary and first temple period
second temple period
after the fall of jerusalem
relation to early christian art
art in the roman empire
under islam
northern europe
illuminated manuscripts
the renaissance period
ritual art
funerary art
the art of the printed book
the revival of manuscript art
new developments
Modern Jewish Art
western europe
    The 19th Century
    The 20th Century
eastern europe
modern ereẒ israel
    The Creation of the Bezalel School
    The 1920s
    The 1930s
    The 1940s
    New Horizons
    The 1960s
    The 1970s
    The 1980s and After
united states
    Before 1900
    The Holocaust in Jewish American Art
    Last Decade of the Twentieth Century
Art in the Ghettos and the Camps during the Holocaust
portraits and "privileged artists"
portrayal of the camps
daily life – indoor and outdoors scenes
art as a means of connection with the outside world
Art Influenced by the Holocaust

Antiquity to 1800

introduction: jewish attitude to art

Whether there exists a form of art that can be described as "Jewish Art" has long been a matter for discussion. What is indisputable is that at every stage of their history the Jews and their ancestors of biblical times expressed themselves in various art forms which inevitably reflect contemporary styles and fashions and the environment in which they lived. For purposes of cult and of religious observance, as well as for household and personal adornment, Jews have constantly produced or made use of objects which appealed in some fashion to their aesthetic sense. In a famous passage (Shab. 133b), the rabbis, commenting on Exodus 15:2, prescribed that God should be "adorned" by the use of beautiful implements for the performance of religious observances. A problem exists, however, regarding the Jewish attitude toward figurative and representational art. The Pentateuchal code in many places (Ex. 20:4; Deut. 5:8 and in great detail 4:16–18) ostensibly prohibits, in the sternest terms, the making of any image or likeness of man or beast. In the context, this presumably implies a prohibition of such manufacture for the purposes of worship. But this reservation is not stated specifically in the text, and there is no doubt that at certain times the rigidity of the prohibition impeded or even completely prevented the development among the Jews of figurative art, and indeed of the visual arts generally, especially as far as representation of the human form or face was concerned. The inhibitions were stronger against the plastic arts (i.e., relief or sculpture) than against painting or drawing, because of the specific biblical reference to the "graven image." Nevertheless, at various periods and in various environments, in antiquity, as well as in modern times, these inhibitions were ignored. The meticulous obedience or relative neglect of the apparent biblical prohibition of representational art seems in fact to have been conditioned by external circumstances, and in two directions – revulsion, or attraction. In the later biblical period and throughout classical antiquity, in an environment in which the worship of images by their neighbors played a great part, the Jews reacted strongly against this practice and up to a point representational art was sternly suppressed. The same applied to a certain degree in the environment of Roman and Greek Catholicism in the Middle Ages. On the other hand, when the Jews were to some extent culturally assimilated, they began to share in the artistic outlook of their neighbors and the prejudice against representational art dwindled, and in the end almost disappeared. To this generalization, however, other factors must be added. Sometimes, the religious reaction of the Jews was influenced by political considerations. The almost frenzied Jewish opposition to images of any sort toward the close of the Second Temple period seems to have been prompted by the extreme nationalist elements, happy to find a point in which their political opposition could be based on a clear-cut religious issue. A few generations later, in an age of appeasement, their great-grandchildren could be, and were far more broadminded. But during periods of religious iconoclasm among their neighbors, the Jews – the classical iconoclasts – could not very well afford to be more compliant than others. Therefore, it seems, in the Byzantine Empire in the eighth and ninth centuries and in the Muslim world long after this, there ensued an interlude in which representational art was rigidly shunned even though the nonrepresentational made notable progress.

In certain areas during the Middle Ages and Ghetto period representational art, both pictorial and plastic, was tolerated even in connection with religious observances and with cult objects used in the synagogue. At the same period, in other areas, the inhibitions were so strong as to exclude such objects even from secular use. In more recent times, portrait painting and photography have come to be generally – though not quite universally – tolerated even among the extreme orthodox. The emergence of artists from the Jewish community similarly presents no clear-cut picture. The names are known of men active in representational art in the classical period, and there were a few in Christian Europe in the Middle Ages carrying out even ecclesiastical commissions. In the 18th century, Jewish painters and portraitists – artists in the modern sense – began to appear in several European countries. But it is not easy to explain the sudden emergence in recent generations of a flood of artists of outstanding genius, largely of Eastern European origin, in France, the United States, and elsewhere. Until the 19th century the Jewish attitude toward art was in fact not negative, but ambivalent.

biblical period

It is known that there was a relatively high development of art in Ereẓ Israel even before the coming of the Hebrews. In the Mesolithic period the inhabitants of the region that is now Wadi Natuf in Western Judea produced some carvings which, while intended for ritual purposes, show a love of full forms and beautiful shapes, a purity of line and balance of masses, which characterize naturalistic art at its best. The Jericho culture of the eighth to fifth millennia b.c.e. has a fresh aesthetic approach, and the clay masks found there, perhaps connected with ancestor worship, are among the chief works of ancient art in the Middle East. The carved bone and ivory figurines produced by the Beersheba culture of the fourth millennium are in advance both chronologically and qualitatively of the earliest productions of Egyptian art. The mysterious hoard of copper and ivory cult-objects of the Chalcolithic period found in 1961 in Naḥal Mishmar, not far from the Dead Sea, shows a sense of form and a high standard of execution. The Canaanite period which immediately preceded the Israelite conquest produced some significant religious art. Moreover, the invaders of Ereẓ Israel, whether Egyptians, Assyrians, or Hittites, all brought with them their own artistic conventions and left behind monuments or objects which inevitably affected the aesthetic conceptions of the inhabitants of the country. Hence the Hebrews arrived in a country which already had, if not an artistic tradition, at least a number of artistic expressions, most of them associated with cult purposes.

the sanctuary and first temple period

According to the Pentateuch, there were among the Hebrews who left Egypt artificers of genius, capable "in all manner of workmanship, to devise curious works, to work in gold and in silver and in brass, and in the cutting of stones for setting, and in carving of wood, to make any manner of skillful work" (Ex. 35:31–35). The women were skilled in embroidery (ibid., 25–26). The sanctuary in the wilderness, whose appurtenances and decoration were traditionally associated with the names of Bezalel son of Uri and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, was presumably designed in accordance with contemporary Egyptian artistic fashion. This fashion no doubt continued to exercise considerable influence on the Hebrews even after they entered Canaan. Artistically, the most memorable detail was the pair of *cherubim, apparently with human faces, whose wings extended over the Ark. The making of these has to be considered as art in the more restricted sense and not as mere skilled craftsmanship. These enigmatic figures, also a feature of the First *Temple until its destruction, were the outstanding exception which proved that the ancient Hebrews did not absolutely shun figurative and plastic art.

In addition to these and similar decorative cherubim, the great laver in Solomon's Temple, called the "molten sea," was supported on the backs of twelve oxen cast in bronze, a construction to which at some later age there were objections. According to the detailed accounts in the books of Kings and Chronicles, the laver must have been both architecturally impressive and aesthetically memorable, especially in its decorative details.

It is not easy to discern the development of what may be termed native Hebrew art in the period of the Monarchy. Indeed, there is explicit information that the expert craftsmen employed in the construction of the Temple were Phoenicians from Tyre. The relatively few relics that have been preserved in Ereẓ Israel from this period, such as the not uncommon Astarte figurines, are mainly Canaanite in character. On the other hand, the plaques from the "House of Ivory" built in Samaria by King Ahab (876–853 b.c.e.), which show great taste and sensitivity, are under the influence of Phoenician art and were possibly executed by craftsmen introduced by Queen *Jezebel from her native Sidon. Similarly, the admirably executed Israelite *seals of the period are Egyptian or Assyrian both in character and in execution.

second temple period

The situation continued into the period of the Second Temple. The handful of returned exiles lacked the conditions of political security and economic well-being that might have fostered the development of a native art. Any attempts in this direction must inevitably have been shaped at the beginning by Persian, and later by Greek, influences. With the Hellenization of the Middle East after the invasion of *Alexander the Great (333 b.c.e.), Greek art began to make its appearance throughout the region. Greek cities were constructed within the area of the historic Ereẓ Israel, with temples, baths, and statuary which inevitably became familiar to the Jewish population. *Antiochusiv's attempt to Hellenize Judea from 168 b.c.e. onward involved the forcible imposition of Greek standards and customs. These included the setting up throughout the land, and even in the Temple itself, not only of decorative statues, but also images for adoration. The religious reaction against this, under the Hasmoneans, inevitably fortified the Jewish opposition to any form of representational art. The latter Hasmonean rulers were nevertheless strongly affected by Hellenistic culture. Their buildings were constructed in accordance with Greek standards, with fine detail. The earliest Jewish *coins, produced in this period, are sometimes beautifully designed, with Greek symbols such as the star, cornucopia, and anchor, executed with great delicacy. It is significant, however, that the effigy of the ruler never figured in these coins, as might normally have been expected.

With the Roman occupation, and in particular under the House of *Herod, new attitudes began to emerge. Herod had no images in his remote, desert palace at *Masada; but he had no objection to the introduction of statues and images into the non-Jewish parts of his dominions, even where there may have been a considerable Jewish population. It is known, too, that even the more resolutely Jewish members of his household did not object to having their portraits painted. On the other hand, Jewish nationalist extremists seem to have found in the biblical prohibition of images, literally and rigidly interpreted, a useful pretext for or stimulus to their anti-Roman feelings. When Roman coins bearing the emperor's effigy circulated in Judea, many persons – patriots perhaps more than pietists – objected strongly and some even refused to handle them. It was natural that there should be frenzied objections when in 37 c.e. the emperor Caligula's statue was placed in the Temple for adoration, even though there was later to be no opposition to the patriotic placing of statues of the ruler in Babylonian synagogues. There was also a loud outcry against the bearing of standards with the imperial effigy by the Roman legionaries when they marched through Jerusalem. Similarly, Herod's placing of an eagle over the Temple gate as a symbol of Rome was the occasion for an incipient revolt – ostensibly on religious grounds, but obviously with patriotic motivation as well. But a talmudic source of a later period reveals a more tolerant attitude when it states (tj, Av. Zar. 3:1, 42c) that all likenesses were to be found in Jerusalem (before the destruction of the Temple in 70 c.e.) except those of human beings. Although Herod's descendants would not use portraits in the coinage which they struck for Judea, they did not refrain from doing so for their possessions over the border. One of the Herodian palaces in Tiberias had figures of animals on the walls. No one appears to have objected to this until after the outbreak of the war against Rome in 66 c.e. when Josephus, as military governor of Galilee, led a campaign of competitive iconoclasm in order to demonstrate his zeal. There is some evidence that at this period patriotic religious fervor led to a decree forbidding all images. This temporarily stifled any artistic expression of the accepted type, precisely in an age of national resurgence when it might have been expected to flower. Architecture appears to have flourished in the Second Temple period around Jerusalem. Many ambitiously conceived funerary monuments are to be found, particularly in the *Kidron Valley, and a number of delicately decorated sarcophagi and *ossuaries have been unearthed. The Temple of Herod seems to have deserved its reputation as one of the architectural marvels of the Roman Empire.

after the fall of jerusalem

With the fall of Bethar in 135 c.e. and the acceptance of Roman rule by the Pharisee elements, conditions changed. Theoretically, the religious inhibitions remained in force, but there was an increasing tendency to interpret the biblical prohibition as applying only to imagery intended for adoration. Hence, in practice, greater tolerance came to be shown. Rabbis of the highest piety did not object to frequenting baths where there was a statue of a heathen deity, maintaining that it was placed there for decoration only. In addition to their architectural significance, the synagogue ruins dating from this period (second–fifth centuries) embody decorative carvings and symbols – including animal forms – which combine a high standard of craftsmanship with a well-developed aesthetic sense. In due course rabbinical pronouncements reflected the changed attitude: to this period belongs the statement quoted above that all images except the human were to be found in pre-Destruction Jerusalem.

In the third century R. *Johanan countenanced the painting of frescoes (tj, Av. Zar. 3:3, 42d), while in the fifth century, according to a statement in the Jerusalem Talmud (Av. Zar. 4:1, 43d), R. *Abun permitted – or at least tolerated – decorated mosaics and wall frescoes even in synagogues. The sixth-century mosaic of the *Bet Alfa synagogue, vividly depicting the signs of the Zodiac, the Four Seasons, the Chariot of the Sun, and the sacrifice of Isaac, created a sensation when it was discovered in 1928. It is now realized, however, that there was nothing unusual about this form of decoration. Mosaics showing conventional figures and biblical scenes were a normal feature of synagogal decoration in Ereẓ Israel at the time. This is all the more remarkable in view of the fact that prostration in a synagogue on a figured floor would seem to be forbidden by the Bible (Lev. 26:1). Marianos and his son Ḥanina, who were responsible for the Bet Alfa mosaic, are the earliest Jewish artists in the modern sense known by name whose work has been preserved (though the epitaph of a Jewish painter named Edoxios has been found in the Jewish catacombs in Rome). More memorable from the artistic viewpoint are the magnificent third-century frescoes found in the synagogue at *Dura-Europos in Syria, preserved by what was no more than a lucky chance. These comprise an entire series of highly artistic wall paintings, executed in conventional Hellenistic style, which illustrate in great detail certain aspects of biblical history and prophecy. In these paintings the human face and form are lavishly represented. The lavish admission of figurative art to the synagogue, the very place of worship, is important. It is probable that this type of decoration was commonplace in synagogues of the period, even though the Dura specimen is the only one to have been preserved. It clearly represents a fairly long tradition of such art. Indeed, below the frescoes now revealed there have been discovered traces of others of a generation earlier, and these too, presumably, were no revolutionary innovation. Whether or not the Dura frescoes reflected, or were paralleled by, manuscript illuminations of Bible texts remains a problem. In view of the detailed regulations for the writing of the *Sefer Torah such illuminations would of course be for domestic purposes only, and not for use in the synagogue. But it can be stated categorically that if human figures were tolerated on the walls of the synagogue before the worshiper's eyes, there is no reason why they should not have been permitted in codices or rolls studied in the home.

relation to early christian art

The analogies between the Dura frescoes and early Christian art are in some cases obvious, and have given rise to the theory that the latter continued the tradition of an earlier Jewish book-art, though this remains a matter of speculation. Indeed, it has been suggested that the earliest specimens of Christian book illumination – the Vienna Genesis of the sixth century (going back probably to a fourth-century archetype), the Joshua Roll of the tenth, the Codex Amiatinus based on a sixth-century original – may be Jewish in origin, or copied from Jewish prototypes in the Diaspora. Three-dimensional figures were more objectionable religiously than two-dimensional ones. But the inhibitions were weakening, for in the catacombs of *Bet She'arim Greek coffins with crudely executed mythological figures in low relief were reused for Jewish burials. In the synagogues at Baram, Kefar Naḥum (Capernaum) and Chorazin in Ereẓ Israel there are fragmentary figures of lions in three dimensions. In Babylon, as has been mentioned, the statue of the ruler was admitted without protest, even in synagogues frequented by outstanding scholars (Av. Zar. 43b).

art in the roman empire

Clearly, the artistic traditions of the Palestinian and Near Eastern synagogues were imitated, perhaps with fewer inhibitions, in the Western Diaspora. The splendid architectural remains at *Ostia in Italy and *Sardis in Asia Minor show that monumental synagogues with fine attention to detail were common. Discoveries at Aegina in Greece and Hamam Lif in North Africa suggest that decorated floors were also usual. While no figurative art has yet been discovered in the Diaspora synagogues of the classical period (other than conventionally carved lions at Sardis), it is present in abundance on the wall frescoes of the Jewish catacombs in Rome. The emphasis, however, is on mythological figures, without the biblical reminiscences that might be expected. More remarkable are the lavishly decorated sarcophagi found in Rome, one at least bearing three-dimensional putti and other figures in high relief, by the side of the *menorah or seven-branched candelabrum.

E.R. *Goodenough endeavored to demonstrate in his monumental work, Jewish Symbols in the Graeco-Roman Period (1953–65) and in a number of minor studies, that much of this representational art, in defiance of apparent rabbinic proscriptions, was the manifestation of a Jewish synthetic mystery religion. This popular religion was allied to, though not identical with, talmudic Judaism. But whether accepted or not, the theory cannot obscure the fact that within Judaism in the late classical period it was possible for figurative art in the fullest sense to develop.

The question remains, whether there was any continuity of tradition between the Jewish representational art centering in Bible illustration and the later version of the same art in Europe. There is unequivocal evidence of the former down to the sixth century at least, while the latter appeared, fully fledged but obviously of much earlier origin, from the 13th century onward.

Whatever the answer, the relative liberalism and normal development of art among the Jews in the late classical period subsequently received a check. To a certain extent this was the result of or paralleled the iconoclastic movement in the Byzantine Empire, which inevitably affected the Jews. There is evidence that at this time the figures in the Na'aran Synagogue mosaic were mutilated, and that a similar fate was suffered by some of the decorative carvings in other Galilean synagogues.

under islam

More decisive, naturally, was the spread of Islam, which became supreme for centuries in those areas where Jewish life flourished most. The new religion had, with certain exceptions, strong iconoclastic tendencies. Obviously the Jews could not afford to be more tolerant in this matter than their Muslim neighbors. Hence it appears that there was a revulsion in much of the Jewish world against the incipient representational art, and that this revulsion lingered in some vital areas even after the Islamic domination had receded.

The Spanish rabbis were outright in their opposition. The Sefer ha-Ḥinnukh, attributed to Aaron ha-Levi of Barcelona (39, 12), emphasized that it was forbidden to make likenesses of a human being out of any material, even for ornament. Maimonides, however, was somewhat more tolerant, forbidding (Yad. Av. Kokh. 3:10–11) only the human (not the animal) form in the round, and permitting it in painting and tapestries. Art expressed itself among the Jews, as among the Arabs, in nonrepresentational forms, making use of ornaments and arabesques, and exploiting to the full the decorative potentialities of the Hebrew alphabet and the patterning of minuscular characters. The exquisite decorations in the surviving medieval Spanish synagogues (especially at *Cordova and *Toledo), though somewhat later in date, are impressive examples of such work. More striking is the testimony of manuscript art. Throughout the Muslim world and the area under its influence, a new tradition established itself, highly Islamic in both feeling and conception. Illuminations in the accepted medieval sense – i.e., actual illustrations of the text – are ostentatiously absent. Instead, many pages are elaborately decorated – with carpet patterns, intricate geometrical designs, and the most skillful use of calligraphic characters both large and small, the last sometimes fashioned with consummate mastery into involved patterns of great ingenuity. Not infrequently, especially in biblical manuscripts, such decorative pages were deliberately and quite irrelevantly included at the beginning of the manuscript, and sometimes at the end as well, in great profusion, merely to enhance the beauty of the volume. The inclusion in the Bible manuscripts of highly stylized representations of the vessels of the Sanctuary seems, however, to form a link between these manuscripts and those of the now submerged tradition of the classical period. This method of Hebrew Bible illumination, divorced from the text, survived in some areas, or in some circles, as late as the second half of the 15th century. This is evidenced by the Kennicott Bible in Oxford illuminated by Joseph *Ibn Ḥayyim, and by the Hebrew Bible of the University of Aberdeen, completed in 1494.

northern europe

Outside the Muslim orbit these inhibitions against representational art did not apply – at least not the same degree – and with the rise of the Jewish communities in Northern Europe, representational art began to reappear. Whether or not there was any direct link with the classical period remains a matter of dispute. Once again, there is a disparity between strict religious theory as reflected in the rabbinic texts and actuality as shown in surviving relics of the period. Although in the 12th century Eliakim b. Joseph of Metz ordered the removal of the stained glass windows from the synagogue of Mainz, his younger colleague *Ephraim b. Isaac of Regensburg permitted the painting of animals and birds on the walls. *Isaac b. Moses of Vienna recalled seeing similar embellishments in the place of worship he frequented at Meissen as a boy. The author of the Sefer Ḥasidim expressed his categoric disapproval of representations of animate beings in the synagogue. On the other hand, Rashi knew of, and apparently did not object to, wall frescoes – presumably in the home – illustrating biblical scenes, such as the fight between David and Goliath, with descriptive wording (in Hebrew?) below (Shab. 149a). On the surface, it seems that Rashi is referring to a practice current among the well-to-do Jews of his own circle in northern France and the Rhineland in the 11th century. In the 12th century, the French tosafists discussed and permitted even the three-dimensional representation of the human form, provided that it was incomplete. At the very same time, Jews living in England are known to have used signet rings that bore a human likeness on them.

The emergence at this period of Jewish mint-masters (see *Minting) presupposes some involvement in the production of coins bearing the ruler's head, a tradition which goes back to the activity of *Priscus, who was the court jeweler at the Frankish court during approximately the middle of the sixth century c.e.

illuminated manuscripts

Hebrew manuscripts illuminated in the conventional sense, in accordance with European styles and techniques, began to emerge in Northern Europe not later than the 13th century. Certain inhibitions lingered as regards the human form, which in some manuscripts was quaintly provided with bird or animal heads (see color plate Laud Maḥzor vol. 11 between columns 812 and 813), thus observing at least marginally the biblical prohibition against representational art. Whether this indicates a stage in the decline of traditional inhibitions, or a momentary pietistic recession, is a matter for speculation. But toward the close of the Middle Ages the art of the illuminated manuscript – illuminated in the fullest sense – flourished in Northern Europe and spread to Italy. By the 14th century at the latest, the tradition had extended to Spain, where Christian rule was now in the ascendant. It is perhaps best exemplified in a fine series of illuminated *Haggadah manuscripts, of which the Sarajevo Haggadah is the best known.

In some cases the artists were probably Jews (Nathan b. Simeon, *Joel b. Simeon, Meir Jaffe), while in others they were presumably Christians. But there is no need to assume that the work of the Jewish manuscript artists was necessarily restricted to Hebrew manuscripts and to a Jewish clientele. The work on mixing colors for manuscript illumination compiled in Judeo-Portuguese by Abraham ibn Ḥayyim suggests a degree of involvement in the illuminating craft in its wider sense, even though none of his own productions is known. His was certainly not an isolated case. The Catalan Atlas, executed in 1376/7 by Abraham *Cresques and his son Judah, is noteworthy artistically besides being an important monument to cartography and geographical science. Jewish professional painters who are mentioned in contemporary documents include Abraham b. Yom Tov de Salinas with his son Bonastruc (1406), and Moses ibn Forma of Saragossa (1438), as well as Vidal Abraham who, in 1330, was engaged to illuminate the Book of Privileges of Majorca.


That Jews engaged in artistic craftsmanship even for Christian religious purposes is demonstrated by the bull of the anti-Pope *Benedictxiii of 1415, forbidding Jews to be employed in the making of ceremonial objects for Christian use such as chalices and crucifixes. In 1480, Isabella of Castile enjoined her court painter to ensure that no Jew be permitted to paint the figure of Jesus or the Virgin Mary. Official documents refer to Spanish Jews engaged in the manufacture of reliquaries and crucifixes and assisting sculptors of sacred images. It must be borne in mind that for the Middle Ages it is impossible to draw a sharp line of demarcation between the arts and the crafts because the craftsman in many branches was inevitably at the same time an artist in the modern sense. Bookbinding, for example, engaged Jewish craftsmen, even at the highly discriminating Papal court of Avignon; and, in Germany, Jewish experts such as the scribe-bookbinder, Meir Jaffe, mentioned above, were described as supreme artists in the execution of the difficult type of leather work known as cuir cisélé.

It must be emphasized that among the Jews pictorial art lacked one impetus which was potent in the outside world. The art of painting, especially frescoes, among Christians was stimulated by the fact that the Bible story was communicated to the almost illiterate common people by means of pictures on the walls of the churches. These served literally as the Biblia pauperum, the Bible of the Poor. For the Jews, with their high degree of literacy due to their almost universal system of education and their familiarity with the Scripture story, this was superfluous. Similarly, the cult of the saints rendered pictorial and plastic art essential in the church, whereas in the synagogue it was not needed. This is probably the reason for the late emergence of Jewish sculptors. It was not so much that Jews were opposed to art as that certain categories of art, essential in the world outside, were for them unnecessary.

the renaissance period

In Italy, in the Renaissance period, Jews participated in every branch of activity, including the arts. Some of the most memorable illuminated Hebrew manuscripts belong to this epoch and there is good ground for believing that many of them came from unknown Jewish hands. Cases are recorded of Jews being admitted to the painters' guild, though none of their work can be identified. There were, however, some distinguished metal workers, such as Salomone da *Sessa (subsequently converted to Catholicism as Ercole de' Fedeli), who was in the service of Cesare Borgia. Da Sessa's swords and scabbards were among the finest of the period. His contemporary, Moses da *Castelazzo (d. 1527), was an engraver and medalist of some note. In the next century, Salvatore Rosa's assistant, Jonah Ostiglia of Florence (d. 1675), was proficient enough to be mentioned with deference by contemporary art chroniclers. A number of converted Italian artists of Jewish birth also achieved a reputation. Among them were Francesco Ruschi (c. 1640), a forerunner of the 18th century Venetian Renaissance, and Pietro Liberi (1614–1687), founder of the College of Artists in Venice. While names cannot be taken as conclusive evidence of origin, it must be noted that both in Spain and in Italy men named (de') Levi achieved artistic prominence in the 15th and 16th centuries.

ritual art

It has already been mentioned that the Talmud has a general injunction that the glorification of God implies the use of the finest appurtenances in divine worship. There are ample descriptions both in the Bible and in Josephus of those used in the Temple. There are visual examples in the representations on the Arch of *Titus in Rome and in the synagogal and funerary art of the classical period. But there is no proof of a specifically Jewish ritual art for home and synagogue until a relatively late period. It is perhaps significant that among the many evidences of Jewish religious life around the beginning of the Christian era discovered in recent archaeological investigations, there is nothing with any specific bearing on the emergence of ritual art, even as regards manuscript decoration. Generally in ritual observances objects were used which were not specially manufactured for the purpose. The only exception was the *Ḥanukkah lamp which, because it had to have a definite number of burners – eight or sometimes nine – was from an early date specially manufactured, first in clay and later in stone. During the Middle Ages, however, it became established practice to create objects specifically for every form of ritual use, thus emphasizing the "glorification of the mitzvah" ("hiddur mitzvah"). The manufacturers were not always Jews. It is paradoxical that while in some areas Jewish craftsmen are to be found executing objects of the most sacred nature, such as crucifixes, for church use – which must, from certain points of view, have been highly objectionable on both sides – in others there is evidence of Christian craftsmen producing some of the commonplace ritual objects required by the Jewish community. Contracts survive relating to such work for Jews in Provence in the 15th century and Frankfurt on the Main in the 16th. It must be noted, however, that with the exception of Hanukkah lamps, virtually no specimens of Jewish ritual art of a date earlier than the end of the Middle Ages have been traced. The earliest positively identifiable is a pair of rimmonim (Torah finials) from Sicily, preserved in the Cathedral of Palma, Majorca. The favorite objects of Jewish ritual art were the *Torah ornaments, *Kiddush cups, Seder plates, *Sabbath lamps, and spice boxes for the *Havdalah ceremony on the conclusion of the Sabbath. It is possible that majolica seder plates originated in Spain before the Expulsion of 1492. An entire series was manufactured by several generations of two or three families of Italian-Jewish ceramists in the 17th and 18th centuries. Heavily embroidered brocades, with elaborate decorative inscriptions in gold and sometimes with human figures in stump-work, were used both in the synagogues, for the *Ark curtains, or for the wrappings of the Torah Scroll, and in the home, for Sabbath appurtenances and the like. Often these were made by the women of the community as a pious duty, but in due course a school of Jewish art embroiderers emerged. Certain branches of embroidery were indeed regarded as a Jewish specialty during the period of the Middle Ages.

funerary art

Surviving Jewish funerary art begins with the sepulchers and sarcophagi of the classical period in Palestine and the decorations in the catacombs of Rome and elsewhere. In the Middle Ages, Jewish tombstones in Europe were for the most part severely simple, owing whatever artistic quality they had to their shape and their impressive Hebrew lettering. After the Renaissance, funerary art began to take on some importance. Symbols indicating the name or profession of the person commemorated were carved above what were now highly ornamental inscriptions. In Italy, family badges – all but coats of arms – were added. In Central Europe, carvings denoting the calling or profession of the dead person were often incorporated. The most remarkable development was in some of the Sephardi communities of the Atlantic seaboard; such as Amsterdam and Curaçao, where the tombstone was enhanced by delicately executed carvings in relief. These generally depicted scenes in the life of the biblical personage whose name was borne by the dead person – for example, the call of Samuel, or the encounter between David and Abigail, or the death of Rachel. In some cases even the deathbed scene of the departed is shown, including, most amazingly, his actual likeness. The derivation of these artistic manifestations still needs investigation, but it seems at present that they were a purely spontaneous, native development in individual communities.

What is most significant is that here there are not flat surfaces but plastic art – precisely that which was most objectionable in talmudic law in its strict interpretation.

the art of the printed book

With the invention and spread of printing in the 15th and 16th centuries, a new area of artistic expression opened. The earliest printed books tried to imitate manuscript codices, and left space for illumination. This was the case with Hebrew works also, and there are some early examples which were embellished later by hand by skilled book-artists. In due course a genuine Jewish book art developed.

Early productions of the Hebrew printing press, especially of the *Soncino family, were decorated with elaborate borders on the opening pages. Sometimes these were borrowed or copied from non-Jewish productions; sometimes they were presumably original, perhaps in their turn to be copied by Christian printers. The early editions (Brescia, 1491, etc.) of the Meshal ha-Kadmoni by Isaac ibn *Sahula, following the example set by the 13th-century author, were accompanied by illustrations. Later on the practice was transmitted to other books of fables and similar literature. But as in the previous epoch, special care was lavished on the Passover *Haggadah. At the beginning of the 16th century at the latest a fine series of illustrated editions, probably the work of Jewish hands, began to appear. These reached their apogee in the superb editions of Prague of 1526, Mantua of 1560 and 1568, Venice from 1609 onward, and finally the Amsterdam edition of 1695. When the first title pages appeared in printed books, early in the 16th century, these too received special attention.

It will by now have become apparent that it is no longer possible to maintain the commonly accepted generalization that Judaism was fundamentally opposed to representational art, or to give this as the reason for the late emergence of Jews as artists. The utmost that can be said is that in certain environments and at certain periods Jews either imitated the iconoclastic tendencies of their neighbors, as sometimes in Muslim countries, or, in revulsion against their iconolatry, as in some Catholic areas, developed a strong antipathy to such art. It is also true that Jews lacked the initial stimulus to artistic involvement which came to the Christian world from the lavish use of representational art for liturgical purposes in Roman Catholic churches. With these reservations, however, it can be said that Jews accepted representational art as a normal phenomenon of their lives, even in a religious context. They used it not only in the decoration of their homes (though curiously enough the evidence for this is somewhat thin), but in their liturgical manuscripts and printed books, especially the Passover Haggadah, and on cult objects such as Passover plates, Ḥanukkah lamps, spice boxes, and brocades. In some areas these representations were even introduced into the synagogue. Nor were representations of the human form restricted to plane surfaces: in metal work they were often three-dimensional. In some places in the Ashkenazi world, figures of Moses and Aaron were incorporated almost as a matter of convention in the appurtenances of the Torah – which was the central object of veneration in the synagogue – both in the brocade wrappings and in relief in the silver *breastplate which hung before the Scroll. Instances are known of such figures being included in the decoration of the Ark toward which the worshiper directed his devotions. Contrary to the universal belief, even the representation of the Deity was not entirely unknown. (See *Anthropomorphism in Jewish Art).

the revival of manuscript art

The art of illumination which had developed so promisingly in Spain, Italy, and Germany at the close of the Middle Ages did not die out. In the Italian Jewish upper classes and in the affluent circle of Court Jews which emerged in Germany in the 17th century, there was to be a notable renewal – it may be more correct to say perpetuation of the former tradition. There is some evidence that in the Middle Ages it was customary for Jews to insert illuminations in the megillah from which they followed the reading of the story of Esther in the synagogue on the uninhibited feast of Purim. It may also be significant that the scenes connected with this same story received disproportionate attention in the third-century frescoes of Dura-Europos. Every well-to-do householder now wished to have an illuminated megillah. Normally, though not invariably, these seem to have been executed by Jewish artists and some were of really high artistic merit. From the 17th century onward, elaborately engraved borders were provided by competent artists, such as Shalom *Italia, inside which the text would be written by hand. The case was similar with the marriage contract or *ketubbah, expressing the joy implicit in the formation of a new family in the Jewish community. An isolated specimen has been preserved from the late 14th century, but from the 16th century these illuminated ketubbot became common especially in Italy, where some examples were veritable works of art. Some of the artists were probably Gentiles. Most were probably – and in a few cases provably – Jews. While in some countries and in some areas of ritual art the inhibition against the representation of the human figure was still rigorously applied, this was normally overlooked as far as the megillah and the ketubbah were concerned.

Apart from these and allied productions of illustrators and illuminators within the context of Jewish life, the art of Hebrew book-illumination was continued and in some cases revived in a remarkable fashion. Memorable Italian specimens of the 16th and 17th centuries have recently been brought to light, though in certain cases, the artists were almost certainly non-Jews. In the course of the 17th and 18th centuries, however, there grew up in Central and Northern Europe, especially in Moravia, Amsterdam, and Hamburg, an entire school of gifted Hebrew book-illuminators, who concentrated their attention on books of occasional prayers and benedictions (Me'ah Berakhot), circumcision rituals and similar works. The favorite was the Passover Haggadah. As in the Middle Ages, wealthy householders vied with one another in having these executed, sometimes as gifts for brides or newly married couples. They were often based on the older printed prototypes, especially of the Amsterdam Haggadah of 1695, but were sometimes rendered with a remarkable inventive power of reinterpretation and a fine sense of color. Outstanding among these manuscript artists were Samuel Dresnitz (1720), Aaron Wolf Herlingen of Gewitsch (c. 1700–c. 1768), and Moses Leib *Trebitsch (1723). In certain cases, as for example the Pinḥas family, this involvement in manuscript illumination led to a general training in art and the consequent emergence of artists in the conventional sense.

Meanwhile, in the Sephardi community of Amsterdam, a school of gifted *calligraphers was beginning to appear. The title pages executed for their finely written Spanish or Portuguese manuscripts, sometimes embodying charming vignettes, were works of art, and a few were in due course engraved.

[Cecil Roth]

new developments

From the 1970s there have been significant new developments in the field of Jewish art. Side by side with increased awareness of the role which the visual arts played in Jewish life, new discoveries have been made and a considerable number of previously little or unknown objects, images, and monuments have come to the fore. The major political events which took place during this period had their impact as well, adding new information and materials. Collections that had been unavailable for decades are now open to the public and accessible to scholars. Paralleling and supporting this growth is the increase in the scholarly publications in Jewish art, including the foundation of an important periodical (Journal of Jewish Art) by Bezalel *Narkiss in 1974; as well as growing public awareness in the field, expressed in interests in Judaic exhibitions, lectures, travels to Jewish monuments, and even the production and acquisition of contemporary Jewish art.

In the public arena, the most visible phenomenon concerns the growth of Jewish museums from the last quarter of the 20th century. New museums were established in many towns throughout the Jewish world – from Casablanca to Melbourne, and from Casale Monferrato, Italy, to Raleigh, North Carolina. The recent proliferation of Jewish museums is particularly noticeable in Germany, where many new museums opened towards the close of the 20th century, ranging from small display rooms (e.g., Bissingen, Creglingen) to impressive and sizeable buildings (Berlin, Frankfurt). Many of the small German museums are housed in former synagogues – nearly a hundred of them have been restored to date, especially after the reunification of Germany. In Israel the fashionable search for tangible personal and communal roots has led to the establishment of small "ethnic" museums – notably, Nahon Museum of Italian-Jewish Art in Jerusalem, Museum and Heritage Center of Babylonian Jewry in Or Yehudah, and the museum commemorating the heritage of the Jews from Cochin (Kochi), India, in Moshav Nevatim in the Negev. Along with the established institutions, the new museums play a vital role in increasing the awareness and knowledge of Jewish visual culture and encourage the collection and preservation of Judaic objects, whether from the remote past or the last generations. The stream of large and impressive catalogs that accompanied many of the exhibitions organized by the leading museums constitutes important sources for documentation and scholarly research in the field of Jewish art.

Even before the fall of the Soviet Union treasures hidden behind the Iron Curtain were displayed in the West. It took 15 years of private and public efforts on the highest levels before the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic allowed the landmark exhibition, "The Precious Legacy" – based on the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague – to tour the United States in 1983. However, the Perestroika brought about many more opportunities for international partnerships and for presentations of significant collections of ceremonial, folk, and ethnographic Jewish art. Some of these collections, for example the collection of more than 400 silver ritual objects at the Museum of Historical Treasures of the Ukraine, Kiev – comprised largely of objects confiscated by the Soviets from many synagogues in the Ukraine in the 1920s and 1930s with the idea of melting them down for the silver – has been fully restored, displayed for the first time to the general public, traveled to capitals abroad, and been the subject of several catalogs. The opening of the borders has allowed, in addition, first hand documentation projects, chiefly conducted by the Center for Jewish Art, Jerusalem, which was founded in 1979 by Bezalel Narkiss with the purpose of documenting and publishing Jewish art treasures. The cja's researchers have been documenting ceremonial objects, illuminated manuscripts, works by Jewish artists, and the architecture and interior decoration of synagogues, in Israel and abroad, often in locales that could not be visited earlier.

The hopes of scholars to unearth another ancient synagogue with painted walls have not materialized in the decades that have passed since the amazing discovery of the *Dura Europos synagogue in 1932. On the other hand, an exciting and unexpected discovery was made in the summer of 1993, when a well-preserved early fifth century synagogue was uncovered in the talmudic town of Sepphoris (Zippori). The synagogue nave's splendid floor mosaic, comprised of 14 richly decorated panels, has enriched Jewish iconography of the period and provided some new insights into the familiar motifs. Thus, for example, the ubiquitous zodiac cycle significantly deviates from its familiar depictions in the other five ancient synagogues, and exceptionally replaces the pagan sun god, Helios, with a non-figurative image of sun rays. Likewise, the popular Binding of Isaac scene, known from two other synagogues, presents some motifs and episodes in the story that are new to Jewish iconography of this period, though familiar from Christian art. The overall iconographic scheme of the floor has been interpreted as expressing the hope for redemption and the rebuilding of the Temple.

Another major development in the past decades concerns the growing attention to Jewish art and material culture emanating from Islamic lands. Prior to 1970, hardly any attention had been paid to this field of Jewish creativity, whether in the public at large, the world of Jewish museums, or even the scholarly community. Viewed as inferior to European Jewish art, little was done to either conduct fieldwork or save the art treasures from Arab lands before the mass immigration to Israel, and serious negligence followed the resettlement. This situation has changed from the last quarter of the 20th century, and especially in Israel considerable efforts have been made by museums and scholars to display and study the visual heritage of these communities. The Israel Museum in particular has been active in this field and its department of Jewish ethnography has mounted from the mid-1960s on major exhibits accompanied by large catalogs, each dedicated to a selected community. Starting in 1967, with a modest exhibition and catalog on the costumes and some artifacts of the Jews of Bukhara, there followed more comprehensive presentations on the communities of Morocco (1973), Kurdistan (1981), the Ottoman Empire (1990), India (1995), Afghanistan (1998), Yemen (2000), and the Mountain Jews of Azerbaijan (2001). Parallel to these exhibits, studies by local scholars as well as some Americans and Europeans, deal with the art and cultural context of the jewelry, costumes, domestic wares, ceremonial art, and manuscript illumination, in particular the figurative Judeo-Persian miniatures. A monograph by Bracha Yaniv was dedicated to the Torah case (tik) in Islamic lands (1997), while in Shalom Sabar's studies on the illustrated ketubbah the examples from Islamic lands are examined side by side with those from other parts of the Jewish world.

The monographs mentioned illustrate another recent trend. While most of the monographs in Jewish art in the past were dedicated to the study of selected Hebrew manuscripts, scholars have been focusing in addition on particular categories of Jewish art. In addition to the Torah case and ketubbah, mention should be made of Torah crowns (Grafman), Hanukkah lamps (Braunstein), Shivviti tablets (Juhasz), papercuts (Shadur), the Wimpel (various authors), synagogues in general and individual buildings in particular (Krinsky, Hubka). There are still, however, many categories missing from this list. Another direction of research, which more closely follows recent trends in the general scholarship of cultural studies, emerged in the 1990s, dealing with the visual experience in Jewish life and culture. Scholars like Richard Cohen, Barbara Kirschenblatt-Gimblett, Margaret Olin, and Kalman Bland, expanded the traditional methodological tools in which Jewish art has been examined, exploring issues such as Jewish art and social studies, historiography of Jewish art, collecting and exhibiting Jewish culture, Jewish attitudes to the visual, etc. Other studies explore the Jewish experience via folk art and daily artifacts, such as New Year cards or cans of Jewish food, as well as the interaction between sacred objects and the people who use them (Joselit, Sabar). The new studies have demonstrated the importance and relevance of the visual to the other, largely text-based, disciplines of Jewish studies, which would open the field to new stimulating cultural discourses.

add. bibliography:

D. Altshuler (ed.), The Precious Legacy: Judaic Treasures from the Czechoslovak State Collections (1983); K.P. Bland, The Artless Jew: Medieval and Modern Affirmations and Denials of the Visual (2000); S. Braunstein, Five Centuries of Hanukkah Lamps from the Jewish Museum (2004); G. Cohen Grossman, Jewish Museums of the World (2003); R.I. Cohen, Jewish Icons: Art and Society in Modern Europe (1998); T. Hubka, Resplendent Synagogues: Architecture and Worship in an Eighteenth Century Polish Community (2003). J.W. Joselit, The Wonders of America: Reinventing Jewish Culture, 18801950 (1995); E. Juhasz, "The "Shiviti-Menorah": A Representation of the Sacred – Between Spirit and Matter" (Ph.D. thesis, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2004); R. Grafman, Crowning Glory: Silver Ornaments of the Jewish Museum (1996); B. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage (1998); C.H Krinsky, Synagogues of Europe: Architecture, History, Meaning, Cambridge (1985); M. Olin, The Nation Without Art: Examining Modern Discourses on Jewish Art (2001); Past Perfect: The Jewish Experience in Early 20th Century Postcards, Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York (1998); S. Sabar, Ketubbah: Jewish Marriage Contractsof the Hebrew Union College Skirball Museum and Klau Library (1990); W. Seipel (ed.), Thora und Krone: Kultgeraete der juedischen Diaspora in der Ukraine (1993); Y. and J. Shadur, Traditional Jewish Papercuts (2002); A. Weber et al. (eds.), Mappot …blessed be who comes: The Band of Jewish Tradition (1997); Z. Weiss, The Sepphoris Synagogue: Deciphering an Ancient Message through Its Archaeological and Socio-Historical Contexts (2005); B. Yaniv, The Torah Case: Its History and Design (Heb., 1997).

[Shalom Sabar (2nd ed.)]

Modern Jewish Art

The definition of Jewish art in the modern period is complex. Formerly, it consisted of objects made for Jewish use, but now it is rarely linked to the Jewish community. Instead, Jewish artists are fully integrated into secular international art and make major contributions to avant-garde movements. Some bow to the pressures of conformity and try to assimilate, and even if they express themselves as Jews, they do so in non-traditional ways. For many of them, the interplay between secular and Jewish factors in their art is problematic. This has led scholars to debate whether all Jews who are artists produce Jewish art or only those who stress their Jewish identity.

Furthermore, modern Jewish art developed parallel to the uneven process of Jewish emancipation that began in the United States and France in the late 18th century, spread through Western and Central Europe between the 1830s and 1870s, and reached Eastern Europe towards the end of the century. Due to this variable chronology, a "first generation" of emancipated Jewish artists continued to be produced into the 20th century, when those who arrived in the West from Eastern Europe faced the same problems that had confronted Jewish artists throughout the 19th century. To complicate matters, although the 18th and 19th centuries produced a few Jewish women artists, the majority began their careers only in the 20th century and were more concerned with problems of gender than of religion. Moreover, the return of Jews to Palestine and the establishment of the State of Israel produced artists who saw themselves as Israelis more than as Jews, while the emigration of Jewish artists from the former Soviet Union produced a reversed Emancipation, allowing them to express their Jewish identity freely. Finally, the gay liberation movement led some Jewish artists at the end of the 20th century to liken coming out of the closet as homosexuals to the problems involved in declaring Jewish identity in art.

In spite of this, modern Jewish art has certain basic characteristics. First of all, despite attempts to establish a "Jewish style," Jewish artists preferred to adopt normative styles in order to be accepted. At first they conformed to academic norms, but from the mid-19th century, they began to take part in avant-garde movements. Yet although they failed, the attempts to develop a "Jewish style" are instructive. In the 1870s Vladimir Stasov, a non-Jewish Russian critic, encouraged Mark *Antokolsky to develop a Jewish national art utilizing Jewish subject matter and an "eastern semitic" style. His ideas on this style are disclosed by his suggestion that the St. Petersburg synagogue be built in the "Arab-Moorish" style and his participation in publishing a book on the ornamental illumination of medieval Hebrew manuscripts from the Cairo Genizah. He thus proposed both the adoption of Near Eastern styles and a return to Oriental Jewish sources. Antokolsky did not agree to create a Jewish school of art, but he was stimulated to plan a Jewish art school to promulgate handicrafts that were widespread as folk art among Russian Jews. He felt that this education would expose Jews to art and provide them with a livelihood. He thus suggested that folk art was a form of national artistic expression.

Stasov's theories and Antokolsky's plans inspired two simultaneous movements: Russian artists created modern Jewish art based on folk art, and the *Bezalel School of Art was founded in Jerusalem and incorporated Oriental art into its style. These two trends expressed two views of the future: the first called for a continuation of Jewish culture in the Diaspora; the second for a new start to Jewish life in the Holy Land.

The Russian approach was also influenced by S. *An-Ski's idea that emancipated Jews could build a secular Jewish identity on Jewish folk culture. Marc *Chagall both welcomed this secular identity and felt close to folk art, claiming the painter of the Mogilev synagogue as his forefather. In St. Petersburg and Paris, he absorbed avant-garde art styles, one of which – Primitivism – acclaimed the aesthetic power of folk and tribal art. Chagall developed a style that translated Jewish themes into a folk art idiom, and later added Fauvist and Cubist elements to it. This union of Jewish folk art with modern styles was taken up by Nathan *Altman and Eliezar *Lissitzky, who joined Chagall in a Jewish art movement that reached its apogee directly after the Russian Revolution. The clearest expressions of this style are Chagall's murals for the State Jewish Chamber Theater in Moscow (1920) and Lissitzky's Had Gadya illustrations (1918–19).

Shortly thereafter, Lissitzky and Altman abandoned this style to join the Russian abstract artists in developing their own revolutionary style. Chagall, who left Russia in 1922, also abandoned this style, but retained a naïve quality in his art and occasionally incorporated folk art motifs into it.

In the mid-1920s, Soviet art enforced the use of Socialist Realism, but this type of Jewish art survived in Anatoli *Kaplan's copies of Jewish folk art in his illustrations. These inspired Michael Grobman in the 1960s to portray Russian and Jewish legends using strange creatures rendered in a folk art style. After Grobman moved to Israel in 1971, he began using bright colors, Hebrew and Russian texts, and kabbalistic symbols in his work. These elements also appear in the art of Grisha Bruskin, where traditional Jews stand beside strange monsters and angels on a background of Hebrew script which defines the figures in kabbalistic terms. He draws on medieval manuscripts, folk art, and Surrealism, blending them in a "naïve" manner. Whereas Grobman and Bruskin use folk art and modern styles in different ways than had Chagall, Lissitzky, and Altman, they are impelled by the same understanding of what Jewish national art should be and by the same need to stress their national identity.

The second movement began in 1906 when Boris *Schatz established the Bezalel School of Art in Jerusalem to teach local Jews to produce art. Influenced by Stasov, Schatz sought to create a Jewish art indigenous to the Near East that would visually express the Jews' return to their land. He united academic Jewish art with contemporary Oriental motifs, and used Oriental Jewish models clothed in Bedouin garb for biblical scenes as both were seen as authentic evidence of the biblical past. Schatz sent the European-born teachers to Istanbul, Damascus, and Cairo to learn Oriental crafts, employed Oriental Jews as experts to weave carpets designed by European students, and taught Yemenite jewelers an "improved" filigree technique. The resulting art was highly eclectic, and only the reaction against Bezalel by young artists in the 1920s would amalgamate these ideas into a coherent style.

These young artists revolted against Schatz's anti-modernist diktats, establishing a Hebrew (as opposed to a Jewish) Artists Association to stress their independence from the Diaspora, but they retained Schatz's ideas. They developed his Orientalist use of models into a cult of the Arab, and tried to create a Jewish national art by combining Near Eastern – i.e., ancient Egyptian, Assyrian, or Byzantine – modes of depiction with the contemporary classical styles of Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. They added a "childlike" quality they deemed appropriate to a newborn national art, turning for inspiration to the French naïve artist Henri Rousseau.

This synthesis is evident in Reuven *Rubin'sDancers of Meron (1926). The style of his ḥasidic Jews is based on "Eastern" Byzantine church murals from his native Romania; the inclined perspective and individually drawn plants recall naïve art; while the broad, almost flat planes of color were inspired by Matisse. Nahum *Gutman presented a different combination in his Goatherd (1926) whose stance is adapted from Egyptian art. Gutman uses this style to make the figure seem both archaic and continuously indigenous to the country, but the plasticity of the body and the childlike background also recall the art of Picasso and Rousseau.

During the 1930s, influenced by Arab onslaughts and the rise of Nazism in Europe, Palestinian Jewish artists rejected this style in favor of a specifically Jewish art. They turned to the Expressionism of the Jewish artists in Paris, an art that was Jewish only because of its authors' origins. At the end of the 1930s, Zionism again inspired artists to return to the ancient Near East in search of a national style, but this time they turned to the archeological excavations that were uncovering Jewish roots in Palestine. Yitzhak *Danziger based his sculpture Nimrod (1939) on ancient Near Eastern art. The very stone from which it is carved – Nubian sandstone from Petra – unites him with the land and its ancient peoples. Moshe *Castel based his pictographic style of the mid-1940s on the naïve figures in the Sacrifice of Isaac from the sixth century mosaic in the Bet Alpha synagogue, thus connecting modern art in Palestine with that practiced there by Jews in ancient times. Later, he used the ancient Hebrew alphabet and figures culled from Mesopotamian cylinder seals to create "ancient Jewish steles" made of colored ground basalt, a technique developed by the Spaniard Antoni Tápies. Rather than waiting for archeologists to uncover proof of Jewish residence in the land, he produced his own "documents" confirming it. Mordecai *Ardon was also influenced by Sumerian and Canaanite images, but turned as well to traditional Jewish sources, borrowing from medieval Hebrew manuscripts and using kabbalistic signs. He felt that the pagan elements in ancient Israelite life could not exist without a traditional Jewish mystical context, and that both must be incorporated into the new Israeli culture in order for it to survive.

Both the Russian and Israeli artists who wished to create a modern Jewish style blended elements from the Jewish past with those taken from contemporary art. Although both models presented viable options for a national style, they were not generally espoused. Even the idea of such a style was not accepted by most Jewish artists, who preferred to adopt the modern styles around them.

In like manner, Jewish artists often adopted contemporary subject matter. Whereas in the 19th century many of them expressed the problems they encountered in emerging from the ghetto and maintaining their Jewish identity in a Christian world, those who arrived from Eastern Europe in the 20th century often embraced secular Western art, preferring not to stress their Jewish roots. Moreover, those who had received a liberal education from emancipated parents preferred neutral subject matter and joined movements that stressed landscape and portrait painting in the 19th century and abstraction in the 20th century. Most of these artists believed that art was an international language and wanted to make their mark as individuals and not as Jews. This approach was also shared by Jewish photographers (e.g., Alfred *Stieglitz), gallery owners (e.g., Herwarth Walden), collectors (e.g., Joseph Hirshhorn), and art critics (e.g., Clement Greenberg). They all would have agreed with Greenberg's advice: "Jewishness, insofar as it has to be asserted in a predominantly Gentile world, should be a personal rather than a mass demonstration." At the same time, many Israelis opted for international styles and neutral subjects, espousing the Zionist desire for normalcy, "to be like unto the nations," while having a nation of their own.

Yet neutral subjects could be adapted to Jewish use. Thus Moritz *Oppenheim's portraits of converted Jews and of those who succeeded while remaining faithful to their religion, express the problems confronting Jews in 19th century Germany. In Russia during a year of pogroms Isaac *Levitan placed a Jewish Tombstone (1881) in a landscape. In like manner, Barnett *Newman and Ya'acov *Agam gave Jewish meaning to their abstract works through their theories and titles, although the latter have to be translated into Hebrew to be fully understood.

On the other hand, some Jewish artists sought to express their Judaism in their art, often as part of a dialogue with Christians. One method, the depiction of traditional Jewish life, developed three main approaches in the 19th century. On the one hand, artists such as Oppenheim and Isador *Kauffman painted cheerful scenes of ghetto life, stressing religious rites and a pleasant atmosphere. These works were intended to strengthen the roots of emancipated Jews by showing them nostalgic views of their grandparents' lifestyle which they had cast off, and to prove the inherent beauty of traditional Jewish life to Christians who were curious about the "exotic" Jews around them. Later artists, such as Yehuda Pen, inspired by a Romantic wish to return to their roots, turned from assimilation to depicting the lifestyle of the Orthodox Jewish community. Still later, nostalgic views of shtetl life, such as those by Chagall and *Mané-Katz, were used to memorialize a way of life that was slowly disappearing and was totally destroyed in the Holocaust.

The second, more pessimistic approach was developed in Eastern Europe by Antokolsky and Samuel *Hirszenberg who stressed the poverty and sufferings of the Jews to arouse pity and sympathy. Their works were inspired by the misery they saw around them and by the pogroms in Eastern Europe in the second half of the 19th century, both of which led to mass emigration. Their iconography influenced artists who depicted the hardships of traditional Jewish life during World War i and its destruction in World War ii.

The third approach depicted tensions between Jews and Christians. In Oppenheim's Lavater and Lessing Visit Moses Mendelssohn (1856), Mendelssohn affirms Judaism despite Johann Caspar Lavater's demands that he convert. The intricacies of the dispute are suggested by the chessboard set between them, but the woman bringing in a tea tray suggests that all will end amicably. In contrast, in The Spanish Inquisition Breaking in on a Marrano Seder (1868), Antokolsky symbolized the fears of Jews in Russia where sudden arrest was common, and stated his belief that assimilation would not save Jews from persecution.

Whereas such problems continued to occupy Jews, some 20th century artists turned instead to confrontations within the Jewish community. Raphael *Soyer'sDancing Lesson (1926) sets portraits of the Orthodox Russian grandparents above the religious but modern parents, who worriedly regard the young couple attempting to assimilate into American life by dancing to the tune of the boy's harmonica.

A different dialogue with the Christian world utilized Christian themes such as the legend of Ahasver who – like the Jewish people – is doomed to eternal wandering for rejecting Jesus. Maurycy *Gottlieb gave this image a positive twist in 1876 by portraying himself in this role as a crowned prince. He thereby stressed pride in his Judaism, but his expression conveys his melancholy at being an outcast from Christian society. In contrast, Hirszenberg's Exile (1904) used this image to show the Jew as a modern refugee heading towards an unknown destination. Hirszenberg's denunciation of Christian antisemitism is even clearer in his rendering of Ahasver fleeing amidst a sea of crosses at the feet of which lie his massacred fellow Jews (1899).

The symbolic image that had the most impact on this type of dialogue was that of Jesus restored to his historical milieu. Antokolsky's Ecce Homo (1873) stressed Jesus' Judaism through his facial features, side locks, skullcap, and striped garment. Inspired by the Odessa pogrom, Antokolsky wanted his statue to remind Christians that persecuting Jesus's brothers perverted his teachings. The use of a Jewish Jesus to combat antisemitism became widespread in modern Jewish art, and Chagall's White Crucifixion (1938) used this imagery to symbolize Jewish victims in the Holocaust.

This dialogue, as well as problems within the Jewish community, led Jewish artists to inject new meanings into Old Testament themes. This practice began in the early 19th century in works by converted Jews. Thus Mendelssohn's grandson Philipp Veit and his fellow Nazarenes decorated the reception room of his converted relative, the Prussian consul Jacob Salomon Bartholdy, with the story of Joseph. This suggests that Bartholdy had a Jewish precedent both for his high office and for assuming the manners – and in his case, the religion – of a non-Jewish court. In a different vein, Eduard *Bendemann expressed the despair at Judaism's fate that led to his conversion by painting mournful scenes: By the Waters of Babylon (1832) and Jeremiah on the Ruins of Jerusalem (ca. 1834–35).

Early Zionist artists also turned to the Old Testament. Lesser *Ury'sJerusalem (1896) depicts the old exiles in Babylon sitting withdrawn or praying, while younger generations look past the river dreaming of the homeland, thus expressing the hope engendered in the young by Zionism. In like manner, Ephraim Moïse *Lilien depicted Theodor Herzl as Moses (1907–8), and created a parallel between the longing for the Promised Land of a Jew bound in slavery in Egypt and that of a European Jew trapped by thorns (1902). In the Jerusalem River Project (1970), Joshua Neustein, Gerard Marx, and Georgette Battle set loudspeakers along a wadi to bring the sound of rushing water to Jerusalem's dry environment, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah that when Israel is redeemed, "live waters will come forth out of Jerusalem."

Old Testament imagery was also used for personal expression. For instance, Simeon *Solomon used his illustrations to the Song of Songs (1857, 1865–68) to express his homosexuality and the despair it caused him, while Jacques *Lipchitz and Jacob *Epstein used their namesake, Jacob, wrestling with the angel to express their own struggles with inspiration during times of crisis (1932, 1940–41).

Biblical images were also employed to express the Holocaust and the birth of the State of Israel. Thus Lipchitz depicted David killing a Nazi Goliath (1933) to demonstrate Jewish resistance to the Nazis, and many artists utilized the Sacrifice of Isaac and Job to symbolize Holocaust victims. After the War of Independence, *Steinhardt used Cain and Abel to portray the war between brothers; Jacob and Esau embracing to express the coveted peace; and Hagar as an outcast Arab refugee. Recently, contemporary artists have been inspired by their times to develop new interpretations. For instance, before leaving Russia, Vitaly *Komar and Alexander *Melamid placed seven photographs of the first page of the text of the Prophet Obadiah (1976) in graded degrees of darkness, suggesting that they see their Jewish origins as fluctuating from readability to impenetrability. In like manner, in The Liberation of God (1990–96), Helene Aylon underlined all the places in the Old Testament in which the patriarchy was stressed as part of her feminist reassessment of Judaism.

After World War ii, biblical imagery was also used to call for reconciliation between Judaism and Christianity. Chagall injected his crucified Jewish Jesus into Old Testament paintings that he wished to house in an interfaith chapel to promote peace by stressing Jesus' Jewish origins to members of both religions. In like manner, the Catholic Church began commissioning Jewish artists to decorate churches such as that at Assy, but the resulting works contain Jewish as well as Christian messages. Lipchitz's statue of the Virgin there shows an un-inhabited mantle, with only the hands visible, brought down to earth by a dove. For a Catholic, this is a perfect rendering of the Immaculate Conception; for Lipchitz it was a way not to represent the Virgin. His inscription on the back dedicates the work to a better understanding between the two faiths. Chagall decorated the Assy Baptistery with a large Crossing of the Red Sea, a Christian prefiguration of baptism. However, at the top of the mural, a Wandering Jew leads the Exodus away from the crucified Christ towards Israel, symbolized by King David and the Tower of David. Such interplays remind us that in interfaith relations each side interprets events according to its own beliefs.

Jewish and Christian artists were also commissioned to produce art for the many synagogues and Jewish community centers that were built from 1945 on. Whereas most Christians produced art deemed appropriate for Jewish use, Jewish artists often felt free to express their own views. This is also true of Jewish book illustration: Arieh Allweil gave his Haggadah a Zionist reading (after 1948), while Leonard *Baskin infused his ambiguous feelings towards Judaism into the version he illustrated (1974).

Another common theme in the 19th century expressed the emancipated Jewish artists' feeling that due to their art they had no place in Jewish society: artists such as Gottlieb, Hirszenberg and Jacob Meyer *de Haan identified with outcasts such as Uriel Acosta and Baruch Spinoza. In the 20th century artists were more concerned with their tenuous place as Jews in contemporary society, and manifested this problem in various ways. Chagall hid his often sarcastic messages about the Christian world by translating Yiddish idioms into visual images that could only be understood by Yiddish speakers, and Ben *Shahn and Baskin incorporated Hebrew texts into their works that added dimensions of meaning that were not open to the general public. Many of R.B. *Kitaj's works deal with problems of non-belonging. He depicted himself symbolically as Marrano (The Secret Jew) (1976), and identified with all outsiders in his book The First Diasporist Manifesto (1989).

This outsider stance also connects Jews with other minorities, an identification espoused by Jewish artists with a strong social conscience. Josef *Israels and Max *Liebermann portrayed poor fishermen and peasants in Europe in the 19th century, while the Americans Max *Weber, the *Soyers, and Shahn depicted those rendered poor and homeless by the Depression. They and younger artists, such as Larry *Rivers, later identified with Afro-Americans, believing they were expressing the humanistic doctrines that they saw as Judaism's contribution to American life.

This affinity with the other assumed another dimension in Israeli art. In the 1920s, seeking to reconnect with the land, artists such as Rubin and Gutman identified with Arab fishermen and shepherds. This tendency stopped with the Arab attacks on Jews in 1929, but was revived in the 1950s in depictions of the Bedouin with whom Israel lived at peace, who were seen as living in harmony with the land. Steinhardt painted them, while Danzinger sculpted sheep to resemble Bedouin tents. Igael *Tumarkin developed this concept by adapting into his sculptures the way they tie material to trees in their sacred groves. All these works express a desire for peaceful coexistence, but Tumarkin also dealt with land as a holy object for which blood is shed. Another type of identification developed after 1967, when Tumarkin pointed out the similarity between the former situation of the Jews and that of present-day Palestinian refugees.

Identification with the other can also be linked to criticism of one's own group and even to self-hate. Whereas Alphonse Lévy portrayed Jews with ironic humor, Chagall criticized Jewish traditions. In Sabbath (1910) the colors and the expressions of the figures create a hellish atmosphere, while in Succoth (1914) the unconscious wish of the Jew who is about to enter a dark synagogue is expressed by a small figure on his head who turns to go the other way. Camille *Pissarro, who saw himself as a socialist-anarchist, depicted hook-nosed Jewish bankers carrying the Golden Calf in an 1890 drawing, and *Maryan Maryan who lost a leg in the Holocaust, portrayed repulsive Orthodox Jews. Chaim *Soutine displayed self-hate by making his own features as ugly as possible. In his series of slaughtered animals, he drenched their carcasses with blood to enrich their color, an action often interpreted as a willful violation of Jewish dietary laws.

In conclusion, the interplay between the personal and the historical has shaped the fabric of modern Jewish art: the artists' choices depend on their background, their attitude to the modern world, and that world's attitude to them. To be accepted in the Christian world they developed a number of strategies: some assimilated into the dominant culture, while others used both "normal" and Jewish subject matter, or expressed their identity in hidden ways. Some chose to be outsiders or had this status thrust upon them by antisemitism or by feelings that the Jewish community rejected them. At other times, they tried to use their art as a bridge between their two worlds, utilizing Christian imagery or socially relevant themes to this end. The creation of Israeli art did not change this situation, although it added its own variations to the characteristics of modern Jewish art. Despite a wish to participate in the international and secular character of modern art in which artists move easily from one country and culture to another, owing allegiance only to Art, many Jewish and Israeli artists at some point reconnected in their art with their Jewish identity.


Z. Amishai-Maisels, "Jewish Artists from the 18th Century to the Present Day," in: G. Sed-Rajna et. al., Jewish Art (1997), esp. 325–36, 358–64, 494–96, 509; R. Apter-Gabriel (ed.), Tradition and Revolution: The Jewish Renaissance in Russian Avant-Garde Art 1912–1928 (1987); M. Baigell, Jewish Artists in New York: The Holocaust Years (2002); M. Baigell and M. Heyd (eds.), Complex Identities: Jewish Consciousness and Modern Art (2001); R.I. Cohen, Jewish Icons: Art and Society in Modern Europe (1998); S.T. Goodman (ed.), The Emergence of Jewish Artists in Nineteenth-Century Europe (2001); idem (ed.), Russian Jewish Artists in a Century of Change (1995); M. Heyd, Mutual Reflections: Jews and Blacks in American Art (2001); A. Kampf, Chagall to Kitaj: The Jewish Experience in 20th Century Art (1990); N. Kleeblatt and S. Chevlowe, Painting a Place in America: Jewish Artists in New York, 1900–1945 (1991); N. Kleeblatt (ed.), Too Jewish? Challenging Traditional Identities (1996); K.E. Silver, Circle of Montparnasse: Jewish Artists in Paris, 1905–1945 (1985); C.M. Soussloff (ed.), Jewish Identity in Modern Art History (1999).

[Ziva Amishai-Maisels (2nd ed.)]

western europe

The 19th Century

The removal of legal and social restrictions in the wake of Emancipation opened the way for West European Jews to engage in the arts. However, at first quite a few Jews chose to take up art as a civil profession. Among them was Moritz Daniel *Oppenheim (1800–1882). From the early stages of his career Oppenheim was aware of the bias between his own Jewish tradition, where the visual arts had played only a minor part so far, and the attitude of the surrounding society which considered art as a supreme expression of European culture. His first monumental painting, Moses Holding the Tablets of the Law, is like a manifesto of his self-awareness as a Jewish artist. After a brief acquaintance with the "Nazarene" movement in Rome, where he had been shunned as a "Jewish outsider" despite his obvious artistic talents, Oppenheim turned towards painting in a naturalist style. He acknowledged the need to accommodate himself to the requirements of an emerging German bourgeois society and became a successful genre painter, portraitist, and art dealer in Frankfurt, serving Jewish as well as non-Jewish clients. Committed to the progress of the Jewish cause throughout his life, he created several highly significant historical representations such as The Return of the Jewish Volunteer (1833), Moses Mendelssohn Playing Chess with Lavater (1856) and Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Playing for Goethe (1864) to demonstrate Jewish civility but also his ability as a Jewish painter of history. Yet it was only in the mid-1860s that he gained lasting reputation as painter of the Scenes from Traditional Jewish Family Life, a series of genre scenes which conveyed religious traditions from the Age of the Ghetto as a source of cultural inspiration. In this case, the customers were foremost Jews, although the printed series had been prepared to address also a non-Jewish public. Subsequently Oppenheim was considered primarily as "the First Jewish painter," a specialist able to fulfil the specific needs of the emerging bourgeois Jewish public.

The career of Moritz Daniel Oppenheim offers a good insight in the kind of challenge that artists of Jewish origin encountered in the 19th century. They were facing not only increasing demands for diversion of a bourgeois society but also had to deal with their own Jewishness as the base of their artistic experience, and moreover were consistently exposed to latent antisemitic feelings.

The most radical solution of the problem was offered by conversion, and this was the case of Philipp Veit (1793–1877), a grandson of Moses Mendelssohn. After his conversion, he became one of the leading members of the Roman Catholic "Nazarene" group, whose rebellion against classicism led to an attempt to infuse a new style into European art on the base of a revival of Christian, i.e. medieval and Renaissance, painting. Veit's talents as a painter of the new style ensured him a successful public career, and eventually he was awarded the position of the director of the municipal Academy of the Arts in Frankfurt, a post never offered to Moritz Daniel Oppenheim. Somewhat similar was the case of Eduard *Bendemann (1811–1889) and Eduard *Magnus (1799–1872). Both came from apostate wealthy Jewish families and were celebrated painters of their time. Bendemann specialized in large historical compositions, obtained many public commissions and eventually followed Wilhelm Schadow as head of the Duesseldorf academy, while Eduard Magnus became a much sought-after portraitist of the Prussian Royal court and the Berlin "haute bourgeoisie."

As a British citizen, it seems to have been somewhat easier for Solomon Alexander *Hart (1806–1881) to ensure a successful public career without being forced to conceal or to defend incessantly his Jewish identity. His realistic paintings of Interior of a Jewish Synagogue and The Feast of Rejoicing the Law were well received and did not impair his election as a full member of the Royal Academy. However, he concentrated on presenting English historical and literary scenes, which were fashionable at the time, as he did not wish to be seen as "the painter merely of religious scenes." His compatriot Abraham Solomon (1823–1862) first presented some Jewish subjects, but later he and his sister Rebecca (1832–1886) painted small, brilliantly colored moral themes from 16th- and 17th- century dramas as well as genre scenes of mid-Victorian society. In the 1860s, both Rebecca and her younger brother Simeon *Solomon (1840–1905) became acquainted with the circle of Pre-Raphaelite artists, and Simeon soon established a reputation for his Jewish religious subjects such as Carrying the Scrolls of the Law painted in the Pre-Raphaelite style. Encouraged by Swinburne and Burne-Jones, he also created themes of Christian or classical pagan background and of religious mysticism sometimes figuring androgynous figures of an idealized male beauty. Arrested in 1873 and convicted for indecency, he was unable to pursue his artistic career and died in poverty.

Like Oppenheim, Solomon J. *Solomon (1860–1927) remained attached to Jewish affairs throughout his life and painted numerous biblical subjects as well as scenes of contemporary Anglo-Jewish life such as High Tea in the Sukkah. But this in no way hindered his success as a fashionable portrait painter for Edwardian society following the tradition of Joshua Reynolds and Lawrence. In 1894, he became a member of the Royal Academy. He was followed by Sir William *Rothenstein (1872–1945), an English impressionist who painted delicate landscapes and some remarkable synagogue interiors. In all, the first two generations of Anglo-Jewish painters were able to uphold their Jewish identity without impediment but chose to follow the artistic mainstream of their country which ensured a wider recognition of their artistic talents.

Likewise, the French painters Jacques-Emile-Edouard Brandon (1831–1897) and Edouard Moyse (1827–1908), both of the first generation of French-Jewish artists, also enjoyed freedom of choice regarding their careers. Like their English colleagues, they painted Jewish subjects alongside Christian ones in an academic style, although Brandon became acquainted with Corot, Degas, and Moreau. His initial success derived from a series of works depicting the life of Saint Brigitte, a subject highly fashionable in the time of Napoleon iii. In later life, however, he concentrated on Jewish subjects like A Synagogue Interior – "The Amidah." Edouard Moyse shared an interest in Jewish subjects with Brandon and painted intimate portraits of rabbis as well as scenes from Jewish life in France at a time when Orientalist painters presented moments of Jewish life in North Africa as an exotic sensation. Like Alphonse Levy (1843–1918), Moyse produced nostalgic renderings of the Hebrew Bible and of the rural Jews from Alsace-Lorraine.

Manifesting his ethnic background in art however, was not of an issue for one of the greatest Impressionists of all, Camille *Pissarro (1830–1903), although he had studied first with the Danish-Jewish artist David Jacobsen. He met Cézanne and became a founding member of the Impressionists in 1874. Famous for his peasant scenes and landscape paintings, he turned to the representation of the modern city life of Paris after 1888. In 1894, however, Pissarro was deeply distressed about the *Dreyfus Affair and the antisemitic accusations of his colleagues Degas and Renoir. He reconsidered his identity but stated that "for a Hebrew, there is not much of that in me." This attitude was somewhat shared by Jules *Adler (1830–1903), who focused on representing the miserable life of the underclass in a naturalist style, a topic favored by many other Jewish painters in the late 19th century, for whom the subject was not alien, as it reminded them of their own backgrounds.

Pissarro's great Dutch contemporary, Jozef *Israels (1824–1911) was also concerned with the life of the poor, and he became internationally famous for his sympathetic renderings of the hard life of Dutch fishermen and peasants in a style which owed much to Rembrandt's somberness, tenderness, and humanity. He only occasionally turned to Jewish themes and personalities, as in A Son of the Ancient Race, but these few paintings became veritable icons in the eye of a Jewish public in quest of authentic Jewish art after the turn of the century. His son Isaac Israels (1865–1934) was a leading Dutch impressionist, known for his scenes from the lives of Paris working girls. Like Israels, the Dutch painter Jacob Meijer *de Haan (1852–1895) started from a traditional Jewish background and first painted some Jewish scenes and portraits but later on balked at this heritage and turned to secular painting. He became a close follower of Paul Gauguin in 1889 with a similar interest in painting landscapes and peasant scenes.

At the same time, a new generation of Jewish artists emerged in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, among them the first Jewish sculptors. The Hungarian Jacob Guttmann (1815–1852), who made busts of the Austrian chancellor Metternich and of Pope Pius x, is now completely forgotten, as is his compatriot Jozsef *Engel (1815–1901), who portrayed Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort. Of sculptors of a later generation, the Austrian (Czech) Samuel Friedrich *Beer (1846–1912) is now remembered chiefly because Herzl sat for him and because he designed the medal for the first Zionist Congress at Basle in 1897.

In contrast, the work of Isidor *Kaufmann (1853–1921), Tina Blau (1845–1916), and Broncia Koller-Pinell (1863–1934) is still remembered today, because each of them made a substantial contribution to art in Austria. Isidor Kaufmann started as a genre painter and portraitist, but later turned to Jewish subjects and became the painter who documented the great heritage of ḥasidic life in Galicia and Moravia in a realist style. As a woman artist, Tina Blau became one of the leading Austrian impressionists, whereas Bianca Koller-Pinell was a major figure in the Viennese art nouveau movement. Both women showed little concern for their Jewish identity and converted later in life, though Blau painted the Jew's street of Amsterdam.

The secular approach to art was also favored by Italian-Jewish artists like Serafino da *Tivoli (1826–1890) and Vito d'*Ancona (1824–1884). Though ardent supporters of the Risorgimento, which led to the abolition of the Ghetto at last, they showed no interest in making their Jewish background artistically visible. Instead, they pursued secular painting and the latest currents of contemporary art. Serafino da Tivoli was the founder of the "Macchiaioli" school, which reacted against neoclassical formulae and applied paint in summary spots to gain an effect of spontaneity. One of the chief painters of this school was Vito d'Ancona, who executed fresh, lively landscapes and nudes and portraits in rich and luminous colors. Vittorio Matteo *Corcos (1859–1933) followed the Macchiaioli school at first, but became an internationally sought-after society portraitist after his marriage and conversion in 1886. Likewise the Swedish impressionist Ernst Josephson (1851–1906) worked also as a portraitist and his fresh, boldly executed portraits of a subject caught at a characteristic moment are among his best achievements.

In Germany, the second generation of Jewish artists like Max *Liebermann (1847–1935) and after him Lesser *Ury (1861–1931) witnessed the emerging liberalism and became less preoccupied with manifesting their religious and ethnic status. Instead, dealing with the latest artistic trend and the search for pictorial truth prevailed. Max Liebermann as a socially conscious artist started to depict the harsh life of day laborers under the influence of the French Realists Courbet and Millet, thus setting a counterbalance to cozy Biedermeier genre scenes which dominated the German art market by then. However, when the artist sent his Jesus in the Temple to Munich in 1879, the public display of the painting set off vicious antisemitic criticism against an artist who had dared to show Jesus as a precocious Jewish boy surrounded by honest Jewish-looking rabbis. Irritated by the result, Liebermann refrained from painting biblical subjects and found his inspiration in the friendship with Jozef Israels and in the life of the small towns and villages of Holland. He adapted French impressionism and became himself the leading German impressionist and a most eminent portraitist. In addition, he made a major contribution to the development of the art of etching. As the founder of the Berlin Secession, Liebermann was elected president of the Prussian Academy of the Arts in the Weimar Republic, but during his entire career he had to withstand harsh attacks like those of the art historian Henry Thode in 1905, who chided him for his "un-German" character. It would seem to be no coincidence that Liebermann painted the famous Jew's Street in Amsterdam at that very time. At the end of his life he was confronted with the rise of Nazism and was forced to resign from the Prussian Academy.

Lesser Ury's artistic career resembled somewhat that of Liebermann's. He too started as an impressionist painter of rural life, but after he had settled in Berlin in 1887 he became the first artist to capture the vibrancy and the luster of the emerging modern metropolis in his Berlin cityscapes. At the very same time, he maintained a lifelong interest in the Bible and created many biblical paintings like Jeremiah, exhibited in one of the earliest shows of Jewish artists in Berlin in 1903. Alongside Israels, Lesser Ury was considered to be one of the first modern Jewish painters.

The 20th Century

With the 20th century, the general picture changed. Whereas hitherto Jewish artists had been few, now there was a sudden explosion of Jewish talent which left a permanent mark on artistic development. Not only from the teeming ghettos of Eastern Europe, but also from the Balkans and North Africa, from well-to-do homes in Germany, England, and America, a stream of Jewish artists emerged. In most cases their Mecca was Paris where they hoped to take up the latest art fashion. It was in the fruitful surroundings of the Fauves and Cubists that the School of Paris was formed which harbored such eminent artists as Soutine, Modigliani, Pascin, Mane-Katz, and especially Chagall. They played a highly significant role in modern painting and their contribution was so great as to be in some quarters considered dominant. Besides creating avant-garde art, some artists and critics of Jewish origin engaged also in discussing the possibility of establishing authentic Jewish art, but their attempt fell short as most of the members of the Paris School rejected the necessity of such a quest and favored the search for purely individual artistic expression instead. The best example is the Italian-Jewish painter Amedeo *Modigliani (1884–1920), who became famous only after his death for his sensual nudes and intimate portraits capturing the mood of loneliness and isolation of the sitter in simple elongated forms and iridescent colors.

However, the sense of loneliness and uprooting in the face of a modern world, where Jewish traditional life was threatened either by dissolution or deep change, could lead also to a new attempt to create an art based on Jewish themes. This was the case of a group of Anglo-Jewish artists like David *Bomberg (1890–1957), Mark *Gertler (1891–1939), and Jacob *Kramer (1892–1962). Mostly, they were born out of the first generation of East European immigrants centered in Whitechapel in the East End of London and educated at the London-based Slade School of Fine Arts. They started to document their Jewish surroundings, the Yiddish theater as the nucleus of culture or the archetypal Jewish family of immigrants, and tried to evoke tradition as with Jacob Kramer in his painting Day of Atonement of 1919.

In Germany, redefining Jewish art had became a major issue through the impact of Martin *Buber, who had proclaimed the necessity of a Jewish national art at the Fifth International Zionist Congress in 1901. Buber's cultural activities stimulated an entire generation of young German and Central European Jewish artists who became involved in creating the "Jewish Renaissance" which reached its climax in Berlin in the Weimar Republic. It was the first time in European art ever that Jewish artists developed their work first and foremost out of their consciousness of a distinct ethnic and religious background. Leading members were graphic artists like Moses Ephraim *Lilien (1874–1925), Herman *Struck (1876–1944), and Joseph *Budko (1888–1940), who leaned first toward art nouveau and later toward expressionism to create a whole new Jewish iconography ranging from Zionist symbols to representations of the world of the shtetl. Lilien's photo of Herzl Overlooking the Rhine became as much an icon as Struck's delicately etched portraits of Polish and Russian Jews in Das Ostjuedische Antlitz. This group was joined by a wide circle of artists, art historians, and critics like Max *Osborn, Rachel Wischnitzer, and Ernst *Cohn-Wiener. Among the artists were the expressionist painters Jakob *Steinhardt (1887–1968) and Ludwig *Meidner, who were already known for their cityscapes and biblical paintings foreshadowing imminent disaster like Meidner's I and the City of 1912 and Steinhardt's monumental Prophet Jeremiah of 1913. Of the same generation was the expressionist sculptor Arnold *Zadikow (1884–1943), who later created the portrait bust of Albert Einstein, and an entire group of avant-garde Polish and Russian Jewish artists such as Jankel *Adler, Issai Kulviansky, El *Lissitzky, and Issachar Ber *Ry-back, to name but a few. Their art works contributed to Berlin's reputation as an international center for the creation of contemporary art.

At the same time, the ritual objects of the *Bezalel Art School founded in Jerusalem in 1906 had a major impact on the creation of modern European Judaica. This field had been largely neglected during the Age of Emancipation, and it was only in the later 19th century that manufacturers like Lazarus Posen started with mass-produced Judaica in the so called "antique silver style." In the early 20th century, however, a group of young artists emerged like Leo *Horovitz (1876–1961), Ludwig Wolpert (1900–1981), Friedrich Adler (1878–1942), and David Gumbel. They were trained as sculptors like Benno *Elkan (1877–1960), but in addition to secular art they started to create ritual objects under the influence of art nouveau at first and later under that of the Bauhaus.

Nevertheless German Jewish artists of the 1920s were not solely involved in the quest for an authentic Jewish art. Some of them formulated new aspects of art out of progressive political attitudes. Their left-wing views led them to defy the saturated bourgeois society, and they searched for new ways to express the human condition as marked by the vicissitudes of the Weimar Republic. This was the case with Otto *Freundlich (1878–1943), a painter, sculptor, and graphic artist who was attracted by the teachings of the Bauhaus during the Weimar Republic but lived predominantly in Paris. He sculpted a new image of man close to abstraction and engaged in painting of the pure form. Artists like John Heartfield (1891–1968) and Lea (1906–1977) and Hans (1901–1958) Grundig became members of the kpd (German Communist Party) and devoted their artistic talents exclusively to the service of the party by creating anti-fascist posters or presentations denouncing the living conditions of the proletariat. Political engagement was considered also a prerequisite of artistic creativity among the "Das Junge Rheinland" group," founded in 1919, where artists like Gert *Wollheim (1894–1970) and Arthur *Kaufmann (1888–1971) painted portraits and genre scenes denouncing the chaos of postwar life in a tortured and emotional late expressionist style, revealing the influence of the "Neue Sachlichkeit" and of Otto Dix. The Viennese painter Max Oppenheimer (1885–1954), who was influenced by Oskar Kokoschka, created portraits with deep psychological insight while Hanns Ludwig Katz (1892–1940), another late expressionist painter, who came under the influence of Max Beckmann in Frankfurt, followed a similar intention when he painted the portrait of Gustav Landauer in 1919/1920.

After the rise to power of the Nazi Party in 1933, all German Jewish artists were threatened by persecution, and later, during wartime, the entire generation of European Jewish artists born since the late 1880s was dispersed and many of them perished in death camps. The show "Degenerate Art" organized by the Nazi authorities in 1938 served as a prelude to annihilation. There, many of the avant-garde art works of Jews and non-Jews alike were publicly decried as "Jewish-Bolshevik botch" or as marks of insanity. However, artists did not simply give in to terror; they tried to resist by creating art. This was especially the case of Friedl *Dicker-Brandeis (1898–1944), who brought art to hundreds of children in the Theresienstadt concentration camp from 1942 until she was sent to Auschwitz in 1944. Charlotte *Salomon (1917–1943), Rudolf *Levy (1875–1944), and Felix Nussbaum (1904–1944) were among those who were persecuted and went into hiding but continued to work nevertheless. They all perished in the Holocaust, but their masterworks created while living under the most oppressive conditions offer a vivid testimony of humanity withstanding all odds. Felix Nussbaum revealed his feelings of solitude and despair in the face of imminent doom in his many self-portraits in a surrealist style and especially in the Danse Macabre, his last painting before deportation to the Auschwitz extermination camp.

While artists all over the world were deeply affected by the Holocaust, the experience of torture and humiliation, of persecution and exile, became a dominant subject for those who had survived. Yet, for many of the artists it was not only about documenting the actual horrors of the death camps but also of visualizing the abyss of human cruelty. Survivors like the Viennese artists Arik Brauer (1929– ) and Fritz Hundertwasser (1928–2000) chose to depict scenes of Fantastic Realism in order to convey the inconceivable dimensions of the catastrophe. Other artists who survived in exile, like Jankel *Adler or Ludwig *Meidner, focused on presenting those who were barred from normal life or created monstrous apocalyptic scenes in order to express suffering.

Jankel Adler (1895–1949) was among those artists who could emigrate to England like Jacob *Bornfriend (1904–1976) and Joseph *Herman (1911– ) but had a hard time supporting themselves as painters. They brought with them the figurative expressionist heritage from the Continent and continued to work in that style. A new style of painting, based as much on the aesthetic experience of expressionism as on abstract painting, emerged in the next generation of Anglo-Jewish artists with a refugee background. Today, the works of artists like Lucien *Freud (1922– ), Leon *Kossoff (1926– ), and Frank *Auerbach (1931– ) are generally acknowledged as having a major impact on contemporary world art, while their ethnic and religious background is rarely stressed. Fascinated by the sheer physicality of the world, these London-based artists work as figurative painters and graphic artists who convey the vibrancy of life, especially the spirituality of human beings out of the materiality of the body in a sensuous, agitated style of brushwork. For them the visual reality offers the indispensable backdrop for exploring the metaphysical quality of life. They are joined in their efforts by the American born R.B. *Kitaj (1932– ) who focuses on presenting the quest for a modern Jewish identity after the Holocaust in his paintings.

[Annette Weber (2nd ed.)]

eastern europe

Jewish artists emerged in Eastern Europe, as well as in Western Europe, as a result of modernization and integration of a part of Jewry into European cultural and social life. It appears only natural, therefore, that the fist Jewish figures to appear on the artistic arena of Eastern Europe in the 1840s–1850s came from privileged circles of the Jewish financial elite that was more prone, in comparison to other sectors of the Jewish community, to acculturation and even assimilation. The most prominent artists of this period (within the borders of the Austrian and the Russian Empire) are Barbu Iscovescu (Itskovich, 1816–1854) and Constantine Daniel Rosenthal (1820–1851) in Romania; Alexander Lesser (1814–1884) and Maximilian Fajans (1827–1890) in Poland.

Those artists' Weltanschauung was molded in the intellectual atmosphere of societies and salons of Jewish Reformist bourgeoisie and acculturated intelligentsia. An important element of the Weltanschauung was a firm belief that Jews were an integral part of the nations in whose midst they existed and whose historic destiny they thus shared. This belief inspired many works created by Jewish artists of the first generation, a striking example of which is Lesser's The Funeral of Five Victims of the Warsaw Manifestation of 1861 (1866). The picture portrays the solemn ceremony of burying Polish patriots who were killed in the repression of the Russian imperial regime. Among the participants led by the Catholic archbishop of the Polish capital, Lesser included representatives of all the sectors and ethnic groups of the Warsaw population of the time, including an Orthodox rabbi and a reformist rabbi. The picture was to emphasize the unity of the Polish nation, composed of diverse ethnic groups including the Jews.

Jewish artists, as well as sections of Jewry they belonged to, identified themselves with the rest of the nation, and this feeling of unity brought about sympathy with the nationalist movements of their countries. Moreover, some Jewish artists were active participants in those movements, such as Iscovescu and Rosenthal, whose role in the 1848–49 revolution in Valakhia and Moldavia was quite prominent. Their art, which is believed to have established the foundations of the Romanian national school of painting, was a visual manifestation of the patriotic ideals of the Romanian nation then being in the process of formation (such as the painting by Rosenthal eloquently named Romania Casting Off Her Handcuffs in the Liberty Camp, 1849).

However, despite the fact that some Jewish artists of the first half of the 19th century had gained recognition, their works did not have a pronounced impact on the cultural transformation of East European Jewry. Being few in number and striving to merge into the national cultures of their countries, these artists remained at the periphery of contemporary Jewish society together with the thin social layer of Jewish intelligentsia whose ideas they expressed.

Owing to a number of political and cultural factors characterizing the evolution of East European Jewry (among them, complete or partial lack of emancipation, perpetuating the dominant role of the traditional culture, numerous Jews habitually living in mono-ethnic settlements, etc.), the process of modernization took specific forms and unfolded more slowly than in the countries of Western Europe. This is one of the reasons why the Jewish artistic presence in Eastern Europe did not become noticeable before the first decades of the second half of the 19th century, i.e., later than in the West.

In the specific historical conditions of Eastern Europe of that period, the new phenomenon of a professional Jewish artist needed certain legitimizing. Jewish traditionalists condemned the artistic trade, regarding it as breaking with the fundamental commandments of Judaism. The non-Jewish public mind shared a deeply rooted belief that Jews were not capable of creating original plastic art. This negative stereotype was also shared by some members of the Jewish intelligentsia. To overcome these prejudices, Jewish publicists came forth with the genre of art criticism and the esthetic essay. In the early 1880s, the pioneers in this genre were Nahum *Sokolow and Mordechai Zvi Mane (1859–1886), the latter being one of the first Jewish artists and a poet writing in Hebrew.

Despite the impeding factors and a certain "delay," in the early 1870s the Jewish presence in art was established by two outstanding names, those of Marc *Antokolsky, a sculptor living in Russia, and Maurycy *Gottlieb, a Polish painter, whose legacies in the art of their countries in particular and of Europe in general have been quite prominent. Some of their works, influenced by the *Haskalah, manifest a pioneering visual interpretation of images of early Christianity as part of the Jewish history, among them Antokolsky's Ecce Homo (1874) and Gottlieb's Christ Preaching at Capernaum (1878–79), where Jesus is portrayed, for the first time in the history of art, as a traditional Semitic Jew. Pioneering this interpretation, the artists tried to analyze anew the pattern of relationship between modern European civilization and Judaism and to demonstrate the universal contribution of Jews to the evolution of this civilization. At the same time, Antokolsky and Gottlieb managed to significantly expand the frames of "the Jewish theme" (depicting scenes of Jewish life and history), both in content and expression, having introduced historical and psychological elements and the cogency of realism. In fact, they turned these themes into a means of introspection revolving around the existential experience and national self-identity of a modern Jewish personality.

In Russia, Vladimir Stasov (1824–1906), a prominent art critic and one of the ideologists of liberal art, enthusiastically welcomed the advent of Jewish artists. Stasov was the first to encourage Antokolsky and later became his friend and patron; he authored a number of articles in which he came forward as an ardent apologist of Jewish creative artistic potential. Being a passionate advocate of the idea of creating a Russian national artistic school, Stasov viewed its emergence as a result of the common creative effort made by all the different peoples inhabiting the Russian empire, Jews in particular. He regarded national ("folk") art as a "truthful" portrayal of history and daily popular life, and urged Jewish artists to turn to Jewish national topics. This appeal elicited a response among several Jewish artists in Russia and Poland, who, being younger contemporaries of Antokolsky and Gottlieb, further developed their art in own manner and became active participants of the artistic life of the late 19th and the early 20th centuries. For a number of painters and sculptors, among them Isaac Asknasii, Moisei Maimon, Pinkhas Geller, Yehuda Pan, Yakov Kruger,Naum *Aronson, and Yosif Gabovich (1862–1939) in Russia, and Lazar *Kreinstin, Mauricy *Trebacz, Artur *Markowicz, Leopold *Pilikhovsky and Hanoch *Glitzenstein in Poland, "the Jewish theme" became the focus of their creative work, notwithstanding all the differences in the artistic manner. They went into depth expressing the social meaning of Jewishness, imbued it with actual meaning, and made it serve as a tool of reflection and the search for solutions to national problems. Unlike those non-Jewish artists who chose to turn to "the Jewish theme," Jewish artists refrained from criticizing the Jewish people, seeing their mission rather in its apologia. At the same time, while portraying Jewish life in historic or genre paintings, the artists strove to embody novel esthetic and ethic national ideals expressed in the images they created.

Other artists were inspired by different goals while treating "the Jewish topic," such as Isidore *Kaufmann and Leopold *Horovitz, who both were of East European origin and lived in Austro-Hungary. Their works reflected nostalgia for the traditional "authentic" Jewish world lost by modernized Jewry. This tendency was especially pronounced in Kaufmann's works portraying an idealized image of the Galician Ḥasidism.

However, quite a few Jewish artists dedicated but a small fraction of their work to Jewish themes, or even chose to distance themselves completely from them, concentrating entirely on purely artistic goals. By the end of the 19th century, though, both groups of Jewish artists in Eastern Europe had gained celebrity and held prominent positions in the artistic life of their countries. In Russia, Asknasii and Maimon, as well as sculptor Ilya *Ginzburg were among the first Jews to become members of the Academy of Arts; Yuli Bershadsky (1869–1956) and Solomon Kishinevsky (1862–1942, died in the Odessa ghetto) were among the leaders of the Association of South Russian Artists in Odessa; Boris Anisfeld and Leon *Bakst were notable as leading pioneering artists who brought about dramatic innovation into the Russian stage design; Isaac *Levitan in Russia and Abraham Neumann in Poland were recognized as prominent masters of landscape painting.

At the same time, the ideologists of the Jewish national movement (mostly of East European origin, such as Martin *Buber) had "rehabilitated" art as an element within the set of national values and come to regarding it as an indispensable attribute of a "historical" nation. They envisioned the climax of Jewish national revival in the formation of the historical Jewish nation. This vision was the background against which the Jewish artistic milieu was formed in various centers of Eastern Europe, bringing together not only the artists but all Jewish intellectuals who shared the national ideas. It is within this milieu that an image of a Jewish artist was molded as someone who adhered to the national idea and by way of his creative work promoted the evolution of the national identification of his people.

The bond between the Jewish national ideology and art was strikingly reflected in the works of several artists connected to the Zionist movement, among them Wilhelm Wachtel from Galicia, Samuel *Hirshenberg from Poland, and especially Ephraim Moses *Lilien, a graphic artist from Austro-Hungary. The works of the latter, according to his contemporaries, provided visual means for "bridging" gaps in Zionist theory. Inspired by Zionist ideas and the mission of creating the national art, some of these artists moved to Ereẓ Israel, more precisely to Jerusalem, where in 1906 sculptor Boris *Shatz established "Betzalel," the Jewish school of arts.

The rise of the Jewish national movement, advancement of literature in both Yiddish and Hebrew, penetrated by modernist attitudes, the idea of creating "the New Jewish Culture," including "the New Jewish Art" as part of it – all these factors had an impact on evolution of the Weltanschauung of the new generation of Jewish artists. Being of East European origin, these artists emerged prior to World War i. For many of them, it was Paris that became the center of attraction, where they became acquainted with avant-garde art. Artists from Eastern Europe were a sizable and active part of the Parisian international artistic bohemia. In 1912, several young East European artists in La Rouche established the first Jewish artistic group "Makhmadim" ("The Precious Ones"), under the leadership of Leo Koenig (1889–1970), who later became a prominent art critic writing in Yiddish, Isaac Lichtenstein and Joseph Chaikov.

From the early 1910s, among the artists residing in Paris were Jacques *Lipchitz, Osip *Zadkine, Leon Indenbaum (1892–1981), Chana *Orloff, Chaim *Soutine, Pinchas Krémègne (1890–1981), originally from Russia; Henry *Epstein, Marek *Szwarz, Moïse *Kisling from Poland; Béla Czobel (1883–1976) from Hungary; and Jules *Pascin from Bulgaria, together with many other artists who had come from Eastern Europe. In this circle were such artists as Marc *Chagall, Nathan *Altman, and Robert *Falk, who had come from Russia and already gained celebrity, being regarded by art critics as the most prominent figures of "the New Jewish Art."

[Hillel Kazovsky (2nd ed.)]

modern ereẒ israel

Art in modern Ereẓ Israel can be dated from the first Zionist immigration to Palestine. Its evolution followed to a certain extent the pattern of the successive waves of immigration. One of the central questions concerning art in Ereẓ Israel, and later Israeli art, concerns identity, the question of assigning it precise defining characteristics that will distinguish it from the Jewish art of the Diaspora. The art in Ereẓ Israel of the first decades of the 20th century might be considered in terms of the continuity of the artistic and cultural traditions that the artists, who were all immigrants, had brought over with them. However, they also participated in the Zionist project of creating a new identity for an old nation creating itself anew. The creative awareness of artists of later generations fluctuated between, on the one hand, the desire to create a native art based on an indigenous independent language, an organic part of the land, and its physical and social conditions; and, on the other, the attraction to artistic developments overseas, which, particularly until the 1960s, were associated with Paris.

The Creation of the Bezalel School

The creation of new symbols of identity for the Jewish people in its ancient homeland was, indeed, at the heart of Boris *Schatz's life project. In 1906, Schatz (1867–1932) immigrated to Ereẓ Israel from Bulgaria. He was a painter and sculptor and had been head of the Royal Academy of Art in Sofia. In the year of his arrival he realized his dream of founding a school of arts and crafts in Jerusalem. He called it the *Bezalel School after the biblical architect of the Tabernacle. The founding of an art institute in Jerusalem in 1906 was an adventurous undertaking. The Jewish population of the Yishuv was small and the Orthodox were certain to protest vigorously against a school which might violate the biblical prohibition against the making of graven images. Nevertheless, Bezalel received the full backing of the Zionist Organization. The foundation of the school must be considered the beginning of genuine artistic activity. Until then the only art forms produced locally were by Arabs and the small Jewish communities of Jerusalem, Safed, and Tiberias. They consisted of arts and crafts and pictorial representations for devotional purposes. Schatz wanted to establish a cultural-artistic center that would advance the utopian vision of a Jewish home-land. He planned his school to train painters, sculptors, and craftsmen on two levels, which he was careful to define as the "technical level" and the "national level." The teachers he hired included local artisans (goldsmiths and Yemenite weavers) as well as Jewish artists who were already well established in Europe, such as Abel *Pann (1883–1963), Samuel *Hirshenberg (1865–1908), Ephraim Moses *Lilien (1874–1925), Zeev Raban (1890–1970), and Joseph *Budko (1888–1940). They all came from Eastern Europe and their artistic training had tended to lead them away from Judaism, but they had come to know both the horror of the pogroms and the nationalist revival in Europe. They now felt the need to use their academic knowledge to relate to the past as represented by the Bible and to the future as represented by the advent of Zionism. The Wandering Jew by Hirshenberg, the biblical pastels of Pann, and the reliefs of biblical figures and Zionist personalities by Schatz represented this outlook. In Lilien's illustrations and etchings, Yemenite Jews, Bedouins and Arabs in their traditional dresses served as models for images of biblical figures. The "Bezalel Style" was consequently quite eclectic, combining Oriental arabesques and Jugendstil flowing lines and decorative flatness. The themes combined biblical motifs, often in a Zionist perspective, and landscapes done in an idealist-utopian and Orientalist spirit. The products included jewelry, religious artifacts, ceramic tiles, postcards, illustrated books, and posters. Bezalel under the directorship of Schatz closed down in 1928 because of economic problems and because its generally conservative orientation seemed inimical to the modernist outlook. It reopened as the "New Bezalel" in the 1930s under the guidance of immigrant Jewish artists from Germany who oriented it toward the spirit of the Bauhaus School.

The 1920s

Early criticism of Bezalel is already in evident in the first important exhibition in Ereẓ Israel, organized in 1923 by the younger generation of Palestine artists. It was held in the so-called Tower of David in Jerusalem and included the work of Nahum *Gutman (1898–1980), Reuven *Rubin (1893–1974), Pinhas *Litvinovsky (1894–1985), and Israel *Paldi (1892–1979), all of whom had been pupils at the Bezalel. The work of newcomers such as Yossef *Zaritsky (1891–1985) was also shown. These young people had realized how anachronistic the style and ideas of their teachers had been and it was this group, who were mainly landscape artists, that formed the nucleus out of which Israeli art developed. With the new waves of immigration of 1919–25, Tel Aviv, a modern new city, became a lively cultural alternative to Jerusalem, drawing writers, artists, musicians, and theater people who felt the need to create a new local Hebrew culture. The three exhibitions of "Modern Artists" at the Ohel Theater during 1926–28 exhibited the modernist orientation of the young artists such as Nachum Gutman, Arieh Lubin (1897–1980), Moshe *Mokady (1902–1975), Israel Paldi, Reuven Rubin, Menachem *Shemi (1897–1951), Tziona *Tagger (1900–1988), Moshe *Castel (1909–1991), Yossef Zaritzky, and others.

The artistic alternatives these artists proposed were defined by a desire to become acculturated in the new Oriental surrounding and adopt the figure of the Arab as a model for the new "Hebrew." They went out to the landscapes in order to bring together the biblical past and the modern pioneers, the local Arabs, and the rooted Oriental Jews. Stylistically, they were guided by the need to create a national art, and, at the same time, to develop universal means of expression which would qualify them as modern artists. The conflict persisted throughout the 1920s and 1930s, even when definition of its components – national art, universalism – underwent slight alteration. Thus, in the 1920s, nationalism was equated with the ideals of pioneering and national renewal. The anti-Diaspora ideal and the demand for an original Hebrew culture found expression in stylistic primitivism (with affinity to the art of the Near and Far East) and exotic-naïve predilections which were realized in flattening and use of color planes with strong contours (corresponding, to some extent, to the expressionistic tendencies in European art which rejected the art of the museum and sought the roots of art in its primitive sources). At the same time, these artists showed a desire to belong to a modern artistic context as evinced by the borrowing of the trappings of modernism as represented by cubist and constructivist trends. These included simplification, even some distortion, and, to a certain degree, geometric construction of form, while preserving the realistic character of the work. Such artists as Tagger, Itzhak *Frenkel (1899–1981), and Mokady found the model in the work of André Derain, whose moderate modernism fitted the needs of a young art lacking in tradition.

The 1930s

In the late 1920s artists from Ereẓ Israel began flocking to Paris; this was accompanied by a tendency to abandon the former modernistic manifestations and folk-loristic character and by an intensified desire to root art in an established artistic tradition, all the more so since France in those years was marked by the trend of reverting to traditional artistic values. Paris offered the Ereẓ Israel artists a wide range of choices. There was the French landscape tradition of the 19th century (Corot, Courbet) and various impressionist and post-impressionist trends (Cézanne, the "intimist" artists). The Jewish School of Paris artists (Soutine, Mintchine, Kremegne, Menkès) offered an expressionism based on a dark palette with the paint laid thickly as an element conveying atmosphere and feeling. Artists such as Haim *Atar (Apteker; 1902–1953), Mokady, Frenkel, and Moshe Castel were shaped by the extreme expressionist manifestations, as represented by Soutine. Others, such as Shemi, Haim Gliksberg (1904–1970), Avigdor *Stematsky (1908–1989), Eliahu Sigad (Sigard; 1909–1975), exhibit a more moderate expressionism together with post-impressionist influences.

From 1933, artists and architects who had fled the Nazis constituted an important element of the art scene in Palestine. Some of them were associated with German avant-garde expressionist groups; others studied at the Bauhaus under Itten, Kandinsky, Klee, and the architect Gropius. Jakob *Steinhardt (1887–1968), Mordecai *Ardon (1896– 1992), Miron *Sima (1902–1999), Isidor *Aschheim (1891–1968), and Shalom *Sebba (1897–1975) came in this wave of immigration. With the exception of Sebba, they all settled in Jerusalem. They created a "Jerusalem School" which was dominated by certain aspects of German expressionism. These artists were preceded by two Viennese painters, Anna *Ticho (1894–1980) and Leopold *Krakauer (1890–1954). By the mid-1930s, some of the painters of the first generation of Bezalel graduates had begun to lose their originality and vitality. The coming of new artists, in particular Ardon and Sebba, revived the artistic scene. Mordecai Ardon, a graduate of the Weimar Bauhaus, achieved this through his efficient teaching at the Bezalel School. Sebba aimed at applying a European archaistic-primitivist tendency to a "localism" associated with the figures of shepherds and exerted his influence through stage designs and the decoration of public buildings.

The 1940s

World War ii brought about a feeling of isolation from the outside world for the younger artists of the period, but also an increasing sense of a local identity that was antithetical to the image of the Jew of the Diaspora. This trend was exemplified by a group of writers and poets – Amos *Kenan, Benjamin *Tammuz, Aharon *Amir, Jonathan *Ratosh – who became known as the "Canaanites." They called for a separation of the Hebrew identity from Judaism and for its re-attachment to the ancient land of Canaan and its culture. Artists such as Yitshak *Danziger (1916–1977) and Aharon *Kahana (1905–1967) adopted a primitivist-Oriental imagery and borrowed the myths of the Ancient East. Danziger's sculpture Nimrod, with its archaism, nudity, and non-Jewish connotations, became a manifesto and a model to young artists such as Yehiel *Shemi (1922–2003), Shoshana Heiman (1923– ), and others. In the late 1950s, Danziger abandoned the "Canaanite" orientation and turned to abstract sculpture inspired by the Israeli landscape.

Alongside the "Canaanites," there was another group of artists whose orientation was geared to the expression of social issues. Among the "social realists" were kibbutz artists such as Yohanan Simon (1905–1976) and Shraga Weil (1918– ), who endowed daily life in the kibbutz with a religious-mystical romantic mood. There were "engaged" artists, with pronounced socialist leanings, such as Avraham *Ofek (1935–1990), Naftali Bezem (1924– ), Shimeon Tzabar (1926– ), Moshe Gat (1935– ), and others. In the 1950s, in the midst of the great waves of immigration to Israel, Ruth Schloss (1922– ) Gerson Knispel (1932– ), Bezem and Weil evoked in their works the hardships of the temporary homes for the immigrants in the ma'barot.

New Horizons

By 1945, Israel painters had become aware that the two Paris schools had ceased to exist. The Jewish painters had almost all disappeared. A younger generation of abstract painters had succeeded the post-cubist fauvist schools, and these painters now began to exercise a considerable influence on Israeli artists, including several veterans among them. The work of Aharon Giladi (1907–1993), Mordecai *Levanon (1901–1968), Litvinovsky, Paldi, and Frenkel evolved toward a more "modern" style, which in some cases resembled that of Rouault or Picasso, rather than that of the two Paris schools. The influence of Parisian abstraction could be seen in the work of Castel and Mokady. The most important event of this period was the creation of the New Horizons Group in 1947/48. The leaders were Zaritsky and Marcel *Janco (1895–1984), a painter of Romanian origin who had gained renown as a member of the dada movement in Zurich, and who arrived in Palestine in 1941. Around them were grouped Yeḥezkiel *Streichman (1906–1993) and Avigdor Stematsky. They all made a decisive contribution to the development of what became known as "lyrical abstraction," combining free, abstract style with a predilection for the expression of the light and color palate characterizing the local experience. Zaritsky followed his own path with some debt to Braque and French "intimisme"; Streichman and Stematsky were influenced by Picasso as well as by the lyrical trend in the School of Paris. They were joined by Avraham Naton (1906–1959), Kahana, and Yeḥiel Krize (1909–1968) who were still working on figurative though somewhat simplified themes; Jacob Wexler (1912–1995), Avshalom Okashi (1916–1980), Moshe Castel, Zvi *Mairovich (1909–1974), Arie *Aroch (1908–1974), and the sculptors Yitshak Danziger, Yeḥiel Shemi, and Moshe *Sternschuss (1903–1992). A little later the two leaders split over the choice of entries for Israel's first participation in the Venice Biennale. The reactions were so violent that Marcel Janco left the New Horizons Group after its first exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum in 1949. Zaritsky inherited the leadership. Group exhibitions were held until 1963. Although certain members returned later to figurative work (Kahana), or geometric abstraction (Naton), the formation of the group marked the end of the expressionist phase in Israel art and opened the way to new ideas.

The 1960s

Lyrical abstraction dominated Israeli art until 1955. Streichman and Stematsky, both teachers at the Avni Institute in Tel Aviv, played an important role in the formation of a second generation of artists that took abstraction to new directions, at times more extreme than those of their teachers. Of this group should be singled out Lea *Nikel (1918–2005), whose work was highly abstract, sensual, lively, and colorful, and Moshe *Kupferman (1926–2003), a Holocaust survivor whose paintings might be seen as representing both formal abstract qualities and thematic connotations associated with his personal experiences. The way was already clear, however, for new experimenters. The most important of these was Arie Aroch, whose work may be associated with the spirit of the poetic revolution of the 1950s, embodied by Nathan *Zach, David *Avidan, Meir Wieseltier, and Dalia *Ravikovitch. Aroch proposed an alternative to lyrical abstraction by developing a calligraphy that was based on children's drawings, developing uncommon techniques (rubbing, erasing, scratching) and utilizing motifs and forms taken out of "non-artistic" sources (such as street signs), Jewish manuscripts, and other readymade forms. Aviva *Uri (1927–1989) chose to work with pencil, charcoal, and oil sticks and to develop an expressive line that reflected anxieties and emotional tensions. The third artist to work away from lyrical abstraction was Igael *Tumarkin (1933– ), who in the early 1960s began making rather violent assemblages that combined readymade objects, expressionist brushwork, texts sprayed through matrices, art historical citations. These works, with their controversial political-social stand, echoed the new Pop Art and new Realism then current abroad. This new spirit, and the direct influence of Aroch and Uri, were seen in the work of several young painters, notably Rafi *Lavie (1937– ), who formed the "Group of Ten." Lavie's work, in its connotation of a municipal billboard, with its torn posters and dynamic and haphazard piling up of images, evoked the essence of the spirit of Tel Aviv. An exhibition entitled "The Want of Matter – A Quality in Israeli Art," curated by Sara Breitberg-Semel at the Tel Aviv Museum in 1986, provided a major summing up of all these trends of the 1960s.

The 1970s

The "Group of Ten" reflected the beginning of the trend of the "Americanization" of Israeli art that was augmented by the greater exposure to American culture brought about by volunteers who flocked to Israel following the Six-Day War and by young Jewish-American artists such as Joshua *Neustein (1940– ), who immigrated to Israel in 1964. The art of the 1970s mirrors American trends such as conceptual art, body art, performance, environmental art ("Earth Art"), and minimalist art. The years 1967–83, encompassing three wars, also brought about an eclipse of the former spirit of national identity, with the private identity replacing the collective dream. Michal Na'aman (1951– ) searched the limits of language in their application to national or sexual identity; the works of Michael Druks (1940– ), Motti Mizrahi (1946– ), Yocheved Weinfeld (1947– ), David Ginton (1947– ), Gideon Gechtman (1942– ), Moshe Gershuni (1936– ), and Haim Maor (1951– ) examine the human body and the limits of pain and suffering, at times in relation to war. Artists such as Avital *Geva (1941– ), Micha *Ullman (1940– ), Pinchas Cohen-Gan (1942– ), Dov Or-Ner (1927– ), Dganit Berest (1949– ), Menashe Kadishman (1932– ), Dov Heller (1937– ), Dani *Karavan (1930– ), and others, dealt with the question of borders, maps, environment and ecology. Alongside the trends that emphasized themes and contents, there was a more abstract trend, which engaged in examining minimalist form. This trend was amply reflected in the works of Yehiel Shemi, Michael *Gross (1920–2004), Nahum Tevet (1946– ), Beni *Efrat (1936– ), Rita Alima (1932– ), and Ori *Reisman (1924–1991). It should be recalled that there were artists, such as Naftali Bezem (1924– ) and Moshe Tamir (1924–2004), who remained figurative painters. A return to themes which were figurative and evocative of the Holocaust and to traditional Jewish subjects, first noticeable in the work of Ardon himself, is illustrated in various ways by Yossl *Bergner (1920– ), Shmuel Boneh (1930–1999), and Shraga Weil.

The 1980s and After

Critical post-modernist attitudes, which became quite dominant in Israeli art in the 1980s, express a growing tendency to give voice to the "Other" – artists raised in immigrant families, homosexuals and lesbians, or artists belonging to minority groups. The "Israeli experience," based on a collective, monolithic memory, had fallen apart. The paintings of Yair *Garbuz (1945– ), David Reeb (1952– ), Tsivi Geva (1951– ), and Avishai Eyal (1945– ), or the photographs of Micha Kirshner (1947– ), Michal Heyman (1954– ), Shuka Glotman (1953– ), and Adi Ness (1966– ) are examples of a new critical and deconstructive examination of the Israeli experience, of local history and its visual representations, and of the manipulations of the collective-political memory. Various aspects of the post-modern condition gained in prominence in the course of the last two decades. These include an erasure of the borders separating illusion from reality (art based on the virtual worlds created in the cinema, for instance, as reflected in the paintings of Anat Ben Shaul; the sense of apocalyptic threat expressed in the works of Dorit Yacoby and Moshe Gershuni). The threat of loss of the family home or the national one is given form by the prominence of the "house" motif in the sculptures of Micha Ulman, Philip Renzer (1956– ), Gideon Gechtman, and Buky Schwarz (1932– ). For more than a decade now, there has been a growing emphasis on the Holocaust as one of the major constituents in defining the Israeli identity, especially on the part of artists such as Yocheved Weinfeld, Simcha Shirman (1947– ), Haim Maor, and Uri Katzenshtein (1951– ), who are second-generation survivors.

The particular problems of identity and the tensions surrounding the broad concept of the "Israeli experience" largely account for the development in the Israel of recent years of an art that is fully sensitive and attentive to what is happening both in the public sphere and in the private domain, and that has gained a prominent position in the global art scene, as evinced by the interest shown in exhibitions of Israeli art in various venues abroad.

[Haim Finkelstein and

Haim Maor (2nd ed.)]

united states

The term Jewish American art, like the more generalized Jewish art, is fraught with complications and variously understood. Critics debate whether Jewish American art need only be art made by a Jewish American, independent of content, or if both the artist's and the artwork's identity must be Jewish. Indeed, working in myriad styles and adopting both figuration and abstraction, some artists address Jewishness and the more specific Jewish American experience, while others make art indistinguishable in subject from their gentile counterparts. If a Jewish American artist should be defined sociologically or by theme remains an open question, and thus in this essay Jewish American artists are accepted by either criteria, leaving the matter for the reader to decide.

Before 1900

While Jews arrived in America as early as 1654, they did not enter the visual arts in a meaningful way until the 19th century. The freedoms accorded Jews enabled them to participate in the plastic arts, but the loosening of religious strictures as well as uneasiness about the respectability of an art career disappeared slowly. Hesitancy was often the result of the Second Commandment, the prohibition against graven images. Myer *Myers was an 18th-century silversmith who made both lay and religious objects for colonial merchants. He created rimmonim for several synagogues, including New York's Congregation Shearith Israel and the Yeshuat Israel Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island. In the 19th century, a handful of Jews painted portraits. Wealthy patrons commissioned the brothers Joshua and John Canter (or Canterson) to record their visages. Theodore Sidney *Moïse, Frederick E. Cohen, and Jacob Hart Lazarus are other 19th century Jewish portraitists of note.

Solomon Nunes *Carvalho is the best-known painter from this period. In addition to making portraits of members of the Jewish community, he did allegorical portraits, including one of Abraham Lincoln (1865). Carvalho created a few biblical paintings and landscapes as well, but his fame rests on his work as a daguerreotypist for John C. Frémont's 1853 exploratory expedition through Kansas, Utah, and Colorado. Max *Rosenthal was the official illustrator for the United States Military Commission during the Civil War. Later, Rosenthal painted Jesus at Prayer for a Protestant church in Baltimore, presenting Jesus with phylacteries on his forehead and right arm. The altarpiece was promptly rejected. Henry *Mosler began his career as an artist correspondent for Harper's Weekly during the Civil War. Like many non-Jewish artists, Mosler went to Europe for artistic training. He soon became a painter of genre scenes, frequently picturing peasant life in Brittany, France. His canvas The Wedding Feast, which was exhibited at the Paris Salon, records Breton marriage customs (c. 1892).

The eminent sculptor Moses Jacob *Ezekiel made numerous portrait heads, including a bronze bust of Isaac Mayer Wise in 1899. The B'nai B'rith commissioned Ezekiel's large marble group Religious Liberty for the Centennial Exhibition of 1876, and in 1888 he designed the seal for the recently established Jewish Publication Society of America. Ephraim Keyser created commemorative sculptures, for instance President Chester Arthur's tomb at the Rural Cemetery in Albany, New York. Katherine M. Cohen studied with the famous sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens and made portrait busts. These early painters and sculptors worked independently and were not readily known to each other. They created in relatively divergent styles along the same trends as the larger American community. It was not until the 20th century that Jewish American artists began interacting and taking art classes together.


Among the large 1880 to 1920 influx of immigrants to the United States were two million Jews. Mostly from poor communities in Eastern Europe, these immigrants were eager to assimilate. The Educational Alliance, a settlement house on the Lower East Side of New York City where many immigrants went to learn American manners and customs, offered art classes starting in 1895. Art classes were discontinued in 1905, resuming in 1917. From the school's reopening until 1955, Russian immigrant Abbo Ostrowsky served as director of the institution. Many well-known artists studied at the Alliance, including the sculptors Saul *Baizerman, Jo *Davidson, and Chaim *Gross, and the painters Philip Evergood, Barnett *Newman, and Moses *Soyer. The Alliance sponsored art exhibitions as did other Jewishly identified venues in New York. In 1912 the Ethical Culture Society's Madison House Settlement arranged a show of Jewish Russian immigrant artists, such as Samuel Halpert, in which Gentile artists also participated. The People's Art Guild held over 60 exhibitions from 1915 to 1918. In May 1917, 300 works by 89 artists were exhibited at the Forverts Building (the Yiddish daily newspaper the Forward), of which over half were Jewish. Well-known philanthropists Stephen Wise, Judah Magnes, and Jacob Schiff helped sponsor the exhibition. From 1925 to 1927 the Jewish Art Center, directed by Jennings Tofel and Benjamin *Kopman, held exhibitions focusing on Yiddish culture.

In the early decades of the 20th century some artists, such as Abraham *Walkowitz, William Meyerowitz, and Jacob *Epstein, began their nascent careers by picturing imagery of the Lower East Side. The gentile observer Hutchins Hapgood described East Side imagery in his 1902 text, "The Spirit of the Ghetto" as typically Jewish. Characterizing such work as "Ghetto art," Hapgood named Epstein, Bernard Gussow, and Nathaniel Loewenberg as exemplars of the mode. To illustrate Hapgood's evocation of the cultural and religious nature of the Jewish people, Epstein made 52 drawings and a cover design for the book. Epstein later became an expatriate, settling in London and gaining fame as a sculptor.

The photographer Alfred *Stieglitz championed modernism in the 1910s. While most of the artists that Stieglitz supported were not Jewish, the avant-garde painter and sculptor Max *Weber enjoyed his patronage. An underlying tone of antisemitism, or at least an intense nativism, pervaded some discussions of modernism at this time. The conservative critic Royal Cortissoz described modernism as "Ellis Island art," while others termed it the art of aliens. Indeed, modernism was frequently associated with Jews, a position later adopted by Hitler.

Many artists addressed political, social, and economic issues, especially during the Great Depression. It has been argued that traditions of social justice impel Jewish artists to create imagery of the underdog. Although secular in theme, these works – influenced by the Jewish experience – would be recognized as Jewish American art even by critics who define the term in its strictest sense. Working as Social Realists in the 1930s, the *Soyer brothers (Raphael, Moses, and Isaac) observed the mundane details of life, like waiting in an unemployment line, with gentleness and compassion. Peter *Blume and Ben *Shahn were more overtly politically committed; Shahn made over 20 images decrying the ethnically biased trial and execution of Italian American anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. William *Gropper expressed his political sympathies as a cartoonist for the left-wing publications New Masses and the Yiddish daily Morning Freiheit. Some artists' work appeared in the Yiddish journal Schriftn and in The Menorah Journal, a periodical devoted to Jewish culture that also attempted at various times to define Jewish art.

Louis *Lozowick, who worked as a Precisionist painter of city scenes and at times as a Social Realist, was also an art critic for The Menorah Journal. In a 1924 article on Jewish artists who recently exhibited in New York, Lozowick mentions Theresa *Bernstein, William Gropper, and William *Zorach, among others. Although few of the names devoted their art to Jewish themes (at least at that time), Lozowick's identification of the artists as Jewish indicates that he, like many critics, understood the term Jewish artist as connoting the ethnic identification of the artist rather than the artist's subject matter. A year later Peter Krasnow explicitly defined Jewish art in The Menorah Journal as any art produced by a Jew regardless of subject. In this early period of Jewish integration into America, most artists tried to avoid this kind of discourse, fearing that such categorization would pigeonhole their work as Other or parochial. There was, however, ambivalence on the part of many artists. To be sure, even if artists shied away from the classification "Jewish artist," several still displayed their work at the aforementioned Jewish Art Center and the Educational Alliance, among other Jewish locales. The art exhibitions of the Yiddisher Kultur Farband (ykuf), a Communist organization dedicated to fighting fascism, were also quite popular. Established in September 1937 by the World Alliance for Yiddish Culture, ykuf's first art exhibition was held in 1938. Minna *Harkavy, Lionel *Reiss, and Louis Ribak were among 102 artists who showed work on both Jewish and non-Jewish material.

In 1936, nine Jewish artists formed a group they dubbed "The Ten" (the tenth spot was reserved for a guest artist). *Ben-Zion, Ilya *Bolotowsky, Adolph *Gottlieb, Louis Harris, Jack Kufeld, Marcus Rothkowitz (Marc *Rothko), Louis *Schanker, Joseph Solman, and Nahum Tschacbasov exhibited together for four years. That the artists shared a Jewish background is typically understood as a coincidence. No common style or theme pervades the group's work, but most members were committed to modernist developments.

In the 1940s Jack *Levine worked as a Social Realist, although he painted more satirically and expressionistically than did the practitioners of the mode in the thirties. Beginning in 1941, Levine painted and made prints of biblical figures and stories in addition to his politically motivated art. After his first biblical painting, Planning Solomon's Temple, Levine rendered hundreds more images inspired by the Bible's narrative. Often employing Hebrew labels to identify figures, Levine's biblical works, he explained, attempt to augment Jewish pictorial expression, which he felt was hampered by the Second Commandment. The Boston-born Levine began a lifelong friendship with Hyman *Bloom when the pair started studying art together at a Jewish Community Center in their early teens. Bloom also retained the human figure in an increasingly abstract art world, painting secular and religious matter in brilliant colors.


A number of the leading Abstract Expressionists were Jewish. Adolph Gottlieb, Philip *Guston, Franz *Kline, Lee *Krasner, Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt, and Mark Rothko are among several artists who eschewed representation in the late 1940s and 1950s. The style(s) in which the artists worked are difficult to generalize, but they typically painted on large canvases and were interested in spontaneous expression. Although abstract, Newman's painting has been understood as shaped by his Jewish sensibilities, in part because of titles like Covenant and The Name, and also because, it has been argued, his knowledge of Kabbalah influenced his "zip paintings," which can be read as symbolic of God and Creation. Some second-generation Abstract Expressionists were also Jewish. Helen *Frankenthaler and Morris *Louis stained unprimed canvases with thinned color that seemed to float on and through the canvas. Louis named a series of his paintings with letters from the Hebrew alphabet. Clement *Greenberg and Harold *Rosenberg, two of the main art critics who promulgated abstraction, were Jewish.

Although better known for his criticism of contemporary art, Rosenberg also wrote one of the canonical articles on Jewish art. Published in Commentary in July 1966, Rosenberg's sarcastic and provocative essay "Is There a Jewish Art?" continues to serve as a springboard for scholarly discussions of Jewish art in America and abroad. Influenced in part by the formalist concerns of Abstract Expressionism, Rosenberg argued that an authentic Jewish art must be defined stylistically.

Artists who worked as Social Realists during the 1930s turned their sensibilities toward the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Raphael Soyer made a lithograph titled Amos on Racial Equality (1960s), which quotes Amos in Hebrew and English and depicts a white woman carrying a black infant. Ben Shahn's lithograph Thou Shalt Not Stand Idly By (1965) portrays an oversized interracial handshake. The title comes from Leviticus 19:16 and is printed in Hebrew and in English at the top of the image. Artists of the next generation also addressed social issues. After the fact, R.B. *Kitaj comments on the integration of blacks into professional baseball with his painting Amerika (Baseball) (1983–84). Jewish-black relations have become strained since the civil rights movement, a situation Art *Spiegelman tackled with his cover design of a black woman kissing a ḥasidic man for the February 1993 issue of the New Yorker.

Two Jewish artists initiated the Feminist Art Movement. At the height of the Women's Liberation Movement, Judy *Chicago and Miriam Schapiro jointly founded the Feminist Art Program at the California Institute of the Arts in 1971. Chicago is especially known for her enormous multimedia installation The Dinner Party: A Symbol of Our Heritage (1974–79). Made with over 400 collaborators, The Dinner Party was created to raise awareness of a forgotten women's history in a male-dominated society. Audrey Flack and Barbara *Kruger are also important feminist artists; Flack's photorealist paintings comment on stereotypes of femininity and Kruger deconstructs power relations in her photomontage images. Recent scholarship has argued that many of the early feminist artists were Jewish because as perennial outsiders and as the children or grandchildren of radical immigrants, fighting for justice and equality was a natural heritage. With such a link, feminist art by Jews would also be considered "Jewish Art" by critics who feel that elements of the Jewish experience, spiritual or secular, must be a prerequisite for art to receive this label.

In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, Jewish artists worked in diverse manners. Jim *Dine and Roy *Lichtenstein engaged a Pop idiom in the vein of Andy Warhol during the 1960s. Emerging into the public eye in the 1970s, Philip *Pearlstein paints figures in a flat, unemotional style that treats the human form with the same objectivity as the inanimate objects surrounding the model. Also painting figuratively, Alex *Katz typically fills his large canvases with the flattened, simplified heads and shoulders of his sitters rendered in crisp color. Sol *LeWitt explored and wrote about Conceptual Art in addition to making Minimalist sculpture, and Jonathan *Borofsky continues to make multimedia site-specific installations using his own life as source material. In contrast, sculptor and Process artist Richard *Serra asserts that his focus on the physical qualities of material and the act of creation leave little room for expressions of the artist's personality.

Some artists who mostly worked akin to the mainstream for the majority of their careers became interested in Jewish matter later in life. Raphael Soyer illustrated two volumes of Isaac Bashevis Singer's memoirs (1978, 1981) and two short stories by Singer for the Limited Editions Club (1979). Larry *Rivers also illustrated a Singer story for the Limited Editions Club (1984) and painted an enormous three-paneled painting tackling the nearly four-millennia history of the Jews called History of Matzah (The Story of the Jews) (1982–84). Husband and wife William Meyerowitz and Theresa Bernstein traveled to Israel 13 times after 1948 and painted many images of the land after pursuing a more traditional American art trajectory before this time. Chaim Gross began sculpting Jewish subjects in the 1960s. While Ben Shahn and Leonard *Baskin explored some Jewish topics early on, they more consistently embraced Jewish identity in the visual arts as they aged, notably with Haggadah illustrations done in 1965 and 1974, respectively. Earlier in the century Saul *Raskin (1941) illustrated a Haggadah with woodcuts.

The Holocaust in Jewish American Art

Many Jewish American artists have treated the events of the Holocaust. Nahum Tschacbasov's 1936 canvas Deportation shows a crowd of emaciated deportees restrained by a fence. Ben-Zion was a poet who turned to painting because he felt that words could not adequately express the horrors of fascism and later the Shoah. Exhibited as a whole in 1946, the series De Profundis (Out of the Depths): In Memory of the Massacred Jews of Nazi Europe comprises 17 expressionistic works conveying the artist's distress at the events of the Holocaust that also pay homage to those who perished by Nazi hands. Leon *Golub's lithograph Charnel House (1946) and the Burnt Man series of the early 1950s vividly describe victims being exterminated.

Interest in the Holocaust as a subject for art has only increased in the years since artists felt the immediacy of the tragedy. Audrey Flack's photorealist canvas World War ii (Vanitas) (1976–77) presents a still life in collage format, including a Jewish star from her key chain and a photograph of the 1945 liberation of Buchenwald taken by Margaret *Bourke-White. Alice Lok Cahana, a survivor of several concentration camps, uses the visual to work through her memories of the Holocaust in semi-abstract mixed media images. Cahana's art, she explains, is her kaddish for those who perished. The sculptor George *Segal symbolically employs the biblical figures Eve, Abraham, Isaac, and Jesus in his Holocaust Memorial (1983), which overlooks the Pacific Ocean in San Francisco's Legion of Honor Park. Another Holocaust sculpture group by Segal is at the Jewish Museum in New York (1982). Judy Chicago's enormous installation Holocaust Project: From Darkness into Light (1985–93) is anchored by a 4½ by 18 foot tapestry titled The Fall, which portrays the disintegration of rationality. While united by an interest in imaging the unthinkable, Holocaust works by Jewish American artists differ greatly in approach, conception, and style.

Last Decade of the Twentieth Century

In the last decade of the 20th century, Jewish identity became an increasing concern in the visual arts. New York City's Jewish Museum investigated this phenomenon in the 1996 exhibition Too Jewish?: Challenging Traditional Identities. Paralleling a larger interest in multicultural difference by other marginalized groups, the 18 artists in the show explored Jewish consciousness, while also testing the viewer's and the art world's (dis)comfort with what was perceived by some as excessively conspicuous Jewishness. These highly assimilated younger artists portray vastly different concerns than their immigrant and first-generation predecessors. Long after Andy Warhol, Deborah Kass appropriates Pop techniques and fascination with celebrity in her portraits of Barbra Streisand (1992) and Sandy Koufax (1994). Titling her Streisand silkscreens Jewish Jackies (playing on Warhol's iconic silkscreens of Jackie Kennedy), Kass proffers the ethnic star while subverting American norms of beauty. Also influenced by Warhol, Adam Rolston's Untitled (Manischewitz American Matzos) (1993) asserts ethnicity into a once "pure" American consumer culture. Dennis Kardon's installation Jewish Noses (1993–95) presents an array of noses sculpted from 49 Jewish models, destabilizing the notion that the Jew can be categorized as a monolithic type.

Indeed, just as Kardon demonstrates that the Jew's body cannot be homogenized, neither can Jewish American art. As this essay has described, Jewish American artists (defined broadly) have worked in manifold fashions, partly and sometimes entirely influenced by larger trends, and at the same time making significant contributions in style and content. Jewish American art is a nascent field, rich in material and long due for further exploration.


Z. Amishai-Maisels, Depiction and Interpretation: The Influence of the Holocaust on the Visual Arts (1993); M. Baigell, Jewish-American Artists and the Holocaust (1997); M. Baigell, Jewish Artists in New York: The Holocaust Years (2002); S. Baskind, Raphael Soyer and the Search for Modern Jewish Art (2004); S. Goodman, Jewish Themes/Contemporary American Artists (1982); S. Goodman, Jewish Themes/Contemporary American Artists ii (1986); J. Gutmann, "Jewish Participation in the Visual Arts of Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century America," in: American Jewish Archives (April 1963), 21–57; M. Heyd, Mutual Reflections: Jews and Blacks in American Art (1999); N. Kleeblatt and S. Chevlowe (eds.), Painting a Place in America: Jewish Artists in New York, 19001945 (1991); N. Kleeblatt, Too Jewish?: Challenging Traditional Identities (1996); P. Krasnow, "What of Jewish Art?: An Artist's Challenge," in: The Menorah Journal (December 1925), 535–43; L. Lozowick, "Jewish Artists of the Season," in: The Menorah Journal (June-July 1924), 282–85; H. Rosenberg, "Is There a Jewish Art?," in: Commentary (July 1966), 57–60; O. Soltes, Fixing the World: Jewish American Painters in the Twentieth Century (2003); S. Zalkind, Upstarts and Matriarchs: Jewish Women Artists and the Transformation of American Art (2005).

[Samantha Baskind (2nd ed.)]

Art in the Ghettos and the Camps during the Holocaust

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, they banned all art which they regarded as subversive – i.e., modern, avant-garde, Communist, Jewish, Negro – or to use their term, degenerate. The fate of this art and its creators was very clear: both should be eliminated from society. Degenerate works of art were removed from museums, galleries, and other collections; Jewish artists were not allowed to pursue their careers, lost their teaching positions, and were permitted to display their works only in the premises of the *Juedischer Kulturbund. These degenerate works were assembled and put on show in Munich 1937 in the exhibition called "Degenerate Art" (Entartete Kunst), which was accompanied by vulgar and provocative quotations, accusing the artists of causing all the malaise of society and the world, thus warning the public of the dangers of such subversive artists.

Although Nazi laws should have been fully implemented in the concentration camp world, in many camps artistic creativity flourished and some of the works produced there were shown in exhibitions. Thus, ironically, the only place where these undesirable artists could produce and exhibit art was in their place of confinement.

During the Holocaust a tremendously rich variety of works of art were produced in the ghettos, hiding places, and camps of Nazi-occupied Europe. It was produced in extermination camps like Auschwitz, in the "model" camp of There-sienstadt, in transit camps like Westerbork in the Netherlands and Malines in Belgium, and in the network of camps set up throughout France, such as Drancy and Gurs. All these artists, whether professional or amateur, men or women, young or old, had one thing in common – they had been labeled undesirables, interned in the camps, cut off from society, and ordained to be victims of the Nazi Final Solution.

Artistic creation fulfilled many functions. It gave the artists a sense of self-assurance and allowed them to feel some connection with their past life as artists. It provided a way to pass the many hours of enforced idleness. It had barter value – the paintings that were commissioned by other inmates or by camp officials could be exchanged for food or other favors (such as smuggling out mail or some other improvement in conditions). Above all, art was the only means whereby the inmates could protest against their situation. They hoped that their protest would be heard beyond the barbed wire fences in the outside world, with the help of clandestine couriers mainly from the various welfare organizations and religious representatives who were permitted to enter the camp. Most of the paintings have documentary value, as the artists were aware of the necessity of recording for posterity the world in which they were imprisoned. Art, of course, does not merely portray an objective reflection of reality, but rather shows it through the personal prism of the artist. In other words, the works of art reflect the changing moods and feelings of the inmates/artists/witnesses.

Although the ghettos and the camps were isolated from each other certain themes were prevalent in these works of art. They include depictions of the barbed wire fences and the watchtowers, views of the camps, the daily routine, such as searching for food, attempts at personal hygiene, sickness and death, as well as landscapes and portraits. The common element in all these works is the need to portray and document in the closest detail the tragic and absurd circumstances in which the inmates found themselves. Such a situation was completely unforeseeable and the inmates were in no way prepared for this unimaginable nightmare which recurred in all the various ghettos and camps.

portraits and "privileged artists"

The works that survived, frequently as the result of astounding resourcefulness, had these common themes regardless of whether they had been produced in Eastern or Western Europe, by professional artists or amateurs. About a quarter of the works are portraits, a fact that is not surprising. Portraying a face or a figure was in itself an act of commemoration, confirming the existence of the individual in a world where existence was so uncertain and arbitrary. These portraits were often used to send greetings to inmates' relatives, to show that they were alive and well. This explains why we frequently find the name of the subject of the picture next to the artist's signature, along with the date and place. It also explains why the figures in the portraits have a slightly better appearance than in reality, for the artist wanted to send a positive message and not show the misery of their situation. These portraits are in many cases the last record of people who soon afterwards were sent to their deaths.

Aizik-Adoplhe Féder (Odessa 1887–Auschwitz 1943) was interned in Drancy, on the outskirts of Paris, where he drew portraits of people from all walks of life who were interned in the camp – workers and intellectuals, observant Jews, women, teenagers, children and infants. Most of the inmates, especially the women, look well, and, except for the additional verbal information alongside the portrait – date and location of the work – there is no indication that the subjects are imprisoned in Drancy, a camp that was also known as the ante-chamber of Auschwitz.

Féder was part of the "Ecole de Paris," a group of artists, most of them Jews, who immigrated from Western Europe to Paris, hoping to establish their artistic careers there. Many of those artists such as *Benn (Ben-Zion Rabinowicz; Bialystok 1905–Paris 1989), Abraham-Joseph Berline (Niejine, Ukraine 1894–Auschwitz 1942), Jacques Gotko (Gotkowski; Odessa 1900–Auschwitz 1943), David Goychman (Bogopol, Ukraine 1900–Auschwitz 1942), Isis-Israel Kischka (Paris 1908–Paris 1973), Savely Schleifer (Odessa 1881–Auschwitz 1942), and Zber (Fiszel Zilberberg; Plock, Poland 1909–Auschwitz 1942) were interned in various French camps such as Compiègne, Beaune-la-Rolande, Pithiviers, and Drancy, where they portrayed their co-inmates as well as themselves. The portraits usually carry identifying inscriptions, such as Kischka's Portrait of Uze, Internee in the Compiègne Camp, 29/3/42, or Portrait of Goychman by Kischka, 787122, 20/3/42, giving the artist's camp identification number alongside his name as a signature. Some of the portraits bear moving dedications, which attest to their amicable relationship.

Malva Schalek (Prague 1882–Auschwitz 1944), a daughter of a well-to-do, cultured Jewish family in Prague, established her reputation as an artist in Vienna, specialized in portraits, and was interned in Theresienstadt, where she continued painting her fellow inmates. Many of the portraits Schalek produced in the camp were commissioned, and she received food in payment, a practice which was not uncommon. Artists were commissioned by both inmates and by camp and ghetto administrators, in most cases asked to copy portraits of relatives from photographs or do their own likeness. In turn they received favors like better food or smuggled clandestine letters. This was experienced and attested by many artists such as Halina Olomucki (Warsaw 1919– ), who while interned in the Majdanek camp was commissioned by the head of the block to decorate the walls of the building. In return she received improved food rations. She used some of the materials she was given officially to paint her fellow women inmates clandestinely. From Majdanek she was transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau, and there too she was a "commissioned artist" for the Germans. For this she received more substantial food, which helped her to survive. Esther Lurie (Liepaja, Latvia 1913–Tel Aviv 1998), while interned in the Kovno (Kaunas) ghetto, was commissioned by the Council of Elders (Aeltestenrat) to record ghetto life; to this end they arranged that she would not be engaged in any forced labor; later on when, while interned in Stutthof, the artist was asked by women inmates who had boyfriends to draw their portraits in return for a slice of bread. The painter-musician Isaac Schoenberg (Colmar, Alsace 1907–Auschwitz 1942), who was interned in Pithiviers, wrote to his beloved in Paris that he had to decline some of the inmates' requests to do their portraits, although he was paid more than the other artists in the camp, since he was engaged in producing her likeness from photographs, an activity which enabled him to endure life in the camp. Even amateur artists such as Etienne Rosenfeld (Budapest 1920–Paris 1995) were commissioned by their fellow inmates to draw their or their relatives' portraits, as is attested in his letters from the Drancy camp.

portrayal of the camps

Another theme was the portrayal of the camps, particularly the barbed wire fences and watchtowers, which over time have become symbols of the Holocaust. They were part of the everyday experience of the prisoners, a constant reminder that they were confined in a closed camp, cut off from the society of which they had been an integral part up to a short while before. The barbed wire fences are a dominant element in many pictures. They appear in landscapes and genre paintings, while in some cases they have become the actual subject of the picture. Sometimes the fences are shown as a spider's web in which the figures are entangled, as, for example, in the aquarelle by Lou Albert-Lazard (Metz 1895–Paris 1969), depicting women imprisoned in the Gurs camp (France). Albert-Lazard, a German Jew who immigrated to Paris in the 1920s and was interned as a German alien, portrays the women as trapped by the barbed wire fence. Despite the delicacy of the painting, the barbed wire fence restricts their movements and closes in on them like a wall. The imprisoning barbed wire fence and the threatening watchtower, with an all-seeing eye at the top, are the central elements in the drawings and prints done by Jacques Gotko. At times, there is even an element of humor, with the artist painting laundry hung out to dry on the fence, as did the amateur artist Hanna Schramm (Berlin 1896–Paris 1978), a socialist activist who had sought refuge in France and was interned in Gurs on the outbreak of the war and depicted the miserable life there in ironic-humoristic drawings. But, however depicted, the prevalence of this motif stresses the sense of confinement the inmates experienced.

daily life – indoor and outdoors scenes

The forced communal life in ghettos and camps meant living in extremely crowded conditions with the need for privacy denied, no matter what race or sex the inmates were or what social standing they had enjoyed in their previous existence. The feeling of suffocation and the lack of private space is depicted by Malva Schalek in various aquarelles she produced in Theresienstadt. In many of her paintings she depicts the activity, or lack of it, in the camp. Sometimes she draws the interior as crowded and claustrophobic, with women and children lying or sitting on the triple-layered bunks, surrounded by bundles and suitcases. In others she portrays inmates reading or lying down. Similar depictions were produced by Osias Hofstaetter (Bochnia, Poland 1905–Ramat Gan, Israel 1994), who immigrated to Belgium, from where he was sent, after the Nazis invaded this country, to the French internment camps of Saint Cyprien and Gurs, where he depicted the forced idleness of men in and out of the barracks, as well as the overcrowdedness.

Some interior scenes, as those done by Jane Lévy (Paris 1884–Auschwitz 1943) in Drancy or Emmy Falck-Ettlinger (Lubeck 1882–Bet ha-Shtitah, Israel 1960) in Gurs, are characterized by extreme order and cleanliness. They depict kitchen utensils and personal items, a kind of desire to create a feeling of intimacy, warmth, and domesticity. Yet these works evoke a feeling of desolation and emptiness which even the domesticity of the interior cannot overcome.

Countless paintings show everyday, routine activities – bathing, washing one's hair, going to the toilet – since these basic human acts could no longer be taken for granted in the surroundings the inmates now found themselves in. Bathing was extremely difficult, as the water supply was completely inadequate for all the inmates and available only a few hours a day and often had to be done outdoors. Going to the toilet was no less embarrassing. The most intimate bodily functions had to be performed in public, adding to the dehumanization of the inmates. This may seem trifling compared to the acts of mass murder that were taking place at the time, but it should be remembered that the daily life of the inmates consisted in trying to meet the numerous "trifling" needs that are basic to civilized human life.

Many artists depict these activities, sometimes in humoristic drawings or aquarelles. Karl Schwesig (Gelsenkirchen, Germany, 1898–Duesseldorf 1955), a German communist who had fled from Germany after Hitler's rise to power and was a political refugee in Belgium, was interned in four different French camps. From his vast experience he depicted daily life, which became worse with the time. Many of his drawings illustrate the way the inmates were cooped up with a lack of hygienic facilities, as did other artists in the various camps – all attesting to the embarrassment and humiliation which accompanied these activities.


The inmates suffered constantly from hunger, which weakened them both physically and mentally. Hunting for food was one of the main occupations of the camp inmates. Many paintings portray the subject of food, or the lack of food, ranging from lining up to get the daily rations (Leo Haas, Opava, Czechoslovakia 1901–Berlin 1983), to guarding a scrap of bread as though it were a treasure (Lili Rilik-Andrieux, Berlin 1914–San Diego 1996), to rummaging through the garbage to find a bite to eat that might ease the pangs of hunger (Karl Schwesig; Sigismond Kolos (Vary, Transylvania 1899–?)). Pictures of this last scene serve to illustrate again the degradation that was forced upon the camp inmates.

In the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum at Auschwitz, there is a Memories Calendar (Kalendarz wspomnień) comprising 22 small drawings (18 × 10 cm), produced in Auschwitz in 1944 by Ewa Gabanyi, prisoner no. 4739. Gabanyi was born in Czechoslovakia to a Jewish family and interned on April 3, 1942. The pictures in her calendar are mostly theatrical and fantastic – surrealistic dances and balls, elaborate costumes, weird animals, and exotic scenery. One picture stands out as completely different, as she depicts a woman prisoner in her striped dress eating soup, with the inscription First soup in the camp (Zjada pierwswą Zoupkę Lagrową), dated April 27, 1942; hence her first hot meal came three weeks after her arrival in Auschwitz. A picture that seemed completely naturalistic turns out to have a surrealistic aspect in the world of the camps.


The huge numbers sent to camps and from there deported to the death camps were portrayed by various artists such as Dr. Karel Fleischmann (Klatovy, Czechoslovakia 1897–Auschwitz 1944) and Charlotte Buresova (Prague 1904–Prague 1983) in Thereisienstadt, David Brainin (Kharkov, Ukraine 1905–Auschwitz 1942) in Compiègne, Kurt-Connard Loew (Vienna 1914–Vienna 1980), and Julius-Collen Turner (Schivelbein, Germany 1881–?) in Gurs, and Leo Maillet (Leopold Mayer; Frankfurt-am-Main 1902–Switzerland 1990) in Les Milles. In these pictures the artists usually depict faceless masses rather than individuals being sent on their last journey. Yet in several pictures, amidst the endless lines of people stretching beyond the horizon, the artist reveals the face of one of the deportees, often a child clinging to its mother or a disabled old person guarded by soldiers with pointed weapons. These scenes depict with bitter irony the imbalance of power – the innocence and the helplessness of the deportees versus the power of the executioners.


The camps were often situated in beautiful areas, with snow-covered mountains in the distance or picturesque seaside villages, which were in sharp contrast to the misery of the life within the barbed wire fences (e.g., Karel Fleischmann, Karl Schwesig, Lou Albert-Lazard). Many artists painted these views, which provided them with a kind of connection with the outside world. The colors of a beautiful sunset, while serving to remind them of ordinary life, also brought home the indifference of nature to their suffering.

art as a means of connection with the outside world

Artists sought to use their work as means to make contact with the outside world and let people know what was happening "on the other side of the fence." They did this despite the danger inherent in such activity, as can be seen in the fate of Leo Haas and Dr. Karel Fleischmann, inmates of There-sienstadt, who paid a high price for their efforts to smuggle their works out of the ghetto. In preparation for a visit of the Red Cross in summer 1944, the Germans searched the artists' quarters. They did this because they realized that the truth about their "model ghetto" was likely to be revealed in paintings being smuggled out of Theresienstadt. The artists refused to talk and after being interrogated and tortured were taken to a Gestapo prison. Eventually they were deported to Auschwitz, where Fleischmann died.

Contact with the outside world was of tremendous importance to the camp inmates, and in many cases it was art that paved the way. In some camps, such as Gurs and Compiègne, exhibitions were held. These exhibitions were visited by the Nazi administration and, in some cases, members of the public from the surrounding area. The inmates felt, for a brief moment, as if they had broken through the fence and were involved in the outside world. It should be noted, however, that these events were not mentioned in the press, which used to stress that the camp inmates were parasites and profiteers. Presenting them as creative and productive would not have fit this negative stereotype.

Artists arrived in the camps from all over Europe, from cities, towns and villages and from all levels of society. As we have seen, despite the artistic variety of their work, one unifying factor was common to them all – they all portrayed the grim reality and their cruel experiences, with a sense of longing for their former world which had disintegrated so totally.

The art of the Holocaust is unique in the history of art. In a state of hunger and destitution, with death a constant part of their daily existence, hundreds of artists did not allow the spark of the human spirit to be extinguished. In the universal language of art they portrayed the images of one of the darkest periods in human history.


Z. Amishai-Maisels, Depiction and Interpretation: The Influence of the Holocaust on the Visual Arts (1993); J. Blatter and S. Milton, Art of the Holocaust (1982); H. Fenster, Nos artistes martyrs (Undzere Farpainikte Kinstler) (Yid., 1951); M.S. Costanza, The Living Witness: Art in the Concentration Camps and Ghettos (1982); G. Green, The Artists of Terezin (1969); M. Novitch, Spiritual Resistance: Art from Concentration Camps 1940–1945. A selection of drawings and paintings from the collection of Kibbutz Loḥamei ha-Getta'ot, Israel. Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Philadelphia (1981); P. Rosenberg, L'art des Indésirables: l'art dans les camps d'internement français 1939–1944 (2003).

[Pnina Rosenberg (2nd ed.)]

Art Influenced by the Holocaust

Reactions in the visual arts to the Nazi persecution of the Jews paralleled Adolf Hitler's rise to power and continue to this day. Unlike Holocaust Art – a name that designates the art produced by inmates in the ghettos and concentration camps (see above) – art that responded to the Holocaust has no clear name and its definition is highly complex. It was created by survivors as well as by refugees who fled to the free world before or during the war; by camp liberators who discovered the shocking truth of the Holocaust for themselves; by the children of survivors or refugees who carry in themselves the burden of memories, pain, and guilt transmitted to them from their parents; and by non-participants who may have lost relatives in the Holocaust or were simply shocked by it or by the idea that its lessons remain unlearned. Some artists reacted immediately, occasionally even anticipating events to come. Others – including survivors who had tried to turn their backs on their past – reacted to events that triggered their emotions: the discovery of the camps, the Eichmann trial, Israel's wars, or other examples of genocide. Such artists came from all religions – Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, etc. – and all nationalities, including Germans (e.g., Anselm Kiefer) who wish to express their own stance on the subject or to atone for the past. For some, the Holocaust was a specific event occurring in a set period of time; for others, it was an archetypal event which could be used to comment on other catastrophes – Hiroshima, genocide in Africa, or the Aids epidemic.

Moreover, artists had different motivations in using this subject. Some, such as Corrado *Cagli, documented the scenes on the spot or – like Audrey Flack and Nancy *Spero – on the basis of photographs, while others (for instance, William *Gropper and Leon *Golub) emotionally denounced cruelty and mass murder. Whereas survivors and their children often used art as therapy to recover from the past, most artists used it to make sure that the Holocaust would be remembered by memorializing it. Many reacted by affirming their Jewish identity, at first by depicting figures in prayer or the shtetl, as in the works of Max *Weber. More recently a few artists (such as Judy *Chicago) have begun to see the Holocaust itself as their sole means of Jewish identity. Still others, for example, Mark *Rothko and Karel Appel, responded in a highly personal manner by changing their style and subject matter in ways that are not self-evidently connected to the Holocaust but are revealed to be reactions to it on the basis of the artists' statements.

The artists' goals were often linked with the styles they chose to employ. For instance, Realism was used in witness reports as a means of confronting the spectator with the facts and convincing him of their truth, while Expressionism was used to express anger and heighten the denunciatory power of the work. Surrealism was often used to convey the idea that such events were taking place on "another planet," whereas Abstraction was a means of distancing the artist from the Holocaust and allowing it to be confronted from a safe place.

Although painters and sculptors had been working on the subject since 1933, it was the photographs and films taken by the liberators in 1944–45 that had the most immediate and lasting impact on the public at large. Appearing in magazines and newsreels, these reports turned everyone into a witness. It is for this reason that the most common images of the Holocaust in the public imagination are those they recorded: the mounds of corpses, the bald and emaciated survivors barely able to move, and the inmates crowded together behind barbed wire or in their bunks. Some of these images still inspire artists today (for instance, in the paintings of Natan Nuchi), but this source material has now been broadened to include the Nazis' own documentary snapshots of the ghettos, deportations, and executions as well as the identification photographs they took of the camp inmates, a type that influenced Aaron Gluska. Today new documentary photographs have been taken by artists who visit the camps. These images differ from the older ones in showing the camp as empty and clean, well-preserved monuments rather than the hellholes they were.

Several common motifs and themes run through all categories of Holocaust-related art. The primary image of the camp from the mid-1930s was of people behind barbed wire, an image used by John Heartfield because one of the few facts known then about the camps was that they were surrounded by barbed wire fences. This representation was reinforced after the camps were liberated, as photographers such as Margaret *Bourke-White took their stance outside the fence looking into the camp. The image was so pervasive and clearly understood that it could be suggested by including a single piece of barbed wire into an abstract composition, as was done by Igael *Tumarkin. Another primary symbol was the refugee, a subject documented by the refugees themselves (e.g., Marc *Chagall) and by those who wanted to state their plight. This image was transformed after the war by artists such as Lasar *Segall into that of the displaced person to represent survivors who were trying to find a place to stay. This subject slowly disappeared after 1948, as the State of Israel was seen as having solved this problem. It has recently been reinstated, as in a painting by Joan Snyder, in an attempt to identify Palestinian refugees with the victims of the Holocaust. Another image that was popular during the war was that of the Jewish partisan, especially those who participated in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising depicted in the monument by Nathan *Rapaport. Upheld at first as an image of Jewish pride in resistance to the Nazis, it was eventually supplanted by that of the Israeli soldier.

Other symbols became common only after the war, for instance the symbolic use of the crematorium chimney and the image of emaciated corpses or survivors, themes that grew out of the experience of liberating the camps and understanding what had happened there. Whereas the chimney and the survivors were relatively easy for Friedensreich Hundertwasser and George Grosz respectively to handle, the corpses were repugnant and many artists followed Pablo Picasso's lead in translating them into more stylized images. On the other hand, artists such as Zoran Music and Robert Morris later specifically portrayed the corpses in all their expressive reality to awaken the failed conscience of the modern world that continues to commit genocide.

All the above symbols were taken from the camp experience. But artists who were interested in learning moral lessons from the Holocaust also culled other images from religion and mythology to convey their ideas. Thus the victim can be portrayed through biblical symbols, such as the sacrifice of Isaac or Job who questions God, as in the works of Leonard *Baskin and Jakob *Steinhardt respectively. These subjects could also be used to vent anger against God for allowing the Holocaust to happen, as in the work of Mordecai *Ardon. Marc Chagall led the way in depicting the victims as the crucified Jewish Jesus, in an attempt to make Christians understand what was occurring. Resistance to Nazism was symbolized by Jacques *Lipchitz by means of David slaying a Nazi Goliath and Prometheus slaying the vulture.

The portrayal of the Nazis was more difficult: their portrayal as monsters or demons as in the works of Marcel *Janco ignores the fact that those who carried out the Holocaust were human beings. However, portraying them realistically as humans, as Gerhart Frankl did, underplays the horrific dimensions of their deeds. Beginning with Lipchitz, some artists concluded that the problem lay not only with the Nazis, and used their art to warn mankind that there is a beast lurking within us which must be tamed lest we cause other holocausts. Others, such as Matta and *Maryan Maryan, took a more pessimistic view of man's monstrous nature and portrayed ambiguous figures whose nature cannot be clearly defined as good or evil.

The Holocaust also prompted Jewish artists to take a renewed look at their Judaism. While some affirmed their faith and Jewish identity and others expressed their anger against God, a few stressed their lack of faith in the future of Judaism. Thus Samuel *Bak depicted a destroyed and patched-up Ten Commandments that will never be the same. Whereas the establishment of the State of Israel was at first seen by artists such as Chagall and Lipchitz as an answer to the Holocaust and a solution to the problems it caused, Israel's continuing wars – especially the threats to its existence in 1967, 1973, and 1991 – led artists such as Erich Brauer to see in each event a potential renewal of the Holocaust. Moreover, the resurgence of antisemitism in the 1980s caused R.B. *Kitaj and George *Segal to begin to deal with the Holocaust.

On the other hand, the conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians since 1967 have caused left-wing artists to adapt Holocaust imagery to this issue, with the Palestinians replacing the Jews. This generalization of Holocaust imagery is part of a wider phenomenon in which such images are applied to any current conflict in order to activate an inbred, unquestioning hatred against those who have been clothed in the despised Nazi imagery and an equally innate sympathy for those depicted as victims.

The newest developments in art inspired by the Holocaust can best be examined through three themes. First, children of survivors, such as Yocheved Weinfeld and Haim Maor, try to understand their parents' experiences by picturing themselves in their place and exploring how they would have reacted. The second theme – ghosts – is poignantly demonstrated by Shimon Attie's projections of old black and white photographs of the Jewish inhabitants of Berlin and Rome on the walls of these cities, so that they seem to be haunting their streets. The third subject is the expression of constant anxiety, a feeling Jonathan Borofsky explicitly connects with the Holocaust. Such new themes suggest that artists have not finished examining the Holocaust and that they will continue to find new means to express its relevance to the modern world.


Z. Amishai-Maisels, Depiction and Interpretation: The Influence of the Holocaust on the Visual Arts (1993); M. Baigell, Jewish-American Artists and the Holocaust (1997); M. Bohm-Duchen, Monica (ed.), Art after Auschwitz (1995); S.C. Feinstein (ed.), Absence/Presence: Critical Essays on the Artistic Memory of the Holocaust (2005); idem, Witness and Legacy: Contemporary Art about the Holocaust (1995); S. Hornstein and F. Jacobowitz (eds.), Image and Remembrance: Representation and the Holocaust (2003); S. Horn-stein, L. Levitt, and L.J. Silberstein. Impossible Images: Contemporary Art after the Holocaust (2003); D.G. Roskies, Against the Apocalypse (1984); Washington Project for the Arts. Burnt Whole (1994); J. Young, At Memory's Edge: After-Images of the Holocaust in Contemporary Art and Architecture (2000); idem, Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meanings (1993).

[Ziva Amishai-Maisels (2nd ed.)]


views updated May 08 2018


This entry includes 10 subentries:
Decorative Arts
Interior Decoration
Interior Design
Pottery and Ceramics
Self-Taught Artists
Stained Glass Windows

Decorative Arts

The distinction between the fine arts and the "decorative" is mostly arbitrary. It was not made until eighteenth-century Europeans decided to do so, allowing fine art to gain an aura of associated mystique. Today the distinction is a familiar one, if not a clear one. The decorative arts are viewed as more craft based, serving or alluding to a function. While the categories of decorative arts are vast, fine craftsmanship seems to be the single unifier. Craftsmanship is more than technical virtuosity. It demands a profound understanding of materials and of the tools with which those materials are fashioned.

Probably the single most important factor in the creation of the decorative arts is the maker's genuine pride in the process of production, the need to make things as well as they can be made. At a purely utilitarian level, this drive to achieve perfection might seem excessive, but it is very human. However, it may well disappear in the face of consumer demand. Often, consumer goods are not made as well as they could be, nor do they last as long as they could be made to last, but these are careful adaptations to the economics of the market. Few if any machine-made products are designed to last forever, allowing for new and improved products to be designed and built with the same purpose but a different look.

Early Colonial Style

During the early colonial period, America imported its consumer products and craftsmen from Europe, resulting in the same pieces on both sides of the Atlantic. Any products made in the colonies had very similar designs to those found in the maker's originating culture. As local manufacturers became more prominent, slight modifications on the original designs began to appear. As the wealth of the colonies increased, initially in the South, so did the demand for quality furniture. A variety of indigenous soft and hardwoods, such as pine, birch, maple, oak, hickory, and later walnut, were readily available to colonial furniture craftsmen. With each ship new furniture forms arrived, including cane-back, slat-back, and leather-back chairs, as well as the upholstered chairs better known as easy chairs. Three styles came from England: William and Mary (c. 1700–1725) is an adaptation of the Baroque; Queen Anne (c. 1725–1760) is a refined Baroque with a greater awareness

of technique; and Chippendale (c. 1760–1790) is a high English variant of French Rococo.


With the arrival of the Europeans came the potter's wheel and many types of ceramic vessels. By 1635, Philip Drinker, an English potter, had started working in Charlestown, Massachusetts, and before 1655, Dirck Claesen, a Dutch "pottmaker," was working in Manhattan. By the very nature of local needs, most British colonial pottery production was utilitarian ware called redware, modeled on English and German storage jars, jugs, bowls, and plates. It was needed and produced in quantity, formed of the same red clay from which bricks were made. When fired, the clay remained porous. The glazing and ornamentation were basic. Redware (fired at 900© C–1040© C) was usually given a clear lead glaze (using a highly toxic sulfide or oxide of lead), that emphasized the clay's red tones. Adding metal oxides such as copper, iron, or manganese produced

various bright colors that enhanced the surface of redware.

Most potters were either immigrants or only a generation or two removed from European or English craftsman traditions. As the immigrants began to see themselves as Americans and heirs to a continent, they sought more intellectual diversity and distance from contemporary European sources, while continuing to buy European products. By 1800, the Adamesque Neo-Classicism of Britain had pervaded domestic manufacturing design, and those ancient Greek and Roman shapes took root to varying degrees in different art forms and regions of America. Across the newly expanding country the Federal Style (c. 1785–1815) was followed by the Empire Style (c. 1815–1830). Both styles were versions of the Robert Adam–inspired Classical Revival in England and the variant Biedermeier style in Austria and Germany.

Chairs, Ceramics, and Silver

While the Shakers, a branch of the English Quakers, were rejecting the world about them, they made ladder-back chairs and sat as other Americans sat. While rockers were not a Shaker invention—the earliest-known citation is from 1741–1742 by Solomon Fussell, a Philadelphia furniture maker—their popularity may owe much to the inventiveness of the Shaker chair makers and to their readiness to accommodate to new styles.

In ceramics, the venerable English firm of Josiah Wedgwood was the leader in pottery. Wedgwood's invention of basalt ware in 1768, followed within a decade by his exquisitely modeled jasper ware, inspired ceramists everywhere. In the early nineteenth century the Wedgwood potteries did not produce porcelain, but the Worcester, Derby, and Coalport factories did, and those who sought fashionable dishes either got them from those factories or, starting about 1825, found suitable reproductions made by some twenty skilled craftsmen from England and France employed to make porcelain for the Jersey Porcelain and Earthenware Company in Jersey City, New Jersey. Other ventures followed in Philadelphia.

At the same time, and serving many of the same customers, silversmiths were both manufacturers and retailers, their shops often doubling as a workroom and a showroom. This practice continued until about 1840, when the discovery of the technique of electroplating led to the rise of large companies that produced and sold silver plate in stores. While not eliminating individual silversmiths, it did reduce their importance. Ultimately large corporations such as the Gorham Manufacturing Company and International Silver Company largely depersonalized the industry. Those individual shops that survived specialized more in repair, chasing, and engraving than in creating products.

Industrialization and Decorative Style

The American ambivalence about industrialization helps explain the inherent ideological contradictions in the decorative arts between 1850 and 1900. Laminating rose-wood, for example, required a large number of technologically sophisticated pieces of shop equipment, and it is ironic that such technical and mechanized operations produced forms that were emotional cues to the antithesis of mechanization. Besides the various European-derived revival styles, the Rococo Revival became an important stylistic force among wealthy Americans by 1850. The most influential sources for designers were the natural world, the past, and the exotic. Immensely popular in America were china patterns produced in England such as the transfer image "Ontario Lake Scenery." Mass-produced of cheap materials, the scene shows a castle, Niagara Falls, and tepees against a mountainous background. The newly powerful merchants, industrialists, and their managers bought this ware and anything else they saw at a reasonable price. The mass market was born, as was the separation of design from material reality in popular decorative arts.

Oriental Style

While China and Japan had been very important design sources for the decorative arts of elite culture before 1800, the American middle class discovered the Orient at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. Everyday objects such as the inro, netsuke, and fans became decorative materials for homes or prized collections. "Oriental" was also a decorating, ceramics, and furniture style; at its extreme, oriental pieces were cast or carved to resemble bamboo, ebonized, or lacquered; paper parasols were popular, as were paper lanterns, fans, and kimonos. By the end of the century, artisans were manufacturing large numbers of items in the Oriental style expressly for use in America. By 1900 most "Made in Japan" furniture resembled forms from China. Design had succumbed to the marketplace.

But the Oriental influence also took another direction in the ceramic glazes and shapes developed by such potters as William Henry Grueby, who set up the Grueby Faience Company of Boston in 1894. Working with George Prentiss Kendrick, an established designer in brass and silverware, the shop created outstanding European-Japanese–inspired shapes and a range of delicious semi-matt glazes: blues, yellows, browns, grays, and an ivory-white crackle. His most sought-after and imitated glaze was a semi-matt green. Grueby green became an industry standard.

Grueby was an instant success at the Society of Arts & Crafts Exhibit in Boston in 1897. While already represented

by Siegfried Bing (1838–1905), founder of the Gallery of Art Nouveau and Tiffany's European outlet, in 1900, Grueby was awarded one silver and two gold medals in Paris. In 1900 the pottery won a gold medal at St. Petersburg and in 1901 the Highest Award at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, at which Grueby contributed to rooms designed by Gustav Stickley, a pioneer of Arts & Crafts–style furniture in America. The Highest Award followed in Turin in 1902 and the Grand Prize in St. Louis in 1904.

Art Deco Style

While the Art Deco style actually budded between 1908 and 1912, it did not bloom until after World War I. The style draws on a host of diverse and often conflicting influences—Cubism, Russian Constructivism, Italian Futurism, abstraction, distortion, and simplification. Art Deco's tenet that form must follow function remained unchallenged by all succeeding schools of design. However, its accompanying dictum that the piece should also be unique or, at most, a limited edition proved elitist in an age ruled by Modernism. The Modernists argued that the new age demanded excellent design for everyone and that quality and mass production were not mutually exclusive. The

future of the decorative arts did not rest with the rich; rather, an object's greatest beauty lay in its perfect adaptation to its usage. For the first time, the straight line became a source of beauty. In the late 1920s a moderated Modernism was all the fashion.

French Art Deco styling produced by Steuben (1903–) and Libbey Glass Compay (1892–) revived the American glass industry somewhat; it had suffered a decline after Art Nouveau flourished under Louis Comfort Tiffany. Steuben produced expensive, limited editions of art glass designed by its founder, the Englishman Frederick Carder (1863–1963). The Libbey Glass Company was in the vanguard of 1930s American commercial glass design. The tradition-bound American home of the 1930s was jolted by the Consolidated Lamp and Glass Company of Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, when it designed a Cubist line of glassware called Ruba Rombic, which was offered in pale hues such as gray, topaz, and amber.

The Great Depression struck a fatal blow to luxury items, and in America the Art Deco style was only reluctantly adapted to jewelry design. To accommodate the trend, Tiffany of New York created traditional objects in the new style, but without the crisp angularity found in Paris. C. D. Peacock and Spaulding-Gorham Inc. in Chicago produced jewelry in the new idiom, but again without the panache of their French counterparts. One genuinely new form appeared in American jewelry at the time: the stepped outline, which coincided with the emergence of the stepback skyscraper, the most beautiful examples of which are the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building in New York City.


When the American skyscraper boom of the mid-1920s started, America did not have its own Modernist style. The country was still decorating tall buildings in a Gothic style derived from the pens of Cass Gilbert or Hood and Howells' Chicago Tribune Tower. As in traditional buildings, Modernist decoration served as a transitional device to alert the viewer to a change in contour. It was often not designed by the architect but purchased directly from companies such as Northwestern Terra Cotta in Chicago. A sumptuous combination of stone, brick, terracotta, and metal often transformed an otherwise bland structure into a source of great civic pride.

Since 1945 the decorative arts in America have served as a template for the culture of consumerism, with its attendant design functions. By the 1960s commercial television, various other advertising media, consumer magazines, and city sign systems both commercial and practical emerged as challenging and exciting new disciplines and venues in the ongoing interface between consumer and product: promising, seducing, fueling, and directing. The cultural role of the decorative arts and design was extended well beyond the need for harmony between form and function. The artisan and designer became a communicator, giving form to products not in the abstract but within a culture and for a marketplace. Never before had there been such an intensive dialogue between the "fine" and the "decorative" arts. By the 1970s Pop artists were devising their own set of rules, an antithesis to Modernism ideology yet not antagonistic. Pop was about being Modern in a different though not exclusive sense. It was the Modern of fashionable, high-impact design; a never-mind-about-tomorrow, brash, superficial Modern. All the while, decorative arts changed rapidly, embracing both functional and fully nonfunctional, both the beautiful and the ugly, limited only by the inventiveness of the craftsperson.


Adams, Henry. Viktor Schreckengost and Twentieth-Century Design. Cleveland, Ohio: Cleveland Museum of Art, 2000.

Clark, Garth, and Margie Hughto. A Century of Ceramics in the United States, 1878–1978: A Study of Its Development. New York: Dutton, Everson Museum of Art, 1979.

Dietz, Ulysses Grant, et al., ed. The Glitter and the Gold: Fashioning America's Jewelry. Newark, N.J.: Newark Museum, 1997.

Kardon, Jane, ed. Craft in the Machine Age, 1920–1945. New York: American Craft Museum, 1995.


See alsoArt: Pottery and Ceramics ; Metalwork ; Pop Art .


Glass is created by fusing silica (sand, quartz, or flints) with alkaline fluxes (soda ash or potash) in a crucible, a fireclay pot, within a furnace. Fuel for heating is usually based on local availability. Two basic techniques dominate glassmaking: molding and blowing. All glass must also be annealed, slowly cooled to become less brittle.

Color has been an important component of the appeal of glass since the beginnings of glassmaking. Color demands a sophisticated and specialized knowledge. Some of the most popular oxide additives to molten glass are cobalt, which produces a wide range of blues; gold, the most romanticized of the additives, which produces a range of reds; antimony, which produces an opaque yellow; iron, which produces a range of colors from yellow to green to blue; copper, which produces a wide range of blues, greens, and reds, and even a glittering metal in suspension; and manganese, which can produce an amethyst color. Surface color can be quickly achieved by exposing the glass to various chemicals or gasses, thus causing iridescence similar to that found in long-buried Roman glass. Louis Comfort Tiffany became the acknowledged master of manufactured iridescence.

Early Glassmaking and Industrialization

When Jamestown Virginia was founded in 1607, glass-blowers were among the settlers. Like the colony, their glassmaking venture, America's first industry, failed. Other glassmakers followed in New Amsterdam (later New York), Salem, Boston, and Philadelphia. All were short-lived ventures. But demand for glass was great in colonial America. In 1739, in the face of a British ban on manufacturing glass, a German glassmaker, Caspar Wistar, established a factory in southern New Jersey that successfully produced window glass, bottles, and tableware. Free-blown glass was also popular. Many glassmakers, mostly German, followed Wistar's example, but despite abundant fuel and sand, most failed. But failure did not deter the industry, and every decade of the eighteenth century saw production increase as the demand grew for bottles, windows, and free-blown vessels. While blowing glass into a mold was efficient, the development of mechanical glass-pressing machines in the 1820s actually industrialized the industry. American glass of seemingly ever-new colors could now be pressed into a myriad of shapes. This sudden speedup in production, the first in almost 2,000 years, was America's first great contribution to the glass industry.

For the first time identical pairs or interchangeable sets were possible. Home decorating changed forever. The New England Glass Company in East Cambridge, Massachusetts (1818–1888), became one of the glassmaking giants of the century and produced an enormous variety of wares of international importance. The Boston and Sandwich Glass Company, in Sandwich, Massachusetts (1825–1889), was a significant competitor. Others followed.

After about 1845, Bohemian-style glass, blown, cut, wheel-engraved, or machine-pressed, became the rage. Soon fine line cutting and panel cuts, deep reds and blues, marble or agate glass, and cased, flashed, and stained ware were common sights in better American homes. In 1864, William Leighton of Hobbs, Brockunier, and Company in Wheeling, West Virginia, developed a soda lime glass that looked like expensive lead glass but was much cheaper to produce. It changed the industry, especially that of luxury glass. The Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876 led the campaign for glass that was deeply cut, more elaborate, and handmade. Instantly popular, it

is now referred to as "brilliant," or Victorian, glass, and its production continued until about 1915. Libbey Glass Company in Toledo, Ohio, became a leader in this type of American glass.

Art Glass and Modern Styles

Paralleling brilliant glass was the very popular new taste for art glass, another continuation of Americans' desire for excess that spawned novel glass colors, finishes, and shapes, mostly for the production of decorative objects. Louis Comfort Tiffany was the uncontested master. His development of Favril glass in the late 1870s, based on existing German technologies and ideas developed by John La Farge, ushered in a new style of glass, which in 1895 was called "art nouveau." Exhibited at the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exhibition, Tiffany glass was immediately purchased by several European museums, internationally acclaimed, and copied. Endlessly adapting Roman, medieval, and Muslim shapes and surfaces, Tiffany's genius sprang forth in colors, patterns, and marketing. Along with "brilliant" cut glass, Tiffany glass dominated until about 1915. Brilliant cut slipped into stuffy obscurity, and Tiffany's glass was maligned, neglected, and forgotten until the early 1970s, but since then Tiffany glass has become once again the most sought-after of all glass.

The 1920s ushered in severe changes in style. Out went ornamental, in came functional. This change proved difficult for the glass industry and its designers. The great designer Frederick Carder employed elegantly simplified forms that helped make the work of Steuben Glass Works in Corning, New York, broadly popular. In 1939–1940 Libbey Glass Company turned new streamlined designs by Edwin W. Fuerst into a line called "Modern American." American glass of the 1950s, made by such firms as Blenko Glass Company in West Virginia, was broadly popular, and by the early 1990s American glass of the 1950s had become much sought-after by collectors. Art galleries specializing in modern and 1950s glass sprang up to meet the demand.

Studio Glass

Arguably the most influential change in modern glass-making occurred in 1962, when the Toledo Museum of Art organized a hands-on glass working seminar. Led by the glass technician Dominick Labino and the ceramist and glass designer Harvey K. Littleton, both of the University of Wisconsin, the seminar's emphasis on uniting the traditional functions of craftsman and designer (separated since the early eighteenth century) led directly to a renaissance in contemporary hand-worked glass seen as a sculptural medium.

The studio-glass phenomenon attracted new glass artists who migrated from other materials and who used not only traditional hot glass methods such as blowing and casting but also warm techniques such as fusing, slumping, and enameling, as well as cold techniques such as cutting, polishing, etching, sandblasting, painting, and joining with new acrylic adhesives to achieve their designs. Glass, like other materials, became the embodiment of an "artistic gesture."

Starting in the late 1960s, Dale Chihuly, Richard Marquis, James Carpenter, Michael Nourot, William Prindle, and others (Robert Willson had been there first, in 1958) had all spent time in Murano, Italy, studying ancient glassblowing traditions with master craftsmen. In 1971, Chihuly founded Pilchuck Glass Center outside Seattle, Washington, and began to work in his signature technique based on centuries-old Venetian glass traditions, without the constraint of fifteenth-and sixteenth-century technology. The same decade saw the founding of the Penland School in North Carolina and the Haystack Mountain School in Maine. Publications such as Craft Horizons and New Glass Review, and regular exhibitions, became significant supports. The American Crafts Council has had its own museum in New York since 1987, the same year the Corning Museum in upstate New York placed part of its modern glass collection on permanent display. Since these ambitious moves, the creativity and diversity of glass artists has found appeal among countless collectors, making glass the most collected of all contemporary art media.


Contemporary American and European Glass from the Saxe Collection. Oakland, Calif.: Oakland Museum, 1986.

Koch, Robert. Louis Comfort Tiffany, Rebel in Glass. New York: Crown, 1982.

McKearin, George S., and Helen McKearin. American Glass. 1948. Reprint, New York: Bonanza, 1989.

Memories of Murano: American Glass Artists in Venice. New York: American Craft Museum, 2000.

Warmus, William. "Steuben Forever." Urban Glass Art Quarterly 81 (winter 2000): 36–41.


See alsoArt: Decorative Arts, Stained Glass Windows ; Collecting .

Interior Decoration

Interior decoration is a profession that deals with the placement of furniture, with color, textiles, window treatments, lighting, finishes, and materials, and with the selection and display of collected objects. It mainly concentrates on the domestic interior and emphasizes the ornamental, applied, and decorative arts in creating ephemeral ambience utilizing the more easily transformed aspects of a room. Decorators tend to work either in private practice, store-home consulting, or furniture and material showrooms. Educational programs can be found in schools of architecture, art and design, human ecology, or human economics.

European Influences

Any survey of the history of American interior decoration must begin by acknowledging the importance of European influence. The majority of work in the field is based on the importation and revival of European styles, although there has also been some emphasis on broader global influences and contemporary American popular culture.

American interior decoration has built a design tradition that reflects the successive waves of explorers, settlers, and immigrants who have come to the United States over hundreds of years. English citizens in search of religious freedom, Spanish missions spreading Christianity, and Dutch merchants seeking wealth in the trade market all brought elements of their decorative heritage to the new land. Each wave of immigrants strove to recreate the living spaces they had left behind.

At the same time, the American homestead reflected a constant process of shaping the past to meet the demands of the present. Initially, the fundamental necessities of life determined decorative style. In the northern colonies, space and heat were high priorities, as people would eat, sleep, prepare meals, and socialize all in one-room parlors (see, for example, the Parson Capen House, Topsfield, Massachusetts, 1683). Beds were curtained off, and rugs were thrown over crude wood floors. Regional folk-art painting was used to enliven the severe, plain forms of the exposed-wood structures (see the Fraktur Room at Winterthur House, near Wilmington, Delaware, or the Pembroke Room at Beauport [the Sleeper-McCann House], Gloucester, Massachusetts, [1907–1934]). Spanish homes, with their whitewashed walls, were equally austere, though highlights of bold color added interest. In the southern colonies, interiors were somewhat more luxurious: various surviving structures in Williamsburg, Virginia, provide a complete picture of the comfortable, paneled rooms of the 1750s.

The early simplicity of interiors shaped by the necessities of survival gave way to new luxuries as plantation owners, merchants, and prosperous traders furnished their homes with furniture and decorative objects that were locally created versions of prominent styles from Paris and London (see the Washington Library, Mount Vernon, Virginia, or Gunston Hall, Lorton, Virginia, 1755). With greater prosperity came new types of spaces for dining, entertaining, and performance, all featuring European-influenced ornamentation. After the Revolutionary War (1775–1783), the typically restrained decor of the eighteenth-century interior became more expressive. Two major new styles predominated: the graceful, neoclassical Federal style, which grew out of the work done in England by American architect Robert Adam, and the American Empire style, modeled after design trends in Napoleonic France (see the Bartow-Pell Mansion, Bronx, New York, 1842, or Samuel McIntire's Derby West House, Peabody, Massachusetts, 1801). Prominent developments in furniture design included the Sheraton style (named for English designer Thomas Sheraton), the Hepplewhite style (named after British designer and cabinetmaker George Hepplewhite), the Robert Adam style (named for the American architect mentioned above, who also designed furniture while in England), and the Duncan Phyfe Adaptation (named after an American cabinetmaker who combined Empire motifs with influences from Adam, Sheraton, and Hepplewhite). These neoclassical design trends were influenced greatly by the English Regency style. Swags, husks, flutings, festoons, and rams' heads were common motifs applied to furniture.

Prosperity Leads to Modernism

At the end of the eighteenth century, continued prosperity brought to the United States treasures garnered from the expansion of trade routes throughout Europe and the Orient. Prosperous fleet owners built and embellished coastal mansions using local craftspeople and completed them with imported goods. Grand staircases, parlors, sitting rooms, verandas, dining rooms, libraries, front offices, upstairs bedrooms, and detached servant quarters completed the array of spaces necessary for commodious living. Paneling was replaced with wainscoting, while moldings, reduced in size, began featuring reeding, channeling, and a greater variety of shapes and expressions. Plaster cornices and bas-relief work complemented an increased use of color and of patterns from every historic period.

From the post-Revolution era to the antebellum period, interiors featured very tall ceilings; walls without wainscoting were edged with massive molded baseboards. The furniture of choice was mostly of Empire design with brass mounts. Tall French mirrors over mantels and between windows expanded the space, which was hung with dark damask (see the Nathaniel Russell House, Charleston, South Carolina, 1809). The next wave in decoration came during the Victorian period and involved an array of revivals of various historical styles. Extraordinary excess was the hallmark of the period, as reflected in the elaborately carved furniture, the rich fabrics, the luxurious window treatments, and the signature gilding of objects (see the Wickham-Valentine House, Richmond, Virginia, 1812). Along with the Rococo revival, other eccentric displays of Victorian taste were the Neo-Gothic and Neo-Renaissance styles. A. J. Davis's Lyndhurst Castle (1838), in Tarrytown, New York, is a premier example of the Gothic influence, with its ribbed vaulting, arched moldings, and furniture inspired by medieval churches. The Ramsey Mansion (1872) in St. Paul, Minnesota, exhibits all the trappings of the fashion for classicism. World's Fair exhibitions showcased Victorian opulence and the increasing array of domestic products. Museums began to collect and put on permanent display furniture and period objects, and began recreating interiors.

Along with the embellishment of styles derived from Europe, nineteenth-century America also saw the development of a unique design sense derived from the beliefs and practices of the Shakers. This fundamentalist community shunned elaborate expressions of wealth and opulence, and developed a style based on essential forms and a spare purity of line, reflecting their belief that form follows function. Their minimalist approach was a key component in the mix of influences that led to twentieth-century modernism. Regional craftsmen and artisans also worked outside the heroics of revivalism and created instead simple, unadorned pieces intended not for the wealthy, but for those of average income. At the same time, the factories of the new machine age made high-quality work available to more people for less money; in contrast to handcrafted furniture, they produced painted cottage furniture or slat-back chairs.

Publications, Film, and New Technology

The pre-Modernist sensibilities of nineteenth century decoration, including the Victorian era's taste for eclecticism, survived well into the twentieth century. In 1913, for example, Elsie de Wolfe, considered the first professional decorator, wrote The House in Good Taste to promote the use of a range of historical styles. At the same time, the new age of travel, with its ocean liners and airliners, established contemporary aesthetics that favored the streamlined and the modern.

Even as much of its aesthetic orientation remained rooted in the nineteenth century, the field of interior decoration rapidly modernized and professionalized itself. In 1897, the novelist Edith Wharton collaborated with architect Ogden Codman Jr. in writing The Decoration of Houses, in which the authors define interior decoration as dealing with surface treatments and interior design as encompassing the design of interior spaces. In 1904, The Interior Decorator began publishing; one of the earliest specialist publications, it soon set standards for the profession. Nancy McClelland established the interior decoration department of New York's Wanamaker Department Store in 1913, and in 1923 Eleanor McMillen founded McMillen, Incorporated, credited with being the country's first interior-decorating firm. Beginning in the 1930s, John Fowler, Terence Harold Robsjohn-Gibbings, and Billy Baldwin all became coveted professional decorators. The American Institute of Decorators was founded in 1931.

In the 1930s, the fantastic world of film first became the prominent influence on American interior decoration it would continue to be throughout the twentieth century. The decorative styles of the English country house, the Californian Spanish house, and the Art Deco interiors of the Jazz era were all disseminated through Hollywood set design. The stylized "Modern" look of the 1930s owed much to futuristic epics like Metropolis (1927), while the nostalgia for the Civil War period inspired by Gone with the Wind (1939) also greatly influenced decoration. Later in the century, the sensational Cleopatra (1963) created a resurgence in Egyptian motifs, while the futuristic sets of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) helped inspire the distinctive minimalist environments of the late 1960s and 1970s. Mail-order catalogs and women's magazines, while not as glamorous as Hollywood, also exerted a strong influence on interior decoration. They featured an expanding diversity of goods and began portraying fashionable interiors.

In the second half of the century, the dominant architectural philosophy sought a reduction in ornamentation, and objects both small and large were increasingly made of synthetic materials. Technological innovations transformed interior spaces as the television and hi-fi made their way into everyone's living room during the 1950s and 1960s. During the 1990s, the widespread usage of the Internet made information readily accessible, transforming the profession of interior decoration itself. Access to any image, the availability of increasingly varied products and furniture types, and an ever-expanding and increasingly sophisticated lighting industry all expanded the decorator's palette.

Initially a luxury for society's affluent, the interior decorator at the start of the twenty-first century is a consultant to businesses and middle-class homeowners alike, helping them shape living and work environments through the use of an ever-expanding range of possibilities.


Aguilar, Kathleen, and Michael Anderson. Miniature Rooms: The Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago. New York: Abbeville, 1984.

Ball, Victoria Kloss. Architecture and Interior Design: Europe and America from the Colonial Era to Today. New York: John Wiley, 1980.

Friedman, Arnold, J. Pile, and F. Wilson. Interior Design: An Introduction to Architectural Interiors. New York: American Elsevier, 1970.

Geck, Francis J. Interior Design and Decoration. Dubuque, Iowa: Brown, 1971.

Pile, John F. History of Interior Design. London: Laurence King, 2000.

Rogers, Meyric R. American Interior Design: The Traditions and Development of Domestic Design from Colonial Times to the Present. New York: Norton, 1947.

Wharton, Edith, and Ogden Codman Jr. The Decoration of Houses. New York: Norton, 1997. Reprint of the original 1897 edition.

Whiton, Augustus Sherrill. Interior Design and Decoration. 4th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1974.

Linda NelsonKeane


See alsoCollecting ; Furniture ; Metalwork .

Interior Design

American interior design has its roots in the traditions of interior decoration that developed in the United States during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Interior decoration was primarily concerned with the surface decoration of the home, its furnishings and room arrangement. Interior design came to be conceived, following the publication in 1897 of The Decoration of Houses, by Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman Jr., as encompassing the design of interior spaces. Both disciplines involve the planning and organization of space, lighting, and color; surface treatments of walls, windows, floors, and ceilings; furniture selection and arrangement; and the choosing of accessories. But in the twentieth century, the growth of corporate office-space planning needs, the infusion of European design influences, the historic preservation movement, and the formation of national governing agencies for the profession altered the traditional parameters of interior design.

The history of American interior design parallels that of American interior decoration. Colonial styles took their inspiration primarily from the former European homes of Dutch, French, Spanish, and English settlers. Wealthy eighteenth-century Americans developed tastes influenced by the Georgian style popular in England (see, for example, the Governor's Palace, Williamsburg, Virginia, 1722). The third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, championed Palladian ideals at Monticello (1784–1809), as did Benjamin Latrobe, long considered the nation's first architect. The furniture and interior design of the Federal Style of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was a reflection of contemporary interest in the Greek world, an interest undergirded by a paralleling of the young America with the first pure democracy of Periclean Athens.

The Gothic Revival of the early nineteenth century paralleled contemporaneous English and German tastes. This reflection upon the Middle Ages led to a style known as Carpenter Gothic, which featured simple rural construction, and to more mainstream revivalisms across the expanding country. The Victorian Age that followed offered an eclectic mix of styles borrowed from any and all periods of design history, with a vital infusion supplied by the mechanized processes of the new Industrial Age. This period in history witnessed the first widespread introduction of factory-made products. The Arts and Crafts movement objected to the machine's impact on design and to the elimination of the craftsman. Out of this movement came the first generation of design that departed from European traditions and was truly American. Gustav Stickley and others were leaders in developing the Craftsman style, a proportioned plane and linear language that was expressed in architecture, furniture, and interiors. Also emerging from the latter half of the nineteenth century were the minimal and restrained design forms of the Shaker religious community. Shaker simplicity, so divergent from the elaborate ornamentation popular in the Gilded Age, helped point the way toward twentieth-century Modernism.

Louis Sullivan (Chicago Auditorium, 1889) and Frank Lloyd Wright (Robie House, Chicago, 1909) offered an American response to the international Art Nouveau movement with their nonhistorical, nature-based decorative vocabulary. Their late-nineteenth-and early-twentieth-century masterpieces were direct descendants of the Modern movement. Complementing their work in the Midwest were the California designers Greene and Greene (Gamble House, Pasadena, California, 1909) and Bernard Maybeck.

The Modern movement was built on the principles of the antihistorical Dutch group De Stijl and on the teachings of the Bauhaus—a German school of design—and can also be seen as a reaction to World War I (1914–1918). Modernism ran counter to the popular Art Deco style favored by the era's dominant academic institution, the École des Beaux Arts in Paris, at which many American architects and designers were trained. Its key proponents, the Germans Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and the Finn Eliel Saarinen, all emigrated to the United States and landed at premier design institutions: the Harvard School of Design, the Illinois Institute of Technology, and Cranbrook Academy, respectively. Mechanization, reconceptualization of interior space, and the suspension of the barrier between interior and exterior space were key principles in this functionalist approach. Convenience and economy became paramount, and were supported by the development of electric power, temperature control, and lighting and ventilating innovations.

In the middle of the twentieth century, a shift took place in the practice of interior design. In 1958, the National Society of Interior Designers was established to complement the American Institute of Decorators. The profession of interior decoration as developed by the early pioneers in the field, Elsie de Wolfe, Nancy McClelland, and Ruby Ross Wood, expanded its scope to encompass new design programs. Commercial interior design became a new business venture. Key individuals like Florence Knoll championed the modern movement and its response to post–World War II (1939–1945) corporate America. In 1965, Art Gensler opened a firm that focused on corporate office design. Traditional architecture firms like Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill began to add services that specialized in office interiors. Office planning, facilities management, movements supporting historic preservation and adaptive reuse, and the expanding scope of the built environment all offered new horizons for the field and led to a new definition of interior design as a separate discipline. Differentiated from interior decoration and architecture, interior design attempted to claim the territory of the public interior. Beyond arrangement and selection of furnishings and finishes, interior designers concentrated on the human experience of the design environment. With this focus, interior design became a science as well as an art.

Interior design expanded to encompass telecommunications, mechanical and electrical systems, ergonomics, food and beverage service, kitchens and commercial laundries, and the educational, institutional, medical, and hospitality fields. Social science research began to be developed to identify and meet user needs. Color theory, acoustics, lighting, human behavioral studies, anthropology, and sociology began to inform the design process.

Large furniture manufacturers like Knoll, Steelcase, and Herman Miller responded to the corporate world's needs. Design and continued modification of the "workstation" transformed rooms of closed offices into open-plan multiuse corporations. Herman Miller's "Action Office," a system of freestanding panels and reconfigurable countertops and storage elements, was one of the responses to the demand for a transformed office. In the late 1940s and 1950s, Ray and Charles Eames created office interiors specifically for the people who worked in them, using only the furniture and objects necessary to work effectively and efficiently. The Eameses stressed appropriate, socially conscious, egalitarian, and ethical designs.

From producing a limited set of choices, the furniture industry expanded into use-specific and ergonomically designed offerings that have multiplied the possibilities. The science of lighting design expanded from general lighting to include task, accent, and ever-changing mood lighting. The specifications for materials superseded mere questions of color and texture, and added durability, toxicity, flammability, and impact on the environment as new variables. The development of design knowledge in academia, practice, and allied industry began to change interior design from an aesthetic process into an analytical, research-oriented endeavor that advocated change in the environment.

The field of interior design continues to develop and expand its arena of expertise. It overlaps with construction, architecture, art, design technologies, mechanical systems, lighting, and product and environmental design. In 1950, there were seventy programs focusing on interiors at various U.S. schools of design, architecture, and home economics. In 1971, the Foundation for Interior Design Education and Research (FIDER) was formed by the Interior Design Education Committee to govern the growth and direction of the emerging profession. The National Council for Interior Design Qualifications was created in 1974 by the American Society of Interior Designers to ensure professional competence. By 2000, FIDER listed 130 accredited interior design programs.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the interior design professional functions in three types of work environments: architectural firms that have both design and technical teams who work collaboratively on larger projects; firms in which architects oversee project management while interior designers contribute color, materials, and treatments; and the interior design firm that features the designer as "decorator."

Interior design was unregulated, but this had changed by the end of the twentieth century. New regulation requires familiarity with energy-conscious products and safety issues. Health and safety issues have led to licensing in some states, and there is a gradual trend toward licensing nationwide. Licensing examinations reflect the growing nature of the field, as applicants must now show proficiency in programming and planning, theory, contract documents, building construction, materials, professional practice, history, and design.


Ching, Francis D. K. Interior Design Illustrated. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1987.

Keane, Linda, and Mark Keane. "Interior Design Education." In Handbook on Interior Design. Edited by Cindy Coleman. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001.

Knackstedt, Mary, with Laura J. Haney. Interior Design and Beyond: Art, Science, Industry. New York: John Wiley, 1995.

Nielsen, Karla, and David Taylor. Interiors: An Introduction. 3d ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002.

Pegler, Martin M. The Dictionary of Interior Design. New York: Fairchild, 1983.

Russell, Beverly. Women of Design: Contemporary American Interiors. New York: Rizzoli, 1992.

Linda NelsonKeane


See alsoArchitecture ; Furniture .


The Colonial Era: Rising from the Formulaic

The first paintings executed in the American colonies were portraits of early settlers, mostly in Boston or New Amsterdam (later New York City), painted by artists trained in England or the Netherlands. These portraits from the second half of the seventeenth century are rudimentary in execution. There is little attempt to create convincingly modeled forms, and facial features are only broadly described. The sitters are for the most part well-to-do merchants and landowners who have about them a sense of sobriety and determination. These early artists are sometimes known as limners and they also worked as sign painters or even house painters. The names of only a few of these early artisans are known, the earliest being Henri Couturier, who in 1663 executed a portrait of Governor Peter Stuyvesant in New Amsterdam. Also active in that area at this time were Evert Duyckinck and his son Gerrit, while in Boston native-born John Foster painted portraits while also teaching school, and made the first woodcut known to be executed in the colonies.

Farther south, in Charleston, Mrs. Henrietta Johnston is the first recorded woman painter, while in Maryland, Justus Engelhardt Kühn made several crudely executed portraits of early settlers. By the mid-eighteenth century, Gustavus Hesselius had painted some portraits that have a sense of the personality of the sitter. Hesselius also worked in the more ambitious categories of religious and mythological painting, although the practical demands of establishing a new nation offered little scope for ambitious multifigure canvases. Eighteenth-century colonists preferred portraits or views of early colonial towns.

The first native-born artist of note was Robert Feke, active in the Boston area, as well as in Newport and Philadelphia. His handling of the medium of paint and his use of rich colors marks an advance over most colonial portraiture, which presents the sitter in a formulaic pose painted with a restricted, drab palette. Gustavus Hesselius's son John painted portraits of settlers along the eastern seaboard from Philadelphia to Virginia. His most striking image is Charles Calvert and Slave (1761), which shows one of Maryland's wealthiest landowners and one of his African chattel.

The high point of American colonial painting is attained in the work of John Singleton Copley, a native of Boston. A self-taught artist, Copley's ambitions went beyond portraiture. As a student he copied prints after the work of earlier European masters as a way of teaching himself anatomy. Copley's portraits of New England's social and political figures are notable for the acuteness with which he suggested the personality of his sitters. Copley's portraits owe their success in large part to his skill in representing the accessories of people's lives, the rich fabrics of their clothes or the gleaming surfaces of their household furnishings. Frequently, the artist used unconventional poses for his sitters, which enhanced the sense of their individuality. His double portrait, Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Winslow (1774), is a characteristic, masterful image of colonial painting just prior to the American Revolution. In 1774 Copley left to study in England and on the Continent; the next year he settled in London, where in addition to portraits he painted historical themes such as Watson and the Shark (1778). Copley was driven abroad by the absence in the colonies of any training for artists and of any public collections of art.

Charles Willson Peale moved from Maryland to Philadelphia, where he painted portraits of the city's aristocracy. His commission from the Cadwalader family in 1772 for five large portraits was unique. Peale used the conventions of fashionable contemporary British art as the basis of his work, which reflects the wealth and sophistication possible at the apex of colonial life. Peale trained his sons Raphaelle, Rubens, and Rembrandt to become painters; they not only did portraits, but Raphaelle executed meticulously observed and rendered still lifes of familiar objects such as arrangements of books or flowers and fruit.

The Early Republic: Beyond Portraiture

In 1795 Charles organized the Columbianum, a short-lived artists' association modeled on Britain's Royal Academy in London. Within the first decade of the nineteenth century, art academies were established in New York City (American Academy of Fine Arts, 1802, and National Academy of Design, 1826) and Philadelphia (Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 1805), evidence that the new republic was assured enough to recognize the fine arts as a basic part of civilized education.

In the early republic, portraiture continued to be a major area of endeavor for American painters, who looked to England for inspiration. Gilbert Stuart studied in Britain before returning to the United States in 1792, where he produced his celebrated portrait of George Washington, which exists in numerous replicas. Thomas Sully studied in London, where he was greatly impressed by the portrait style of Sir Thomas Lawrence, whose gracefully posed sitters are rendered by an easy, assured handling of paint. Sully adopted Lawrence's manner to represent the comfortable lifestyle of his patrons, whether wealthy or middle class.

As the nation grew more prosperous, some artists attempted to create large-scale paintings of historical or mythological subjects, which in European art academies were considered the most worthwhile, and most difficult, subject matter for a painter to master. John Trumbull and John Vanderlyn each studied in Europe before returning home to paint canvases in the grand manner of epochal themes. Trumbull's paintings of subjects from America's Revolutionary War were installed in the Capitol, although to severe criticism, and Vanderlyn's mythological figures such as Ariadne fared no better with the public at the time, which is generally known as the age of Romanticism. Washington Allston was the most complex individual in American art in this epoch. Educated at Harvard University, he then left to study painting in London and on the Continent. His writings on art dismissed the notion of painting as imitation of appearances and placed emphasis on the imagination and intuition. Allston's huge Belshazzar's Feast (begun 1817) remained unfinished and is one of America's great Romantic images.

Alongside these painters, who were laboring to create in America an art of grand achievements in European terms, existed a number of largely self-taught artists, usually active outside of America's big cities. The best known is the Quaker missionary and preacher Edward Hicks. His paintings are executed with an emphasis on outline to define objects and the simplicity of his compositions recalls the bold immediacy of sign paintings. In sympathy with his pacifist religious convictions, Hicks's work centers on the biblical theme of the Peaceable Kingdom, as with Noah's Ark (1846).

As the United States developed, people were curious to see the largely unexplored western territories. Landscape painting, often executed in a very idealized manner, was a response to this demand for information. North of New York City the Hudson River School comprised professional artists such as Thomas Cole, who specialized in landscapes, and as national boundaries spread beyond the Mississippi River, artists traveled westward to paint the countryside and its inhabitants. George Catlin is the best-known artist to paint the American Indians, their customs, and the rugged terrain in which they lived and hunted as he explored the Missouri River in 1832. An exhibition of these works surprised audiences in New York City, London, and Paris. The life and customs of Native Americans were also the subject of Karl Bodmer's work, while somewhat later Alfred J. Miller made more picturesque images of the people and landscape of the West. The grandeur of the western terrain, with its stretches of towering snow-capped mountains, inspired painters such as Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran, and Frederick E. Church to create vast panoramic canvases of views at Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon that were purchased by private collectors for huge prices.

The everyday activities of life were represented in the popular category of genre painting, while ordinary objects were represented in still-life paintings executed with crystalline realism. These paintings, known as trompe l'oeil (fool the eye) compositions, take commonplace objects and arrange them in imaginary compositions executed in an astonishingly realistic manner. William M. Harnett's Old Cupboard Door (1889) and John F. Peto's Still Life with Lard-Oil Lamp (c. 1900) are characteristic trompe l'oeil works, with things arranged in curious, unexplained juxtapositions that may imply a moral or humorous anecdote.

The Mid-and Late Nineteenth Century: Europeanists and Individualists

By mid-century many American artists still felt the need to study abroad; art academies in London, Paris, or Munich

were favored by painters in search of contact with more sophisticated training than they could find at home. John La Farge studied in Paris, where he came to know the work of old masters, contemporary artists such as Eugène Delacroix, and Oriental art, the stylized decorative qualities of which so attracted him that eventually he traveled to Japan and the South Pacific. Paris and the work of the French Impressionists attracted Mary Cassatt to the city, and eventually she settled in France, where she lived for the rest of her life. James A. McNeill Whistler first studied in Paris, and then went on to spend his mature years in London. His views of London and the river Thames at dusk or in fog, painted in a narrow, delicately modulated range of colors that he called nocturnes, became popular with American collectors; his art was well-known in the United States during his lifetime.

Another mid-century artist, William M. Chase, studied at Munich; his most attractive canvases are his landscapes painted out-of-doors with a free touch and in bright, clear colors. John Singer Sargent studied in Paris and then moved across the English Channel to London, where he became one of the most acclaimed portraitists of his time. He had an international clientele of wealthy, powerful sitters and his portraits create a record of an epoch. Later, Sargent went to Boston, where he executed important murals (begun in 1890) commissioned by the Boston Public Library and, later, by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, on which he worked from 1916 until his death in 1925. In Paris, Theodore Robinson discovered the paintings of the Impressionists, and in the 1880s he was so taken with Monet's colorful, vividly executed landscapes that the American settled in Giverny, where the French painter had a studio. Childe Hassam adopted the Impressionists' painting technique to create views of the New England countryside—coastal scenes or villages with neat houses and churches.

The two greatest personalities in American art in the late nineteenth century were Winslow Homer and Thomas Eakins, neither of whom owed much to European influences. Homer was largely self-taught and his early training prepared him to work as a magazine illustrator. His interest in the American scene was a constant in his art, whether he recorded events from the Civil War or later, often working in isolation in Maine, painted the outdoors life of hunters and fishermen. Homer's preference for stretches of New England wilderness, as in Breezing Up (1876), stands in contrast to the growing industrialization of America's cities. Thomas Eakins studied at the Paris École des Beaux Arts but returned to Philadelphia in 1870. There he taught painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he insisted that students work after nude models. That resulted in his dismissal in 1886 and afterward he turned increasingly to portraiture as a means of continuing his career. Eakins's celebrated The Concert Singer (1890–1892) is characteristic of the introspective, sometimes plaintive character of his portrayals.

Academic Artists and Modernists

The art of these individualists stands apart from the academic work that was popular at the turn of the twentieth century. High-minded civic virtues were expressed in solidly grounded technique by painters such as Thomas W. Dewing, Edmund Charles Tarbell, and William Morris Hunt, whose scenes of polite society or allegories of political or social idealism avoided the ugly realities of urban, industrial life.

The social problems that came with the rapid growth of America's big cities became the subject matter for a group of artists who rejected academic art. These realist artists originated in Philadelphia and comprised Robert Henri, George Luks, William Glackens, John Sloan, and Everett Shinn. Later they moved to New York City, where their subject matter was the metropolis, including its tenement life, the isolation possible in its crowded environment, and the diversions of the city. These five painters were joined by Arthur B. Davies, Maurice Prendergast, and Ernest Lawson to form a group that was known as The Eight or the Ashcan School in recognition of the commonplace themes of their art. These progressives were interested in current European modernism, and Henri, Sloan, and Luks were instrumental in organizing the controversial 1913 Armory Show, the first large-scale presentation in America of such controversial art as French cubism and the work of Henri Matisse, Maurice de Vlaminck, and Georges Rouault, which was seen alongside avant-garde American works by John Marin, Marsden Hartley, Joseph Stella, and Charles Sheeler, among others.

Prior to the Armory Show it was almost impossible to see progressive European work in the United States, with the rare exception of the photographer Alfred Stieglitz's Photo-Secession Gallery in New York City, which exhibited work by Paul Cézanne, Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Constantin Brancusi as well as American art and children's drawings. Both Marin and Stella celebrated America's engineering marvels—its skyscrapers and bridges—in paintings that use both cubist and Italian futurist devices to express the magnitude of America's urban buildings and the fast-paced life of its cities. Examples are New York Interpreted (1920–1922) and The Bridge (1922), by Stella, and Marin's The Woolworth Building (1912). Not all American modernists followed the lead of European painters. A case in point is Arthur Dove, whose abstract canvases often use biomorphic shapes to suggest fantasy landscapes, sometimes recalling the work of the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky, as in Dove's A Walk, Poplars (1920). Another modernist who defies categorization is Marsden Hartley, sponsored by Alfred Stieglitz and sent by him to Europe in 1912, where Hartley not only came to know the work of French modernists but those of the Russian Kandinsky and the German Expressionists. Hartley's works, including Painting No. 4 (also called A Black Horse, 1915), are concerned with representing spiritual values through symbolism and are deliberately ambiguous.

Several artists continued to explore city life as the subject of their work, and in this sense they perpetuated the Ashcan School's concern with urban realities. George Bellows combined a relish for all aspects of urban existence with superb, academically oriented draftsmanship. His figure style is most evident in his prizefight subjects, as in Stag at Sharkey's (1907). Bellows's relish for city life was shared by other realist painters such as Jerome Meyers and Leon Kroll.

While European cubism of the 1920s had little effect on American painting, the Cubists' clarity of organization is evident in the early work of Stuart Davis, whose Super Table (1925) is clearly in their debt. Davis's later, large abstract compositions were influenced by American billboard paintings, with their strident colors and bold shapes. The work of the American Precisionist Movement reflects a knowledge of cubism's rigorous organization, but also of photography's clarity of representation. Charles Sheeler was both a photographer and a painter. His photographs undoubtedly nurtured his preference for clarity and sharp focus observation. Their subjects are taken from the immediate world of his rural Pennsylvania background, the factories of industrial America, or—as in Rolling Power (1939)—the skyscraper architecture of cities. Edward Hopper recorded with clarity and unmatched poignancy the isolation of urban life. His Nighthawks (1942) is a precise evocation of nighttime, when people's energies are at low ebb. Hopper's views of Victorian houses and his seacoast paintings of crashing waves and boats at sea present a more optimistic view of American life as it exists in small towns freed of urban complexities.

Georgia O'Keefe's startling close-up views of organic forms make no reference to cubism but instead concentrate on details of plants or the skulls and bones of the New Mexico desert, where she lived during the later part of her career. Vast stretches of sky suggest the isolation in which she pursued her art, as in From the Plains (1952–1954).


A reaction against European modernism developed partly in response to America's economic and political isolation after World War I. Regionalism is particularly identified with artists working in the Midwest and the Great Plains. The low horizons and towering skies of the regionalists' landscapes make a backdrop for the farmers' and ranchers' life of isolation and hard work. Thomas Hart Benton's gaunt figures sometimes approach caricature and his themes are anecdotal as well as political, as in Cotton Pickers (1928–1929). Other Regionalists include Grant Wood, whose American Gothic (1930) is an iconic image of a farming couple standing in front of their wood Gothic-looking house. John Stewart Curry also portrayed the rural Midwest with humor.

This Regionalist aspect of American art received support during the depression years of the 1930s from the federal government, whose Federal Art Project, which ran from 1935 to 1943, was administered under the Works Progress Administration. The program supported both easel painting, the graphic arts, and murals for public buildings. Regional committees administered the project's awards on a competitive basis. A bias existed in favor of representational styles and American subject matter. No outstanding artist came to prominence as a result of this support, but the program enabled many painters to continue to work who would otherwise have been forced to put aside their art and seek other employment.

Avant-Garde Art

European avant-garde art came to the United States at the outset of World War II with the arrival of a new wave of artists (including Yves Tanguy, Piet Mondrian, Max Beckmann), many of whom settled in New York City. The German painter Hans Hofmann became an important teacher and an example for the development of abstract expressionism. The German Expressionist Max Beckmann also taught, and the presence of his art in the United States made the country more aware of expressionism as an important movement. Another major teacher was Josef Albers, from the Bauhaus at Weimar, who worked and taught at Yale University, while another Bauhaus artist, László Moholy-Nagy, was instrumental in founding the New Bauhaus, later known as the Illinois Institute of Design, in Chicago, which carried on the severe aesthetic of the German institution. At first, art training in America was carried out in the master's studio; later, major art schools were attached to art museums such as the School of Fine Arts, Boston (1876), The Art Institute in Chicago (1879), and the Cleveland Institute of Art (1882). Training for artists in a university context—established at Princeton in 1831, New York University in 1832, Yale in 1866—was usually more perfunctory. Thus, the presence of an artist of Albers's stature at New Haven was a major advance in raising the caliber of instruction in a university context.

Painting and Social Justice

Alongside the arrival of European Modernists during the late 1920s and early 1940s, there coexisted artists concerned with issues of social justice. Ben Shahn created powerful images, such as the dejected couple in Willis Avenue Bridge (1940), while Jacob Lawrence's art dealt with the plight of African Americans and social discrimination in works such as Migration of the Negro (1940–1941), as did Romare Bearden's. Joseph Hirsch's paintings of urban laborers can be seen as a continuation of the Ashcan School's concerns, while Paul Cadmus presents an often bawdy view of city life, sometimes with homoerotic implications, as with The Fleet's In! (1934).

After 1945

In the 1950s, abstract expressionism dominated progressive American painting. The movement was centered in New York City, and the artists' large, sometimes wall-size canvases, and bold, gestural handling of paint soon caught the attention of critics and collectors. The artists' gestures became the subject matter of the work, a break with convention that soon attracted international notice. At the head of the movement was Jackson Pollock, whose celebrated "drip" paintings were created by stretching canvas on the floor and dripping skeins of paint from cans or brushes in broad rhythmic motions. Variations of this bold application of paint were created by Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, and Robert Motherwell, among others. There also existed many important artists who stood apart, working in personal styles that they often developed away from New York City. Foremost is Mark Tobey, whose paintings of fragile interlaced lines, recalling Oriental calligraphy, were created in Seattle, although he ended his career in Switzerland. In contrast to Tobey's abstract canvases, figurative art continued to flourish, as in Fairchild Porter's scenes of a comfortably well-to-do, genteel lifestyle or Andrew Wyeth's minutely detailed rural landscapes including Dodge's Ridge (1947).

By the 1960s, a group of artists in Chicago were painting figurative compositions of great emotional intensity, frequently with surrealist-inspired juxtapositions of objects. Known as the Chicago Imagists, Ed Paschke and Roger Brown created raw, disturbing imagery reflecting their interest in psychoanalysis, "primitive" art, and bizarre or hallucinatory conditions, as in Paschke's Hop-head (1970). Other figurative painters, such as Philip Pearlstein and Alice Neel, both active in New York City, observe their subjects with such intensity that their images have the sense of being isolated from the real world.

During the 1960s, color field painting arose as an alternative to the bold work of abstract expressionism. Mark Rothko's large canvases of highly saturated color retain evidence of his brushwork; this gesture reference was largely eliminated by color field artists such as Frank Stella, Kenneth Noland, and Jules Olitski, who preferred strong colors and sometimes used shaped canvases that broke with the traditional rectangle, as is evident in the work of Ellsworth Kelly. Other painters, such as Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Lewis, applied paint by staining their canvases with water soluble acrylic pigments, often pouring the medium onto the surface.

Coincident with color field painting, minimalist artists sought to create a sense of classical order in their geo-metric grids painted with quiet, almost monochromatic colors. Brice Marden, Robert Ryman, Agnes Martin, and Sol Le Witt are the leading names of this movement. On the West Coast, the Fetish Finish artists—including Larry Bell and Craig Kaufmann—used industrial materials like automobile paint, plastic, and lacquer to create works, sometimes three-dimensional, that explore how light is reflected and perceived. At the same time, the dean of West Coast painters was Richard Diebenkorn, whose series of Ocean Park canvases (begun in 1967) celebrate the radiant light of Southern California.

Starting in the 1970s and 1980s, a number of artists have found the conventional limitations of easel painting too confining to express their reactions to complex social problems like pacifism, social equality, feminism, the devastation of AIDS, or ethnic identities. America's culture of materialism is deeply offensive to some artists, like Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger, who have taken to the streets to express their outrage through wall murals or commercial illuminated signage. The use of nontraditional materials and the rejection of the conventional museum-gallery audience gives power to the minority and often marginalized voices of these contemporary American artists. Video and computer-generated imagery give artists access to an international audience with such immediacy as to call into question the relevance of national identities.


Battock, Gregory. Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1968.

Beckett, Wendy. Contemporary Women Artists. Oxford: Phaidon, 1988.

Hunter, Sam. American Art of the Twentieth Century. New York: Harper and Row, 1972.

Lewis, Samella S. Art: African American. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, c1978.

Lippard, Lucy R. Mixed Blessings: New Art in a Multicultural America. New York: Pantheon Books, 1990.

Lucie-Smith, Edward. Movements in Art since 1945. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1995.

Novak, Barbara. American Painting of the Nineteenth Century. 2d ed. New York: Abrams, 1979.

Plagens, Peter. Sunshine Muse: Contemporary Art on the West Coast. New York: Praeger, 1974.

Wilmerding, John. American Art. New York: Penguin Books, 1976.


See alsoAbstract Expressionism ; Armory Show ; Art Institute of Chicago ; Ashcan School ; Catlin's Indian Paintings ; Cubism ; Genre Painting ; Hudson River School ; Remington and Indian and Western Images ; Romanticism ; Works Progress Administration .


Americans rapidly embraced the new medium of photography within months of Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre's introduction of his process in 1839. Samuel F. B. Morse and his wife attempted to use it in the fall of 1839, and Alexander S. Wolcott and John Johnson claimed to open the first portrait studio in New York City in October 1839. Within a few years, rapid improvements and the introduction of plastic "union cases" resulted in a democratized use of daguerreotypes. In Massachusetts alone, over 403,000 daguerreotypes were recorded in the year ending 1 June 1855. Daguerreotypes were useful for art and architectural recordings. Street scenes, buildings, monuments, and human nudes were early subjects. Soon even cheaper competition emerged. Calotypes and ambrotypes were popular in the 1850s, and after that tintypes and carte de vistes flourished beyond possible calculation. While these methods greatly democratized portraiture and allowed people to gain perspectives on their appearances (mirrors were still uncommon), gradually more elite forms appeared. Mathew Brady's portrait studio on Lower Broadway in New York City became favored by the wealthy. Brady and the popular historian Charles Edwards Lester produced lavish illustrated books. In the late 1850s the first stereographs appeared, which, using two parallel images, allowed depth perception. Mounted on stereopticons, these photos of city scenes, world attractions, and major events became staples of middle-class parlors.

Early Journalistic and Documentary Photography

The next big jump came with the Civil War. Previously, photographers transferred their images into line drawings for publication in new magazines such as Harper's Weekly, Leslie's Weekly, and Gleason's, all of which catered to the middle classes. The demands for immediate news during the war quickly meant constant use of photography. Brady, Timothy O'Sullivan, and Alexander Gardener became famous for battlefield photographs, even if, as was later revealed, they arranged corpses for effects. The work was tedious and dangerous; Brady was nearly killed at Bull Run and was disoriented for days. Although line drawings continued in use after the war, by the late 1880s photo-graphs dominated daily and weekly media. Photographers now roamed throughout the country looking for news-worthy and evocative images. The American West provided a fruitful source of dramatic imagery. The work of Carleton Watkins, William H. Jackson, Eadweard Muy-bridge, and Timothy O'Sullivan dramatically portrayed the massive natural beauty of the West.

Photography's democratic impulse expanded after the Civil War. The use of photographs in books was common. Photographers catering to African Americans, Chinese Americans, and other ethnic groups abounded. Photographers such as Edward Curtis set about recording and preserving hundreds of images of Native Americans. At the bottom of society, Inspector Thomas Byrnes's famous book of American criminals introduced the use of mug shots for identification. American usage of photographs as postcards became widespread by the end of the nineteenth century. Colorized and tinted postcards demonstrated the potential of color photography.

Publication of Jacob Riis's How the Other Half Lives (1890) showed the power of photography to promote social

reform. Riis's grainy images of the poor of New York City sparked calls for social justice. Lewis Hine, who illustrated sociological treatises of exploited child labor with evocative documentary photographs, improved upon his work early in the next century.


In contrast to this devotion to straight photography to record social conditions was the work of Alfred Stieglitz. Oriented to photographic aesthetics and influenced by the photo salon movement in Europe, Stieglitz constantly experimented with light, paper, and subject before coming to the United States. In New York, he urged consideration of photography as an art form, something few had ever considered. His photograph of the Plaza Hotel in New York City, Reflections, Night—New York, is remarkable for its study of wet pavements reflecting light from streetlamps and windows. Stieglitz became the president (and dictator) of the New York Camera Club, which became noted for its extraordinary reproductions and as a clearinghouse for innovative ideas. His unabashed elitism, adherence to pictorialism, and disdain for documentary photography established photography as an art form. His publication Camera Notes and his organization of the Photo-Secession movement were aimed expressly at that purpose. Camera Notes in its fifty issues published what it considered the best of photography and surveyed the history of the method. Within a few years, pictorial photo-graphs graced the walls of museums and exhibitions and Stieglitz's approach was seemingly triumphant. Though the movement lapsed in 1917 with the end of the magazine and the destruction of its New York headquarters, his influence on Edward Steichen, the future photography editor of Vanity Fair magazine, and Paul Strand, who revived straight photography, was immense.

Pictorialism had unintended influence. It dominated the rising genre of Hollywood photography, done first on a freelance basis and then by regular studio photographers. Such cameramen as Eugene Robert Ritchie, George Hurrell, Clarence Sinclair Bull, and John Engstead used pictorialism to improve upon the attractiveness of the stars and, as they did, create new concepts of American beauty, especially in their emphasis on face, hair, shoulders, and breasts. Steichen, Horst, and Carl Van Vechten of Vanity Fair extended such absorption to literary and artistic personalities, creating new types of American portraiture. The democratic principal of such photography can be found in the work of Alfred Eisenstadt for Life magazine and in photographs found in sports magazines.

Life and its rival publication Look used the cooperative work of editors and staff photographers. Picture essays were planned and researched before the photographer shot the subject. Multiple images were made in the quest for the best possible moment. This method created carefully conceived and executed projects; it also made for predictability, something photographers had learned to prize about their medium. The method was best exploited by Walker Evans, who worked for Fortune Magazine on assignment for years. Although Evans was supposedly working with a team back in the office, in fact he was roaming around the country searching for the precise moment when his technical expertise and subject matter merged.

Varieties of Documentary Photography

Stieglitz's insistence on the photographer's control over the image influenced Evans, who started shooting images of American vernacular architecture and signs and then, during the Great Depression, concentrated on the American poor. Along with Charles Sheeler, Evans became known for the originality and evocativeness of his subject matter and for the precision of his images. Simultaneously, Berenice Abbott, who had trained in Paris under Man Rayand with Bill Brandt, and there fell under the sway of the urban documentarian Eugene Atget, returned to New York in 1929 to record the changes in the city. Though she was unable to get funding to finish her project of photographing every building and block in Manhattan, Abbott's images captured the city as it moved into world status. On the local level, the work of the Harlem photographer James Van Der Zee recorded the images of several generations of black New Yorkers. Similarly, Marvin and Morgan Smith, Gordon Parks, Robert S. Scurlock, and others sought to record the significant events of African American experiences and of the civil rights movement.

Their fascination with city people and architecture did not extend throughout photography. In the American West, Edward Weston and his son Brett, Imogen Cunningham, Ansel Adams, and Georgia O'Keefe made virtuoso photography of the natural world. Their conception was always that the photographer predetermine what the image would be and set exposure and development to gain control over nature.

Documentary photography received a large boost during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The director Roy Emerson Stryker hired a talented team of photographers for the Historical Section of the Farm Security Administration. The group included Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Marion Post Wolcott, Ben Shahn, Arthur Rothstein, and Russell Lee. They took over 270,000 images of American life from Maine to San Diego. There approach was catholic; anything having to do with the American people was appropriate, except Wall Street and celebrities. FSA photographers sought out ordinary citizens working in arduous times. The FSA photos are a linchpin between the natural democratic use of the photograph in the nineteenth century, the work of Riis and Hine, and the self-conscious search for Americaness found in the New York school.

Consciously learning from Hine, Evans, and other classic documentarians, the New York school of photographers used small cameras, available light, and a sense of the fleeing and the real. At times, however, they seemed more aligned with action painting or abstract expressionism. Photographers from the New York school included Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Alexy Brodovitch, Ted Croner, Bruce Davidson, Don Donaghy, Louis Faurer, Robert Frank, Sid Grossman, William Klein, Saul Leiter, Leon Levinstein, Helen Levitt, Lisette Model, David Vestal, and Weegee. Each of them aspired to finding what Henri Cartier-Bresson, the French master, called "the precise moment." Weegee in particular specialized in crime scenes, fires, and other human disasters. While such photography normally would have been consigned to tabloid newspapers, in time it became considered art. Weegee used flash photography to create weird lighting, un-pleasant shadows, and a sensibility associated with noir films at the end of the 1940s. Weegee's sense of urban motion and bizarre subject matter influenced William Klein, Robert Frank, and especially Diane Arbus. Bruce Davidson, on the other hand, sought carefully defined long-term projects devoted to urban life, which he then made into classic books on East Harlem, the subway, and Central Park. Richard Avedon became a premier portraitist.

Although Life and Look eventually ceased publication, their method of photojournalism set the terms by which photojournalists of war conducted their work. Beginning with World War II and especially in the Vietnam War, photojournalists began to define the nature of the conflict far better than official reports. Images of the war by Robert Capa in World War II, David Douglas Duncan in the Korean War, and Larry Burrows were printed in major magazines and reprinted on posters that galvanized public opinion about Vietnam.

New Directions

The disorienting effects of Vietnam on American society pushed photography in two directions. One was to reemphasize documentary photography as found in the works of Lee Friedlander, Gary Winograd, and Joel Meyerowitz, who looked for spontaneous images in American street life. A second direction was to embrace artifice and to create a private world of photography. The instant photography of Andy Warhol, who used either subway photo booths or, later, Polaroid photography as the basis for his portraits of the glitterati of the 1970s, was influential. Warhol's open use of sexual imagery was also liberating, though the final effect was more depressing than sensual. Nan Goldin pursued this direction, combining Warhol's casual approach with the druggy subject matter of Larry Clark. Cindy Sherman aimed for total artifice in her Untitled Film Stills series of the late 1970s, in which she portrayed herself in Hollywood-style costumes. Robert

Mapplethorpe adopted Warhol's disdain for technique by shooting masterful and sometimes sexually bizarre images and then having them developed at the corner drugstore. Black photographers in particular embraced new technologies and approaches in the 1980s. Dawoud Bey used giant Polaroids to create portraits of unknown black teenagers. Albert Chong transposed images onto every-day objects to suggest African spiritual qualities.

The arrival of the Internet and the invention of filmless digital cameras in the late 1990s promised an even greater dissemination of photography as a democratic art. Combined with the Immigration Act of 1965, which opened wider the gate to America, global imagery and multicultural expression worked well with "virtual photography," which included images that would never be on paper. Improved color copiers also democratized photography. E-mail attachments allowed for the ability to shoot an image, save it, and then send it across the world in a matter of a minute or so. Such freedom challenges the art ideology of photography and raises again old questions about the democratic powers of transmitted images.


Armstrong, Carol. Scenes in a Library: Reading the Photograph in the Book, 1843–1875. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1998.

Foresta, Mary A. American Photographs: The First Century. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996.

Galassi, Peter. American Photography, 1890–1965, from the Museum of Modern Art New York. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1995.

Livingston, Jane. The New York School: Photographs, 1936–1963. New York: Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 1994.

New hall, Beaumont. The History of Photography: From 1839 to the Present. 5th ed. Boston: Little, Brown, 1988.

Stryker, Roy Emerson, and Nancy Wood. In This Proud Land: America 1935–1943 as Seen in the FSA Photographs. New York: Galahad, 1973.

Trachtenberg, Alan. Reading American Photographs: Images as History from Mathew Brady to Walker Evans. New York: Hill and Wang, 1989.

Westerbeck, Colin, and Joel Meyrowitz. Bystander: A History of Street Photography. Boston: Little, Brown, 2001.

Willis, Deborah. Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers, 1840 to the Present. New York: Norton, 2000.

Wood, John, ed. America and the Daguerrotype. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991.

Graham RussellHodges

See alsoPhotographic Industry .

Potteryand Ceramics

Clay is an earthen substance transformed by fire. Pottery is anything made of clay. The word "ceramics" refers to all nonmetallic, inorganic materials that are transformed by firing at high temperatures to a permanent hard, brittle state. Making ceramics is one of the most ancient and widespread technologies. It is labor intensive and common to all but the most arctic cultures.

Before it is ready to use, clayrequires water and usually some alkaline substances called fluxes as well as other materials. These add softness, make it stable, color it, or contribute some other refinements. This mix requires some manipulation before it becomes suitable to form. As the clay dries it shrinks and becomes brittle; firing or baking the dried clay—at 150 to 600 degrees centigrade for the most basic pottery and as high as 1400 degrees centigrade for porcelain—renders it hard enough to be useful.

Glazes seal and protect the fired clay, making the finished piece impervious to liquids while also providing various surface textures and colors. Glazes add sophistication to the otherwise earthbound pottery. There are several families of glazes. Lead glazes, made of lead oxide and lead carbonate, are among the earliest and most widespread. They fuse at about 800 degrees centigrade and give a fine range of colors when mixed with other metallic oxides. Tin glaze is composed of a lead glaze made opaque by the addition of tin oxide. Firing it produces a dense white surface that is perfect for painting on. Salt glaze is used with stoneware that is heated very high. Salt is thrown into the kiln and the heat causes the soda to combine with the silica of the clay to form a glassy surface. Feldspathic glazes are nonvitreous and made from powdered feldspar.

Native American Pottery

Throughout the Americas pottery was used daily, as seed jars, water containers, cooking pots, mugs, bowls, serving dishes, ladles, and burial vessels. New heights were reached in Peru during the Moche culture (a.d. 200–700) with the development of ceramic molds, which allowed the Moches to mass-produce ceramic forms. The stirrup handle is a feature common to Moche and other South and Central American pottery vessels that in the 1920s inspired American and European designers.

In North America, the Mississippian cultures made ceramic vessels from about a.d. 800 on and traded them throughout the eastern region of the continent until the arrival of Europeans. In the American Southwest from about 300 b.c. to about a.d. 1300, the Mogollon, Hohokam, and Anasazi cultures were very adept at making pottery vessels. These were superbly painted in geometric designs in black and white. The Anasazi also made red-on-orange ware. Women of the Anasazi culture made finely crafted earthenware jars and pots in the coil-built method around a.d. 1100–1300. Their descendents, the Hopi and Zuni, continued this technical virtuosity until the mid–nineteenth century. During the 1930s and 1940s Pueblo ceramic artists participated in the Ceramics National Exhibitions, and their work was quickly prized and collected. Some of the most important pottery of the time was created by Maria Martinez and her husband, Julian. Around 1918, Julian discovered how to recreate a traditional blackware that had been excavated by archaeologists at San Ildefonso. Following ancient practices, Maria formed the vessels; Julian added the decoration and did the firing. These works quickly attracted attention and armies of collectors. After Julian's death in 1943, Maria continued making pottery with her daughter-in-law, Santana, and her son, Popovi. The blackware is now a highly prized Pueblo pottery made by several highly skilled artists.

Colonial Pottery and Early Mass Production

With the arrival of the Europeans came the potter's wheel and many more types of ceramic vessels. By 1635, Philip Drinker, an English potter, had started working in Charlestown, Massachusetts, and before 1655 Dirck Claesen, a Dutch "pottmaker," was working in Manhattan. Most British colonial pottery production was utilitarian ware, modeled on English and German storage jars, jugs, bowls, and plates. It is called redware and was needed and produced in quantity, individually, of red clay, the same clay from which bricks were made. When fired (at 900 to 1040 degrees centigrade) the clay remained porous. The glazing and ornament were basic. Redware was usually given a clear, lead glaze (highly toxic sulfide or oxide of lead) that emphasized the clay's red tones. Adding metal oxides such as copper, iron, or manganese produced several bright colors. Most potters were either immigrants or only a generation or two removed from European or English craft traditions. William C. Ketchum Jr. notes that of New York's "367 potters (in 1875), 30 percent were German born, 23 percent from England, and only 41 percent native" ("American Ceramics," p. 23). Once artisans had met the basic needs, some craftsmen sought out other suitable clay s. At first, their find was a stoneware clay (fired at 1200 to 1280 degrees centigrade) limited to New York, New Jersey, the Carolinas, and Pennsylvania. Then clays for yellow-bodied ceramics were found in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. The potters of New England found no local clay deposits, but this did not deter them. They responded by importing clay and offsetting its high cost by designing better ovens that allowed higher temperatures, mechanizing production, inventing ever new shapes, and finding financial backing from outside the industry. As the advanced ceramic technologies spread westward, the individual potter soon disappeared from all but the most rural areas. For example, the yellow clays of Ohio lent themselves to casting, and by the 1830s large, efficient factories were turning out a seemingly endless supply of mixing bowls, baking pans, and other kitchen utensils to meet the demand of a fast-growing country of immigrants. Applying a brown, tortoiseshell glaze developed in England in the late eighteenth century called Rockingham, the mass-produced pottery came from Maryland and Ohio, but is most closely associated with Bennington, Vermont. This work is much sought after today.

As earlyas the 1770s John Bartlam of Charleston, South Carolina, used a clay found in New Jersey, the Carolinas, and Ohio that fired white to produce Queensware, a thin-bodied, cream-colored ceramic. Within eighty years this ware was successfully mass-produced. In 1738, in nearby Savannah, André Duché took the first steps toward locally produced porcelain, but it was not until 1770 that domestic porcelain production, free of European ties, was realized by Gousse Bonnin and George Anthony Morris, who founded America's first successful porcelain factory in Philadelphia. By The Centennial Exposition of 1876 in Philadelphia, porcelain helped celebrate the nation's anniversary with explicitly patriotic themes, flamboyant, even gaudy vessels, and sculptures that were mostly not well received by the public.

Art Pottery

While the dissatisfaction with industrially mass-produced ceramics was not as great in the United States as in Europe and never nurtured the likes of a William Morris, American art pottery began to flower in the 1870s with the help of Maria Nichols and Mary Louise McLaughlin of the Cincinnati School of Art, who were already well aware of Morris and the aesthetic reforms in England by 1872. The Centennial Exposition of 1876 in Philadelphia gave many Americans their first look at highly sophisticated European ceramics technology, Japanese ceramics, the new aesthetic pottery from England and Germany, and the French barbotine, an underglaze, slip-painting technique developed at the Haviland works. Fairs and pottery went together. The ceramics at the New Orleans Cotton Exposition in 1884 inspired Mary G. Sheerer to found the Newcomb Pottery in 1894. At the 1889 Paris World's Fair, Rookwood Pottery of Cincinnati won a gold medal. The mat glazes of Auguste Delaherche and Ernest Chaplet exhibited at the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition inspired William Grueby of Boston.

Arts and Crafts production relied on muscle and skill, not a machine, to develop a vessel. The scientific knowledge of clays and glazes and the physical stamina required for mixing the clay and throwing and firing the pots were considered masculine functions, while decoration was securely in female hands. Thus it was the male potters who won scholarships and gained individual international recognition. Exceptions were Mary Perry Stratton (1867–1961) and Adelaide Alsop Robineau (1865–1929), who achieved great fame through their art ware.

Around 1900 the United States was the world leader in art potteries, whose works were widely exhibited and are seriously collected today. Among these were Biloxi Art Pottery (Biloxi, Mississippi, c. 1882–1910), Buffalo Pottery (Buffalo, New York, 1901–1956), Dedham Pottery (Dedham, Massachusetts, 1895–1943), Fulper Pottery (Flemington, New Jersey, 1899–1955), Grueby Pottery (Boston, 1897–1921), Moravian Pottery and Tile Works (Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 1898–present), Newcomb Pottery (New Orleans, 1895–1940), Onondaga Pottery (Syracuse, New York, 1871–1966), Pewabic Pottery (Detroit, 1903–1961; reopened 1968), Rookwood Pottery (Cincinnati, 1880–1967), Roseville Pottery (Zanesville, Ohio, 1890–1954), Tiffany Pottery (Corona, New York, 1898–1920), Van Briggel Pottery (Colorado Springs, 1902–present), and Weller Pottery (Zanesville, Ohio, 1872–1949).

The eye-pleasing appeal of art pottery fed a wide public interest in ornament and clay, which by the 1920s had helped legitimize the study of ceramics at Alfred University in New York or the Art Institute of Chicago. Academic pottery studies produced beautifully formed and subtly glazed vessels and led to a renewed interest in the traditional pottery making of the Southwest, which was studied, revived, copied, and highly prized. In Cleveland there was also a strong interest in contemporary Viennese ceramics, and several American ceramists, among them Viktor Schreckengost and Edward Winter, who later married the ceramist Thelma Frazier, went to Vienna to study at the Wiener Kunstgewerbeschule.

By the mid to late 1930s several European-trained ceramic artists emigrated to the United States. Among them was Maija Grotell (1899–1973), born in Helsinki, Finland, who arrived in New York in 1927 and within a decade had established herself as one of the leading modernists, teaching at Rutgers. When Cranbrook Academy opened in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Grotell became head of its ceramics department. Under her directorship, Cranbrook became one of America's leading centers of ceramic studies. Another notable emigrant was Valerie Wieselthier (1895–1945), who had studied with Michael Povolny in her native Austria and had solo exhibitions in New York beginning in 1929. Wieselthier brought to the American ceramics scene a new attitude toward clay, one that valued its carefree expressive qualities, and she used colors differently. Marguerite Wildenhain (1896-1985), having studied at the Bauhaus in Germany and then run her own successful ceramics factory until 1933, settled near Oakland, California, in 1940. Through her studio at Pond Farm, she played a major role in bringing the modernist Bauhaus craft-based aesthetic to the United States.

At the commercial end of ceramic production, the American Russell Wright (1904–1976) designed many household furnishings as well as the food and fashion section at the 1939 World's Fair in New York. While these did not make him famous, his 1937 curvaceous "American Modern" dinnerware for Steubenville Pottery did. Mass-produced in various pastel and earth tones, since the late 1980s the set has been highly sought by collectors.

While traditional colored clays and popular wares have, with some notable exceptions in hands of current Arts and Crafts artists, been reduced to satisfying a nostalgic craving in contemporary table setting, various white earthenwares, such as ironstone china and porcelain, have found broad acceptance in our daily lives.

Later Studio Ceramics

In 1940 Bernard Leach (1887–1979), a British potter, published A Potter's Book, which rapidly became indispensable to the studio potter. After several visits to the United States in the 1950s, sometimes accompanied by the craft philosopher Soetsu Yanagi and the potter Shoji Hamada, Leach became an exceptionally influential champion of pottery, attracting many with his hip under-standing of Zen Buddhist aesthetics. Leach arrived at a perfect time. American potters saw themselves as having no traditions, as naïve. They were looking for a new start. Leach and his friends had a great influence on Peter Voulkos (b. 1924), an enormously energetic potter teaching at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. Voulkos was the perfect conduit for Leach's ideas, and soon attracted a group around him that would become the next generation of American potters. Not everyone followed Leach and Voulkos. With his entry of a toilet, entitled Funk John, into a ceramics exhibition at the Kaiser Center in Oakland, Robert Arneson (1930–1992) founded the Funk movement, a new form of American ceramic sculpture that dominated the 1970s and continues to be influential.

Since the 1980s studio ceramics, mostly faculty-based in university ceramics departments, is diverse in its aesthetic and technical approaches. While some artists use traditional approaches to clay, exploring form and finish, others are more fascinated with clay's expressive potential. Whichever the direction—a vessel's form, colors, finish, the human figure, themes of nature, social issues, or architecture—the possibilities of clay remain inexhaustible in imaginative hands.


Bassett, Mark, and Victoria Naumann. Cowan Pottery and the Cleveland School. Atglen, Pa.: Schiffer, 1997.

Darling, Sharon S. Chicago Ceramics and Glass: An Illustrated History from 1871 to 1933. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979.

Frelinghuysen, Alice Cooney. American Porcelain: 1770–1920. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989.

Ketchum, William C., Jr. "American Ceramics 1700–1880." In American Ceramics: The Collection of the Everson Museum of Art. Edited by Barbara Perry. New York: Rizzoli, 1989.

The Ladies, God Bless'Em: The Women's Art Movement in Cincinnati in the Nineteenth Century. Cincinnati: Cincinnati Art Museum, 1976.

Weis, Peg, ed. Adelaide Alsop Robineau: Glory in Porcelain. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1981.


See alsoArts and Crafts Movement ; Art, Indian ; Porcelain .


The beginnings of American sculpture are found in the seventeenth-century gravestones of New England, produced by artisan stone carvers, with their Protestant imagery of death. Gravestone carving continued to flourish in the eighteenth century throughout the colonies, but the images became less preoccupied with death. The first statue erected in America was a sculpture by Joseph Wilson of William Pitt, a gift from England to her colonies in 1770 (erected in New York City and Charleston, South Carolina). The statue was torn down by British troops. A lead equestrian statue of George III was set up in New York City And torn down by American revolutionaries. Years before Houdon's statue of George Washington was placed in Richmond, Virginia, there was a marble statue carved in London in 1773 by Richard Hayward of Nor-borne Berkley, royal governor of Virginia, that was set up in Williamsburg. The increased wealth of the eighteenth century brought about a demand for fine wood carving, for elegant Chippendale furniture, and for elaborate decorative architectural carving. The Skillen family of Boston and Samuel McIntire of Salem excelled in this type of work, as did William Rush of Philadelphia. These men also carved handsome figureheads for the burgeoning American merchant fleet. Rush carried the native school of wood carving to its zenith, as maybe seen in his figure George Washington (1814, Philadelphia Museum of Art).

After the revolutionary war, Americans turned to foreign sculptors to produce marble images of their great men, there by downgrading the native school of carvers. The most prestigious of the foreign sculptors was the Frenchman Jean-Antoine Houdon. His marble statue George Washington (1788, Virginia State Capitol, Richmond) is a good example of the kind of neoclassical sculpture that influenced several generations of American sculptors. In the second quarter of the nineteenth century, America produced its own native school of sculptors, led by Horatio Greenough, Hiram Powers, and Thomas Crawford.

Greenough, a Bostonian, left in 1825 for Italy, where he spent most of his remaining life. He there by became one of the first expatriate American sculptors. These expatriates could not find at home the art schools, models, artisan assistants, fine marble, or artistic climate that Italy offered in abundance. In Florence, Greenough created his Zeus-like marble statue, George Washington (1832–1841, Smithsonian Institution). Powers, a mechanic from Cincinnati, took up sculpture and went to Italy in 1837, never to return to the United States. Countless Americans visited his famous studio in Florence to have busts made of themselves in his undramatic, naturalistic style. Powers's most popular piece was the celebrated full-length, life-size marble Greek Slave (1843, Yale University Art Gallery); it was as famous in Europe as in the United States. Crawford began as a wood carver and tombstone cutter in New York City. He studied and continued to work in Italy. He created the sculptures for the pediment of the Senate wing of the U.S. Capitol (1855) in his studio in Rome.

Henry Kirke Brown also went to Italy, but in 1846 he returned to America, rejecting Italianate neoclassicism for a style based on naturalism, as in his bronze equestrian statue, George Washington (1853–1856, New York City). With Brown began the age of bronze sculpture in America. Clark Mills was a former plasterer with no formal training in sculpture. He had never created anything more ambitious than a few portrait busts when he was commissioned to make Andrew Jackson (1848–1853, Washington, D.C.), a tour de force in bronze equestrian statuary and an excellent example of nineteenth-century American ingenuity in technology. During the same period, in the area of Albany, New York, the former carpenter Erastus Dow Palmer produced a thoroughly American counterpart to Powers's Greek Slave in his marble White Captive (1857, Metropolitan Museum of Art). Another sculptor with little formal training was John Rogers. A former engineer, he began modeling small, naturalistic genre groups in about 1860. Thousands of these groups were cast and Rogers attained great popularity among the middle class.

Another generation followed the first to Italy, men such as the Bostonian William Wetmore Story, who gave up a career in law to create heroic marble figures. Most acclaimed was his Cleopatra (1858, Metropolitan Museum of Art). Story's studio was a center of the artistic and intellectual life in Rome. From Baltimore, young William Rinehart came to Rome in 1858 where he, too, created marble images of antique subjects (for example, Clytie, 1872, Metropolitan Museum of Art) and naturalistic portraits of prominent Americans. Randolph Rogers epitomized the romantic neoclassicism in his statue of Nydia, the Blind Girl of Pompeii (1853, Metropolitan Museum of Art), which was so popular that nearly one hundred replicas were commissioned in the years that followed. Rogers also produced several multifigured war memorials, which became big business for American sculptors in the years between the Civil War and World War I.

Bronze portrait statuary was created in abundance in the "era of the galvanized hero," particularly by John Quincy Adams Ward, a student of Brown. His Henry Ward Beecher (1891, Brooklyn, New York) and President James A. Garfield (1887, Washington, D.C.) possess the unromanticized, undramatic naturalism that was then in vogue. Ward became the dean of American sculptors in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, and was one of the founders of the National Sculpture Society Thomas Ball was another practitioner of this rather prosaic naturalism in portrait statuary.

With the rise of the generation led by Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Daniel Chester French, the aesthetics of naturalism were revitalized. Italy was largely rejected as a place to study; the new style, instead, came out of the École des Beaux Arts in Paris. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than at the World's Colombian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, where Saint-Gaudens, French, Olin L. Warner, Frederick W. MacMonnies, Philip Martiny, Karl Bitter, and Hermon A. MacNeil collaborated with numerous architects to give the exposition that neobaroque exuberance which characterizes the Beaux Arts style. Saint-Gaudens and French dominated this golden age; the former is best known for his vigorous portraiture, as in his bronze Abraham Lincoln (1887, Chicago) and his equestrian General William T. Sherman (1903, New York City). His most successful attempt at symbolic imagery was the sibyl-like Adams Memorial (1886–1891, Washington, D.C.). But it was French who gave the era its sculptured personifications of such idealized concepts as the Republic, death, political and civic virtues, and industry. French's career began auspiciously with the bronze Minuteman (1874, Concord, Massachusetts) and closed half a century later with his marble, seated Abraham Lincoln (1922), part of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

In the years preceding World War I, there was a confrontation of artistic ideologies; the conservatives, represented by the academic tradition, and the advocates of the eclectic Beaux Arts style, who entrenched themselves against the aesthetic assault of those who pursued the experiments of the modern movement. Paul Manship and Paul Jennewein represented a compromise that drew on the past but incorporated some abstraction. American sculptors did not give themselves over to total annihilation of natural form the way some of their European counterparts did, and men such as Robert Laurent, William Zorach, and John B. Flannagan developed an aesthetic around the simplification and stylization of natural form plus the technique of direct carving in wood and stone.

Post–World War II

World War II caused a huge influx of European artists into America, and particularly into New York City, where they began to explore the abstract and the surreal in their art, producing "subconscious" assemblage and collage works, and later primitive totems and existential works. After World War II, American sculpture moved dramatically toward abstract and nonobjective form, influenced by such European artists as Piet Mondrian and Julio Gonzalez. David Smith introduced welded metal and Alexander Calder, who lived in France for most of his creative life, and whose father, Alexander Stirling Calder, and grandfather, Alexander Mine Calder, were a recognized Philadelphia dynasty, developed his well-known mobiles and stabiles; both men were greatly influenced by constructivism. Others owed more to abstract expressionism, including Seymour Lipton, Herbert Ferber, and Theodore Roszak, whose work maybe seen at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

The generations of the 1960s and 1970s brought American sculpture into a direct confrontation with reality as it incorporated actual everyday objects into its art, as in George Segal's Girl in Doorway (1965) and Marisol's Women With Dog (1964), both at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. "Junk sculpture," or assembled discarded objects, is represented by Louise Nevelson and Richard Stankiewicz, while "light sculptures," using neon and fluorescent tubes, have been created by Dan Flavin and Chryssa.

The late 1960s saw the rise of minimalism as the dominant art form in sculpture. Minimalism can be viewed as a logical extension and exploration of the ideas of later modernist sculpture produced by such artists as David Smith. Late modern sculpture was pushing toward a purified nonillusionistic form expressed through basic geo-metric structures. The pioneering minimalists Donald Judd, Robert Morris, Dan Flavin, and Carl Andre reduced their sculptures to essentials, removing the artist's touch. Judd's metallic boxes were factory fabricated according to his specifications. Andre's modular work used presized timbers and bricks. Minimalists dispensed with pedestals and bases, hoping to achieve engagement between viewer and art object without the artifice of illusion in a formal "frame." If the ends of minimalism seemed simple enough, the means were multifaceted and intellectually charged. It explored notions of time and space, measurement, mathematics, proportional systems, and perceptual psychology. Minimalists included Beverly Pepper, Richard Serra, and southern California artists Robert Irwin and Larry Bell. Minimalism achieved acceptance in the 1970s, when it influenced the International style of architecture favored by corporate America, but many artists felt constrained by the purity of minimalism. They could not ignore the social issues that were gripping the country: the Vietnam War, pollution, sexism, racism, and consumerism. Four movements followed minimalism, ushering in the postmodern era: process art, conceptual art, earth art, and performance art.

Eva Hesse, Jackie Winsor, and Hans Haacke were important process artists. Hesse created soft, organic hanging works that were rich with generative and sexual metaphor. She allowed materials and techniques to influence her sculpture and, in contrast to the minimalists, used such fragile and malleable materials as cheesecloth and latex. Winsor subjected her meticulously self-constructed cubes to fire and explosives. Haacke used the cube to create self-contained "weather boxes" that addressed the relation between nature and culture. In response to the increasing commercialism of the art world, conceptual artists focused on ideas behind their sculpture. Artists such as Sol LeWitt, Robert Morris, and Joseph Kosuth expressed their ideas through temporary installations. LeWitt's Variations of Incomplete Open Cubes (1974) was an investigation of the mental possibilities of permutation. Morris's Steam Cloud (1969) represented an attempt at deobjectification. As early as 1965, with One and Three Chairs, Kosuth investigated the relation between language and visual art. His text-object sculpture continues to influence artists, who often make reference to semiotics and linguistics.

Earth art is exemplified in Spiral Jetty, constructed in Utah's Great Salt Lake by Robert Smithson in 1970. Prompted by environmental concerns, large-scale earth-works were created throughout the 1970s with the aid of heavy machinery and complex engineering. Walter de Maria's Lightning Field, completed in 1977, and Michael Hiezer's Double Negative (1970) are striking examples of what was accomplished by earth artists. Prominent women sculptors of earth art include Alice Aycock, Nancy Holt, and Ana Mendieta. Influenced by sacred architecture, Holt was known for her precise celestial orientations. By the late 1970s, many sculptors had turned to performance art, which used multidimensional and interdisciplinary media to more fully engage their audiences. Laurie Anderson, Chris Burden, and Bruce Nauman often used film or video. Burden, known for his masochistic performances, created such politically charged installations as The Reason for the Neutron Bomb (1979).

Impressive public sculptures were commissioned throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Some commissions were publicly acclaimed, such as Isamu Noguchi's 1975 design for Hart Plaza in Detroit, while others, such as minimalist Serra's site-specific Tilted Arc installed in Federal Plaza in New York City, met with negative criticism and was removed in 1989. Women sculptors in the 1970s came into their own, fueled by the second wave of feminism, and brought political and social themes before the public with their art, including female eroticism and objectification. Maya Lin's abstract design for the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., dedicated in 1982, so disappointed conservative critics that a figurative sculptural grouping of three soldiers by Frederick Hart was added. "The Wall," as it came to be known, nevertheless would be recognized, over time, as the profound memorial its creator intended.

The pluralistic sculpture of the 1980s was known as new image art. Minimalism had lost momentum and sculptors returned to figurative and metaphorical subjects borrowed from art history and science, appropriating them in surprising ways. The sculpture of Nancy Graves derived from the study of taxidermy and fossils. Joel Shapiro constructed minimal stick figures from modules similar to those of Andre. Scott Burden's rock chairs seemed to be both natural rock formation and functional furniture. Jonathan Norofsky and Siah Armajani created multilayered sculptures that elude precise meaning. In the late 1980s, Duane Hanson and John De Andrea made hyperrealist sculpture. Countering it were the colorful and active neoexpressionist wall assemblages of Judy Pfaff and the brooding abstract bronzes of Julian Schnabel. The 1990s were characterized by variety, exemplified in exhibitions at New York City's Whitney Museum in which the sculpture ranged from the sardonic popinspired objects of Jeff Koons to the elegant abstract pieces of Martin Puryear and the socially poignant installations of Jenny Holzer.

Women Sculptors

An important part of the history of American sculpture includes a compelling body of women artists, beginning with Patience Wright (1725–1786), who started with small figures made from bread dough and natural clay. Her work, necessary to support herself and her family after she was widowed, included a Philadelphia show in the early 1770s of wax figures of prominent personages of the time that were admired for their detail and realism. She continued her work after moving to England in 1772 and received much public acclaim, most notably for her precise depiction of human physiological characteristics during an era when women were forbidden to study anatomy.

Nineteenth century. At the same time that American male sculptors were moving to Europe to study, several nineteenth-century women sculptors also made the voyage abroad for the same purpose, including Harriet Hosmer (1830–1908), Vinnie Ream (1847–1914), Anne Whitney (1821–1915), Edmonia Lewis (c. 1844–1911), Louisa Lander (1826–1923), Margaret Foley (1827–1877), and Emma Stebbins (1815–1882). In America, the National Academy of Design recognized two female sculptors for distinctive work: Frances Lupton was elected Artist of the Academy in 1827 and Mary Ann Delafield Dubois was elected an associate in 1842. Joanna Quiner exhibited her sculpted portraits at the Boston Athenaeum (1846–1848). Caroline Davis Wilson (1810–1890) created a marble statue in 1860 titled Mary of Bethany, for which she used her daughter as a model. Rosalie French Pelby (1793–1857) was known for her wax renditions of religious subjects and exhibited in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia between 1846 and 1851.

Turn of the twentieth century. From 1876 to 1905, when American society prospered, art and artists directly benefited by a growing demand for large-scale public sculpture and art that portrayed the American vision. Women artists flourished because of the suffrage movement, receiving formal training both at home and abroad and producing pieces that dealt with war, victory, and patriotism as well as realistic portrayals of contemporary women leaders and public figures. These women sculptors include Elisabet Ney (1833–1907), who exhibited her work at the Paris Salon in 1861 before she became an American; Blanche Nevin (1841–1925); Ella Ferris Pell (1846–1922); and Sarah Fisher Clampitt Ames (1817–1901), whose bust of Abraham Lincoln can be seen in the gallery of the U.S. Senate. The works of about sixteen other women sculptors were accepted for exhibition at the Paris Salon between 1878 and 1900. Women sculptors were showcased in the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition and the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson (1871–1932) was a sculptor of military monuments (The Hiker symbolized the Spanish-American War). Julia Bracken Wendt (1870–1942) was a leading sculptor in Los Angeles, best known for her The Three Graces: Art, Science, and History (1914, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County). Bessie Potter Vonnoh (1872–1955) and Carol Brooks MacNeil (1871–1944) created small bronzes depicting the life of children and mothers; Enid Yandell (1870–1934) is best known for her life-size bronze statue, Daniel Boone (c. 1893), commissioned for the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Nellie Verne Walker (1874–1973) was a member of the communal Midway Studio in Chicago and sculpted over thirty-five public monuments over a period of forty years working out of a Chicago studio. Frances Grimes (1869–1963), Annetta Johnson St. Gaudens (1869–1943), Mary Lawrence (1868–1945), Helen Farnsworth Mears (1871–1916), Elsie Ward (1872–1923), and Caroline Peddle Ball (1869–1938) all studied with Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Katherine M. Cohen's (1859–1914) life-size statue, The Israelite, was accepted by the Paris Salon in 1896. She worked to convince Americans to support artists at home the way Europeans did. Adelaide Johnson (1859–1955) captured Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucretia Mott in her 1921 marble sculpture, Memorial to the Pioneers of the Women's Suffrage Movement. By 1916, the works of no fewer than seventy-four women sculptors were exhibited at the Plastic Club of Philadelphia.

The twentieth century. Serious training, a sense of purpose and possibility enhanced by winning the right to vote in 1920, and an evolving sense of self within a burgeoning cosmopolitan society gave rise to a significant body of work by women artists. Janet Scudder (1869–1940) is best known for her garden sculpture; Harriet Whitney Frishmuth (1880–1980) captured the essence of liberation in her nude figures, as did Maude Sherwood (1873–1953). Others include Beatrice Fenton (1887–1983), known for her public fountains; Anna Coleman Watts Ladd (1878–1939), who organized the first outdoor sculpture exhibit in Philadelphia; Edith Barretto Stevens Parsons (1878–1956), whose specialty was babies; Mabel Viola Harris Conkling (1871–1966), president of the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors; and animal sculptors Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876–1973), Ward Lane Weems (1899–1989), Gertrude Katherine Lathrop (1896–1986), and Lindsey Morris Sterling (1876–1931).

Several women received major commissions for large-scale public works: Evelyn Beatrice Longman (1874–1954); Malvina Hoffman (1885–1966); Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1875–1942); Laura Gardin Fraser (1889–1966); Gail Sherman Corbett (1870–1952); Nancy Coonsman Hahn (1887–1976); Margaret French Cresson (1889–1973), daughter of Daniel Chester French; Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller (1877–1968); and May Howard Jackson (1877–1931), whose work focused on the culture of African Americans. Four women sculptors—Ethel Myers, Sonia Gordon Brown, Minna Harkavy, and Concetta Scaravaglione—objecting to the traditionalism of the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors, helped found the New York Society of Women Artists in 1925, and several women became patrons and avant-garde salon leaders. A sense of social reform and empathy with the less fortunate of societysurfaced in the women artists of the Ashcan School: Abastenia St. Leger Eberle (1878–1942),

Mae Ethel Klinck Myers (1881–1960), Alice Morgan Wright (1881–1975), and Adelheid Lange Roosevelt (1878–1962). Women comprised a significant portion of the membership of the Sculptors Guild in the 1930s and 1940s and women were well represented among artists who benefited from the 1935 Federal Art Project.

Prominent women sculptors in various major schools, movements, and styles include the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (1874–1927) of the New York dada movement; Brenda Putnam (1890–1975), contributor to art deco and modernism; constructivists Ruth Asawa (1926–) and Sue Fuller (1914–); abstract expressionist Louis Nevelson (1899–1988); Mary Callery (1903–1977), sculptor in bronze and steel; Claire Falkenstein (1908–), contributor to cubism and topology; Lin Emery (1926–), sculptor of kinetic forms; Beverly Pepper (1924–), known for her exploration of the relationship between sculpture and landscape; political feminist Judy Chicago (1939–); absurdist Eva Hesse (1936–1970); Alice Adams (1930–), known for her work in eccentric abstraction; Vija Celmins (1939–), pop sculptor; and Lenore Tawney (1925–), devoted to woven forms.

The 1980s saw the rise of a new form of exhibition known as sculpture parks—public areas used to display works of sculpture in an outdoor setting. Different types of sculpture parks include open-air collections, such as Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, New York, and museum gardens such as Hirshhorn Museum Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. The oldest sculpture park, which opened in 1932, is Brookgreen Gardens near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Brookgreen has the largest outdoor display of American figurative sculpture in the world, with more than 550 works by over 250 artists spread over 300 acres. The combined effect of stimulating works of art viewed in a relaxed and natural setting, especially in urban areas, is a powerful antidote to the stresses of modern life. This popularity created an extraordinary increase in the number of sculpture gardens in the country between 1987 and 1996, a trend that continues into the early twenty-first century.


Barrie, Brooke. Contemporary Outdoor Sculpture. Cincinnati: Rockport Publishers, 1999.

Craven, Wayne. Sculpture in America. Rev. ed. New York: Cornwall Books, 1984.

Curtis, Penelope. Sculpture 1900–1945: After Rodin. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Gates, Sarah. From Neo-Classical and Beaux-Arts to Modernism: A Passage in American Sculpture. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2001.

International Sculpture Center. Home page at

Rubinstein, Charlotte Streifer. American Women Sculptors: A History of Women Working in Three Dimensions. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990.

Salmon, Robin R., Ilene Susan Ford, and Loretta Dimmick. American Masters: Sculpture from Brookgreen Gardens. Murrells Inlet, SC: Brookgreen Gardens, 1996.

Shapiro, Michael Edward. Twentieth-Century American Sculpture. St. Louis, MO, Saint Louis Art Museum, 1986.

Taft, Loredo. History of American Sculpture. New York: Macmillan, 1903.

Wheeler, Daniel. Art Since Mid-Century: 1945 to the Present. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1991.

Christine E.Hoffman

See alsoAbstract Expressionism ; Pop Art ; Vietnam War Memorial ; War Memorials ; Whitney Museum .

Self-Taught Artists

During the first half of the twentieth century, the term "folk art" was used to describe the traditional crafts and the decorative and purely artistic expressions of artists and artisans who were informed by ethnic, community, family, and religious traditions. Folk art implied its connection to a "folk" population, made by and generally for common people, outside of the realms of the academy or high culture. Traditional American folk art encompasses a broad variety of eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and early-twentieth-century objects that primarily reflect life in rural, pre-industrial America. The recognition of folk art as a significant current of American culture paralleled changes in American society, leading to the evolution of terms used to describe nonacademic art.

In the second half of the twentieth century, the rise of interest in nonacademic art, especially post-industrial expressions, stimulated a reexamination of its nature and origins. Work by artists that represented a personal artistic vision which was not demonstrably informed by ethnic, community, family, and religious traditions has been described variously as isolate, outsider, and visionary and by the widely accepted term "self-taught" art.

With the exception of traditional folk art as defined above, the boundary between "folk" and "self-taught" art has become more relaxed than distinct since the 1970s. Since its establishment in 1961, the Museum of American Folk Art—the field's most established institution—has presented a rigorous program exploring works of art from both realms under the rubric "folk art." The discussion of what defines nonacademic art and how best to name it continues to evolve as interest in the field accelerates.

Traditional American folk art forms range from functional, decorative, and purely aesthetic objects reflecting religion, faith and personal devotion, trades and commerce, and many aspects of daily life. Folk art forms include quilts and other domestic textiles, ceramic vessels, baskets, tools, furniture, weather vanes, architectural ornament, trade signs and sculpture, waterfowl and fish decoys, fraktur (Pennsylvania German hand-lettered, decorated documents), portrait and scene painting, itinerant arts, and memorial sculpture, to name some examples. Folk art reflected the variety of European cultural traditions brought by immigrants to America. Through the process of assimilation, European art and craft traditions found a new, American context. Appreciation of folk art focused on aesthetically exceptional examples that often expressed the maker's original artistic vision through a traditional form. In 1947 the Shelburne Museum, a vast collection of traditional American folk art collected from 1907 by fine art aficionado Electra Havemeyer Webb, opened in Shelburne, Vermont. The Shelburne Museum combines folk art with a collection of historic architectural structures, presenting a panorama of traditional American folk art and folk life.

In the early twentieth century European art dominated American art institutions. This Eurocentrism affected American attitudes toward its own indigenous art forms, motivating some artists and curators to look to folk and vernacular art with vigorous interest. Juliana Force, the first director of the Whitney Studio Club (formed in 1918, to become the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1930), with her patron, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, embarked on a mission to recognize and validate American artists and American contemporary art. Force had a longtime interest in (and collection of) Shaker furniture and other examples of folk art and she included folk art within the scope of the Whitney Studio Club's exhibitions. The country's first exhibit of American folk art, Early American Art, curated by artist Henry Schnackenberg, opened at the Whitney Studio Club in 1924. The exhibit included works primarily from artists' collections, including objects from Charles Demuth and Charles Sheeler. In 1930 Holger Cahill organized American Primitives: An Exhibit of Paintings of Nineteenth-Century Folk Artists for the Newark Museum. In 1932 Art of the Common Man in America 1750–1900 was organized by Holger Cahill for the Museum of Modern Art. This exhibit included works from the collection of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, whose collection later anchored the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center in Williamsburg, Virginia, established in 1957.

Artists and curators recognized a modern aesthetic in folk art forms. Robert Henri and other artists at the Ogunquit colony in the 1920s collected and were influenced by examples of New England folk art. Elie Nadelman's collection of folk carvings strongly influenced his work, which contained a "folk" sensibility. The perception of a modern aesthetic in traditional folk art carried over to works by artists whose connections with folk traditions were subtle or even nonexistent. Drawings created by African American self-taught artist Bill Traylor were discovered by the formally trained artist Charles Shannon in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1939. Traylor, who had been born into slavery, began drawing after a lifetime of farm work. His large body of drawings created between 1939 and 1942 was recognized as being simultaneously "primitive" and startlingly modern. The religiously inspired stone carvings of African American self-taught artist William Edmondson were appreciated for their spare, formal beauty and were compared to works by modern sculptor Constant in Brancusi. In 1937 Edmondson became the first African American and the first self-taught artist to have a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art. In 1941 the Arts Club of Chicago included a number of paintings by Horace Pippin, an African American self-taught artist from Pennsylvania, in an exhibition that also included works by Salvador Dali and Fernand Leger. Despite these and a number of other landmark exhibitions, and the growing analysis of works by self-taught artists according to modernist, formalist criteria, self-taught art remained segregated from the realm of mainstream art.

The Recognition of Twentieth-Century Self-Taught Art

In 1961 the Museum of American Folk Art was formed in New York City And soon became a defining force in the field. It presented traditional folk art and works by twentieth-century self-taught artists, and traced the evolution of both genres as currents in American art. Founder and early curator Herbert Waide Hemphill Jr. advocated the recognition and acceptance of works by twentieth-century self-taught artists into a field that had previously focused on traditional folk art. Hemphill and Julia Weissman co-authored Twentieth-Century Folk Art and Artists (1974), which explored works by folk and self-taught artists, artists' environments, and vernacular yard sculpture, broadening the scope of folk and self-taught art into previously unrecognized realms. Hemphill's vision in redefining the field was paralleled by his outstanding and influential collection, which ranged from traditional folk art to contemporary self-taught art. The exhibit American Folk Art: The Herbert Waide Hemphill Jr. Collection opened at the Milwaukee Art Museum in 1981, and traveled to five other cities. The acquisition by gift and purchase of 378 works from the Hemphill collection by the National Museum of American Art (later the Smithsonian American Art Museum) in Washington, D.C., in 1986 further codified the acceptance of self-taught art into the folk art arena and underscored the subject's significance by its prominent inclusion in a national museum.

Self-Taught Art in Chicago and the Midwest

Chicago developed as a notable center for engendering some of the country's exceptional self-taught artists and for its rigorous acceptance of self-taught art into the art culture of the city. Beginning in the 1940s and 1950s "Monster Roster" artists Cosmo Campoli, Leon Gollub, George Cohen, June Leaf, Seymour Rosofsky, and unaffiliated artist H. C. Westermann all studied and were influenced by non-mainstream art, including works by autodidacts, institutionalized artists, and examples of non-Western art, known then as primitive art. In 1951, ten years after Horace Pippin's work was shown at the Arts Club of Chicago, Jean Dubuffet delivered there his influential lecture, "Anti-Cultural Positions." In it he introduced the European concept of the "artist outsider" and his theories of Art Brut or "raw art"—art arising completely from within the artist without connection to established cultural constructs. Dubuffet's lecture had a strong impact on artists, curators, and collectors, validating their established interest in art from beyond the mainstream and thus setting the stage for a new generation of artist-collectors.

In the 1960s a group of young artists who later became known as Chicago Imagists developed a collective interest in self-taught art. These artists studied at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where they were encouraged to look beyond the mainstream and to recognize art from many sources and origins. Chicago Imagist artists Roger Brown, Ray Yoshida, Jim Nutt, Gladys Nilsson, Karl Wirsum, Phil Hanson, and Christina Ram-berg became known not only for the power and originality of their own works, but for the integral connection between their work and their collections. These artists assembled eclectic collections that included works by self-taught and institutionalized artists, tramp art, bottle cap sculptures, twig furniture, prison art, traditional and nontraditional folk art from many cultures, and objects from material culture.

Imagist artists accepted folk and self-taught art on an equal footing with their own works and with mainstream art in general. In the 1960s and 1970s Chicago artists, educators, dealers, and collectors eagerly embraced the works of self-taught artists working in Chicago, who have since received international acclaim. Joseph E. Yoakum, of African American and Creek-Cherokee lineage, created spiritually inspired visionary landscape drawings between 1962 and 1972. Henry Darger, whose works were discovered in 1973 just after his death, created complex and disturbingly beautiful panoramic collage-drawings to illustrate his epic novel, "The Realms of the Unreal. …" Drossos Skyllas, a Greek immigrant and self-taught painter, worked in a painstakingly meticulous style that challenged the assumption that folk and self-taught art were primitive or technically unsophisticated. Italian-American artist Aldo Piacenza filled his north suburban Chicago yard with birdhouse sculptures representing the churches, cathedrals, and duomos of Italy. Lee Godie was a street person who appeared on the steps of The Art Institute of Chicago in 1968, selling portraits of Chicago's Gold Coast elite. William Dawson began carving his distinct and original portraits and figural sculpture in the early 1970s.

Finding their works consistent, provocative, and highly original, Chicago Imagist artists embraced the work of these and other self-taught artists, crediting its influence on their work and its impact on their fundamental ideas about art. Chicago art dealer Phyllis Kind was an early proponent of self-taught artists and began exhibiting works of such artists from America and Europe in the early 1970s. From the 1970s to the early twenty-first century there were many exhibitions of self-taught art in the Midwest, including Outsider Art in Chicago at that city's Museum of Contemporary Art in 1979. Building on its commitment to folk art represented in its collections of Haitian and American folk art, the Milwaukee Art Museum in 1979 acquired the Michael and Julie Hall Collection of American Folk Art. Also in the Midwest, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, exhibited works by self-taught or "grassroots" artists regularly, starting in 1978 when it mounted the exhibit Grass Roots Art Wisconsin: Toward a Redefinition. Since that time the center has assembled an extensive permanent collection of works by self-taught artists, as well as parts of and entire folk art environments, which are regularly exhibited.

In 1991 Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art (originally Society for Outsider, Intuitive, and Visionary Art) was established, solidifying Chicago as a national center for the exhibition and interpretation of self-taught art. Intuit defines intuitive and outsider art as "the work of artists who demonstrate little influence from the mainstream art world and who instead seem motivated by their unique personal visions. This definition includes what is known as art brut, nontraditional folk art, self-taught art and visionary art." By its tenth anniversary in 2001, Intuit had mounted forty-five exhibitions. Its exhibition history reflected the breadth of the organization's scope; exhibits ranged from theme shows addressing West African barber-style signboards, thrift store paintings, bottle cap art, and eccentric chairs to solo shows of works by Mose Tolliver, Emery Blagdon, Drossos Skyllas, Cora Meek, Jim Work, and Aldo Piacenza. Intuit's exhibition history is distinguished by the fact that the majority of works in most exhibitions have come from Chicago-area collections Intuit established its American Masters gallery in 1999 to showcase a revolving roster of self-taught artists who have achieved the critical acclaim and status reserved for "master" artists. Intuit committed to a program of preservation by saving the contents of the room (home and studio) of Henry Darger for eventual reinstallation before the room itself was demolished in 2000.

Folk Art Environments

"Folk art environments," or simply "art environments," are an essential element of folk and self-taught art in America. Art environments are composite sites that include elements of art, architecture, and landscape architecture in varying combinations. They are extended artistic creations of interrelated elements, as opposed to discrete works of art, and they occupy a specific place—an exterior landscape, an interior space, or both. Their content and meaning is derived from the spatial context or relationship of components to each other, to their location, and generally to the life of the artist. Major extant American art environments include Simon Rodia's Watts Towers of Los Angeles; S. P. Dinsmoor's Garden of Eden in Lucas, Kansas; Fred Smith's Wisconsin Concrete Park in Phillips, Wisconsin; St. Eom's Pasaquan in Buena Vista, Georgia; Edward Leedskalnin's Coral Castle in Homestead, Florida; and Jeff McKissack's Orange Show in Houston, Texas.

Widespread recognition of a few major examples of art environments in the United States, such as the Watts Towers and the Wisconsin Concrete Park, stimulated some initial public interest in such sites in the 1950s and 1960s. In his photo essay, "The Grass-Roots Artist" in Art in America (September–October 1968), Gregg N. Blasdel presented the concept of grassroots artists and art environments—until then an art genre that had received little critical attention—to the mainstream art world. This article featured the environments of fifteen artists (including environments that are now no longer extant, by Dave Woods, Jesse "Outlaw" Howard, Clarence Schmidt, and Ed Root) and inspired a number of artists to travel around the country to visit and document art environments. The article precipitated an awareness of environments as an important aspect of self-taught art and a cognizance of the twentieth-century built environment. Blasdel's article also stimulated early efforts to preserve art environments.

In addition to Blasdel's article, the exhibition Naives and Visionaries at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1974 contributed to the awareness and preservation of art environments. The exhibit featured the art environments of nine artist-builders, represented primarily through photographs, and augmented by a selection of objects that could be temporarily removed from sites. The exhibit introduced the genre of art environments as sites comprised of integral components that lose their integrity and full significance if dismantled, encouraging people to visit them in person. In 1974 the Kansas Grassroots Art Association (KGAA) was formed to preserve grassroots art on its original site if possible, or off the site if necessary; to document grassroots art through photographs and documentation; and to increase public awareness and appreciation of grassroots art. The first permanent organization formed to preserve art environments, the KGAA initially rallied around art environments in Kansas and the Great Plains region, but eventually expanded its scope to include international sites. In 1978 Saving and Preserving Arts and Cultural Environments (SPACES) was formed in Los Angeles to document art environments and advocate for their preservation. The first effort to preserve an American art environment began in 1959 when the Committee for Simon Rodia's Towers in Watts was formed. Consisting of local artists, writers, and educators, it began a long struggle to save the Watts Towers, now a National Historic Site. In 1977 preservation efforts began in Wisconsin, with the Kohler Foundation's purchase and preservation of Fred Smith's Wisconsin Concrete Park. Since that time preservation efforts have grown around the country, and a number of sites have been preserved in situ, including S. P. Dinsmoor's Garden of Eden; the Orange Show; St. Eom's Pasaquan; Nick Engelbert's Grandview, near Hollandale, Wisconsin; and Herman Rusch's Prairie Moon Museum and Sculpture Garden, near Cochrane, Wisconsin, to name a few.

Preserving art environments presents daunting challenges to supporters, including the purchase and maintenance of real estate, the preservation of complex sites created with nontraditional media and techniques, and exposure to the elements. Calvin and Ruby Black's Possum Trot, built in the Mojave Desert, is one of several environments that were dismantled and whose elements were sold as individual works of art. Preservation in situ has not always been possible, and museums have participated in the preservation of entire sites or elements of sites. The first environment to be preserved and permanently installed in an American museum was James Hampton's The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millenium (sic) General Assembly, an elaborate interior environment created by an African American janitor from Washington, D.C. Hampton's installation was acquired in its entirety by the National Museum of American Art shortly after the artist's death in 1964. Since that time some museums have acquired elements of art environments.

Folk and Self-Taught Art Organizations

The last two decades of the twentieth century saw growth in institutions dedicated to folk and self-taught art, and publications about the subject proliferated during those years. In 1987 the Folk Art Society of America was formed and its newsletter, Folk Art Messenger, was launched. In 1989 Raw Vision, the international journal of outsider art, was established and Intuit began publishing The Outsider (originally In'tuit) in 1992. In 1995 the American Vision-ary Art Museum was established in Baltimore, launching a program of ambitious theme shows featuring the range of nonacademic art. The Museum of American Folk Art, which publishes Folk Art Magazine (formerly The Clarion), established its Contemporary Center in 1997 to address contemporary trends in self-taught art while continuing to examine traditional American folk art. The museum officially changed its name to the American Museum of Folk Art in 2001 to reflect its international scope. Other American museums that have significant collections of self-taught art include the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, opened in 1983, and the Menello Museum of American Folk Art in Orlando, Florida, established in 1998. Self-taught art's commercial success has been underscored by its annual trade shows, the Outsider Art Fair in New York City And Folk Fest in Atlanta.

The discussion of what to call works beyond the mainstream has not lost its vigor. The term "outsider art" gained widespread acceptance beginning in the 1980s. Some object to this designation, which implies a segregationist polarity between artists on the "inside," in an assumed position of power, and artists on the "outside," disenfranchised from the cultural mainstream. The term "post-mainstream" has been suggested but has not been widely accepted. Despite the mercurial nature of folk and self-taught art, which continues to evolve while resisting precise definition, a growing number of individuals and organizations that demonstrate an interest in and commitment to the genre is paralleled by the expanding recognition of it as a significant, recurrent, and enduring facet of the nation's artistic culture.


American Folk Art: The Herbert Waide Hemphill Jr. Collection. Milwaukee, Wisc.: Milwaukee Art Museum, 1981. Out of print.

Beardsley, John. Gardens of Revelation: Environments by Visionary Artists. New York: Abbeville Press, 1995.

Blasdel, Gregg N. "The Grass-Roots Artist." Art in America 56, no. 5 (September–October 1968): 25–41.

Cardinal, Roger. Outsider Art. New York: Praeger, 1972.

Cerney, Charlene, and Suzanne Seriff. Recycled, Re-Seen: Folk Art from the Global Scrap Heap. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1996.

Hall, Michael D. Stereoscopic Perspective: Reflections on American Fine and Folk Art. Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1988.

———, and Eugene W. Metcalf Jr., eds. The Artist Outsider: Creativity and the Boundaries of Culture. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994.

Hartigan, Lynda Roscoe, and Andrew L. Connors. Made with Passion: The Hemphill Folk Art Collection in the National Museum of American Art. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990.

Hemphill, Herbert W., Jr., and Julia Weissman. Twentieth-Century Folk Art and Artists. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1974.

Intuit: The First Ten Years. Chicago: Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, 2001.

Livingston, Jane, and John Beardlsey. Black Folk Art in America, 1930–1980. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1982.

Milwaukee Art Museum. Common Ground/Uncommon Vision: The Michael and Julie Hall Collection of American Folk Art in the Milwaukee Art Museum. Milwaukee, Wisc.: The Museum, 1993. Available from the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Outsider Art: An Exploration of Chicago Collections. Chicago: City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, 1997.

Self-Taught Artists of the 20th Century: An American Anthology. New York: Museum of American Folk Art, 1998.

Sellen, Betty-Carol. Self-Taught, Outsider, and Folk Art: A Guide to American Artists, Locations and Resources. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2000.

Stone, Lisa, and Jim Zanzi. Sacred Spaces and Other Places: A Guide to Grottos and Sculptural Environments in the Upper Midwest. Chicago: School of the Art Institute of Chicago Press, 1993.


See alsoArt Institute of Chicago ; Arts and Crafts Movement ; Museums ; Smithsonian Institution ; Whitney Museum .

Stained Glass Windows

The American glass industry first began to prosper after the War of 1812 temporarily eliminated all European imported glass. Until the 1840s, however, there were few stylistic variations in American colored leaded windows, which generally contained numerous glass squares or diamonds with stenciled designs of floral and leafy patterns, giving the appearance of looking through a large kaleidoscope. The first American figural windows were made by the English-born brothers John and William Bolton in the mid-1840s for (St. Ann and) Holy Trinity Church in Brooklyn, New York.

The Gothic Revival movement in Europe greatly affected stained glass in America. Much figural stained glass was imported from Germany and England, and its subject matter frequently featured scenes that had their origins in paintings by the German artists Heinrich Hoffmann (1824–1911) and Bernard Plockhorst (1825–1907). At least fifteen of Hoffman's paintings were reproduced as stained glass windows, with Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane being the most popular, while Plockhorst's painting The Good Shepherd was also very widely copied. These and other themes rendered in glass by the Munich-based Mayer and Zettler studios were very influential in the United States, and are still commonly seen in new works produced by American studios.

By the 1870s, milky opalescent glass, usually found in bottles, began to appear in the work of both John La Farge and Louis Comfort Tiffany, after they discovered a process by which molten glass could have varying degrees of color and opacity "built in." Truly an American phenomenon, this painterly approach greatly reduced the use of enamels and fired-on paint for folds of clothing, foliage, and other elements. The use of opalescent glass began to decline by the early twentieth century, however, in part because of the rising popularity of such neo-Gothic architecture as New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The cathedral's architect, Ralph Adams Cram, was openly hostile toward opalescent glass, and demanded that the stained glass used for St. John the Divine imitate the form, figures, and color palette found in Chartres Cathedralin France. Not long afterward, these same aesthetic prejudices began to be reflected in the productions of many American studios, including, most notably, those run by Charles Connick in Boston and William Willet in Philadelphia. A more contemporary (and iconoclastic) approach to stained glass had its origins in the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, who presented his vision for stained glass through a 1907 European exhibition and subsequent publications.

The depression of the 1930s and World War II put a damper on new building, which in turn stifled stained glass production worldwide. Postwar German artists, however, began to extend certain extraordinary reforms that had been initiated by the Bauhaus movement before the war. In new churches and public buildings alike, they created stained glass that was abstract, mostly colorless, linear, and without any paint.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, artists from the West Coast, receptive to this modern approach, began pilgrimages to Germany. They returned as revolutionaries in a field previously dominated by traditionalists, desirous of becoming "artists" in stained glass. This new movement allowed stained glass to have a venue outside of churches and to be displayed in art galleries and private homes. It also encouraged more artistic freedom and the use of new techniques and technology—flashed, opak, and opal glass; laminating bevels and jewels to plate glass; silk screening on glass; detailed sand carving; fusing and bending; and a spin-off from the space industry, dichroic glass.


Connick, Charles. Adventures in Light and Color: An Introduction to the Stained Glass Craft. New York: Random House, 1937.

Hanks, David. The Decorative Designs of Frank Lloyd Wright. New York: Dutton, 1979.

Harrison, Martin. Victorian Stained Glass. London: Barrie and Jenkins, 1980.

Knapp, Stephen. The Art of Glass: Integrating Architecture and Glass. Glouster, Mass.: Rockport, 1998.

Moor, Andrew. Architectural Glass: A Guide for Design Professionals. New York: Watson-Guptill, 1989.

Weis, Helene. "Those Old Familiar Faces." Stained Glass Quarterly (Fall 1991): 204–207, 216–218.


See alsoArt: Glass .

Visual Arts and Aging

views updated May 23 2018


Older adults have been represented surprisingly often in the visual arts. Over half of Rembrandts works represent an elderly person. This includes fifty-five drawings, etchings, and paintings taken from the single biblical story of the elderly blind man Tobit and his wife Anna. Rembrandts other important images of aging persons include the famous series of self-portraits recording his own aging process, Old Woman Reading (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), Portrait of an Old Woman (Hermitage, Leningrad), and many others. Important images of elderly people by other painters include Ghirlandaios An Old Man and His Grandson (Louvre, Paris); Albrecht Dürers Saint Jerome (Albertina, Vienna); Peter Paul Rubenss Philemon and Baucis (Art History Museum, Vienna); Velázquezs The Old Water Seller of Seville (Wellington Museum, London); Georges de Tours Saint Joseph, Carpenter (Louvre, Paris); and Leonardos Self Portrait (Turin, Royal Library), to mention only a few works from the history of European painting. In the twentieth century, major artistic statements about aging include Pablo Picassos The Old Guitarist (The Art Institute of Chicago), Kathe Kollwitzs Self Portrait (National Gallery, Berlin), and Henry Tanners The Banjo Lesson (Hampton University Museum of Art). But here again, there are many others that could be mentioned. In China, the classic mountain landscape painting almost always includes an elderly person traveling up a mountain stream or pathway. Indeed, one might argue that the genre is as much about old age as about landscape. Major masterpieces in this tradition include Walking With a Staff by Shen Chou (Ming Dynasty, National Palace Museum, Taipei), Recluse in A Mountain Abode by Kuo Hsi (Sung Dynasty, National Palace Museum, Taipei), and Looking at the Waterfall by Ma Lin (Sung Dynasty, The Palace Museum, Beijing). Numerous representations of elderly people are found in Islamic miniatures, such as the thirteenth-century anonymous work Men Assembling Wood (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), and Aqa Miraks Scene in a Mosque, an illustration in the Falnameh or Book of Divination (Musee dart et d historie, Geneva). In nineteenth-century Japan, Katsushika Hokusai thought as seriously as Rembrandt had about the visual representation of aging. His A Self Portrait at the Age of Eighty Three and Head of an Old Man (both at National Museum of Ethology, Leiden) and A Peasant Crossing a Bridge (Honolulu Academy of the Arts) are typical expressions of his interest in representing elderly people.

Older adults have also been represented in sculpture throughout history. Notable examples are Old Woman Going to Market, an anonymous Roman sculpture of the second or third century (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), Donatellos Penitent Magdalen (Museo dell Opera, Florence), Michelangelos figure Twilight for the tomb of Julius II (Lorenzo, Florence), several figures in Rodins ensemble Burghers of Calais, and his numerous studies of Honoré de Balzac, Victor Hugo, Georges Clemenceau, and others.

Besides painting and sculpture, film has been a major source of visual representations of aging in art. The aging Walter Houston won the Academy Award for best actor for his portrayal of the crusty old prospector Howard in the 1948 film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and Geraldine Page won the academy award for best actress in the 1985 film The Trip to Bountiful, for her portrayal of the elderly widow Carrie Watts. Ingmar Bergmans Wild Strawberries has attracted extensive comment for its insightful portrayal of the elderly character Dr. Borg.

Finally, the art of photography has produced some unforgettable images of the aging face, and some of these have become virtual icons of twentieth-century culture. Examples are Yousuf Karshs photographic portraits of Winston Churchill and Albert Einstein, Irving Penns Colette, and Dorothea Langes White Angel Bread Line.


To understand how frequently elderly people are depicted in art, it is a good exercise to study the almost innumerable images of St. Jerome as wise elder that have been produced in the history of European painting, and the vast range and variety of perspectives on the aged person that have been presented through the use of that theme. Visual images of this popular fifth-century saint in his old age are standard fixtures in hotels, restaurants, hospitals, government buildings, and other public places over most of Europe. In much of Asia, representations of the elderly Chinese sage in a remote mountain retreat, referred to above, are similarly common. Another good way to discover how frequently artists create images of elderly people is this: go to any museum of art, and, excluding galleries devoted solely to twentieth-century abstract work, try to find a room or gallery that does not contain at least one representation of an elderly person. It is enlightening to discover how infrequently one is able to do so. In the same vein, try to name a film in which no elderly character appears in at least a significant supporting role. It can be done, but not often.

Visual artists have been careful and astute observers of elderly people, often seeing beyond conventional false stereotypes. A conventional negative stereotype of age in the West is that the physical appearance of old age is without beauty. But most visual artists have insisted that the characteristic look of the aging face and typical gestures of the aging body are of great beauty and aesthetic value. The testimony of artists in support of this view can be seen in the frequency and care with which they have created exquisitely beautiful images of older persons. In China, this division between the conventional view of aging and the observations of artists does not exist, because Chinese popular culture, like Chinas visual artists, attributes great physical beauty in the aging face and body. Artists have also created numerous images that combat the stereotype of older adults as frail or without physical vigor or energy. Against this, elderly people are regularly depicted in the visual arts as being physically robust and vigorous. See, for example, La Tours Saint Joseph, Carpenter (cited above) and Rembrandts Old Woman Cutting Her Nails (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

Another consistent motif in art showing careful observation of older adults is the representation of a special relationship between elderly people and children. This was a favorite theme of Velázquez, which he explored repeatedly. Examples are his The Old Water Seller of Seville (cited above) and Old Woman Cooking (National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh). Tanners Banjo Lesson (cited above) is a strong statement of the same theme. In images like these the artist expresses ideas and attitudes about the passing of culture from generation to generation, a fundamental process of civilization.

One way to gauge the soundness of what artists say in their representations of aging is to compare it with findings in the modern social science of gerontology. For example, a central observation of the modern psychology of aging is that many people, as they grow into their later years, tend to disengage or to withdraw from the activities and interests that motivated them in youth and middle age, and increase the time spent in inner reflection. Many representations of elderly people in the history of art record and explore this change of orientation. Representative examples include the paintings by Dürer and Rembrandt cited above, the many representations of Saint Jerome in the desert found in European painting, the motif of withdrawal to a mountain retreat or hermitage in the Chinese landscape, and representations of the elder as aesthetic wanderer in Hindu art.

Another discovery of modern psychology of aging is that people tend to reminisce more often, and apparently with greater interest, as they advance into late adulthood. Many paintings of elderly people in the history of art evoke an unmistakable mood of reminiscence, showing the artists awareness of this phenomenon of late life. In the Chinese landscape, for example, the elderly person is often shown high in a mountain promontory, looking back over the path ascending from the valley belowan unmistakable metaphor for looking back over ones life. Early in the film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, the old miner Howard engages in a deeply felt account of his past life, and the film The Trip to Bountiful actually centers on the theme of Carrie Wattss irrepressible need to revisit the past. Finally, much of modern scientific study of human aging concerns the possibility of achieving special insights, or wisdom, in old age. Here again, early artists have anticipated twentieth-century thought. The story of Tobit, so often represented in Rembrandts works, is a story of illumination and understanding achieved in old age. Indeed, Rembrandts life-long persistence in representing that theme in his painting would seem to indicate an interest in the possibility of old age wisdom, for the storys central event is the old blind man (Tobit) recovering his sight. A much repeated image of a wise elder who understands much is that of the father in the biblical story of the prodigal son. Powerful interpretations of that theme have been produced by many leading European and Islamic artists. Innumerable other paintings depict elderly people as either wise elders, or as pilgrims in search of wisdom. In the Western tradition, images of elders often show them with books, the illumination of candles, or keys, all symbols of the quest for and achievement of special insight. More often than not, Chinese paintings that depict the elderly at all show them as sages, that is, as older adults who have achieved wisdom. A repeated theme in Chinese art shows the elderly sage thoughtfully watching or listening to a waterfall. There is a reason for this. In Chinese thought the waterfall is said to contain opposites, because the waterfall is forever moving and changing, and yet also forever staying in the same place. So the elderly sages contemplation of it symbolizes the ultimate wisdom; namely understanding the underlying unity of all opposites.


As this example of the Chinese sages and the waterfall makes clear, it is difficult to understand what painters and sculptors have wanted to say about the experience of human aging without knowing something about symbols. These artists do not communicate what they wish to say about aging in words, as writers might do, so they often use instead the language of symbols. For example, bridges, doorways, windows and gates often appear in paintings of older adults to symbolize the aging persons transition to a new stage of life, old age. Many of the works cited above feature this symbolism. In many of his representations of the story of Tobit, for example, Rembrandt shows the old blind man waiting by or walking toward a doorway or window. Similarly, the elderly gentleman in Shen Chous Walking With a Staff is shown approaching a bridge that crosses over a turbulent stream. Another common symbol in visual representations of older adults is the musical instrument, usually a string instrument such as the guitar or the violin. Such an image shows an older person creating harmony from separate sounds that individually have no meaning. But this in turn is a symbol of the aging persons ability to integrate disparate aspects of life into one understandable whole, which is a kind of wisdom. Often the symbolic old musician is shown as blind, recalling Platos dictum that as outer vision weakens with age, inner vision (wisdom) grows. Of course many symbols of time and its passage are used in images of elderly people, including clocks, hourglasses, and used-up candles. The abstract form of the circle is sometimes used to symbolically express a feeling of life having come to completeness or to full closure. A striking example is the composition of Rembrandts Artists Mother (Art History Museum, Vienna), but the symbolism is widely used. To understand representations of aging by artists outside ones own culture, it is useful to know something of the special symbolism of that culture. For example, the elderly people who appear so frequently in Chinese paintings are often shown with cranes, peaches, or pine trees, all familiar symbols in Chinese culture of late adulthood. Finally, the most potent symbol in an art work depicting an elderly person is often the image of the elderly person itself. For the elderly face, body and gestures are themselves mythic for us, in the sense that they powerfully convey important meanings such as endurance, courage, inner strength, and vulnerability.

For purposes of discerning what an artist is saying specifically about aging in a particular work, it is useful to distinguish between the story being illustrated (Isaac blessing Jacob, or Saint Jeromes retreat to a desert hermitage) and the artists specific manner of representing the elderly person who appears in the work. To appreciate how distinct these things are, a good exercise is to study the difference of treatment of the same elderly person in the same story. One might compare, for example, Raemerswaels Saint Jerome in His Study (Musee des Beaux Artes, Antwerp), and Massys Saint Jerome (Art History Museum, Vienna). Both artists are offering creative images of the same events in the life of the same aging man, yet the meanings they see in these things are very different.

Assessing the image

An important question to consider when viewing a representation of old age is whether the artist is representing it in a positive or negative light. This will sometimes be quite evident at first sight. Leonardos caricatures of age (Royal Collection, Windsor Castle) and Ivan Albrights Fleeting Time Thou Has Made Me Old (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) are obviously and uncompromisingly negative. Many art works give positive interpretations of aging that are equally evident. But many express perspectives on aging with various degrees of ambivalence or mixed nuances, which makes it more challenging to interpret the artists specific message about aging. In all cases, when forming a judgment about what an artist is saying about aging in a particular work, it is useful to consider the following questions. Is the overall feeling the artist seems to create about aging primarily negative or positive? Does the artist present aging exclusively as a matter of physical change, or are other, nonphysical, dimensions of aging also represented, such as social relationships, psychological growth or decline, increased knowledge, wisdom or emotional fulfillment? If nonphysical dimensions of aging are suggested, are they shown in a positive or negative light? Are aging persons shown as having any importance for others in society, and if so, what difference are they shown as making to the lives of others? Is the elderly person shown as engaged in a process of spiritual growth, and if so, how? Does the artist use line or color to express ideas, feelings, or attitudes about aging, such as color harmonies or disharmonies, or lines that are either disturbingly tense or reassuringly peaceful? What symbols does the artist use to convey attitudes or ideas about aging?

Formal resources that artists use to communicate about the aging face and body include lines, used to represent and interpret the facial wrinkles of the aging face. Line used in this way can eloquently express many characteristics naturally associated with the aged person, such as burdensome memories and depth of thought (see Dürers Saint Jerome, and Leonardo da Vincis Self Portrait, both cited above, as examples of this use of line). A parallel use of facial lines to express emotions related to age can be seen in the scarification of many African masks. In typical Chinese masterpieces, line was skillfully used to show the distinctive gestures and postures of the aging human body, whose forms can be poignantly expressive. Color is another formal element artists use to express feelings and attitudes about age. The shiny, cadaverish greys used in Albrights images of aging express a revulsion toward it, while in Rubens portrait of Saint Jerome, the strongly dominant red expresses an upbeat optimism and sense of vitality. Selection of harmonious or disharmonious color schemes can also communicate a lot about an artists outlook on age. The sculptor has, in addition, a third dimension created by a plastic medium, which presents the opportunity to go beyond line and organization of areas to raised surfaces and volumes. These, in turn, are used to create the ruggedly textured quality of the aging face, expressing the depth of experience and character associated with age. Rodins representations of elderly persons illustrates this approach especially well.

Many images of elderly people are simply portraits, in which recording a particular persons appearance, and capturing something of that individuals essential personality, is the goal. But many representations of the elderly occur in the larger context of a story or genre scene. Sometimes the elder pictured in such a scene is the main protagonist, as in the images of Tobit and Anna in paintings depicting that biblical story. But even more often one or more elderly persons appear in an image, but in only a secondary, supportive role. Examples are the old woman who looks on from the sidelines in Rubenss Samson and Delilah, or the elderly violinist who plays in the background of many of Edgar Degass ballerina paintings. Such secondary images of aging should not be overlooked or dismissed, for the statement they make about aging is sometimes of great interest and important to the overall meaning of the work. Degass old musician, for example, symbolizes the need for old age wisdom, which enables the younger generation to carry on its own life or dance.

A topic of debate among art scholars is whether artists adopt a different styleoften referred to as late styleas they age. Late style is said to be characterized by greater economy or simplicity of means, whereby a powerful statement is made with relatively little differentiation of detail. Michelangelo is said to have followed such a path of development because his late sculptures are strikingly less complex, yet no less powerful, than his earlier works. The point at issue can be observed by comparing two of his works on the same theme, the pieta, one early (Pieta, c. 1499, Saint Peters, Rome) the other late (Pieta, c. 1564, Castillo Sforzesco, Milan). The same evolution of style has been said to characterize Kathe Kollwitzs artistic development, and can be seen by comparing her early and late self-portraits.

Patrick L. McKee

See also Ageism; Literature and Aging.


Amheim, R. On the Late Style of Life and Art. Michigan Quarterly Review. Edited by Kathleen Woodward and David Van Tassel. (spring 1978): 149156.

Clark, K. The Artist Grows Old. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1962.

Clark, K. Rembrandts Self Portraits. Proceedings of the Royal Institute os Great Britain 39 (1962): 145171.

Erikson, E. Reflections of Dr. Borgs Life Cycle. In Aging, Death, and the Completion of Being. Edited by D. Van Tassel. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1979. Pages 2968.

Held, J. Rembrandt and the Book of Tobit. Princeton, N.J.: The Gehenna Press, 1964.

McKee, P. L. Old Age in the Chinese Mountain Landscape. The Journal of Aesthetic Education 24 (1990): 5973.

McKee, P. L., and Kauppinen, H. The Art of Aging: A Celebration of Old Age in Western Art. New York: Human Sciences Press, 1987.

Spicker, S., et al. Aging and the Elderly: Humanistic Perspectives on Gerontology. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1978.

Wang, S.-C. Introduction to Three Hundred Masterpieces of Chinese Painting in the National Palace Museum. Taipei: National Palace Museum, 1959.

Winkler, M. G. Walking to the Stars. Handbook of the Humanities and Aging. Edited by Thomas R. Cole, David D. Van Tassel and Robert Kastenbaum. New York: Springer Publishing, 1992. Pages 258284.


views updated Jun 08 2018





French playwright Yasmina Reza garnered international acclaim with her play Art (1994), for which she received the 1998 Lawrence Olivier Award for best comedy and the 1998 Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award for best play, as well as Molière awards for best author, best play, and best production.

Art concerns the cataclysmic effect on three friends, Serge, Marc, and Yvan, when Serge purchases an expensive work of abstract art—a large painting consisting of white lines on a white canvas. As the three men engage in an ongoing debate over the value of the painting, emotions run high and the conflict escalates to the point of nearly destroying a long-standing friendship.

At one level, the debate over the painting in Art revolves around a question of aesthetic values, weighing the significance of modern abstract art in comparison to more traditional representational art. At another level, the purchase of the painting by Serge comes to symbolize a deeper rift in his friendship with Marc, a piece of concrete evidence that the two of them have grown apart. Yvan attempts to play the part of mediator between Serge and Marc but is inevitably drawn into the conflict at a deeper level.

Art addresses themes exploring various aspects of the nature of friendship. Most critics agree that Art is less about debates over artistic values than it is about the complexities of friendship. As Robert Hurwitt observed in a review for the San FranciscoChronicle, "Art isn't about aesthetics but the psychological, emotional and power dynamics of friendship."


Yasmina Reza was born in Paris on May 1, 1959, of Jewish parents who had immigrated to France. Her mother, a violinist, was from Budapest, and her father, an engineer, businessman, and pianist, was born in Moscow, USSR, of Iranian descent. As a girl, Reza took an interest in writing short stories. Upon graduating from high school, she attended the University of Paris X and the Jacques Lecoq drama school. Reza began working on the French stage as an actress but soon turned to playwriting because she found that acting was not intellectually challenging enough for her, and she resented being under the control of directors. Reza's first two plays, Conversations après un enterrement (1987; Conversations after a Burial) and La Traversee de l'hiver (1990; Winter Crossing), both about the effect of major crises on family relationships, were winners of Molière awards.

Reza has explained that the subject matter of Art was inspired by an incident in which a friend of hers had purchased a modern painting that consisted of white paint on a white canvas. Upon seeing the painting, Reza found herself laughing at it. Although her friend was not offended by this response to the work, Reza envisioned a scenario in which such a response would ignite a major conflict between friends. Reza has stated that she wrote Art specifically as an expression of conflict between male friends, as she does not feel friendships between women would be affected in the same way.

Among Reza's other plays are L'Homme du hazard (1995; The Unexpected Man) and Trois versions de la vie (2000; Life x 3), in the latter of which Reza also performed as an actor on stage. Reza's screenplay credits include Le Pique-nique de Lulu Kreutz, a film directed by her companion Didier Martigny, and a French translation of a screen adaptation of Franz Kafka's short story "Metamorphosis," for director Roman Polanski. Hammerlkavier, a novelized series of vignettes based on Reza's memories of her father, was published in 1997. In addition to writing, Reza has continued her career as an actress, appearing in the film Loin (2000; also known as Terminus des anges), directed by Andre Techine. Her second novel, Une Desolation (2000; Desolation) is written as the monologue of an aging Parisian man struggling to make sense of his life.


Art opens with Marc telling the audience that his friend Serge has purchased a painting. Marc describes the painting as a five-foot-by-four-foot white canvas with fine white diagonal lines painted across the white background.

At Serge's

In Serge's apartment, Marc and Serge look at and discuss Serge's new painting. Serge tells Marc that the painting is by an artist by the name of Antrios and that he paid 200,000 francs (approximately $40,000) for it. Marc laughs at the painting and says it is worthless. Serge asserts that Marc knows nothing about modern art, that he does not understand it, and that he therefore is not in a position to judge the painting.

Alone, Marc addresses the audience, asserting that it is a mystery to him why Serge bought such a painting. He admits that Serge's buying of the painting has filled him with "some indefinable unease."

At Yvan's

Alone, Yvan explains to the audience that he has just started a new job as a sales agent for a wholesale stationery business and that he is getting married in two weeks.

Marc visits Yvan at his apartment, where a painting of a motel hangs on the wall. Marc tells Yvan about the white painting Serge just bought. Yvan suggests that if it makes Serge happy and he could afford to pay for it, the quality or price of the painting is not important. Marc tells Yvan that he is hurt and disturbed that Serge bought the painting.

At Serge's

Yvan visits Serge at his apartment, and they discuss the Antrios painting. Yvan is more open-minded about discussing the qualities of the painting itself than Marc was. When Serge tells Yvan how much he paid for the painting, they both share a hearty laugh. Serge tells Yvan that he resents Marc's response to the painting because of his tactlessness, insensitivity, and tone of smugness in expressing his opinion about it.

At Marc's

Yvan visits Marc at his apartment, where a landscape painting hangs on the wall. Yvan tells Marc that he saw Serge's new painting and that he did not like it, nor did he hate it. Marc asks Yvan if Serge's painting makes him happy.

Alone, Yvan states that the painting does not make him happy but that he is not the kind of person who can really say he is happy about anything.

Alone, Serge asserts that, as far as he is concerned, objectively speaking, the painting is not white, that it has a white background, but that it includes other subtle colors as well.

Alone, Marc states that he should avoid attacking Serge about the painting he bought. Marc vows to be nicer to his friend and to be on his best behavior from now on.

At Serge's

Marc and Serge wait at Serge's apartment for Yvan to arrive, as the three of them have plans to go out to a movie together. While they are waiting, Marc and Serge discuss the white Antrios painting. Serge brings the painting in from another room, and the two men contemplate it.

As if alone, Serge suggests that his buying of the painting has caused discord between himself and Marc because Marc does not approve of the painting.

As if alone, Marc states that the discord between himself and Serge started before the purchase of the painting, when Serge used the word "deconstruction" in a discussion of a work of art. Marc observes that it was not the word itself but the tone with which Serge said it that bothered him.

Still at Serge's apartment, Marc and Serge are continuing their conversation about the painting when Yvan walks in. Yvan gives a long explanation of why he is so late, because he has been dealing with a conflict between his mother and his fiancée over their wedding plans. The three men begin bickering. Serge then tells Yvan that he thinks his fiancée, Catherine, is an obnoxious person and that Yvan is in for "a hideous future" if he marries her. Yvan admits that Catherine has problems but states that he cannot back out of the wedding now that it has been planned.

The men begin again arguing over whether or not the painting is white. As they continue to argue, Marc calls Yvan a coward. Yvan responds to this by walking out of the apartment. Marc tells Serge that he no longer understands what his friendship with Yvan consists of.

A few minutes later, Yvan walks back in, explaining that he realized Marc is expressing some deep anxiety by his aggression toward his friends and that he (Yvan) wants to help Marc work through his problems. Yvan mentions that he has been discussing his friends with his therapist, Finklezohn.

As they continue to argue over the painting, Serge moves it into another room, out of their sight. Serge asserts that he truly loves his painting, which Marc finds hard to believe. Serge says that Marc criticizing his painting, which he loves, would be like Serge criticizing Marc's girlfriend Paula. Serge then says that he thinks Paula is "ugly, repellent and totally charmless." In anger, Marc physically attacks Serge. When Yvan steps in to try to pull them apart, he is hit in the head, and the scuffle ends.

Marc accuses Serge of replacing their friendship with the Antrios painting he has purchased. Marc points out that Serge used to look up to him and regard him as a role model. Marc explains that he loved being idolized by Serge but that Serge has transferred his idolatry of Marc into an idolatry of art. Marc asserts that the purchase of the Antrios painting symbolizes Serge's newfound independence from him. Serge is indignant at the suggestion that he had been so strongly influenced by Marc in the past and states that their fifteen-year friendship seems to be at an end.

Serge and Marc then criticize Yvan, complaining that Yvan's neutrality is what has sparked all the conflict between them. Yvan gets very upset and starts to cry because Marc and Serge are supposed to be witnesses at his upcoming wedding, and this break in their friendship will ruin his wedding plans.

In a moment of calm, all three men snack on a bowl of olives. Serge brings the Antrios painting back into the room. He borrows a blue felt-tip pen from Yvan and hands it to Marc. With Serge's encouragement, Marc draws on the white painting with the blue pen. He draws a sloped line with a skier in a hat skiing down the slope. Later, Marc and Serge wash the blue ink off the painting, leaving it as white as ever.

As if alone, Yvan speaks directly to the audience, saying that after Marc drew on the painting, they all three went out to dinner. Yvan explains that Serge, in allowing Marc to draw on the painting, proved that he cared about Marc more than he cared about the painting. Yvan relates that, over dinner, Serge and Marc agreed to try to reconstruct their friendship on a trial basis.

As if alone, Serge addresses the audience, admitting that he knew all along that the blue ink would wash off the canvas. He explains that he lied to Marc and told him that he had not known the ink would wash off. He feels guilty about lying but feels that telling the truth at this point would only create more conflict.

As if alone, Marc addresses the audience, reciting a short poem about a skier skiing downhill in the falling snow. Marc ends the poem, and the play, by saying that his friend's painting "represents a man who moves across a space / then disappears."



Marc, an aeronautical engineer, emerges as the character in Art with the greatest internal conflict. His words both begin and end the play, thus demonstrating the transformation he has experienced as a result of the events that take place over the course of the play. He opens Art with the statement that his friend Serge has bought a painting, which Marc describes as "a white painting with white lines," and expresses that the painting has left him with a feeling of unease.

Marc prefers traditional art and is disdainful of modern art. When he visits Serge at his apartment and is shown the new painting, he laughs, says it is worthless, and criticizes Serge for spending so much money on it. Alone, later, Marc chides himself for being so harsh in his criticism of Serge and vows to be nicer from now on.

One night while Marc and Serge wait at Serge's apartment for their friend Yvan to arrive so they can all go out, they continue to argue about the painting. When Yvan arrives, the conflict over the painting escalates. After Serge tells Marc that his girlfriend, Paula, is an obnoxious person, Marc physically attacks him but does not hurt him.

Marc finally admits that he feels abandoned and betrayed by Serge's buying of the painting because he feels the painting has replaced him in Serge's affections. Marc goes on to relate that Serge used to look up to him and see him as a role model. He explains that Serge's buying of the painting was an act of independence by which he demonstrated that he is no longer under Marc's influence. Marc recalls how much he loved feeling idolized by Serge and how much he resents Serge's newfound independence from him.

In order to show that he cares more about Marc than he does about his new painting, Serge invites him to draw on the white painting with a blue pen. Marc sketches a slope with a man skiing down it. Later, over dinner, the men agree to patch up their friendship on a trial basis. They work together to wash all the blue ink off the white painting. In the closing lines of the play, Marc recites a short poem about his friend's painting, demonstrating that he has come to accept Serge's act of independence and that he has discovered what the painting means to him personally.


Serge, a divorced dermatologist, has just purchased a modern, abstract, minimalist painting by an artist named Antrios for 200,000 francs. Upon seeing the new painting, his longtime friend Marc laughs at him and criticizes him for spending so much money on it. Serge has been interested in modern art for some time and points out that Marc has no knowledge of modern art and so has no standards by which to judge the Antrios painting. When Yvan visits Serge, they discuss the Antrios painting. They both share a laugh over the absurdly high price he paid for it. Serge tells Yvan that he did not like Marc's smugness, tactlessness, insensitivity, and condescension in his response to the painting.

One night while waiting for Yvan to arrive so they can all go out, Serge and Marc argue about the painting. After Yvan arrives, they continue to argue and bicker. Serge states that he genuinely loves his new painting and that it hurt his feelings that Marc has so harshly criticized it. Serge then tells Marc that his girlfriend, Paula, is an obnoxious person. At this, Marc physically attacks Serge but does not hurt him. Marc points out that he used to have a lot more influence over Serge, that he was Serge's mentor. Serge is indignant at this suggestion and accuses Marc of being self-centered.

In order to resolve the conflict over the painting, Serge hands Marc a blue felt-tip pen and encourages him to draw on the white painting with it. Serge does this in order to demonstrate that he values their friendship more than he values the painting. Afterwards they all go out to dinner and decide to reconstruct the friendship on a trial basis.

Later, Serge and Marc work together to clean the blue ink off the white painting. Alone, Serge admits that he knew all along that the ink would wash off but that he lied to Marc and said he had not known. Serge expresses guilt at not being truthful with Marc about this. Serge's last line in the play is "Why does my relationship with Marc have to be so complicated?"


Yvan is the character in Art who tries the hardest to reconcile the conflict that has arisen between the three friends over the Antrios painting.

Yvan is engaged to be married in two weeks to a woman named Catherine, and he has just started a new job working for Catherine's uncle in a stationery business. It seems that Yvan has never really held a steady job and that he has been single for much of his life. In an aside to the audience, Yvan states that he is not the kind of person who is ever really happy. Later in the play he describes how terribly lonely he has been for most of his life.

In addition to mediating between his friends, Yvan finds himself mediating between his fiancée and his mother. When he shows up late to Serge's apartment on a night when the three friends had planned to go out together, he explains that he was delayed by trying to negotiate a conflict with his mother and his fiancée over the wedding invitations. Serge tells Yvan that his fiancée is an obnoxious person and that if he marries her, he is in for a "hideous future." Yvan admits that Catherine has problems but insists that it is too late for him to back out of the wedding.

After Marc calls Yvan a coward, Yvan walks out of Serge's apartment in exasperation. He returns a few minutes later, explaining that he realized Marc's hostility is really a "cry for help," based on deep-seated anxieties. Yvan has been in therapy for six years with a therapist by the name of Finklezohn, with whom he has recently discussed his friendship with Marc and Serge. He says he came back because he decided he wants to help his friend to work out his problems.

Yvan's attempt to mediate the conflict between Serge and Marc is demonstrated physically when Marc lunges at Serge and Yvan immediately gets between them to pull them apart. In the process, Yvan is hit on the head.

As the argument continues, Serge and Marc turn on Yvan, accusing him of escalating the conflict through his attempts to remain neutral. At this point, Yvan gets so upset about this breakdown in their friendship that he cries. He tells them that having his two best friends in his wedding was the one thing he was looking forward to and that his wedding will be ruined if they are not there.

At the end of the play, Yvan is relieved when Serge and Marc reconcile and agree to patch up their friendship, but he is upset by the concept of a "trial period" applied to the friendship.


The Nature of Friendship

The central theme of Art is the nature of friendship. The play revolves around the interactions of three middle-aged men who have been friends for some fifteen years. This long-standing friendship is thrown into crisis when Serge purchases an expensive work of art. The severity of this crisis demonstrates the fragile nature of friendship because a simple change in the status quo brings up longstanding tensions between the three friends. Anne Marie Donahue observed in a Boston Globe review that Art concerns "the sadness and confusion that can result when long-term friendships collapse for no clear reason." Benedict Nightingale noted in a review in the Times (London) that Art is about elements of "the politics of friendship," such as "dominance, control, insecurity, and the place of compromise and fibs in most relationships." By the play's end, Serge and Marc have agreed to "reconstruct" their friendship, and they intend to have a "trial period" of reconciliation. Thus, while the friendship between the three men is temporarily patched up, the fragility of these relationships has been established, and the future of the friendship is left up in the air.

Friendship and Change

Marc feels that Serge's purchase of the Antrios painting is a symbol of a major change in the nature of their friendship. Marc explains that Serge once looked up to him as a role model and adopted many of Marc's basic values and attitudes. However, as the two have grown apart, Serge has begun to associate and socialize with a new set of people who do not necessarily share Marc's perspective. Everett Evans commented in the Houston Chronicle that the painting in Art "comes to represent the friends' growing apart, Serge's rejection of former mentor Marc, and his move to a different circle with different values." Marc admits that he feels abandoned by Serge because of these recent changes in the dynamics of their friendship.


  1. With a group of other students, pick an interesting or important scene or segment from Art to perform in front of the class. How does the process of performing the scene and speaking the lines out loud help you to better understand the individual characters and their relationships to one another? What insights or ideas about the play have you gained from this process?
  2. Pick an artist who is known for abstract painting or sculpture. Learn more about this artist, including major characteristics of the artist's work, best-known paintings, and how this work has influenced other artists. Some abstract artists you might want to choose are Jackson Pollack, Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, or Helen Frankenthailer.
  3. Art examines the different responses of three different people to the same work of art. At the library, find a book with reproductions of abstract paintings and pick out one that you find particularly interesting. Write down your own reactions to the painting: How do you describe in words what it looks like? What other images does it remind you of? What associations or emotional responses does it suggest? After you have written down your own response, interview five different people about their reactions to this abstract painting, taking careful notes on each person's response. Then, write an essay discussing the different responses you found to the same painting.
  4. Write your own original scene of dramatic dialogue between three friends, in which some object creates a conflict between the characters. Be sure to demonstrate that each of the three characters responds to the situation in a way that is distinct from the others and that demonstrates a unique perspective. With other students, perform your original scene for the class.
  5. If there are any art galleries near where you live, pick a gallery that carries art you find interesting. If possible, interview someone who works at the gallery, asking about his or her values and criteria in choosing which works the gallery shows. In an essay, explain these criteria, as stated by the person you interviewed.
  6. At the library, find a book that includes reproductions of abstract paintings by various artists. Look through the images in this book in order to get a sense of the variety of styles of abstract painting. Then create your own abstract drawing or painting. Write an essay describing your picture in words and explaining your own response to your picture and what it means to you. Ask three other people to respond to your abstract picture. Include in your essay a discussion of their responses, comparing and contrasting them with your own ideas about it.

Friendship and Individual Identity

Marc's sense of individual identity, his sense of who he is as a person, is dependent on feeling that his friends look up to him and follow his lead in forming their opinions. Marc is threatened by Serge's show of independent thought and taste because he interprets this act as a personal rejection. Marc's feelings toward his friends are thus very self-centered and are based more on flattering his own ego than on a real affection for others. Marc tells Serge, "I loved the way you saw me," not that he loved Serge for who he was as an individual. Serge exclaims to Marc, "Everything has to revolve around you! Why can't you learn to love people for themselves, Marc?" Because Marc is so insecure about his individual identity, he feels unloved by his friends if they demonstrate any independence from him.

Friendship and Male-Female Relationships

Although no female characters appear in Art, the conversations between the three men reveal a lot about their relationships with women. More significant to the central theme of the play, the tensions between these three friends are reflected or acted out through the comments they make about each other's relationships with women. Yvan is engaged to be married in a couple of weeks to a woman named Catherine; Marc is either married to or in a long-term relationship with a woman named Paula; and Serge is divorced from a woman named Francoise, with whom he has two children. As the tensions between the three friends escalate, they begin to express their anger toward one another by criticizing each other's relationships.

Serge comes across as the most hostile to the women in his friends' lives, probably because he is divorced and seems to feel bitter about it, as well as that he himself does not seem to be in a steady relationship with a woman. When the argument over the painting heats up, Serge tells Yvan that Catherine is a "gorgon" and that if he goes through with his marriage to her, he is going to have "a hideous future." Yvan points out that Serge is "not necessarily the person I'd come to for matrimonial advice," adding, "You can't claim to have been a great success in that field." Later, Serge says insulting things about Paula, which provokes Marc to the point where he attempts to physically attack his friend.

The men's commentary on the women in each other's lives functions as a means of expressing tensions that already exist within their friendship. Serge chooses to attack Paula in order to hurt Marc and demonstrate that Marc's disdain for the Antrios painting is just as hurtful as being told one's loved one is an awful person. Serge and Marc gang up in criticizing Catherine as a means of expressing their resentment toward Yvan for trying to remain neutral in the conflict over the painting. Reza thus demonstrates the ways in which relationships with others can become a focus for acting out tensions and conflicts between friends.



The events of Art take place alternately in the apartments of Marc, Yvan, and Serge. The stage directions indicate that the same set be used for each man's apartment, with the only difference being that each has a different painting hanging in his living room. Reza uses this setting to highlight the ways in which the painting in each character's apartment reveals key elements of his personality that differ from those of his friends.

The exact geographic location of Art's setting is not indicated directly, but various details suggest that it takes place in Paris, France. One such detail is Serge's mention of having recently visited the Pompidou, which is a popular national art gallery and cultural center in Paris. However, the national identity of the characters and the geographic location in which it is set are not especially significant to the theme and content of Art, which characterizes events that could take place in any modern Western urban setting.


At one point in Art, after Marc has physically attacked Serge, accidentally hurting Yvan in the process, the three men sit around eating from a bowl of olives. As far back as ancient mythology, the olive branch has long been a symbol of peace. Symbolically, then, the action of the three friends eating olives represents a moment of truce in their interpersonal conflicts. This is an important moment in the dramatic development of the play, and it stands out as one of the only activities in which all three of them participate harmoniously.

Monologue and Direct Address

At key moments in Art, Reza makes use of brief monologues in which a character speaks directly to the audience. At various points in the play, each of the characters expresses himself directly to the audience, either as he is standing alone on stage or with other characters on stage but as if he is alone, and they cannot hear him. In these monologues, each of the characters, Yvan, Marc, and Serge, expresses his feelings more directly and honestly than he does in interacting with his friends. Reza utilizes this technique to reveal the inner thoughts of each of the characters, thus highlighting the contrast between what each man says to others and what he actually thinks. In the final pages of the play, each of the three men offers a brief monologue. With this technique, Reza closes Art by summing up each character's private thoughts and feelings about the resolution of their conflict over the Antrios painting.


The term backstory refers to events and experiences of the characters in a story that have happened in a time previous to the time in which the events of the story take place. In Art, Reza reveals a lot about each of the three characters through the revelation of backstory in the dialogue and monologues. Reza thus provides a three-dimensional perspective on her characters and their mutual friendship, which has lasted some fifteen years. Through the explication of backstory, the characters reveal a lot about how both their relationships and their individual personalities have changed and developed over the course of their friendship, thus shedding light on their interpersonal dynamics in the present day.


A central debate between the characters in Art is the question of the value of modern art versus the value of what in the play is referred to as "classical" art. Reza makes very general usage of these terms in order to create a strong and clear point of contention between Serge and Marc. However, the characters' debate about the relative merits of "classical" versus "modern" art may more specifically be characterized as a debate between the merits of representational versus abstract art.

Representational Art

Reza uses the term "classical" art to describe Marc's general preference for art that was created before the development of modern art in the mid-nineteenth century. Another way to categorize Marc's artistic taste would be to say that he prefers art that is representational to art that is abstract. Representational art refers to a work that is intended to represent persons, places, or things recognizable from the real world, such as a portrait, landscape, or still life. For example, in Art, Marc's landscape painting and Yvan's painting of a motel are both works of representational art.

Much representational art may also be categorized as realist, or naturalist. Realism, or naturalism, is characterized by representational art that aims to closely reproduce images of persons, places, or things, clearly resembling that which may be seen in the world around us. By contrast, representational art that is not realist may include images of persons, places, or things that resemble the real world but represent them in ways that are distorted, imaginary, improbable, or fantastical.

Modern Art

The term "modern" applied to art encompasses many important developments in art that date back to the mid-nineteenth century. Since that time, many movements, styles, and schools of art have developed, all falling under the broader category of modern art. Among these specific movements may be included neo-impressionism, symbolism, fauvism, cubism, expressionism, futurism, dadaism, surrealism, social realism, abstract expressionism, pop art, minimalism, and neo-expressionism, among others. Modern art includes a wide variety of both abstract and representational styles.

Abstract Art

Serge's preference for "modern" art in Art may be more specifically described as a preference for abstract art. Abstract art, which is also sometimes referred to as nonrepresentational art, is characterized by a lack of direct reference to anything recognizable as a person, place, or thing. The movement toward abstraction or nonrepresentation in art has its roots in the 1930s; however, abstract art did not flourish until the post–World War II era. The white painting with white lines that is the centerpiece of Art may be categorized as a work of abstract art because it does not represent any person, place, or thing.

Abstract expressionism, one of the most successful and influential movements in abstract art, first developed in the late 1940s and reached its peak during the 1950s and early 1960s. Abstract expressionism encompasses several different approaches to abstract art. Subcategories of abstract expressionism include "action painting," in which the physical action of the painter in the process of painting is central to the end product of the work of art itself. Another subcategory of abstract expressionism is "color field" painting, in which artists create expressive swathes of color on canvas. While Serge's painting in Art would probably not be categorized as a work of abstract expressionism, it is helpful to have a basic concept of abstract expressionism in order to understand later movements in abstract art that grew out of this movement.

A movement toward minimalism in abstract art, characterized by a reduction of form and color to basic, simple, minimal elements, developed in the late 1960s and the 1970s. Minimalist art is also referred to as ABC art because of its call to a return to the basics of form and color. Minimalism was in part a reaction against abstract expressionism, which was seen as excessively emotional and personal in its evocative expressiveness. Minimalism, by contrast, was based on a striving for art that referred only to itself and its literal visual elements of form and color, without taking on personal or emotional connotations expressive of the artist. Minimalist painters thus strived for an effect of flat, two-dimensionality and an objective attitude that forces the individual viewer to formulate her or his own response to the pure form and color of the work itself. Serge's abstract painting in Art is minimalist in the sense that it is primarily a bare canvas with only a few faint streaks of paint across the surface.

Among abstract painters, several developed styles characterized by a monochromatic color scheme, meaning that each painting is dominated by a single color, although there may be subtle variations in tone and shade. Among prominent artists known for their monochromatic paintings may be included Yves Klein, who created a series of paintings in blue, and Ad Reinhardt, who created black paintings. In Art, Serge's abstract painting of white lines on a white canvas is monochromatic, in addition to being minimalist.

Conceptual Art

At one point in Art, Marc mentions a particular artist with disdain. Serge defends the artist saying that artist was interested in "conceptual art," which he distinguishes from works such as the painting he has just purchased. Conceptual art developed in the 1960s as a radical departure from the accepted notion of art as, by definition, a physical object. Conceptual artists may write a description in words or a sketch or plan for a work of art that is imagined but not necessarily created as a real physical form.


Abstract art emerged in the post–World War II era and continued to develop throughout the latter half of the twentieth century. Yet it is inaccurate to simply equate modern art with abstract art. Although most abstract art falls into the category of modern art, modern art encompasses many movements that are based on representational art as well.

During the 1980s, a resurgence of interest in representational art, particularly among painters, emerged and came to be known as neo-expressionism. Neo-expressionist painting encompassed a variety of individual styles but was characterized by a rejection of traditional values of form and composition and an attitude and emotional tone expressive of alienation, inner turbulence, and modern urban life.

Ongoing developments in both representational and abstract art in the early twenty-first century may be indicated by the emergence of styles such as "new neurotic realism" and "new color field" painting.


For the most part, Reza's Art was enthusiastically received by critics and audiences alike. Praise for Art encompassed translations into some thirty-five different languages and productions throughout the United States, Great Britain, Europe, and other parts of the world.

Some critics of Art complained that Reza's play is essentially an uninformed and unfair disparagement of modern art in general. These critics felt that the white painting in the play is presented as an object of ridicule, thus implying that modern art in general is ridiculous.

However, many more critics and reviewers were quick to point out that the central thematic concern of Art is friendship and that the debate over art itself is primarily a catalyst for exploring interpersonal dynamics between friends. Ryan McKittrick observed in the Boston Globe, "Although some have considered it an attack on modernism, Art is more of an exploration of the ways in which friends influence, shape, and create fantasies of one another." Jayne M. Blanchard in the Washington Times likewise pointed to the play's consideration of the intricacies of friendship, commenting:

Miss Reza uses erudite discussions about art and the absolute nothingness of the disputed painting as a way to get into the messy stuff about friendships and just how hard it is to forgive someone who you suddenly realize thinks radically different thoughts than you do.

Vincent Canby similarly elaborated in the New York Times on the play's central concern with friendship rather than art, explaining:

As the play proceeds, it becomes increasingly clear that the concern of Art is the shifting power positions of the three men vis-à-vis one another. Each man makes demands that change the rules by which their friendship flourished and endured. Friendships are as fragile as alliances between great nations. They can't easily survive the kind of brutal, broadside, very frank assaults each of these fellows launches when feeling cornered by the other two. Each is ready to go to war to protect his only natural resource: his own carefully guarded sense of self.

Critics offered high praise for Reza's handling of the characterization and interpersonal dynamics between the three friends in Art. Ed Siegel commented in the Boston Globe, "Reza has done a skillful job of playing the three off each other." Anne Marie Donahue, also writing in the Boston Globe, opined:

All three men are often childish and sometimes stupid, but they are more appealing than repugnant because each is deeply hurt by the rupturing of his relationships. Hapless but emotionally engaged, Marc, Serge, and Yvan are compelling because they have the courage to care.

The comedic elements of Art were also very well received. In the Boston Globe review, McKittrick called the play "a comic gem," and Robert Hurwitt of the San Francisco Chronicle described it as "a brightly comic ballet of the intricacies of male psychology." Others applauded the comic elements of Art for being intelligent as well as humorous. In a New York Times review, Ben Brantley called it "a sleek, pleasant comedy of manners with an intellectual veneer," while David Patrick Stearns described it in USA Today as "a brainy, sophisticated play of ideas with lots of lowdown laughs."

Several critics commented on the play's broader concern with the stresses and tensions of life in the late twentieth century. In an interview, June Ducas quoted Matthew Warchus (who directed a production of Art in London) in the Times (London) as stating, "'Yasmina turns a shrewd eye on the human condition."' Rohan Preston of the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) observed that Art "probes the meaning of modernism and modern man." Siegel also noted in his Boston Globe review, "Art is less a trashing of contemporary art than it is a comic meditation on the indefinability and impermanence of life at the end of the millennium." Writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, Steven Winn also commented on both the universal appeal and the broad accessibility of Art, noting:

As the friends' churlish banter bubbles and boils over from scene to scene, Art addresses its big themes in ways that real people actually live them. As tough-minded and attentive to nuance as it is funny and familiar, this tightly written piece brings friendship, morality and civilization into the living room and sits them down in three white chairs.


Liz Brent

Brent holds a Ph.D. in American culture from the University of Michigan. In this essay, Brent discusses the different perspectives on art expressed by the three different characters in Yasmina Reza's play Art.

Much of the conflict between the three friends in Yasmina Reza's Art revolves around debates over aesthetic tastes and values and the role of art in society, culture, and individual experience. The central object of Art, of course, is the Antrios painting recently purchased by Serge for 200,000 francs (about $40,000). Most of the dialogue of the play revolves around or is sparked by each character's response to Serge's purchase of the painting. Ultimately, the Antrios painting in Art functions as a blank screen onto which each individual projects his own set of meanings. Through this process, each character expresses a personal perspective on art that has more to do with his own psychology and social relationships than with art itself. In the end, the three friends never really reconcile their different attitudes about art, but they do come to appreciate the shared values of friendship that transcend matters of personal taste.

Marc is very disturbed by the fact that Serge has bought the high-priced Antrios painting. His resentment of Serge's purchase of the painting is due to several sets of associations he has with the work. He tells Serge that he not only dislikes the painting itself, but he dislikes "everything it implies." Marc goes so far as to say, "it makes me physically ill that my best friend has bought a white painting."

Marc feels that Serge's purchase of the Antrios painting is an expression of his wish to associate himself with high society. Marc tells Serge, "you started mixing with the high end," and he regards Serge's new acquisition as an attempt to impress this new set of friends. Marc later describes it as an act of "sheer snobbery." The fact that Serge bought the Antrios painting thus represents to Marc a change in their friendship, as characterized by a drifting apart in their social milieu and, consequently, in their cultural tastes.

Marc's association of Serge's painting with cultural values to which he is opposed is ultimately a reflection of his insecure sense of self. In order to feel good about himself, Marc is dependent on having friends who agree with him and share similar opinions, tastes, and values as his. When Serge's opinions, tastes, and values shift away from his own, Marc feels he has been abandoned. For Marc, the painting is a rival for Serge's devotion and loyalty as a friend. Marc feels that Serge once looked up to him and idolized him; he accuses Serge of transferring his love and idolatry from his friend onto his newfound interest in art. Marc complains to Serge, "you've found a new family. Your penchant for idolatry has unearthed new objects of worship."

When Marc looks at the Antrios painting, he sees only white. He does not see any of the subtle variations in shade and tone that Serge and Yvan see in it. Serge explains that "Marc thinks it's white because he's hung up on the idea that it's white." What Marc sees in the painting is reflective of his way of dealing with his friendships. Rather than basing his friendships on who the other person is as an individual, he bases them on his own preconceived notions about what he wants that person to be.

On the wall of Marc's apartment is a landscape painting done in a style associated with art from several centuries ago. Yvan comments that Marc's "taste is classical, he likes things classical," and Serge refers to Marc's preference for older art in calling him a "nostalgia merchant." Marc's nostalgia for older art is a reflection of his feelings about friendship, in that he is nostalgic for the way his friendship with Serge and Yvan used to be in the past. Just as Marc is opposed to new developments in art, he does not like new developments in his friendships.

Serge holds a very different view from Marc's about the significance of the Antrios painting and his reasons for purchasing it. On one level, Serge has purchased the painting as a genuine connoisseur of art. He has an appreciation for this painting based on his broader interest in and knowledge of modern art. Marc seems to want to deny that Serge has any real interest in modern art itself, apart from its associations with a particular social milieu. Yvan, however, points out that Serge has been interested in modern art and in visiting art galleries for a long time.


  1. Conversations après un enterrement (Conversations after a Burial) (1987), Yasmina Reza's first play, concerns the dynamics of a family at their father's funeral.
  2. Reza's play L'Homme du hazard (The Unexpected Man) (1995) takes place in a train compartment on a journey from Paris to Frankfurt. Two middle-aged people, identified only as The Man and The Woman, sitting in the same compartment, experience internal struggles while silently yearning to make a connection with one another.
  3. In Reza's play Trois versions de la vie (Life x 3) (2000), one couple arrives for a dinner party at the Paris apartment of another couple, one day earlier than expected. Reza explores three different possible outcomes of this encounter.
  4. Abstract Art in the Late Twentieth Century (2002), edited by Frances Colpitt, includes essays by various critics discussing issues, styles, and major artists in contemporary abstract art.
  5. French Theater since 1968 (1995), by Bettina L. Knapp, provides a critical overview of developments and issues in contemporary French theater.
  6. Art since 1960 (2002), by Michael Archer, provides an overview of major developments in modern art in the late twentieth century.
  7. Art on the Cutting Edge: A Guide to Contemporary Movements (2001), by Lea Vergine, offers an introductory overview of avant-garde art in the twentieth century.
  8. Painting and Understanding Abstract Art: An Approach to Contemporary Methods (1964), by Leonard Brooks, provides instructions on how to create works of abstract art according to the principles of several major movements in modern art.

Serge does express pride in the value of his Antrios painting as regarded in the world of art museums and collectors. He proudly tells Marc that the owner of the gallery from which he purchased the Antrios painting would have been willing to buy it at an even higher price for his own private collection. Serge also proudly informs his friends that there are three Antrios paintings hanging in the Pompidou Center, a national art museum in Paris. He asserts that, compared to the Antrios paintings in the museum, "Mine's as good as any of them! If not better."

Serge's interest in the monochromatic, minimalist, abstract painting he has bought is also an expression of a general aesthetic of minimalism in other areas of his life. When Yvan first walks into Serge's apartment, he comments, "Your place gets more and more monastic." In other words, Serge's interior decor and furnishings in his apartment have become increasingly stripped down to the bare minimum. Serge later comments that he has stripped down other areas of his life to the bare essentials. Thus, the minimalist Antrios painting is clearly not just a purchase based on socioeconomic or cultural concerns but is also based on Serge's own personal aesthetic of how he wishes to conduct and organize his life.

Serge genuinely loves his Antrios painting for its content, as well. He is able to see subtle variations in color within the painting that Marc seems to overlook. Serge asserts that his painting is not just white and that he would not like it if it were just white. He explains that it has a white background but includes a whole range of grays in it and even some red. He describes a certain complexity in the emotional effect the painting has on him, describing it as "magnetic" and "resonant." Serge conveys his genuine love for his painting by comparing it to Marc's love for the woman in his life (Paula). He tells Marc that hearing him insult the painting would be equivalent to Serge insulting Paula. Serge exclaims:

And it never crossed your mind for a second, however improbable it might seem, that I might really love it and that your vicious, inflexible opinions and your vile assumptions of complicity might be hurtful to me?

For Serge, showing off his new Antrios painting to his friends is a way of sharing with them his excitement about being the owner of a valuable work of art that he also finds personally appealing. Because the painting means a lot to him on several different levels, Serge wants his friends to share in his pride and happiness over this new acquisition.

Yvan does not respond to Serge's new painting, based on preconceived attitudes about modern or classical art. Rather, his comments on the painting are based on his personal reactions to the content of the work itself, as well as his concern for how his response will affect his relationships with his friends. He is not interested in maintaining or arguing strong opinions about art but is more concerned with maintaining human relationships and lasting connections with the people he loves and cares about.

When Marc first tells Yvan about Serge's new painting, Yvan suggests that as long as the painting makes Serge happy, the quality of the work or how much it cost does not matter. When Yvan goes to visit Serge and sees the painting for himself, he and Serge are able to share a congenial laugh over the exorbitant price Serge paid for it. Yvan's ability to laugh with his friend demonstrates his greater concern with the personal interaction they are having than with putting forth a specific opinion of the painting.

Yvan is more open-minded and less judgmental than Marc in his response to the Antrios painting. Unlike his two friends, Yvan is willing to change and develop his perspective on the painting over the course of time. After seeing the painting for the first time, Yvan states that, while he does not love it, he also does not hate it. Later, he says that the more he sees the painting, the more he likes it. Early on, Yvan tells Marc that he was not personally moved by the Antrios painting. Later, he begins to say that he is "kind of … taken with it." Unlike Marc, who sees only white in the painting, Yvan sees "various colors," including yellow, gray, and "some slightly ochrish lines." He asserts that he is moved by these colors and that he finds them touching.

The fact that the motel painting that hangs in Yvan's apartment was done by his father suggests that his values in regard to art are based more on personal relationships than on intellectual ideas. Toward the end of the play, Yvan says that he has spent most of his life "dying of loneliness." Yvan's sensitive concern for his relationships with others is in part motivated by this sense of loneliness and his desire to connect with other human beings. Yvan is the one who bursts into tears when it looks like the friendship between the three of them has completely fallen apart. He exclaims that he is not interested in having an authoritative opinion of the Antrios painting but just wants to be a friend to Marc and Serge.

Yvan's perspective on Serge's Antrios painting ultimately reflects his perspective on friendship. He is not interested in opinions, arguments, or objectivity but on genuine emotion and lasting human relationships. His final lines in the play are "I can no longer stand any kind of rational argument, nothing formative in this world, nothing great or beautiful in this world has ever been born of rational argument."

Toward the end of Art, when Serge encourages Marc to draw on the white painting with a blue felt-tip pen, the impact of this act is striking. Because the painting comes to represent a rift between the two men, this action demonstrates a strong emotional statement about Serge's desire to repair the friendship. Serge is willing to indulge his friend in drawing on the painting in order to demonstrate that his newly developed social set and values do not mean that he no longer loves Marc as a friend. It is also significant that Yvan is the one who provides the pen. Yvan takes on the role of mediator between Serge and Marc, and the blue pen functions as the instrument of reconciliation between them. When later Serge and Marc work together to clean the ink-drawing off the painting, the activity demonstrates a period of truce and reconciliation in which their friendship has regained a renewed sense of purity.

Early in the play, Yvan comments that the Antrios painting is a genuine work of art with a "system" behind it. He elaborates on this statement in describing the painting as "the completion of a journey." Likewise, the ending of Art, and of "the evening of the white painting," represents the completion of a journey for the three friends. Marc is the character who learns the most from this experience, and the play closes with a poem he has composed that expresses his newfound insight into the significance of the painting.

Marc's poem describes the drawing he made with the blue pen on the white painting, in which "a solitary man glides downhill on his skis." The skier represents the individual on a journey of self-discovery. As more and more snow falls, "the man disappears back into the landscape." Marc continues, "My friend Serge, who's one of my oldest friends, / has bought a painting." He concludes his poem, and the play, adding, "It represents a man who moves across a space / then disappears." This image functions as a metaphor for a single, individual human life. Just as the skier makes a journey for a time and then disappears into the snow, so each human life is a journey that ends in death. Marc's closing words are hopeful, though, focusing not on death but on the idea that the painting has provided him with a new perspective on his journey through life and his place in the world.


Liz Brent, Critical Essay on Art, in Drama for Students, Gale, 2004.

Yasmina Reza with Pearl Sheffy Gefen

In the following interview, Reza discusses her approach to writing and the genesis of her play.

'I don't feel writing is my profession, I don't know what is my profession," confides Yasmina Reza with a gentle laugh. This from the award-winning Parisian author of two novels, four plays, a stage adaptation of Kafka's "Metamorphosis," and a major screenplay.

"I don't write a lot, it's very strange, but I can write anywhere, on anything. It's a great strength, that, so I'm always available for people and ideas." Reza is chatting perched on a red plush chair at a posh Left Bank hotel.

It's a sunny day in Paris and she orders a small lemon Perrier ($10 in a city where coffee costs $6 at a corner cafe). She's small and compact, a young late-30s, pretty in her chic suit, her French accent delicious. Her confident dark eyes smile, with a hint of world-weariness.

Two of her plays—Art and Conversations After a Burial—have already been produced in Israel, and she hopes her new play, The Unexpected Man (L'homme de hazard in the original French) will appear in Israel as well, "because I love that country." The work has already been a hit in Paris and London, and heads for New York in January, where it will star Nick Nolte and Eileen Atkins (Olivier award-winner as Best Actress in the London production). It opened in 1998 at the Barbican, in a Royal Shakespeare Company production, and then transferred to sold-out audiences on the West End. It has also appeared in other places, from Stockholm to South America.

It's about the gap between dreams and reality. Reza says, "I think dreams and desires are usually higher than reality." A man and a woman, the only characters, share the same train compartment travelling from Paris to Frankfurt. He is a famous author, she a huge fan. Most of the play consists of witty, insightful and often moving monologues as they muse about their lives and each other.

Reza's first novel was Hammerklavier. It appeared in 1997 and earned her an Academie Francaise award. Her second will be published in France this fall, with an English translation to follow. It's tentatively titled Une Desolation, "and it's difficult to tell you what it's about. It's a question I'm never able to answer." Her phenomenal hit play and 1998 Tony winner, Art, has been hailed in over 30 countries for its wit and wisdom, but Reza protests that "people laugh so much they miss some of the lines." She thought it was a flop on opening night in Paris. Pacing backstage, she confided in our interview, "I was completely depressed. I heard the audience laughing, laughing, almost from the first. I thought it's a catastrophe, the play is becoming stupid entertainment. I said if they laughed at a certain point later on, I'd jump out the window. Fortunately, they didn't."

Art isn't really about art. It's about men's friendship, honesty, the obsession with modernism and social status. It revolves around a white-on-white painting which Serge, a dermatologist, has bought for $50,000. This so irritates Marc that his contempt threatens their long-time friendship. Yvan, the third character in the play, vacillates, distracted by his own premarital mess.

After Art opened in France, French filmmaker Claude Berri showed Reza his own collection of all-white paintings by American Robert Ryman. Her reaction: "It's great decoration, very cool, but I absolutely don't understand how it can cost so much money." Christiane Lazard de Bord, a French-American artist who commutes between San Francisco and Paris, notes that "everyone has his own opinion on art, and there's a limit to honesty when it can hurt someone or destroy a friendship. In Art, the painting is just the trigger. The play is about how friendships fall apart over stupidity. And if someone feels he has to spend $50,000 to raise his social status, he's got a problem." Reza is part of the middle-class milieu she describes in her work. Art was born when a friend bought an all-white painting for a lot of money.

When Reza saw it, she laughed. Their friendship survived. "Oh yes, he is my very best friend, he loves the play absolutely. He was the first to read it. I asked him if I should correct anything in the way Serge speaks. He told me, 'No, unfortunately it's accurate.' He laughed a lot, and he still has the painting." Reza had written nothing but school essays ("which I did very well") when, in 1987, she penned her first play, Conversations After a Burial.

It won her the Moliere (French Tony) award as Best Author, as did her second, Winter Crossing, and her third, Art, which also picked up nine other prizes.

Reza had been an actress, but she was fed up waiting for juicier roles. "I wanted to express myself. I knew I would write well, though I'd never had experience. I loved the theatre, and I loved words, so it was logical to write for theatre." She might act again, but "since I became famous as a writer, nobody asks me to act anymore."

Reza was born in Paris, her mother a Hungarian violinist, her father a businessman of Spanish and Persian ancestry. His family's name was Gedaliah until the 19th century, "and the part of my family who eventually went to Israel returned to that name." The family had been forced from both Spain and Persia in turn when, as Jews, they declined to become, first, Catholic and then Moslem.

"Many Jews who remained in Persia changed their names to common Persian names like Reza, and pretended to go to the mosque but observed Judaism at home, a kind of Marrano as in Spain." Her father's parents took the name Rezaiov when they left for Russia.

Yasmina's grandfather, a travelling salesman, was in Moscow when her father was born in 1918, in the middle of the Russian Revolution. They fled again and arrived, penniless, in Paris. The strands of her ancestry tend to make Yasmina feel "an outsider, definitely, but that's good, it's a privilege, it doesn't make me sad at all." She admits that 90 percent of her work is autobiographical. Under the laughter, the themes are often deadly serious, and that mirrors her own nature. "I love to laugh, but that has nothing to do with being happy. Writing helps me survive. I don't believe in happiness. One can be content, but the moment I'm content, I don't write. I don't need to. I write when life is not enough.

"I am very gay and not a sad person, and I grew up with wonderful parents, in cultured and comfortable circumstances, but I was an unhappy child, for some reasons I know and some I don't know. It's nothing to do with my family. I've always known somehow that life is not easy, I was born feeling that life was sad."

Art was translated into English by British playwright Christopher Hampton (who also translated The Unexpected Man, working closely with Reza, and reworked again for New York. Reza says that American English is much closer to French than the language of Shakespeare's soil.

"English is a beautiful language, but in England, it's very formal, it doesn't allow invention. The American language is informal, keen to take influences, to invent words, as I write in French, so it was a real pleasure to adapt it into American." Vincent Canby of the New York Times wrote that anyone, even a baboon, could perform the roles "and it would still be funny." Reza disagrees. "I saw a bad production in Dusseldorf. The play looked stupid. The actors tried to be funny, which is a great error. The more sincere you look, the funnier you are." Her writing is economical. "I leave much of the subtext to silence. Plays by people with no experience on stage are often too wordy. I love great actors, and I know the less you give them, the greater they can be. They don't need everything spelled out.

"My way of writing is very intuitive, not intelligent, though it looks intelligent. I write from my intuition, my sense of freedom, my feeling for words and rhythm. Sometimes from my heart, but not very much."

Reza is working on a new play, and her screenplay, Lulu Kreutz's Picnic, about a chamber music group, will be enacted later this year in a film directed by her friend Didier Martiny. Reza also plays piano ("not very well"), raises her two children (girl of 11, boy of six) and "travels too much." She adds: "I am too busy now." Her plays have often been compared to Chekhov's. "Oh, at the beginning, they compared me with everyone," she shrugs, "Schnitzler, Natalie Sarraute, Pinter, the list is very long. I love Chekhov, and I think my first two plays have something of his atmosphere, but The Unexpected Man and the new play I'm writing are very different."

Reza worries about the ravages of time. "I have a fear of death for the people I love, not for my death at all. But I fear aging, I don't know what it will do to my dreams and desires. I fear everything that is a victory for time."

When her considerably older interviewer assures her that age has its distinct compensations, she listens in amazement. "I hope you're right," she sighs. "I would be very happy to be sure of that."


Yasmina Reza with Pearl Sheffy Gefen, "High Flyer with a Fear of Aging," in Jerusalem Post Online, October 8, 1999, pp. 1–5.

Arthur C. Danto

In the following review, Danto explores references to the "politics of aesthetics" found in Art.

L'art contemporain has become an incendiary ex pression in French discourse today, arousing anger and partisanship of a kind largely unknown in the United States, where "contemporary art" merely denotes the art being made these days. In April 1997, what had been a series of heated exchanges in various news papers and journals spilled over into a public disputation at Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where advocates of various positions sought to defend them before an exceedingly unruly crowd of about a thousand people, who drowned them out with shouts of "Nazi!" "Fascist!" and the like. It is not that contemporary art in France is especially more audacious or challenging than it is here. Nor are the French necessarily more passionate than Americans on matters of aesthetics. The difference, rather, is a bread-and-butter issue in France, where anything disparaging said about l'art contemporain might be heeded by politicians seeking ways of slashing budgets and wondering how France's heavy financial commitment to l'art contemporain can be defended in the face of high unemployment and a burdensome tax structure. L'art contemporain is subsidized in France to a degree undreamt of in America. The FNAC (Fondation nationale d'art contemporain) is charged with a triple mandate: identifying new talent, enriching the national patrimony by purchasing meritorious work for public collections and bringing aesthetic enhancement to public spaces. Very little of l'art contemporain is received with gratitude by its intended beneficiaries, though the assumption would be that experts on matters of art would be able to explain its virtues. But when the experts themselves turn against it, joining, so to speak, the hostile or indifferent public, politicians see a way of cutting costs without losing electoral support. And contemporary artists, facing the loss of subsidy, find themselves defending l'art contemporain against the public, the politicians and such renegade experts as Jean Clair, the director of the Picasso Museum, who expresses an exceedingly sour view of the direction art has taken.

Clair's intelligent and ironic arguments, were they published in an Op-Ed piece here, would at best generate a few carefully balanced letters to the editor. They would hardly detonate a near riot. In the United States, where government support for the arts is marginal to the point of nonexistence, nobody much cares what contemporary artists do unless it appears to violate some alleged standard of decency. It would be brash but doubtless true to say that none of our representatives ever read into the Congressional Record an indictment of monochrome painting, asking whether our taxes should go for this. Since the Armory Show of 1913, Americans have formed a stereotype of nutty artists making nutty but harmless art. In what country other than France, on the other hand, could its best-known contemporary artist (Daniel Buren) consider painting stripes an act of political subversion? In any case, the question of what is art, instead of something mooted in the dispassionate pages of philosophical journals, has taken on the stridency of street politics in France, where l'art contemporain is condemned for not being art—for being instead so much merde.

The widely appreciated play ART (just awarded a Tony as best of the season), by the Parisian playwright Yasmina Reza, is in part an allegory of the politics of aesthetics in France today. The action takes place in three apartments entirely alike except for three paintings, which express the philosophies of art of the play's three characters. The characters are copains—a word not entirely translatable into English since we do not quite have the relevant form of life: "Pal" is too casual and "friend" too close to mere acquaintanceship to convey not only the warmth and intimacy copains enjoy but the price one has to pay for these undeniable advantages. One can have friends in high places and pals from across the tracks, but copains cannot be separated by great social distances. Perhaps for that reason, copains tend to hold one another in behavioral orbit, in the respect that if one member of the group begins to give himself what the others perceive as airs, the relationship is put at risk, and must be defended. If a copain buys a new suit, the others will mark the purchase with a certain jocular equanimity. But if all at once he goes off on a tangent and buys a silk suit by Armani, the response will be: Who the hell does he think he is? Certain behavior is too wildly off the scale not to be regarded as a threat.

This is the case in ART when Serge, a fairly successful professional, purchases a painting for 200,000 francs (about $40,000) by an artist named Antrios, two of whose paintings—neither of which, Serge claims, are as good as his—are in the collection of the Centre Pompidou. Yvan and Marc—the other two characters—live with radically undistinguished paintings. Yvan's was painted by his father. Marc's is the kind only someone with the most conventional views of pictorial art would choose as decoration. But the news that a copain has bought an Antrios transcends the usual indulgent chafing copains let themselves in for. "Suddenly, in some grotesque way," Marc tells Yvan, "Serge fancies himself as a collector.… From now on, our friend Serge is one of the great connoisseurs." Hence, Serge acts as if he is no longer "one of us." The play is a series of confrontations in which, finally, a way is found to assimilate the threatening Antrios to the conception of art that Marc understands. Thus the allegory of l'art contemporain is played out against the copain relationship as an allegory of French society.

It is remarkable that a play so steeped in French sociology should export as easily as ART, first to England, where the play was a great hit, and now to New York, where it is likely to be in place for a long time. Part of the reason for its popularity is the comedy of its conflicts, and the aesthetic bafflement generated by Serge's acquisition—an all-white painting, spontaneously characterized by Marc, and at a certain moment by the conciliatory Yvan, as "a piece of s——." One could (just) forgive a pal who spent $40,000 on an Old Master. An Old Master would recognizably belong to the same overall genre of pictorial representation as Yvan's and Marc's paintings. Marc adopts the indignant voice of a letter writer to the provincial newspaper when FNAC has imposed an all-white painting on the local museum. The comedy of Marc's ultimate conversion lies in the fact that the clever playwright finds a way of getting him to view the painting as a picture—as, so to speak, an imitation of an all-white reality.

The ancient theory that art is imitation can accommodate a monochrome painting providing it mimics a monochrome reality, which means that the very idea of the monochrome picture gives rise to various jokes. (Early in the action, Marc asks Serge, "Where's your sense of humor? Why aren't you laughing?")

In 1897, Alphonse Allais published a portfolio of seven monochromatic images under the title Album primo-avrilesque (April Foolish Album). Each of the differently colored images is displayed in an engraved ornamental frame, without which they would look more or less the way color chips do in the sample charts that paint stores give out. Allais's humor consists in finding a title that describes a monochrome reality of which the chips can be understood as representative. Thus the all-white painting is First Communion of Chlorotic Young Girls in Snowy Weather, a reading quite close, as it turns out, to the one Marc arrives at of Serge's painting. The all-red painting is Harvesting Tomatoes by Apoplectic Cardinals on the Edge of the Red Sea. The all blue painting is Astonishment of Young Recruits Upon First Perceiving Thy Azure Expanse, O Mediterranean! And so on. Allais's album implies a parlor game in which participants imagine chromatically indiscernible images that imitate, hence are "of," different realities. Albino Mountain Troops Crossing the Rhone Glacier would look just like the painting of the snowed-upon girls in communion frocks. But it is difficult to imagine that Allais could have had a real art-world target in mind. Monochromy had been available for literary exploitation since at least 1760, when Laurence Sterne displayed a black square as an emblem of death in Chapter 12 of Tristram Shandy. But it could not represent a serious option for the visual arts at that time. In a 1912 parody of the austere philosophical journal Mind a blank page was titled "The Absolute," doubtless in reference to the philosophy of F.H. Bradley. But even at this late date, art history had not quite evolved to a point where monochrome painting could actually be made without it being a joke.

My favorite monochrome joke comes from Kierkegaard's Either/Or, published in 1848, when monochrome painting could not have been nonhumorously considered as possible. Kierkegaard invented an aphorist, who writes:

The result of my life is simply nothing, a mood, a single color. My result is like the painting of the artist who was to paint a picture of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea. To this end, he painted the whole wall red, explaining that the Israelites had already crossed over, and that the Egyptians were drowned.


This suggested to me the possibility of two paintings, entirely alike, one of which was a psychological portrait of a monochrome mind and the other a seascape in the same genre as Allais's azure Mediterranean. I went on to imagine an exhibition consisting of about eight all-red canvases, each a picture or a different reality but looking entirely the same. It was essential to include an all-red canvas that was simply a canvas painted red, with no more claim to be a painting than a painted wall has, and ipso facto no claim to picture anything. The difference between this painted square and the remaining square paintings was a different kind of difference from whatever distinguished one from another of them. And I wanted to understand this difference, since the art world had begun to fill up with works of art that could not be told apart from what I termed "mere real things." In the seventies, when I began to think about these matters, it all at once seemed possible that anything could be a work of art. My problem was (and is): What makes this possible when there need be no visual difference between what is art and what is not?

Let us now return to ART, and the all white painting, which, so far as I can make out, has no title (if it had one, it would probably be Untitled, perhaps with a number indicating the order in which it was painted relative to Antrios's others). It turns out that Marc has taken in a great deal of visual information when he stood scoffing in front of the work. It is not quite an undifferentiated white expanse. He describes it to Yvan:

MARC: Imagine a canvas about five foot by four … with a white background … completely white in fact … with fine white diagonal stripes … you know … and maybe another horizontal white line, towards the bottom.…

Yvan: How can you see them?

MARC: What?

Yvan: These white lines. If the background's white, how can you see the lines?

MARC: You just do. Because I suppose the lines are slightly gray, or vice versa, or anyway there are degrees of white! There's more than one kind of white!

Those just-discernible white-on-white lines serve, in the course of the play, as a means by which Marc can pictorialize the painting, and so accept it as not all that different from his own painting. He finds a way of preserving the theory that art is imitation.

At a climactic moment, Marc and Serge come to blows, unintentionally hurting Yvan, who consistently illustrates the cynical thesis about no good deed going unpunished—he tried to come between them. At this point the adversaries are in a bind. Serge can go with his painting, leaving his copains behind. Marc can remain Serge's copain only by accepting the painting as legitimate. As if to show that friendship is finally more important to him than art, Serge hands Marc a blue felt-tip pen (borrowed from Yvan, who has just gone into the stationery business) and Marc, after a dramatic pause, all at once defaces the Antrios. He draws a line deliberately from the upper left to the bottom right of the canvas—and then, facing the work, he scribbles something we cannot see until he moves. What he has drawn is a rather crude skier, as it were gliding down the hill. The audience reaction is fascinating. When Marc draws his first iconoclastic line, the audience draws in its breath the way it would were someone's throat slashed on stage. I found this exceedingly reassuring. It showed that a New York audience still attaches a certain value to art that it is not entirely certain is not a joke. By contrast, the recent slashing of a second Barnett Newman in the Netherlands has not, like the first, evoked expressions of shock in the Dutch art world. The attitude, event—or perhaps especially—among Dutch intellectuals, has been that the Newman, which is close to a monochrome blue painting, "had it coming": that a painting like that is merely elitist. That is what gets said about l'art contemporain in Paris. That's the kind of thing Patrick Buchanan tried to say in the 1992 presidential primaries, when he attacked the NEA. It is clearly not the view of those who have been attending ART. I felt that if the NEA were put to a referendum, its enemies would be routed.

Clearly, the diagonal had been obsessing Marc from the beginning, and he saw a way to pictorialize the painting by tracing it in blue. It gave him a way of claiming the painting for his own. The skier was an afterthought—a way of nailing his interpretation down. In a rather poetic soliloquy, which ends the play, Marc says:

Under the white clouds, the snow is falling.
You can't see the white clouds, or the snow.
Or the cold, or the white glow of the earth.
A solitary man glides downhill on his skis The snow is falling.
It falls until the man disappears back into the landscape.
My friend Serge, who's one of my oldest friends, has bought a painting.
It's a canvas about five foot by four. It represents a man who moves across a space and disappears.

It is, according to Marc, like the Jews and the Egyptians in the painting of the Red Sea. The former have left the space and gotten to the other side, the latter have entered the space and drowned. Tranquillity reigns, as before the Exodus. Pictorialization decontemporizes l'art contemporain. We all know how to deal with pictures, once we know what they resemble.

Critics have questioned one of the premises of the play. The idea of the monochrome painting belongs to the classical phase of advanced art in this century. It made its appearance in the Suprematist movement of Malevich, around 1915. The implication is that Serge's painting is out of date, and that Marc is out of date and out of touch as well. The cover of the British translation of ART's script shows a canvas with three parallel slashes. It looks like a work by Lucio Fontana, who attacked the surfaces of his canvas in a physical way, perhaps in order to draw attention to the fact that they were physical rather than illusional: Those were real slashes rather than trompe l'oeil depictions of real slashes. Fontana thus rendered any impulse to pictorialize his canvas unfulfillable. Without the possibility of pictorialization, ART could not end. I am not certain one could touch a Fontana today for a mere $40,000. Marc would have found Serge's slashed canvas, had he found one, "a piece of s—t." And the return to friendship would have been out of the question.

Meanwhile, monochrome painting has never been more alive than it is today. Robert Ryman, one of our major painters, scarcely paints anything else. I just got a notice of a show of reddish squares by the artist Marcia Hafif, which I look forward to seeing, having followed her work for years. How are we to appreciate their works, and others like them? There is no single right answer; we have to take them one at a time. The only wrong answer, at least since 1915, is pictorialization. I don't know if Yasmina Reza knows this, but that is of no importance. Her contribution, aside from having composed an amusing play, is to have caused her audience to draw its breath when a work of art is attacked. I wonder what the reaction was in France?


Arthur C. Danto, "Art, from France to the US," in Nation, Vol. 266, No. 23, June 29, 1998, pp. 28–31.

Stefan Kanfer

In the following review, Kanfer asserts that ART "fails to live up to the promise it dangles at the opening."

A successful French dermatologist, Serge (Victor Garber), radiates a newfound pride and self-confidence. And why not? He has just acquired the oil painting of his dreams. Not only that, he has obtained it at the bargain price of 200,000 francs (about $40,000). Beaming, he shows the work to his friend of 15 years, Marc (Alan Alda), an aeronautical engineer. The reaction is not exactly what Serge expected. Marc takes a close look at the objet d'art—a white-on-white canvas measuring 5′ by 4′—and exclaims, "You paid 200,000 for this piece of s—t?" With that put-down we are off and limping in the three-man play, ART, at the Royale Theater.

The third member of the trio is Yvan (Alfred Molina), a dark-voiced, sad-eyed bourgeois who openly confesses that he knows nothing, and wants to know nothing, about art. What is he, after all, but the undereducated manager of a stationery supply house? Nonetheless his two friends ask him to arbitrate. Have Serge's pockets been picked by an unscrupulous gallery owner, as Marc proclaims? Or is Serge right? Is Marc a philistine, fearful of anything new and daring, stuck forever in the bland, secure esthetics of the past? Does he hate the painting, or is he jealous of it, because it signifies Serge's recently developed independence from received ideas?

Yvan, distracted by his own approaching nuptials, wants to maintain good relations with both opponents. To that end he affects to find truth on both sides—a stance that only serves to irritate Serge and Marc. Moment by moment the old relationships deconstruct right in front of our eyes. Long-simmering resentments are unearthed, backgrounds are scathingly critiqued, fault is found with families and personalities and habits—all because of this monochromatic abstraction.

An interesting subject for a playwright: Someone puts oil on canvas, it is then represented by a gallery, a patron buys the work, and suddenly it takes on a life and character of its own, upsetting all those who surround it. Unfortunately, Yasmina Reza is not the one to give us that play. Whether she has the wit or intelligence to create such a drama is moot; certainly ART fails to live up to the promise it dangles at the opening.

In the first place, the Abstract Expressionist painting itself is all wrong for '90s Paris. The one-color canvases of, say, Barnett Newman, belong to '50s New York, when it was still possible to shock the public. It was also a time when insecure parvenus were easily fleeced by merchants. These con artists sold not only merchandise, they sold an idea: The more expensive the work, the greater its creator. Since then, the market in paintings and sculpture has risen and plummeted like an elevator in the Eiffel Tower. Granted, works of art are still validated by their price tags. But both buyers and sellers are far warier and more sophisticated than they used to be.

In the second place, Reza has not written her bickering copains with much attention to detail. Apart from his opinion about the painting, Marc differs from Serge only in an addiction to homeopathic pills. These he pops at every opportunity—a comic device that wears itself out within a quarter of an hour. Yvan differs from the better educated pair only in his chapfallen look, and in one long monologue about the politics of families. This speech, delivered expertly, is nowhere near as funny as an average solo on Frasier, available gratis every Tuesday night on NBC.

Moreover, when the inevitable reconciliation occurs (Serge allows Marc to disfigure the canvas), the event seems wholly unmotivated. These men have not only mocked each others' taste, they have savagely attacked each other's likes and loves, wives and girlfriends, professions and amusements. After such knowledge, what forgiveness? The reason for the happy ending is as manipulative as it is simple. No matter how unpleasant the personal skirmishing, this intermission-less 90-minute sketch aims to send its audience out in a feelgood mood.

Within the exceedingly restricted limits of ART, the actors do very well indeed. Alda is the personification of wounded arrogance ("I've been replaced by this painting and everything it implies"); Garber, a rising star who can now be seen as the ship's designer in the film Titanic, balances adroitly between self-assurance and insecurity; and Molina, a walking shaggy dog story, neatly pilfers every scene he enters. Christopher Hampton's translation from the French is fluent and idiomatic, and Mark Thompson's costumes and set design have the elegance of illustrations in a coffee-table book. Reza's lines, though, are about as deep as the text in one of those volumes. Matthew Warchus, who directed the likes of Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay in the London production, has a musical sense of timing; the cast at the Royale Theater often reminded me of the cello, violin and piano in a Haydn trio. A pity that the score is never equal to the players.


Stefan Kanfer, Review of Art, in New Leader, Vol. 81, No. 3, February 23, 1998, pp. 22–23.

Celia Wren

In the following review, Wren praises Reza for probing "the ambiguities of art and affection in scenes that are taut, ingeniously structured, and often hilarious."

It is hard, it is hard indeed," a bored theater critic intones in Tom Stoppard's comic masterpiece The Real Inspector Hound, "and therefore I will not attempt, to refrain from invoking the names of Kafka, Sartre, Shakespeare, Saint Paul, Beckett, Birkett, Pinero, Pirandello, Dante, and Dorothy L. Sayers." Shortly after firing this salvo of allusions at the derivative potboiler he is watching, the reviewer finds himself swept helplessly across the footlights, to his doom. Criticizing art is a dangerous business.

Three decades after Stoppard sentenced his critic to death by drama, two delightful new plays from across the Atlantic have picked up on the theme of aesthetic peril. Yasmina Reza's Art is cerebral and tightly woven, an inspired construct of ideas and banter; Conor McPherson's leisurely and enigmatic Saint Nicholas develops organically around a few evocative images. But both works comment incisively on the experience of being a critic—not a professional phrase-monger, necessarily, but anyone who wields an artistic opinion in the face of a hostile or indifferent world.

The protagonist of the one-man play Saint Nichols is, in fact, a theater critic, a world-weary alcoholic whose enthusiasm for show business is less substantial than the foam on his beer. After years of churning out withering commentaries, this decaying Dublin hack (Brian Cox) feels both torment and relief when a play—or, more accurately, a player—finally makes an impression. Smitten with an actress in a mediocre production, he forsakes career and family, follows the lady to London, and, as one might expect, falls in with a crowd of … vampires.

Wait a minute! From a character study anchored in Dublin's theater district, whence the inexplicable detour through Anne Rice territory? Up-and-coming Irish playwright McPherson has acknowledged that the idea for Saint Nicholas came to him in a dream; not surprisingly, the monologue merges incommensurates with oneiric nonchalance. Lovers of form will scorn the work for its dreamlike shapelessness. But lopsided stories can have more charm—and even, in a way, more solidity—than narratives with Tiffany contours. Perfect shape smacks of insincerity, while a straggling plot invites belief, since it can have no other justification but truth.

And if any actor can tempt us to swallow McPherson's concept, it is Cox, a craggy, mesmerizing actor whose voice is so thrilling he could transfix listeners by reciting the ingredients on an aspirin bottle. (He was recently sighted in the films The Boxer and Desperate Measures.) Savoring the lines, delivering phrases with idiosyncratic but perfectly chosen shifts in speed, Cox dared the audience to doubt he was the wayward Dublin critic. Apart from a few chairs and milkcrates, the production (directed by McPherson) boasted no set, but the actor moved as if a tangible past surrounded him: a bar packed with wary actors, or dawn-struck vampires melting from a garden littered with bodies.

Cox has a supremely confident stage presence: at one press preview, he delivered a minute or two of the monologue while perched calmly on the armrest of a scribbling reviewer. The artistic authority he exuded underscored one theme linking Saint Nicholas's vampires to its thespians: the relationship between opinion and power.

Professional critics are vampires, the play suggests: they prey on creativity, and grow stronger by sapping artists' strength. Never self-sufficient, they revel in their ability to instill fear. McPherson even hints at how easy it is for critical pedantry to eclipse real understanding: a surefire way to escape vampires, it turns out, is to fling a few handfuls of rice at them. Compulsive connoisseurs of detail, the vampires (critics) will be glued to the spot, oblivious to the broader landscape, until they have counted every last grain.

Aesthetic verdicts wreak yet more havoc in Art, the brilliant comedy by French playwright Reza. Launched on the road to international success when Sean Connery's wife saw it in Paris in 1995, Art was recently a hit in London under the direction of Matthew Warchus, who is also responsible for the stylish, perfectly paced New York production. (The English translation is by playwright/screenwriter/director Christopher Hampton.)

It is hard to know which aspect of Art to admire more: the concept, or the execution. Reza has balanced ninety minutes of human and intellectual insight onto a witty premise: three men—devoted friends for years—find their relationship crumbling after one of them buys a white-on-white painting. The brooding Serge (Victor Garber) thinks the painting is brilliant. The irascible Marc (Alan Alda) thinks it is a joke. Yvan (Alfred Molina), always a moderate, comes down in the middle, to the fury of the other two. As the trio lurches ever closer to violence, the canvas becomes a window onto aesthetic, linguistic, and emotional abysses.

Capitalizing masterfully upon this conceit, Reza probes the ambiguities of art and affection in scenes that are taut, ingeniously structured, and often hilarious. Profundities skim by like ping pong balls. Does an art work have inherent value, or is value created by the market, or the era—or by a spectator's caprice? Is there such a thing as disinterested friendship? How about absolute truth? Are modern artists trying to pull one over on us? And is there any delicate way of disposing of olive pits?

Reza gauges the temperaments of her characters with a surgeon's precision, and the script's ever-changing currents of anger, resentment, and sympathy create astonishing suspense in a play that is basically one long discussion. The dialogue has the paradoxical versatility of an optical illusion: Serge, Marc, and Yvan criticize each other by criticizing art, and each betrays himself when attacking the other guy. And their quibbles over words and concepts (Is it the white in the painting, or the idea of whiteness, that is so upsetting?) could admit them to a deconstructionists' convention.

From the opening moments, when Alda peers at Serge's painting, tilts his head, takes off his glasses, steps back, and peers again, expertly-tuned performances by the three stars keep the intellectual debate churning beneath histrionics and deadpan comedy. Indeed, the production is a testament to the way set, lighting, costume, acting, and direction can work together to turn a script to best account.

Mark Thompson's stylized design gives the visual composition a tinge of antinaturalism. The set's stark, unnaturally high walls, dwarfing the actors, flavor the scenes with absurdism reminiscent of a New Yorker cartoon. Three contrasting chairs—one hyper-modern, one antique, and one somewhere in-between—serve as both furniture and symbol. (This set represents the apartment of each of the three friends in turn, with alterations of lighting and the substitution of a single painting making it echo the personality of each man.) Even the actors' matching costumes—blue shirts and ties beneath black suits, for example—subtly undermine the realism.

As Serge, Marc, and Yvan sputter over the tenets of art, the production calls attention to the fact that they themselves are fabrications. Think twice before announcing your critiques, it seems to warn the audience: you may yourselves embellish some tableau whose features you cannot perceive.


Celia Wren, Review of Art, in Commonweal, Vol. 125, No. 9, May 8, 1998, pp. 15–16.


Blanchard, Jayne M., "Painting Friendship in a Corner," in Washington Times, October 20, 2001, p. D2.

Brantley, Brent, "Sometimes the Eye of the Beholder Sees Too Clearly for Its Own Good," in New York Times, March 2, 1998, p. E1.

Canby, Vincent, "Two Reminders of What Theater Is All About," in New York Times, March 8, 1998, p. B1.

Donahue, Anne Marie, "Stage Review," in Boston Globe, July 27, 2001, p. D12.

Ducas, June, "Three Men and a Lady," in the Times (London), October 5, 1996.

Evans, Everett, "3 Views on Art Paint Clever Play," in Houston Chronicle, June 1, 2000, p. 1.

Hurwitt, Robert, "San Jose Rep's Near Gives Art a Fresh Interpretation," in San Francisco Chronicle, May 20, 2002, p. D2.

McKittrick, Ryan, "Merrimack, Trinity Offer Two Kinds of Art," in Boston Globe, May 19, 2001, p. F3.

Nightingale, Benedict, "Friends in the Frame," in the Times (London), March 21, 1997.

———, "The High Price of Friendship," in the Times (London), August 7, 1998.

———, "Introducing a Fine New Set of Friends," in the Times (London), July 31, 1997.

Preston, Rohan, "Male Friendship Finds Open Canvas in Art," in Star Tribune (Minneapolis), February 17, 2000, p. 4B.

Reza, Yasmina, Art, translated by Christopher Hampton, Dramatists Play Service, 1996.

Siegel, Ed, "Art Draws a Squiggly Laugh Line," in the Boston Globe, March 9, 2000, p. F1.

Stearns, David Patrick, "On Broadway, Art for Art's Sake," in USA Today, March 2, 1998, p. 1D.

Warchus, Matthew, quoted in June Ducas, "Three Men and a Lady," in the Times (London), October 5, 1996.

Winn, Steven, "Picture Perfect," in San Francisco Chronicle, September 23, 1999, p. E1.


Heller, Nancy G., Why a Painting Is Like a Pizza: A Guide to Understanding and Enjoying Modern Art, Princeton University Press, 2002.

Heller offers a creative approach to helping the reader understand and appreciate works of modern art.

Laidman, Hugh, How to Make Abstract Paintings, Viking Press, 1961.

Hugh provides an introduction to the ideas, styles, and methods of creating abstract paintings.

Lamar, Celita, Our Voices, Ourselves: Women Writing for the French Theatre, P. Lang, 1991.

Lamar discusses the works of major French female playwrights of the twentieth century.

Lucie-Smith, Edward, Movements in Art since 1945, Thames & Hudson, 2001.

Lucie-Smith provides an overview of major developments in modern art since World War II.

Nairene, Sandy, ed., Art Now: Interviews with Modern Artists, Continuum, 2002.

This collection includes interviews with modern artists, including Antony Gormley, Howard Hodgkin, Rachel Whiteread, Julian Opie, Mark Wallinger, and Martin Creed.

Ryan, David, ed., Talking Painting: Dialogues with Twelve Contemporary Abstract Painters, Routledge, 2002.

Ryan alternates essays by various critics on contemporary abstract painters with interviews.


views updated May 11 2018


This article discusses art and religion as well as art and Christianity.


The historic beginnings of religion, magic, and art are irrevocably lost, although it may be assumed that all three belong to the cultural heritage of homosapiens from the earliest times of their existence. Prehistoric finds clearly demonstrate the existence of art in Paleolithic times. There is no such incontrovertible evidence for the very early existence of religion and magic, although this existence can be deduced with a fair degree of probability from certain prehistoric data. However, it must be noted at once that our knowledge of religion and magic in prehistoric times never goes further than more or less plausible conclusions based on analogy. Direct knowledge concerning the manifestations of the human spirit begins with the invention and development of writing, that is, from the last part of the 4th millennium b.c. Hence, while the history of art may well start with Paleolithic art, as long as it is confined to stylistic and aesthetic studies and does not attempt to interpret the spiritual content of prehistoric art forms, a comparable history of prehistoric religion and magic is not possible. Prehistoric finds furnish at best only indirect knowledge of prehistoric religion and magic, as all finds have to be interpreted in the light of religions known through history or modern observation.

The foregoing preliminary remarks must be kept in mind in discussing the connections between art, religion, and magic. In this section, magic and religion will be considered as one complex whole. There is no sharp dividing line between magic and religion, although a progressive differentiation in both directions may be observed. There is, however, a clear difference between religion and sorcery in its many forms, but the facts do not justify the view that primitive or archaic religions are made up wholly or mainly of elements of magicthe word magic being taken here in its usual and popular sense.

Distinction between Art and Religion. In most cultures art and religion are closely connected. Nevertheless, unlike religion and magic, which are interwoven and interdependent, art and religion form two clearly differentiated manifestations of the human spirit. Both transcend the rational limits of the human mind, and both depend heavily on the possibilities of symbolic representation of a spiritual reality envisioned in, behind, or above the material world of the senses. Without the possibility of symbolic representation, art can be nothing more than a duplication of material forms, and religion has to be silent. In both art and religion man can feel himself to be in communication with the inexpressible infinite. In both, humanity tries to break through the frontiers of existence.

Even though in recent times art has more than once been proposed as a substitute for religion, it can never replace religionexcept perhaps in the case of a few exceptional individuals. Art, even when it serves religion, is essentially concerned with beauty and with beauty only. It is self-evident that beauty in this context is not meant to be identified with any historic ideal of beauty, as, e.g., the Greek, but is meant to express the specific concern of art, the truth of art. Art as such is autonomous. Religion, on the contrary, in one way or another always offers a coherent whole on which man can base his present existence and, if necessary, his hereafter.

Although there may be ethics without religion, there is certainly no religion without ethics. A work of art may be completely without ethics, for instance, a landscape, a flower piece, a still life. The quest of art is the quest for beauty; religion is always concerned with God or gods and the reality of the divine in whatever form this conception may be symbolized. Looked at in this way, religion is autonomous. Although art and religion may collaborate, and have done so extensively in fact, both are to be regarded as autonomous fields of human spiritual endeavor. A work of art as such is not to be judged by any religious or ethical standards, nor is religion to be judged by criteria of beauty. It is clear, in practice, that other considerations may intervene, since art and religion both must function in a community and in a society that cannot be atomized or divided into a number of watertight compartments. The secondary character of such considerations, however ought to be clearly understood.

Art and Magic. Many elements of religion have been misinterpreted as magic. Elements such as hunting rites, fertility ceremonies, and many others, are here considered to be religious and not magical. With this in mind, it may be said that the relations between art and magic are far less close than those between art and religion. This is not difficult to understand, for, while religion is a social as well as an individual phenomenon, magic is in nearly all instances strictly personal, or at the most is practiced by a small minority group. It may perhaps be better described by the terms sorcery and witchcraft. On this point E. Durkheim is right in his sociological distinction between religion and magic: there is no église magique.

In every culture art is produced by artistseven though they need not be professional artistsand they often serve their society by serving religion. In many cultures, in fact, the production of art is connected mainly with religious purposes. Artists seldom have reason, however, for putting their gifts at the service of magic. Hence, the paraphernalia of sorcery are usually the home products of the performers of magic themselves, irrespective of their artistic talents, as can be demonstrated in any ethnographic or folkloristic museum. The waxen images of European sorcery, to mention one convincing instance, were not fashioned by professional sculptors but by sorcerers, lay or professional, themselves. Moreover, art is generally meant to be seen, and art in the service of religion can, as a rule, be seen by the religious group as a whole and not merely by a restricted number of persons. Magical art, on the other hand, is not meant to be observed and inspected but is often kept hidden or secret. Hence, magical figurines, for example, are usually much poorer artistically than religious ones. All great art in primitive cultures is religious art; or, if it is not religious in the full sense of the word, it has a social function as a mark of status. In any case, it may be considered as participating in religions values.

Religion and Art in Primitive Cultures. In primitive societies most art has either a religious or a social function. Art for art's sake does not exist. When a work of art has a social function, there may be indirect connections with religion. Accordingly, royal insignia are more than merely symbols of status; they belong to the sphere of religion as participating in the sacred position of the king. Other insignia, too, may have a religious value, e.g., the ceremonial adzes from Mangaia (Polynesia), which are shaped in such a way that they are useless for any real work, but serve to indicate the special place of the skilled craftsmen in the service of the god Tane. Among the Dan tribes (West Africa) masks have a religious function, but masks may be used also to implement the power of a chief. Utensils, weapons, and other objects may be ornamented with sacred motives that remind the user of religious concepts. Most utensils from the Geelvinkbay area (northwest New Guinea) are ornamented, in the local

Korwar style, with a small human figure representing an ancestor and, in this way, rendering the ancestor present in the daily life of his descendants. Practically everything made by the Dogon (western Sudan) and related tribes bears an ornamentation consisting of religious symbols. A zigzag line signifies the principle of duality that pervades the whole universe and is, at the same time, a reminder of the spiral movement of the unfolding of creation. By such ornamentation even the humble tools of everyday life are placed in the context of the sacred.

In primitive art there is no clear dividing line between the sacred and the profane. Only a few objects, if any, are completely free from connections with religion. This should not be interpreted to mean, as is often done, that all primitive art is religious art.

Art Objects in Their Functional Relations. For a better understanding of the religious art of the nonliterate peoples it is necessary to study the function and significance of the individual objects in the context of their own

cultures. While it is possible to arrive at an aesthetic appreciation of primitive art without possessing specialized knowledge, it is clear that religious understanding is not possible without a thorough study of the whole cultural background. A people of hunters has a type of religion that differs from that of an agricultural tribe; the culture of an island in Melanesia is far different from that of an Inuit tribe in the high North or from that of a West African monarchical state. All these differences in cultures and religions are reflected in their art. It is impossible to mistake a mask from New Ireland (Melanesia) for one of the Yoruba (Nigeria) or to confuse it with an Inuit mask from Alaska. Nor is the function and significance of the mask in all three cases exactly the same.

Within a given culture it is of importance to know whether an object may be part of anyone's private possessions, such as an amulet or some kinds of oracles; or whether it belongs to the sacred possessions of the whole community, as is, for instance, a mask used and shown in a ceremony that is generally accessible to all; or whether it is the prerogative of some person or group of persons to have and use such objects, as is the case with the paraphernalia of the priest and of the shaman and objects that are the exclusive possession of a secret society. Among the Azande (southern Sudan) the rubbing oracle is generally in use, but only their Mani secret society possesses the small figurines, called yanda, that preside over the oracles of this society.

It is important, too, to know whether a given object is meant to be used and kept for as long a time as possible, as, e.g., the image of a deity, often made from stone or hardwood for that purpose, or whether it has been produced to serve only for a short period. In that case it is often made of more perishable material, such as light wood or even less permanent materials. This is true of many masks, dance ornaments, and other ceremonial paraphernalia that are made for use in one ceremony and must be replaced by new ones the next time the same ceremony is to be performed. In some cases the term of life is not fixed in advance. The Korwar ancestor figures from the Geelvinkbay area are used and preserved as long as the ancestor represented through the medium of the Korwar manifests himself as helpful, but may be thrown away or sold without much ado as soon as the ancestor shows himself unwilling to help his descendants.

It is likewise important to know under what kind of conditions a work of sacred art is shown and observed. It makes a difference whether a statue or mask is meant to be seen clearly in the full light of day or only vaguely in the flickering light of the fire, or whether it is meant to be seen from nearby, to be touched, perhaps, or to be viewed only from afar. To judge a mask, it is necessary to know to what kind of full costume it belongs. The form of some statues can be understood only if it is known that they are kept partly wrapped up and that the shape is adapted to that purpose.

Importance of Attitudes and Attributes. Knowledge of attitudes, attributes, and symbolic ornamentation is indispensable for the understanding of primitive religious art. The Dogon have figures with the hands raised to indicate the attitude of praying to the powers of heaven. Many African statues show a woman pressing her breasts, a gesture of loving motherhood. One type of canoe ornament of the Solomon Islands (Melanesia) consists of a prognathic head and a pair of arms. Such figures, which were fastened to the prow of the large war canoes, represent the protecting spirit of the headhunting expedition. These figures sometimes hold a head in their hands. This signifies that the head they go out to hunt has already been cut off by the protecting spirit of the expedition. In a few cases, the figure holds a bird instead of a

head, but the meaning is the same, for the bird is the soul bird and can thus substitute for the head. A few statues from the Bapende (Kwango region, Congo) have been found that represent a woman, the so-called "woman of power," and were originally placed on the hut of the chief of the village. They represent the first wife of the chief. In her right hand the woman holds an ax, in the left one, a bowl. The ax is a deviation from the original meaning, as it is the misrepresentation of an agricultural tool for hacking open the ground, an attribute serving as a symbol of the fertility of the fields. This change probably took place under the influence of the significance of the bowl. At the ceremony of the installation of a new chief a human sacrifice was made and the bowl was used for holding the blood.

Significance of Symbolism. Symbolism is one of the most prominent features of primitive religious art, and it can be present in various ways. In some instances it is indicated by a combination of heterogeneous elements that are held together by an underlying idea. Knowledge of the religious conceptions behind such combinationswhich are often strange to usis the only key to their understanding. There is a type of mask from the Inuit of Alaska representing an animal and its inua (soul). A seal and its inua, for instance are represented by the combination of a recognizably realistic figure of a seal combined with a human face because the inua of a seal, being a spirit, is thought to be of a more or less anthropomorphic shape. There are comparable masks of other animals, of birds, and even fish, such as the salmon. A large type of mask in use among the Senufo (Ivory Coast) is often called a firespitter because burning tinder may be placed in the open mouth. It is emphasized in the ceremonies of the Korubla anti-sorcery society and combines the characteristics of various animals, such as the hyena, wart hog, antelope, and sometimes other elements. All species represented in this type of mask are of importance in the mythology of the Senufo.

Symbolism in Morphological Characteristics. Symbolism may be found in morphological characteristics. A type of mask in use among the Bambara (western Sudan) during the initiation ceremonies for boys of the Ndomo society has a very large nose and an extremely small mouth or no mouth at all. In the symbolism of this people the nose is the organ of social contact. A large nose symbolizes full participation in the social life of the community. The mouth, the organ of speaking, on the contrary, is made as small as possible, for in the mouth lies danger

for a man: "The mouth is the enemy of the man" is an utterance found in a Bambara sacred chant.

Symbolism in Ornamentation. Many examples from native North American tribes have been collected by F. Boas in his well-known book Primitive Art. He describes, e.g., the hood of a cradle board of the Cheyenne on which, in various colors and ornamental forms, the life of the child has been symbolically expressed. The white background designates the sky and life. A strip, bounded by blue lines, running down the middle of the hood is meant to represent the path of life of the child lying in the cradle. Here, again, use is made of color symbolism: green for growth and development; yellow for maturity and perfection; red for blood, life, and good fortune.

The Inuit of Alaska have masks surrounded by a number of rings, each of which designates one of the spheres of the universe that encompass our world.

A very rich symbolism is connected with masks of the Dogon. One type, the kanaga mask is characterized by a double-armed cross (Lorraine cross) on the top, the symbolism of which is explained by M. Griaule in a number of publications. The esoteric meaning is that it represents a species of bird in flight, and this is what is told to the young members of the Awa, the community of all those who are entitled to wear a mask and to participate in the masked ceremonies. In the esoteric meaning the double-armed cross is connected with the myths of creation that play a prominent role in all religious speculations of the Dogon. This symbolism is explained to the members of the Awa only in a later stage of their membership. They are then told that the double-armed cross is derived from a half swastika, which symbolizes the creator pointing upward to heaven with one arm and downward to earth with the other, thus indicating that he has created heaven and earth. The statues from this tribe exhibiting the same attitude ought perhaps to be interpreted in the same way. The half swastika is still at rest, but to bring forth order out of chaos the creator had to move. This movement is conceived as rotary, the spiral movement described in another version of the creation myth. Thus the half swastika is duplicated and now assumes a completed form, the symbol of a rotary or spiral movement.

The development of the swastika into the Lorraine double-armed cross remains unexplained, but it may be surmised that the resemblance to a human being in the fully developed form is the main source of this development. The supposition is supported by the further symbolism connected with this type of mask, for the double-armed cross is interpreted also as a representation of the world. The world, according to the religious philosophy of the Dogon, is said to be in the shape of a man, as is made clear in another part of their myths of creation.

Symbolism of Numbers. Number symbolism is also present in primitive religious art. Among the Bambara, horned masks are in use during ceremonies of initiation. The horns themselves, as in African art generally, symbolize force and fertility. Horns may be compared to vegetation: they push up from the head as the vegetation rises from the earth. The growth of plants and trees is a sign of the forces of fertility residing in the earth; in the same way, horns demonstrate the force innate in many animals. D. Zahan has found in the Ndomo society of the Bambara masks with two to eight horns. Two is the number of duality. It also reminds human beings of their dual nature: in body they are animals, but they possesses also reason and intelligence. Three is the number of masculinity, spirit, activity, etc. Four is that of femininity, the material nature of humanity, passivity, and suffering. Five reminds humanity, because of the five fingers of the hand, of the need to work. Six is the symbolic number of knowledge and instruction. According to the Bambara, human beings have six senses: hearing, sight, smell, taste, feeling and the sense of orientation. Seven designates the integrity of the human personality: each is partly male and partly female (the same conception and the same symbolism is found among the Dogon) but is integrated into one indivisible whole. Seven symbolizes humanity also as created to live in community in a society, and the smallest cell of society, marriage, is symbolized by this number as well. Eight, the highest number employed in this series of symbolic numbers, expresses the principle of renewal embodied in humanity: as an individual destined to die but who may rise immortal from death, as is taught by the Kore society and represented dramatically in its rites.

Arbitrary Character of Symbols. Some symbols in primitive religions and art can best be explained psychologically, as has been shown by the researches of Freud, Jung, and many others; but most of these symbols can be understood only as more or less arbitrarily chosen or invented signs. They must be interpreted in the context of the religion and culture of which they constitute a part. A symbol of the first type, to give one instance, is that of the mother goddess among the Ibo (southern Nigeria); it consists of a pot filled with water. Symbols of the second type, consciously chosen images, are often combined into complexes of interrelated symbols that can be read, once one possesses the necessary data, in a way comparable to that in which the solution of an allegory, or sometimes even a rebus, is worked out. This can be demonstrated convincingly by a concrete example from the culture of the Asmat Papuans (southwest New Guinea). The Papuans of the Asmat area live in a country of extensive swamps. Their world consists mainly of water and mud, and of trees. In their religious world view, human being and tree are closely related: a human is a tree, and a tree is a human. Human and tree are not completely identified, but they are so closely related that they can stand as symbols, the one for the other. If one now starts by comparing a man to a tree, it is reasonable to compare the fruit of a tree to the head of a man; the shape of the coconut especially is well adapted for this comparison. Then, again, one can compare the eating of fruit to the ritual act of head-hunting as practiced among these tribes. When the comparison has gone as far as this, one may employ also the black, fruit-eating birds, like the black cockatoo and the hornbill, as symbols of the Asmat head-hunters, who are black as well, and this is what is actually done.

Rules Governing the Production of Religious Objects. The person who fashions the objects for religious purposes must often submit to special rules. He may have to practice sexual abstinence for a time, and certain kinds of food may be prohibited. The rule is practically universal that sacred objects must be made in secret. On the Ivory Coast the sculptor retires into the bush when making a mask, because women and uninitiated children are strictly prohibited from seeing his workin any case before it has been finished. Their viewing of his work would cause failure on his part or would be an evil omen generally.

Other rites, too, may be performed. Small sacrifices are offered and ceremonies performed when cutting down a tree. In Hawaii a human being was sacrificed when a divine image was to be made. Special values may be attached to certain materials and special demands may be made concerning the materials used. In West Africa gold was sacred. Certain species of trees may be regarded as sacred, as, e.g., in Indonesia, and their wood may be considered as especially well adapted for religious purposes. Among the Iroquois (colonial New York) masks were worn for certain ceremonies. The wood for these masks had to be cut out of a living tree in such a way that the tree did not die afterward. Thus, the vital force of the wood was kept intact.

Religion and Art in Myths. The close connections between religion and art may receive explicit mention in myths regarding the origins of sculpturing, painting, or other forms or techniques of art. As a rule, the myth tells that some divine being was the first to practice the particular art and that he then taught it to human beings or, in the case of a deified ancestor, to his descendants. A myth of the Baluba (Katanga, Congo) narrates how Nkulu teaches the making of the small figurines in use in this tribe to ward off illness and other kinds of ill luck.

In summary it may be stated that any view of the relations between religion and art in prehistoric times rests on assumptions, some rather plausible, some very tenuous. The theories on the relation of prehistoric religion and art reflect for the most part the theories on primitive religion and art in force at the same time and in the same school.

Separation of Religion and Art. The close relations between religion and art in some cultures tend to become less close as the progressive differentiation within a culture takes place. In less complex cultures religion is the main client of the artist. Chiefs and other persons of authority come second, but their power and dignity are still intimately connected with religious values. Utensils, tools, weapons, and other objects of everyday life may attain the beauty of an object of art, and this beauty may be considered very important, but no need is felt, in either the house or the village, for objects serving merely the purpose of decoration. The situation changes when further development results in social and economic changes through which religion as patron of the arts becomes less important. Religious changes, too, may have the same result, as in those parts of Europe that became Protestant. Authority, too, became gradually more secularized.

Art under New Patronage. On the other hand, a new class of patrons comes forward, demanding the services of the artist to decorate its houses, gardens, cities etc. While some of this decoration may still be of a religious character, much of it is bound to be completely secular: portraits painted or carved, sculptures and paintings commemorating special events of family life or of the life of the nation, etc. Through this development the purpose of a work of art becomes less clearly circumscribed than it once was, and the way is opened to a purely aesthetic appreciation of art for art's sake. This aesthetic tendency is evidenced, for example, in the collecting of art objects, first the pastime of princes, then that of the rich, and now in part an activity of the state. In a collection or museum the objects of art are completely divorced from their original practical purposes. Except for some forms of modern art, they are completely divorced also from their original function and stripped of all values except the aesthetic. This process is now spreading very quickly throughout the world. In a comparable way religion has been driven away or excluded from many fields that in the past it could consider its own, and it has been compelled to concentrate more on its own specific values and categories.

Opposition between Art and Religion. While usually art and religion go together, history reveals instances also of enmity between art and religion, as, on the one hand, iconoclasm, and on the other, the propagation of art and beauty, as such, as rivals of religion. These clashes, however are of less real significance than the relations between both. They are not so much conflicts between art and religion as such but are based rather on disagreement between a specific type of religion and a specific type of art.

Bibliography: c. h. ratschow, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (3d ed. Tübingen 195765) 4: 126131. k. dittmer et al., ibid. 131161. h. g. geyer, ibid. 161165. a. halder et al., Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 195765) 6: 682687, with bibliog. f. boas, Primitive Art (New York 1955). g. van der leeuw, Sacred and Profane Beauty: The Holy in Art, tr. d. e. green (New York 1963), with bibliog. h. read, Icon and Idea (Cambridge, Mass., 1955). a. leroi-gourhan, "Préhistoire," Histoire de l'art 1 (Encyclopédie de la Pléiade; Paris 1961) 192. j. guiart, "Océanie," ibid. 15871635. g. balandier, "Afrique noire et Madagascar," ibid. 17431829. m. griaule, Folk Art of Black Africa, tr. m. heron (New York 1950); Masques dogons (Paris 1938), with bibliog. d. zahan, Sociétés d'initiation Bombara (Paris 1960). t. p. van baaren, Bezielend Beelden: Inleiding tot de beeldende Kunst der primitieve Volken (Amsterdam 1962). a. malraux, Psychology of Art, tr. s. gilbert, 2 v. (Bollingen Ser. 24; New York 194951).

[t. p. van baaren]


The relationship between art and Christianity has had profound influences on the development of painting, architecture, sculpture, and the minor arts. It has produced a vast deposit of iconographic schemes and influenced both the theories of aesthetics and the artistic procedures of artists themselves. This article considers only the general relationship of Christianity to the artist and his artistic production; it attempts to present some of the more important ways in which Christianity is related to the arts.

Christianity and Art in General. The artistic production of humanity preceded Christianity by many thousands of years, and, since the beginnings of Christianity, it has existed alongside of and, for the most part, independent of Christian influence in large geographic areas of the world, e.g., countries of the Far East, such as China, Japan, India, and Malaya; all the regions of North and South America up to the time of modern history; and the larger parts of Africa. The first Christian influences on art occurred during the early Christian period in northern Egypt, and in and around Rome and Constantinople. During the Middle Ages this influence gradually spread throughout Byzantium, western and central Europe, and the British Isles. A high sophistication of art under Christian influence was achieved in Europe during the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance; following the Counter Reformation and baroque art this influence gradually waned and, by the 19th century, had lost its inner vitality. Modern efforts at renewal on the part of Christians began in the late 19th century in Europe and spread to North America in the 20th century.

In order to examine the relationship of Christianity to art as manifested in this development, art is taken first in its most general meaning in Western thought as an intellectual virtue directive of the skilled making of things [see art (philosophy)]. The influence of Christianity on the practice of art may be examined then under two aspects: the actual making and the maker himself.

The Making of Things. Human making (both of tools and of things) is rooted in the desire to satisfy human needs, which are determined by the urge to survive and by the will toward perfection. Such needs are dictated and evaluated by the aims that humanity consciously sets for itself and that give meaning to human existence. The virtue of art is the developed aptitude of making things properly; and, insofar as human existence is recognized as being dependent on God and ordered to union with Him, art is at once endowed with religious significance.

Christianity with its clear teaching on creation and on the ultimate purpose of human activity as the glory of God, as well as on the immortal destiny of man, emphasized the intimate and natural relation of art to religion. In common with other religions it helped humanity to see nature as the language and instrument of God, as full of His presence and as sharing in His power and beauty. To this it added the realization that humanity was participating in the work of creation and enabling it to attain its end. Art could thus be seen as endowed with cosmic purpose and with a dignity exceeding that of the object made.

The Maker or Artist. The sense of dependence on and of union with God, which is so central to the great world religions, was presented by Christianity as a dependence based on creation rather than myth; this implied that at every moment all things and all actions continue to depend on God for their existence. The Christian could view all productive activity as a certain cooperating with God "in whom we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17.28). Human making could thus be seen as sacred and significant not only in its object and end but in its source, the human person as sustained and moved by God. However, the artist's view of himself in Christianity may not be isolated to a single concept; it was colored in the East and the West with shifting theological and philosophical speculation. By the time of the Renaissance art was profoundly influenced by the Christian insistence on the dignity of man. The human being was seen as a creature, made in the image of God, intellectual and free, with an immortal soul directly created by God and destined for eternal union with Him. Thus the Renaissance artist was able to produce an image of the Christian world and its beliefs that was permeated with the light of reason and carried the imprint of the dignity of Christians.

Christianity and the Concept of Art. Concepts of art emerge reflectively through the interest of philosophers, artists themselves, and in modern times through the work of art historians and critics. Contemporary concepts of art in Western thought vary considerably and often bear the influence of concepts inherited from Christian tradition. In order to examine some influences Christianity has wielded on theories of art, considerations are presented here first under the aspect of beauty and then under the aspect of the art process.

Beauty. A Christian synthesis of Jewish thought and of Greek thought from Plato to Plotinus on beauty in relation to God is already found in St. Augustine and the Pseudo-Dionysius. It formed a tradition that had a profound influence on the art of the Middle Ages and was clearly formulated in the 12th-century school of Chartres (see de Bruyne). Its speculation on number, light, proportion, and order was realized especially in the Gothic cathedral. This tradition saw beauty, in its formal elements, as verified most fully in God, and as shared from God to creatures, so that the beauty of finite things was seen as stemming from God and as apt to raise the mind of the beholder to the contemplation of God. To see beauty as a divine perfection is to stress its spiritual nature, or at least to ensure that it will not be identified entirely with its sensible forms. The transcendent character of beauty was thus strongly affirmed by Christian thought, all the more so since created beauty was seen as sharing in the perfection of the Creator.

The humanity of Christ was, moreover, exalted as the supreme beauty of the created order, and that beauty was regarded as shared and manifest to varying degrees in the sensible realities of the world. Beauty was thus more closely linked with God and valued because of that link. The Incarnation was seen as an exemplar that elevated all created and visible forms of beauty.

This Christian teaching on beauty strengthened and helped deepen the vision and enhance the function of the artist. It implied that to make a beautiful thing is to make something sacred; "every good painting is noble and devout of itself, for it is nothing more than a copy of the perfections of God and reminiscence of His own painting" (Michelangelo, as recorded by Francis of Holland in his Four Dialogues on Painting; Fr. tr. L. Rouanet, 1911, 2930).

The Art Process. The Greek and Neoplatonic notion of the formation of things from an eternal matter by a demiurge looked to subsistent ideas as prototypes to serve as an illustration of the human process of artistic making. The demiurge, however, was conceived as being inferior to God, to whom action could not be attributed. It was St. Augustine who, on lines suggested by Philo and Plotinus, identified the eternal exemplars with ideas in the divine mind, and thus conceived of God's activity as supremely artistic. It was possible to conceive of God in this way only when the notion of creation had been accepted from revelation.

The Christian concept of God's creative activity, while affirming a great difference between divine creation and human making, drew attention to the intellectual side of the artistic process, to the stage now known as conception or idealization. By attributing art in its supreme form to the creation of the universe by God it ennobled and enhanced the analogous human activity of artistic creation and the status of those who exercised it.

Speculation on intra-Trinitarian life and the Incarnation also served to deepen the analogy between God as Creator and artist as creator. The Son of God was seen as the revealed word, the Idea born from all eternity in the mind of the Father, by which and in which all things were created. He was thus seen as the Supreme Art or the Perfect Image of the Father, the Idea by which all things were made (Aquinas, In 2 sent. 16.1. ad 2; De ver. 1.7). The Incarnation gave a supreme exemplar of what the work of art can be. Not only is the Word made flesh, the Idea given a visible form, but the flesh is spiritualized and made the outward sign of the invisible Godhead. From this point of view the art process was seen as analogous to the Incarnation, and at the same time the symbolical character of art was thrown into relief. Considerations such as these permitted Dante to sum up the Christian notion of art in his immortal words: "sì che vostr' arte a Dio quasi è nipote" (so that your art is to God, as it were, a grandchild, Inferno 11.105).

Christianity and the Content of Art. In any consideration of content in art it is important to distinguish between the subject matter and the content of a work. A subject treated by an artist in the Renaissance may be quite the same as that treated by a Byzantine artist. However, the manner of conception deriving from different social, theological, geographical, and technical factors produces a content in one somewhat different from that in the other. Thus the person of Christ may be conceived by the Byzantine artist theocentrically in terms of hieratic power and executed in an otherworldly planal structure with a strict symbolical hierarchy of organization. The Renaissance artist, on the other hand, may interest himself more in the humanity of Christ divinized through dramatic heroic power and thus present Him as a believable figure in a rationalized space displaying active moral concern and emotional force. The manner of conceptualization employed by the artist enters the content of the work. Throughout Christian cultures in different geographic areas and at different times, shifting theological emphases have colored the content of Christian themes as they are presented in Christian art.

That Christianity has provided art with new and specific subjects is obvious in the vast deposit of Christian iconography. The primary source of such subjects was the Bible, especially the Gospels, in the presentation of the life, death, and Resurrection of Christ. The events of the life of Mary, her sorrows and her assumption and glorification, were favorite subjects of art in all its forms; so too were the lives, and especially the miracles and martyrdoms, of the saints; the Church herself, usually through some symbol; the Sacraments; the Last Judgment; heaven; and hell (see mary, blessed virgin, iconography of; jesus christ, iconography of; saints, iconography of).

Christian art represented humanity in the light of its supernatural destiny, showing human life as guided by the New Law and as consisting essentially in the exercise of the virtues. The various states of life and the different vocations of humanity in the Christian order were frequent subjects for artistic presentation, just as the main human activities were shown in their religious significance, usually through connection with a patron saint.

This does not imply that visible nature was excluded from Christian art, as though such art were concerned with a spiritual reality divorced from the sensible world. The Augustinian tendency in theology, with its Neopla-tonic heritage, invited man to turn away from bodily manifestations of beauty in order to gaze on spiritual beauty and thus to gain almost an intuition of God (see St. Augustine, Trin., Patrologia Latina 42:949, 950; St. Anselm, Proslogion, PL 158:225). But the insistence of Christian realism, as formulated by St. Thomas on the ground of Aristotelian thought, on the sense origin of all knowledge, taught men rather to find beauty first among finite things and then to rise to a purified knowledge of the beauty of the spirit and of God. The more severe and purely symbolic forms of early Christian art gradually gave way to more realistic and naturalistic forms (e.g., the introduction of landscape into painting), which opened up the whole of nature for artistic use.

Christian Art. Art within Christianity has been a vital part of the mainstream of Western culture and, like other areas of human endeavor, is in process. As such, its characterizing qualities and its aims are subject to continuing discussion. Questions of whether or not there is a Christian art in a strict and proper sense of the term have been raised in the context of the modern renewal in sacred art. The problem has been sharpened by the use within the Church of purely abstract art that is not distinguishable from certain works one might see in museums far removed from the immediate interests of formal religion. The attitude one takes in regard to the nature of Christian art depends largely on the angle from which one approaches the question and on the philosophical framework within which it is considered.

The scholastic philosopher will presumably approach the question of Christian art by asking first of all whether there is any such thing, for it can well be maintained that art remains just art whoever may happen to practice it, whether Jew or Hindu or Christian or otherwise. It can be argued that art is essentially the same, whatever the beliefs or conduct of the artist. One does not speak of a Christian mathematics or medicine. The arts and sciences have their own laws and standards; to qualify them or restrict them in any way would seem to interfere with their essence, to spoil their purity and to limit their freedom.

On the other hand we do in fact speak of Christian art, though not of Christian geometry. We speak of a Christian literature, of Christian painting, sculpture, architecture, and music that are recognized as such.

The common assumption that art can be called specifically Christian when its subject matter is drawn from Christianity is narrow and derives from an inadequate understanding of content in art. On this assumption, the difference between Christian and other forms of art would be purely external (iconographic). Much less can one define Christian art in terms of technique or style, except perhaps in the historical sense that certain styles have in fact evolved in a Christian context. To limit Christian art to fixed forms, as pugin, who would lodge the Christian ideal only in a Gothic-styled architecture, is to stifle art and to relegate it to stylism.

If we regard art, insofar as it is art, in the scholastic sense of a naturally acquired intellectual virtue of the practical order, it is one and the same in all men whatever their creed or culture. Art, in its formal constituents, is as unaffected by one's belief as it is by one's conduct.

Art, however, should not be viewed only in relation to its own proper object and in its formal elements, but as placed in the stream of activity issuing from the person of the artist, as a vital power at the service of that person, and as affected by the status or manner of being of the artist. Art is more affected than philosophy and the sciences by this influence. The sciences, in search of truth, are determined by their object, and seek to conform to things as they are; hence they are predetermined in their very nature. Art is practical, and rather than conform itself to what is, it seeks to mold reality to its inner form. Art begets its own form, which it molds in conjunction with existing elements; its object is partly within the artist himself so that art is much more free than science. It will, to a far greater extent, be the expression of the inner life of the artist, communicate his vision, glow with his feeling and embody his ideals. Where art and architecture have been molded from a Christian vision of the world as distinct, for example, from a primitive vision of the world, we can speak of that art as Christian. The science of iconology, which attempts to interpret the meanings underlying structure and iconographic motifs, is best equipped to determine the formative Christian elements in a specific work.

Insofar then as art bears the imprint and shows the influence of its existential Christian setting it can be regarded as a distinctive kind of art with a modality proper to itself. The question has been raised whether this Christian modality may be present in the work of the non-Christian artist who executes a work of art for specific Christian use, or who selects Christian themes. One thinks, for instance, of Matisse and the Stations of the Cross in the chapel at vence. To the extent that such artists effect the Christian conceptions attempted in such works one can speak of their art as Christian.

See Also: liturgical art, history of; church architecture.

Bibliography: General. f. a. r. de chateaubriand, Génie du christianisme, 2 v. (new ed. Paris 1885; repr. 1936), Eng. Genius of Christianity, tr. c. i. white (7th ed. Philadelphia 1868). a. ghignoni, Il pensiero cristiano nell' arte (Rome 1903). a. fabre, Pages d'art chrétien (new ed. Paris 1920). j. sauer, Wesen und Wollen der christlichen Kunst (Freiburg 1926). p. gardner, The Principles of Christian Art (London 1928). l. brÉhier, L'Art chrétien (2d ed. Paris 1928). e. gill, "Christianity and Art," in Art-Nonsense (London 1929). m. s. gillet, Le Credo des artistes (Paris 1929). Atti delle Settimana d'arte sacra per il clero, 5 v. (Vatican City 193338). c. costantini, L'istruzione del S. uffizio sull' arte sacra (Vatican City 1952). e. i. watkin, Catholic Art and Culture (rev. ed. London 1947). b. champigneulle et al., Problèmes de l'art sacré (Paris 1951). j. monchanin, De l'esthétique à la mystique (Tournai 1955). m. a. couturier, Se garder libre: Journal, 194754 (Paris 1962). Particular. j. aumann, De pulchritudine, inquisitio philosophico-theologica (Valencia 1951). j. camÓn aznar, El tiempo en el arte (Madrid 1958). c. bell, Art (New York 1958). w. g. collingwood, The Art Teaching of John Ruskin (London 1900). e. de bruyne, Étude d'esthétique médiévale, 3 v. (Bruges 1946); L'Esthétique du Moyen Âge (Louvain 1947). m. eliade, The Sacred and the Profane, tr. w. r. trask (New York 1959). É. h. gilson, Painting and Reality (Bollingen Ser. 35.4; New York 1957). a. little, The Nature of Art (New York 1946). j. b. lotz, "Christliche Inkarnation und heidnischer Mythos als Wurzel sakraler Kunst," Archivio di filosofia 3 (1957) 5578. j. maritain, Art and Scholasticism, tr. j. w. evans (New York 1962); Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry (Bollingen Ser. 35.1; New York 1953); The Responsibility of the Artist (New York 1960). a. m. monette, La Beauté de Dieu (Montreal 1950). f. piemontese, Problemi di filosofia dell'arte (Turin 1962). f. von schlegel, Ansichten und Ideen von der christlichen Kunst, v.6 of Sämtliche Werke, 15 v. (2d ed. Vienna 1846).

[a. mcnicholl]


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Hailed by the Edinburgh Review upon its publication in Britain in 1820 as forming "an era in the literature of the nation to which it belongs," Washington Irving's The Sketch Book (1819–1820) established its author as the first successful professional writer in America. The Sketch Book presents a miscellaneous assortment of stories, sketches, and essays held together by little more than the rambling inclinations of its bachelor narrator, "Geoffrey Crayon, Gent." In his opening self-description, Crayon characterizes himself as "a lover of the picturesque." Having "wandered through different countries and witnessed the shifting scenes of life," he disavows "the eye of a philosopher" and sees himself as a modern tourist and amateur practitioner of the "sister arts," whose verbal "sketches" are meant simply for the entertainment of friends (p. 745).

Crayon's thumbnail self-portrait gives readers a clearer sense of the actual concerns of his book. "My heart almost fails me," he admits, "at finding how my idle humour has led me aside from the great objects studied by every regular traveler who would make a book." He then compares himself to "an unlucky landscape painter, who had traveled on the continent, but following the bent of his vagrant impulses, had sketched in nooks and corners and bye places" while neglecting "to paint St. Peter's or the Coliseum; the cascade of Terni or the Bay of Naples" (p. 745).

No better assessment of the book's appeal could have been anticipated by an author so consistently attuned to the domestic concerns of an emerging middle-class audience. That audience would award The Sketch Book overnight acclaim and enduring influence. In renouncing heroic history while promoting the pastoral and picturesque, helping to shape a taste for the novel, the romantic, the nostalgic and sentimental, Irving (1783–1859) served up a delicious concoction for an increasingly literate and avidly curious public. This public was no longer defined in neoclassical terms—as resolutely masculine, aristocratic, and impersonal. In an age of widening prosperity and vaulting individual achievement, it was now engaged in a quest for cultural moorings. Key to Irving's achievement was his pronounced pictorial sense, bringing to fruition a cultivation of the age-old analogy between literature and painting that had characterized the eighteenth-century British gentleman. Written for a public engaged in capitalist expansion, The Sketch Book allowed its readers to luxuriate in fantasies of a traditional society whose members knew their place, while offsetting class and status anxieties through associations with a landed aristocracy.

Thirty-seven years later, Herman Melville (1819–1891) published "The Piazza." Beneath its rather ornate and mannered surface, the story savagely mocked what had by then become a commonplace of American culture. Melville explicitly linked the cult of the picturesque and the quest for home, only to turn this popular version of cultural ideals and aspirations inside out by deconstructing the very nature of illusion and desire. Taking Irvingesque refuge from the modern urban world, his narrator removes to the Berkshires, purchasing an old-fashioned farmhouse fronting Mount Greylock—a "very paradise of painters." As he notes, "the country round about was such a picture, that in berry time no boy climbs hill or crosses vale without coming upon easels planted in every nook, and sun-burnt painters painting there" (p. 1). But alas, the house is without a piazza, that perfect symbol of middle-class pretensions, and the narrator puzzles over which side of the building to construct one, opting for the northern vista of the mountain over a southern exposure to warm breezes. The piazza is, as he tells us, a surrogate for the pew: love of scenery has become a substitute for religious worship. But Melville also aligns aesthetics with politics: his narrator sides with the French king in the democratic revolutions of 1848.

In any case, once situated before a rather austere and alien prospect, he becomes entranced with "some uncertain object I had caught, mysteriously snugged away, to all appearance, in a sort of purpled breast-pocket" (p. 4). The tendency to see the world as a series of carefully composed and suggestively detailed pictures—central to the picturesque aesthetic—provokes him to embark on an "inland voyage to fairyland." But after toiling up the mountainside, he encounters only "a little, low-storied, grayish cottage, capped, nun-like with a peaked roof," ensconced in a sublime setting, "among fantastic rocks." There he meets a "pale-cheeked girl" named Marianna to whom, after a prolonged silence, he manages only to say, "You must find this view very pleasant" (pp. 8–9).

Her response brings home instead a stark tale of suffering and woe. "Never, never shall I weary of this," she remembers first thinking on coming there. But things are different now. Her subsequent experience has been one of loss, isolation, monotony, and hard labor: "mostly dull woman's work—sitting, sitting, restless sitting" (p. 12). While listening to her, the narrator suddenly recognizes his own abode, far below: "The mirage haze made it appear less a farmhouse than King Charming's palace." Underscoring this moment of acute irony, the girl reveals her longstanding fascination with this vision: "Oh, if I could but once get to yonder house, and but look upon whomever the happy being is that lives there!" In the face of this uncanny revelation, the narrator can only declare, "Enough. Launching my yawl no more for fairy-land, I stick to the piazza. It is my box-royal; and this amphitheatre, my theatre of San Carlo. Yes, the scenery is magical—the illusion so complete." Yet for all his trumped up air of resolution, he must end on a sardonic note, forever after haunted by the girl's face "and many as real a story" (p. 12).


By grappling with the darker, drearier aspects of the brave new world of capitalist expansion, Melville called into question the very home Americans yearned for as a pastoral/nostalgic evasion. For over three decades, what Donald Ringe called "the pictorial mode" dominated American approaches to representation, sugar-coating the pill of progress and undercutting the ideology of the picturesque. Notwithstanding Melville's lonely dissent, the pictorial mode continued to preside over the American cultural establishment for another couple of generations, reaching apotheosis in the publication of the massive two-volume Picturesque America in 1872, under the editorship of the venerable William Cullen Bryant (1794–1878). It would be years before the picturesque turned eventually into the byways of kitsch and camp.

Along with Irving and the novelist James Fenimore Cooper (1789–1851), Bryant formed a triad of leading literary pictorialists, canonized in 1971 by Ringe's Pictorial Mode. As Ringe took pains to show, the style clearly derived from a theory of how we know the world promoted by the Scottish Common Sense school of moral philosophy, a staple of American higher education in the early national period. Writers like Thomas Reid and Dugald Stewart, widely read by practitioners of the picturesque mode, held that "knowledge of the external world came only through sensation," leaving "nothing in the mind that was not first in the senses" (Ringe, p. 3).

These ideas were derived from the empirical tradition of the English philosopher John Locke. However, Locke's "simple ideas" suggested an underlying uniformity of perspective. Conversely, the Scottish clergyman Archibald Alison's Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste (1790), not only emphasized the role of associations but based perception as well on the particular experience of the reader or beholder of a natural prospect or work of art in shaping the feelings of beauty and sublimity. Just how a viewer reacted to a landscape depended on whether, for instance, she or he had grown up in the country or the city. Crucial to Alison's model of taste was the capacity to relax attention, suspending rational and analytic faculties and leaving behind practical concerns in order to engage in "a kind of bewitching reverie, through all its store of pleasing or interesting conceptions" (quoted in Ringe, p. 5). One entered a wonderfully restorative half-sleep that allowed free play to memory and affect. Pleasure as well as social prejudice thus took the lead in bringing one to moral insight and even spiritual transport.

The pastoral, along with romance, had long upheld this role of pleasure in western literature and art. In associationism it gained a resourceful ally, imparting color and personal affect. Reliance on the presumed universality of sensation promoted by Lockean empiricism would increasingly be challenged by this emerging subjective dynamic. Nonetheless, for proponents of the picturesque, a commitment to the solidity and uniformity of the natural world continued to hold the upper hand, offering a middle ground between the established categories of the beautiful—grounded in symmetry, serenity, and the social virtues—and the sublime, involving a devotion to wild nature, with its dialectic of terror and transport. Natural objects were necessarily linked, after all, to particular ideas and emotions, providing the foundation for a stable notion of correspondence between nature and spirit. Still, if identification with landscape constituted a kind of "home-coming" for Americans, their feelings remained deeply divided between an earnest search for universal truth and the subjective aesthetic response to the particulars of place and time.


Here, indeed, was the foundation for a powerful ideology that naturalized a socially privileged way of interpreting nature, enabling devotees of art and landscape to "forget," as Kenneth Myers put it, that they had actually learned the mental skills enabling them to respond to nature morally and aesthetically (in Miller, American Iconology, p. 74). Painting played a central part in this process of naturalizing what had actually been socially constructed. Along with Bryant, Irving, and Cooper, the American romantic painter Thomas Cole (1801–1848), born in England, believed that going into nature afforded the opportunity of listening to the divine monologue. A painting by Cole of a sublime panorama in the Catskills or a poem by Bryant describing a picturesque forest interior turned this religious motive into the leading instigation of landscape representation. Hence Asher B. Durand's (1796–1886) Kindred Spirits pictured Bryant and Cole standing together in the Catskill wilderness in what appeared to be a forest chapel. Painted in 1849, following Cole's death, the scene is replete with the imagery of transcendence, suggesting how these two figures assumed a kind of prophetic vocation, seeing themselves—and widely recognized in turn by the public—as truth tellers. Bryant could not have been more explicit about this visionary capacity in his funeral oration for his friend: "The paintings of Cole are of that nature that it hardly transcends the proper use of language to call them acts of religion." And the connection to the character of the artist is naturally invoked, for these paintings "never strike us as strained or forced in character; they teach but what rose spontaneously in the mind of the artists; they were the sincere communications of his own moral and intellectual being" (quoted in McCoubrey, p. 96). In this view, not only was the painting a projection of the artist's genius, but it made landscape the privileged "expression" of moral and spiritual truths. Cole said of waterfalls, for example, that they present both "fixedness and motion—a single existence in which we perceive unceasing change and everlasting duration." Hence "The waterfall may be called the voice of the landscape" (quoted in McCoubrey, p. 105).

But there was another side to this quasi-religious aesthetic. These figures promoted the pictorial mode as a blueprint for society in general. Uvedale Price and Richard Payne Knight, British aestheticians writing at the end of the eighteenth century, had defined the picturesque as a concordia discors, or harmony of discords, reconciling liberty with order. American popularizers of the picturesque further conflated aesthetics with politics by associating its mixture of rough and irregular features with the new middle-class effort to balance communal need with an increasingly assertive self-interest, thus reconciling the Jacksonian ideal of the self-made man with the requirements of social stability. For the more conservative members of American society, the all-out battle for wealth and status seemed to threaten all vestiges of traditional order and religious authority; for them the picturesque aesthetic offered a way of containing the explosive force of competitive capitalism.


For Cole in particular, the American enterprise appeared to teeter on the brink of apocalypse. As with others still tethered to more traditional ways of seeing the world, the artist believed that history conformed to a continual cycle of rise and fall. The modern idea of progress as a continual upward movement had not fully taken hold. Cole's monumental series The Course of Empire, completed in the late 1830s and commissioned by the New York grocer Luman Reed, charted the development of an imaginary civilization (clearly Roman in appearance but in fact a thinly veiled allegory of the United States) from wilderness to pastoral to empire. But in the final two panels of the five-piece sequence, this proud civilization first succumbs to destruction by barbarian hordes, then undergoes nature's inevitable act of reclamation in a vision of Desolation that pictures a single column, surrounded by ruins, circled and entwined by vines and tendrils and seen by moonlight. Cole's redolent image of loss and longing resonated with a host of literary examples that manifested not a triumphant but an apocalyptic destiny for the United States, warning Americans in the age of the common man of the dangers of unbridled materialism and imperialistic pride. Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "The Ambitious Guest" (1835), Cooper's novel The Crater (1847), and even Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" (1839) reflect this pessimism about the consequences of capitalism and democracy, the fear that, in an age of exuberant boundlessness, people could lose their moral bearings.

Cole's extraordinary allegory of inevitable corruption and destruction, coupled with the promise of redemption, was embedded in his very vision of the landscape itself. Typical of this dual message is Landscape with a Dead Tree (c. 1828), where the canvas is split into light and dark halves, suggesting a Manichaean struggle between sunlight and storm. The moral emphasis of this dramatic arrangement extends to the blasted tree in the foreground, organizing the entire composition as both a framing device and a way of accentuating the scene's air of contentiousness. The tree serves as a memento mori, or reminder of death; rooted in the earth yet seeming to reach toward the spiritual realm, it encapsulates the human condition, infusing the entire scene with a terrific energy. The sublime hurtle of space the painting depicts suggests the possibility of salvation through escape from the cycles of nature.


The far quieter images of picturesque prospects Cole increasingly turned to in the 1840s brought his audience back to their moral foundations in a world in which nature and civilization achieved an ideal balance. As early as 1823 James Fenimore Cooper had employed a version of this "middle landscape"—a blend of raw nature, cultivated land, and human habitations—in the opening of The Pioneers, the first of the Leatherstocking Tales, to guide his audience's understanding of the proper relationship to nature that must be forged for the American enterprise to succeed. The opening description of the novel anticipates its thematic concerns as a whole. Codified in the panoramic vision offered here—taking in all at once the course of civilization from sublime wilderness to picturesque harmony and pastoral promise—were the efforts of American elites to come to terms with the processes of modernization they themselves were advancing through the many agencies of the marketplace. These included the subjugation of nature through technology and industrialization, the rise of urban life, and the emergence of class consciousness and class conflict.

Moreover, in the works of Cooper as well as Cole we detect some of the earliest versions of environmental and preservationist thinking in the United States. Scenes of the White Mountains, the Berkshires, and the Catskills—the very sort, no doubt, painted by the landscape painters surrounding Melville's narrator in "The Piazza"—proliferated over the next several decades, taking on a deepening aura of nostalgia and idealization by the post–Civil War period. Where Cole's early work had been a warning to a nation he saw as in danger of succumbing to its own hubris, the work of his followers tended to turn apocalypse into millennium, the rise and fall of empires into progress toward perfection, hence testifying to the growing sense that the United States was an exception to the historical rule: rather than decaying, the country was thought to be flowering in the doctrine of Manifest Destiny. Asher B. Durand's grandiose canvas Progress (1853) stands along with great works of Frederick Church (1826–1900) like The Heart of the Andes (1859) and Niagra Falls (1867) as the climax of this confident vision of the course of American civilization. In a single sublime panorama Durand's painting skillfully orchestrates the unfolding of New World history from virgin wilderness to the prospect of a prosperous urban-industrial order, still embosomed in nature. The shift from Cole's Course of Empire series to this brilliantly unified image reflects a growing acceptance, clearly evident by the 1850s, of the new market economy and all it entailed.


Meanwhile, the deeper, darker fissures in the American cultural landscape were to be noted only by Melville and a few other intrepid souls. As for American art, there is scarcely a dissonant note to be heard. Painting seems to have largely fulfilled its traditional function (initiated in the humanism of the Renaissance and renewed in neoclassicism) of reinforcing prevailing attitudes through idealization rather than offering critique or subversion—except that now such idealization went hand in hand with painting's ready commodification, as members of the rising middle class became the primary patrons of artists, buying smaller landscapes and genre works for their parlors. The extraordinary demands upon laborers made by the expanding capitalist economy are scarcely to be detected in American genre paintings portraying aspects of everyday life. While southern apologists for slavery might occasionally come up with images of northern "wage slavery," these were confined for the most part to such ephemera as political cartoons. At the same time, northern artists were capable of portraying chattel slavery through the pastoral iconography of benign paternalism.

Melville's dark and foreboding vision of American society is rivaled in the 1850s by only one visual artist, David Gilmore Blythe (1815–1865), of Pittsburgh. Blythe's uncompromising images of street life and his portrayal of urban con men and hard-bitten urchins, drawing heavily on the loose style and satiric characterization of seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish artists like Adriaen von Ostade and David Teniers the Younger, present a world of anger and aggression, misplaced ambition, stupefying poverty, and anomie. The artist's scenes of everyday life in the Pittsburgh of the 1850s and 1860s stand out in stark relief against the mainstream of American antebellum genre painting, including the work of Francis W. Edmonds (1806–1863), William Sidney Mount (1807–1868), George Caleb Bingham (1811–1879), William Ranney (1813–1857), Lilly Martin Spencer (1822–1902) and Richard Caton Woodville (1825–1855) among a host of others. These genre painters relayed the amusing foibles and fatuities as well as lingering folkways of various American character types. Occasionally concealing political commentary, irony, or sarcasm, they nevertheless steadfastly uphold the optimism of the dominant ideology of the self-made man. As such they were an easy complement to the pastoral and picturesque vision shaping the antebellum American landscape tradition, often expressing an underlying nostalgia for a way of life rapidly passing away.

A similar set of tendencies was emerging in certain strains of local color writing, which found one important source in Harriet Beecher Stowe's (1811–1896) stories of New England village life, including The Minister's Wooing (1859), Oldtown Folks (1869), andPoganuc People (1878). In writing Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), Stowe found that her vocation was "simply that of a painter," her object being "to hold up in the most lifelike and graphic manner possible Slavery, its reverses, changes, and the Negro character, which I have had ample opportunity for studying." As she realized, "There is no arguing with pictures and every-body is impressed with them, whether they mean to be or not" (letter to Gamaliel Bailey, 1851). The pictures she drew in her later work on small-town New England life were far less melodramatic than those that transformed Uncle Tom's Cabin—Eliza's escape with her little boy across the ice-choked Ohio River, the death of Little Eva, Tom beaten to death while praying for the forgiveness of his persecutors—but they too were certainly effective in engaging an audience conditioned by the vivid and detailed sketches of Washington Irving and the pastoral evocations of village life that were such a familiar theme in American genre painting.

Just how the conventions of the picturesque and pastoral were carried over into the representation of everyday life and functioned to conceal the conflict-ridden nature of American society is evident in Durand's Dance of the Haymakers (1851), a charming blend of landscape and genre that depicts a paternalistic agrarian community in upstate New York. The festivities, benevolently watched over from a respectful distance by the landowner and his wife, are reminiscent not only of the familiar vision of happy darkies dancing under the moonlight outside their quarters in the plantation South but also revealingly conjure up association with European peasant society. This reassuring image stands in blithe denial of the condition of virtual serf-dom American farmworkers had been reduced to in the Hudson River valley only a decade and a half earlier by the enormous estates owned by such "patroons" as Stephen Van Rensselaer III, the Schuylers, and the Livingstons. The so-called rent wars of the 1840s, in which the "serfs" rose up against their "masters," had finally broken the back of this oppressive system.

In contrast to the blatant idealization and denial of social realities exercised by Durand and many other genre painters from the 1830s into the post-bellum period, Blythe offered an uncompromising look at the darkest propensities of human nature, unleashed by urban poverty and degradation. Still, his apparent focus on human nature—betokening an innate conservatism—fell well short of the powerful ideological analysis of American society and its capitalist economy advanced by Melville in his works of the 1850s. In understanding these issues in systemic rather than strictly individual terms, Melville's analysis, albeit fictional, compares with that of his near-contemporary, Karl Marx. And as for landscape representation, Melville's trenchant attack on picturesque and pastoral conventions—as exemplified not only by "The Piazza" but also by "The Encantadas, or Enchanted Isles" (1855)—may find its only clear painterly analogue in the work of Martin Johnson Heade (1819–1904), an artist whose vision took on definitive form in the 1850s and 1860s. Heade's landscapes, such as Approaching Storm: Beach near Newport (1865), and his scenes of jungle and swamp, such as Brazilian Forest (1864), herald a new tough-minded ethic that sweeps away all romantic sentiment about nature, paralleling the strenuous antagonism toward the wilds of North America that marks the heroes of the Boston Brahmin Francis Parkman's histories of New World exploration and conquest. Gone is the "rhetoric" of the picturesque and sublime, the literary attributes of drama and oratory, poetry and anecdote, biblical typology and moral allegory, that characterized Hudson River School painting. The commitment to the visual formulas of "character" and "expression," the heroic and hyperbolic style, indeed, all the anthropomorphic qualities imposed on the landscape by the pictorial mode here recede, so that the alien and elusive aspects of nature, now closely observed in all their transitoriness, can come to the fore. Heade's visions of nature bifurcate into the unabashed sensualism and taut formalism of his haystack series, on one hand, and the often unnerving ambiguousness and sometimes outright weirdness of his beach scenes. A work like Becalmed, Long Island Sound (1876) evokes the "dumb blankness, full of meaning" of Ishmael's white whale, the sense of a lurking menace that continually fades and reemerges in the beholder's perplexed consciousness.


From the 1960s on, a number of scholars of American art designated artists like Heade and the Gloucester, Massachusetts–based painter Fitz Hugh Lane (1804–1865), as well as John Kensett (1816–1872), Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823–1880), and others as "luminists." Luminism was a term taken up most notably by Barbara Novak in her influential American Painting of the Nineteenth Century: Realism, Idealism, and the American Experience (1967) and solidified into a movement in the 1980 National Gallery of Art exhibition catalog American Light: The Luminist Movement, 1850–1875. Luminist paintings are noteworthy above all for the seemingly palpable presence of light diffused throughout the canvas, enveloping everything in a uniform glow that may in certain cases appear numinous or foreboding. As Novak first argued, the artist's presence in luminist paintings is expunged in the collapse of established visual hierarchies—that is, the sometimes unsettling optical effect of giving equal emphasis to every part of the picture plane that is further stressed by the airless atmosphere, minute brushstroke, and glistening surfaces of these works.

There is much to be said for luminism as a pervasive, largely unsystematic tendency not only among American artists during the mid-Victorian period but abroad as well. It makes particular sense in contrasting certain landscape painters like Heade and Lane with artists like Frederick Church and Albert Bierstadt (1830–1902), whose grandiose visions of American and foreign landscapes in the same period extended many of the nationalistic pretensions of the Hudson River School into an imperialistic and operatic mode. Over the years, however, the term "luminism" has lost a good deal of its cachet. Despite Novak's ingenious attempt to link it to New England transcendentalism, art historians were simply unable to tie it down to a consistent set of formal features that could be convincingly correlated with cultural and ideological trends. In order to grasp its significance, we have to look deeper into the underlying dynamics of American culture.

For one thing, the shift away from religious and moral concerns characterizing earlier generations of landscape painters toward a pronounced formalism conveying distinct psychological reverberations—a movement paced by growing interest in exotic environments like the polar regions or the jungles of South and Central America or in what had traditionally been called "desert" places—takes place at a number of levels in American culture from the 1850s and 1860s on. Heade's version of such "symbolistic" painting compares with the more overtly symbolic and obsessive images of Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847–1917) and Ralph Blakelock (1847–1919), working closer to the end of the century. Moreover, Heade's haystacks offer an interesting counterpart to the haystacks of Claude Monet in their preoccupation with changing light and weather effects, which contributed to the unraveling of the old "sister arts" alliance, based on the notion that literature and art were analogous forms of representation. This unraveling took place as effects relaying inward states of mind began to preoccupy painters far more than the traditional focus of art on heroic human events, portrayed in a "high style" of history painting originating in the Renaissance and revived in neoclassicism. The emerging modernist idea that all art should become a law unto itself, much like music in its disconnection from political, social, or moral concerns, was especially evident in the stylistic innovations emerging in Europe during the second half of the century—beginning with the Barbizon School of painting and extending to impressionism and tonalism. From the 1850s on, increasing numbers of American artists went to Europe to study painting, falling under the influence of the latest styles.


Such tendencies had actually long been present in American painting, stemming in particular from the work of the painter-poet Washington Allston (1779–1843). Allston stood as nothing less than a fountain-head of the distinctive New England aesthetic tradition. Born into the South Carolina "rice" aristocracy and educated in Newport, Rhode Island, and at Harvard, he returned permanently to Boston in 1818 after establishing his career in England as a history painter. Once home, he became his generation's leading "man of genius," the primary conduit to his contemporaries—especially the nascent Boston Brahmin set—of romantic ideas (above all those of his good friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge) in the nearly two decades before Emerson delivered his epoch-making essay Nature (1836). Allston's promotion of romantic theory, though alloyed with certain conservative elements, became a catalyst of change against the dominant empirical model of reality encoded in the pictorial mode. Crucial to his transformation of pictorial style was Coleridge's "coalescence of subject and object," a romantic epistemology that decisively moved visual art away from a preoccupation with mimesis into a world of symbolism and romance.

Accordingly, Allston pushed beyond the longstanding sister arts tradition in which the "heroic" moments depicted in history painting ensured its place at the head of the hierarchy of artistic genres. Allston recast the ideal but essentially imitative subject matter of "monumental" biblical, mythological, or historical events into expressive, psychologically charged forms. The artist's later paintings—"cabinet" works for the most part, including ideal landscapes and portraits—evoked elusive moods and soulful states of mind through atmospheric effects conveyed by the visual and tactile qualities of the paint itself (e.g., color, light, and facture or paint surface), so that they challenged his contemporary New England audience to develop new ways of seeing, experiencing, and thinking about the world. The artist's admirers distilled new moral values and civic ideals from Allston's work, which also furnished them a shared form of inner experience. Serving as a medium of truth between one beholder and the next by way of the material medium of the painting or text, the alembic of the poet or artist's imagination gained priority over conventional meaning or didactic intent. The timeworn topoi of art thus gave ground to a cult of genius, the collective pursuit of originality and personal freedom.

As beholders of Allston's paintings became aware of how meaning was inextricably tied to differences in media (and content to form), they reconfigured the age-old analogy between the visual and the verbal that lay at the heart of the sister arts ideal. As a result, iconography, the conventional connection of motifs with themes and of images with concepts that had constituted the core of the classical doctrine of ut pictura poesis ("as a painting, so also a poem"), inevitably receded in importance. Now beholders tended to be stirred less by what was represented than by how it was imagined. The "poetic" responses of those beholding paintings like Allston's Moonlit Landscape (1819) mapped new areas of experience for which music stood as the dominant figure, specifically because of its nonrepresentational character.

Hence, while many cultural figures in Boston lamented Allston's failure over a nearly twenty-six-year period to complete his "masterpiece," the immense history painting Belshazzar's Feast, the influence of his personal example, aesthetic ideals, and "musical" reveries went much further. For not only did the artist exemplify the failure of the old sister arts analogy and all it stood for, as epitomized by his titanic struggle with Belshazzar's Feast; he fundamentally shaped the religion of art of such figures as Elizabeth Peabody, James Jackson Jarves, and Charles Eliot Norton, while looking forward to the modernist formal experimentation that blossomed at Harvard around the turn of the century and involved such figures as William James and Gertrude Stein, George Santayana and Wallace Stevens. Allston's later art thus instigated for an emerging New England elite the very shift in center of gravity his old friend Washington Irving had accomplished for a new middle-class readership. Unlike Irving, however, whose writings were steeped in nostalgia and grounded in eighteenth-century British models, Allston's contribution to American literary and artistic representation—for all its grounding in tradition—looked forward to twentieth-century developments.

See alsoAmericans Abroad; Labor; Landscape Architecture; Nature; Philosophy; Romanticism; Slavery; Transcendentalism; Wilderness


Primary Works

Alison, Archibald. Essays on the Nature and Principles ofTaste. 1790. Boston, 1812.

Bryant, William Cullen, James Fenimore Cooper, Washington Irving, et al. The Home Book of the Picturesque; or, American Scenery, Art, and Literature. New York: Putnam, 1852.

Bryant, William Cullen, ed. Picturesque America: The Land We Live In. 2 vols. New York, 1872–1874.

Irving, Washington. History, Tales, and Sketches. Edited by James W. Tuttleton. New York: Library of America, 1983.

Melville, Herman. The Piazza Tales and Other Prose Pieces,1839–1860. Evanston, Ill., and Chicago: Northwestern University Press and the Newberry Library, 1987.

Secondary Works

Burns, Sarah. Painting the Dark Side: Art and the GothicImagination in Nineteenth-Century America. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2004.

Burns, Sarah. Pastoral Inventions: Rural Life in Nineteenth-Century American Art and Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989.

Chambers, Bruce W., The World of David Gilmour Blythe,1815–1865. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1980.

Conron, John. American Picturesque. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000.

Gerdts, William H., and Theodore E. Stebbins Jr., eds. "A Man of Genius": The Art of Washington Allston (1779–1843). Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1979.

Huntington, David C. The Landscapes of Frederic EdwinChurch: Vision of an American Era. New York: Braziller, 1966.

Johns, Elizabeth. American Genre Painting: The Politics ofEveryday Life. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1991.

Lubin, David M. Picturing a Nation: Art and Social Change in Nineteenth-Century America. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1994.

McCoubrey, John, ed. American Art, 1700–1960. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1965.

Marx, Leo. The Machine in the Garden: Technology and thePastoral Ideal in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1964.

Miller, Angela. Empire of the Eye: The Cultural Politics ofLandscape Representation, 1825–1875. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993.

Miller, Angela. "Thomas Cole and Jacksonian America: TheCourse of Empire and Political Allegory." Prospects: An Annual of American Cultural Studies 14 (1989): 65–92.

Miller, David C. Dark Eden: The Swamp in 19th-CenturyAmerican Culture. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Miller, David C., ed. American Iconology: New Approaches to19th-Century Art and Literature. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1993.

Novak, Barbara. American Painting of the NineteenthCentury: Realism, Idealism, and the American Experience. New York: Praeger, 1969.

Novak, Barbara. Nature and Culture: American Landscape and Painting. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Peck, H. Daniel. A World By Itself: The Pastoral Moment inCooper's Fiction. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1977.

Ringe, Donald. The Pictorial Mode: Space and Time in theArt of Bryant, Irving and Cooper. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1971.

Stebbins, Theodore E., Jr. The Life and Works of MartinJohnson Heade. New Haven, Conn., and London: Yale University Press, 1975.

Truettner, William H., and Alan Wallach. Thomas Cole:Landscape into History. New Haven, Conn., and London: Yale University Press, 1994.

Wilmerding, John, et al. American Light: The LuministMovement, 1850–1875. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery, 1979.

Wolf, Bryan Jay. "All the World's a Code: Art and Ideology in Nineteenth-Century American Painting." Art Journal 44 (winter 1984): 328–337.

Wolf, Bryan Jay. Romantic Re-Vision: Culture andConsciousness in Nineteenth-Century American Painting and Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.

David C. Miller


views updated May 21 2018


The landmark exhibition Fémininmasculin, Le Sexe de l'Art (Femininemasculine, The Sex of Art) presented at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, France, in 1995 attempted to address, through both exhibited works of art and companion catalogue, how twentieth-century art has traversed, transferred, and transformed the issue(s) of sexual difference. The 500 images on display appeared, however, to be divided between the traditional view of the differences between the sexes and an alternate axis that both experimented with and transgressed upon the established biological distinctions between and functions of both men and women. As the exhibition curators sought to clarify what they saw as a series of discrete distinctions between the overtly sexual and the implicitly erotic and the expanding academic boundaries of gender, they offered a new term, fémininmasculin, as a solution, especially in terms of art. For them, the issue was not feminine-masculine, sex in art, but rather femininemasculine, the sex of art.

Their point of art historical departure for this new term was the first work in the exhibition L'Origine du Monde (The Origin of the World, painted in 1866 by Gustave Courbet (1819–1877). Within his canvas, Courbet depicted only a lower female torso with legs spread open to draw the viewer's eye directly to the exposed genitalia as simultaneously the locus of sexual pleasure and symbolic of fertility and procreation. This new conception of art, then, provides a new way of seeing and interpreting art that presages what would become the twentieth-century preoccupation with discussions, examinations, and debates over the meaning of sex, sexuality, and—ultimately—gender.

Traditionally, art has been understood as performing certain functions, including the pedagogy of manners, social customs, cultural values, and behavior, in addition to beautifying human environs from the domestic to the public. The typical point of entry into seeing or interpreting a work of art is through representational, abstract, or symbolic renderings of the human body. Artists have conferred a variety of forms, shapes, postures, gestures, and costumes upon the human body to conform to the attitudes of different cultures, historical periods, and religious communities. These stylistic and culturally referenced differences allow researchers to see and critique the embedded inscriptions of gender, class, identity, and power in works of art. The reality that body types vary not simply from geographic region to geographic region but also within cultural categories and transmute according to prevailing economic, political, religious, and social attitudes is not lost upon artists, even those dedicated to the depiction of the ideal versus the real.

Analyses of the comparative expressions of mass, weight, and volume coordinate projections of natural versus ideal body types, symbolic patterns of the human body, and nutritional and medical factors that reveal information about sex and gender. One of the significant components in art has been in the social and cultural constructions of gender, that is, what distinguishes the categories of feminine and masculine in modes of behavior, demeanor, dress, and meaning. Biology determines sex, whereas society, from its privileged coordination of culture, economics, politics, and religion, conditions definitions of and attitudes toward gender.

Expressive of a diverse spectrum of cultural attitudes and religious values, artistic renderings of the human body, therefore depictions of sex and gender, has been instrumental in: fertility rites, magic ceremonies, cult objects and rituals, idolatry, natural medicine, social advancement, intellectual achievement, and sacred correspondence. However, an overview of the depiction of male and female forms reveals a dramatic contrast between Asian and European and North American attitudes toward the human, and perhaps thereby toward art, culture, and values. For example, Hindu artists traditionally render voluptuous goddesses and powerful gods engaged in joyful acts of sexual union in contrast to the chaste prayerful postures of asexual male and female saints of Christian art.


Artistic images provide a venue for understanding cultural perceptions of gender, power, and sex. Universally, human beings convey identity and information through images. The basic human urge to create images is a fundamental form of the communication of ideas, precepts, and concepts. Such expression through and reflection in works of art is premised on the depiction of the human body or anthropomorphic figurations. The transformation of thinking in images into the concrete representation of seeing visions, dreaming dreams, imagining distant lands, recreating ancient the past, and living by memories defines the fundamental nature of art whether categorized individually as painting, sculpture, and, more recently, photography or collectively as fine arts and naive arts. Regardless of the medium art contributes to the shaping of identifiable cultures as the process of visualization translates abstract concepts into visible figures whose major messages, in turn, appeal to and influence viewers.

The symbolic language of the human figures and the ambiance rendered by the landscape, or background, and surrounding objects and attributes, provide a special mode of communication that transcends verbal literacy or formal education and training. Traditionally, even into the twenty-first century images have projected modes of understanding and interpreting gender, sex, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and age in a socially appropriate construction of the self. Artistic images, then, question our notions of sex and gender and challenge our concepts of appropriate social behavior and relationships. What late-twentieth-century commentators have characterized as the multivalent character and personalized receptivity of images may have been at the heart of the professional and societal distrust of images—thereby an (over)emphasis on logocentrism in the Europe and North America, especially within the academic disciplines—since the Enlightenment (1600–1800).

Any examination of sex and gender in art, then, is predicated upon two universal notions: first, that the visual is primary historical evidence equitable to written documentation; and second, that the traditionally textually illiterate masses read images. Art is a critical vehicle for the formation, transformation, and dispersal of cultural and societal histories and their analyses. Images evoke authority and reality in the process elsewhere termed visual analogy. Images are internalized and identified as one's own by viewers and thereby have profound effects on individual members of a community. Art is critical to the process of socialization by which one enters into the societal and cultural order and signifies oneself as being male or female within that societal construct. Individual notions of gender, then, are affected by societal expectations premised on cultural definitions and redefinitions. Thus, even in art and for artists, sex is determined biologically, whereas gender is societal and cultural.

The contemporary twenty-first-century situation is made more complex by the pluralism of cultural constructions, societal expectations, religious attitudes, and the expanding power of images through technology and globalization. The historical reality is even more damaging in that many works of art—representative, perhaps, of countercultural or alternate religious attitudes—have been destroyed by war and political conflict. Misogyny and patriarchy, as understood in Europe and North America, have played a crucial role in the loss of art, especially images related to the power or authority of women and other marginalized groups. The permanent loss of art—either through the activity of religious iconoclasm or cultural war, or the passivity of natural disasters such as earthquakes or tsunami—account for an irretrievable diminution of both images of marginalized groups, such as women, and of countercultural attitudes. History may be written by the winners; however, cultural interpretations of societal propriety and excellence are clearly inscribed in art. For many contemporary feminist interpreters, the patriarchal basis of European and North American culture has resulted in the elimination, if not simple diminution, of any visual images of marginalized genders in motifs of power and authority.

Artistic images render visible, tangible, and thereby mimicable, societal perceptions of appropriate and inappropriate behavior for both men and women. The recognition that images are gendered—that is, projecting the proper attitudes, gestures, postures, and dress for what is culturally identified as masculine, feminine, androgynous, hermaphroditic, or homosexual—and that the prevalence of gendering through images is formative as well as reflective of cultural attitudes make it impossible to regard images simply as benign expressions or neutral objects. Prior to the scholarly changes in the late 1960s initiated by recognizing the marginalized, analyses and presentations of the power of images have been premised upon the predominant male-oriented hierarchical structure of artistic creativity, knowledge, and scholarship. Those critical studies of images of the marginalized—whether racial, ethnic, or sexual—did not exist prior to the early 1970s.

Earlier examinations of the human body and its meaning in art emphasized descriptions of works in the canon of European and North American art to the neglect, if not negation, of critical analyses of the body with all its racial, ethnic, sexual, cultural, or gendered variations. Critical to both a fair analysis of these earlier texts and of directions for future scholarship is the question of whether or not this interest or preoccupation with the identifying of sex and gender in and through art is a universal human concern or simply a European and North American preoccupation. For example, in most languages outside of English, there is minimal to no linguistic distinction between sex and gender; in addition, there is culturally no distinction between art, life, and religion let alone the modern concepts of sex and gender. However, feminist scholars since the late 1950s, affirmed by the landmark ruling of Judge Ruth Bader Ginzburg (b. 1933) on gender discrimination, have sought to examine the European and North American societal and cultural history of women through gendered lenses.


Typically, studies of sex and gender in the visual arts have taken one of two fundamental approaches in analyzing and interpreting images: iconographic or iconological. Iconography, or the reading of the signs and symbols, or iconology, the cultural history of the evolution of an image, can be incorporated within either a thematic or chronological frame. Central to both modes of analysis is a series of questions that delineate the communicative nature of art, which is both reflective and formative upon individuals and societies. For example, inquiry into the rationale and identification of the artist led to considerations of the process of artistic creativity and the nature of the aesthetic experience.

Further, the historical reality as to who was permitted to train as an artist was equally dependent upon sex and gender as upon artistic ability. For example, in Europe, even into the seventeenth century, only those women who were the wives or daughters of artists were able to enter into the studio as apprentices. The role of the patron and the collector in both the commissioning and the cultural valuation of art is transformed through history as the realms of gender, race, class, and economics evolve. So, for example, during those periods when women experienced political and economic power, that power was expressed through the subject matter in the art they created, commissioned, or collected. The cultural receptivity to works of art—the how and the why by which individual works are valued, and their influence on a society or a community—is related to the function of art as well as to artistic merit. Additional considerations would include the variations in cultural meaning when art shifts its center from the ecclesiastical or public domains to the domestic sphere as both media and motif are transformed accordingly.

The following examples of studies in sex and gender in European and North American art—first through thematic motifs and second by chronology—provide the methodological skeletons upon which more detailed interpretations and analyses can be structured. The thematic motif can be developed through a variety of patterns, such as the iconography of a specific event such as childbirth or an individual such as a specific monarch or general, whereas the chronological mode can be concentrated within one specific historical period or artistic style, such as the Renaissance (1350–1600), or survey the centuries. The crucial question, however, is whether or not the contemporary consideration of sex and gender was a distinct or discrete element in the creative design, aesthetic appreciation, and cultural evaluation of works of art throughout human history. For example, in his magisterial study, The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form, art historian Kenneth Clark (1990) distinguished the physical and symbolic differences between representations of both the naked from the nude and of men from women without direct referencing to sex and gender as overt categories. Rather, Clark's investigation was dependent upon the interdependence of art, culture, life, philosophy, and religion that created an identifiable cultural milieu that either embraced or decried the idea of the nude. His mode of analysis was a journey through a series of motifs that ranged from ideal individuals, that is, Apollo and Venus, to the embodiments of emotions, that is, energy, pathos, and ecstasy.


The Power and Authority of the Male Figure

Late twentieth-century feminist scholars have asserted that the male figure was normative in the Europe and North America for the cultural definition of power and authority. Thereby, a brief comparison between a male figure and a female figure can serve as one interpretive mode in the consideration of sex and gender in art. Referencing the High Renaissance sculpture of David by Michelangelo (1475–1564) as a fine example of the visualization of the classical principles of harmony and order through the male figure, the handsomeness of this masculine form becomes quickened by muscular tensions, especially in David's arms, legs, and torso, and the intimations of respiration in his diaphragm. This sculpted rendition of male energy and movement can be read as expressive of ideal form, kingship and guardianship, and the prevalent social and cultural order. A figure of extraordinary vitality, David visually attests to the so-called European principle of the authority of the male figure. Muscular structure, movement (whether internal or external), and the ability to connote emotion through facial expression, gesture, or pose, are among the sculptor's tools in transmitting both the idea and ideal of male authority.

By contrast, Donatello's (1386–1466) early Renaissance sculpture of Judith and Holofernes proffers an image of the female hero who, like David, signified democracy and the defense of the city to contemporary Florentines. The initial contrast between the nearly nude Holofernes and the seemingly overdressed Judith can be read as the Christian dialectic of vice and virtue or the Renaissance values of male potency and female humility. Clearly, the two bodies display overt signs of distinguishing the man (broad shoulders, powerful musculature) from woman (peaking breasts, smaller frame). This Judith is not the visualization of any canon of feminine beauty but, rather, a depiction of societal structures and of the female body more as symbol than organic composition. She is carefully positioned astride her drunken victim who rests between her legs.

Any sexual connotations to this composition of a man and a woman must be surrendered to the larger reading of her entire body posture—bent knees, arching body, upraised right arm, and lowered left arm as her hand clasps Holofernes's tendrils while a rider holds the reins. The energy and power signified in the flowing swirls of Judith's garments move in opposition to the arch of her body in the exact fashion that a rider's costume responds to the dynamism propelled by the horse's gait. Donatello's Judith, then, mirrors the well-established constructs of authority, power, and sovereignty of the ruler or general who astride his horse commands his army into battle. Thereby, this female hero garners her identity by her masculine posture, gestures, and symbols of power.

Maternity as the Power and Authority of the Female Figure

The universal category of maternity connotes the fertilization, conception, and gestation of a child in the female body and the commensurate acts of childbirth, lactation, and nurture to maturity. Whereas a man can act in a maternal fashion by nurturing, emotionally supporting, and gently guiding his child, partner, or friend, biology denies him the female power and authority of pregnancy and motherhood. A survey of artistic images of maternity transcends historical, cultural, and geographic boundaries, revealing its universality through pregnancy, giving birth, lactation, and scenes with a mother and her child.

Sex as biological thereby trumps gender; however, in so doing it confirms that artistic depictions of maternity simultaneously denote more than the iconographic convention of mother and child as found in the Egyptian images of Isis with Horus, medieval renderings of the Madonna and Child, or Mary Cassatt's (1824–1926) nineteenth-century variations of mothers cuddling, nursing, bathing, dressing, or educating their children. Rather, the limitless importance of female fertility, whether culturally or religiously aligned with that of the Earth, and its achievement in the survival of the species is ahistorical and generic. Thus, the reality behind Courbet's title, L'Origine du Monde (The Origin of the World), becomes apparent.


This preliminary survey proffers a series of investigative principles for a chronological model to examine sex and gender in the visual arts. For purposes of clarity this present outline will emphasize the evolution of the female figure in European and North American art. Having their artistic (and religious) origins in fertility figures, women's images appeared as the fulfillment of socially recognized and sanctioned life stages: virgin, wife, mother, and widow. Further, women were depicted in relation to the major elements of the life cycle: birth, puberty, marriage, pregnancy, maternity, and death. Predominately, the female has been depicted as passive—that is, restricted to the domestic setting and engaged in the so-called feminine activities, such as needlework or cooking; by contrast, the male figure was actively engaged outside the realm of hearth and home. The primary visual distinction, then, will be found in the physicality of the male versus the female body, and the secondary visual difference will be in the activities such as familial nurture versus military leadership. These differences will be highlighted through the artistic presentations of the human body and its commensurate gestures, postures, dress, and companion signs and symbols.

Classical art characterizes the female form as a source of maturity, stability, and domesticity. Typically, the female figure was depicted as fully clothed with a thickened waist, small breasts, and wide hips. Those physical characteristics that twenty-first-century viewers would identify as expressive of female sexuality—a narrow waist and voluptuous breasts and hips—were not understood as sites of eros or femininity in the classical world. Evolving from the preclassical models, such as the famed Venus of Willendorf (c. 24,000–22,000 bce) that emphasized the presentation of the female abdomen, genitalia, and thighs as sites of fertility and female energy, classical Greek or Roman presentations of women favored the strength and authority exerted by the almost androgynous—to twenty-first-century viewers—presentations of goddesses such as Hera or Athena and empresses such as Julia or Octavia. Images of even the slender Aphrodite emphasize her abdomen and thighs more than her breasts and waist.

With the establishment of Christianity, depictions of the human body were transformed from the beauty and idealism favored by the classical artists to more symbolic representations in which the reality of the body, regardless of its sexual identification, was suppressed for an emphasis on the theological values of the narrative. Often characterized as asexual stick-like figures, the human body was the locus for symbolic meanings and interpretations, not for sexuality. Therefore, the flattened female body devoid of the classical artistic precepts of mass and volume was a conveyor of the appropriate or inappropriate roles of women in the early Christian world, that is, as humble, chaste, and obedient, as opposed to the seductive charms of Eve and her female descendants. Modes of dress—ranging from the androgynous Greek chitōn worn by both men and women, to the eventual Hellenistic interest in the skillful mastery of pleated and flowing drapery—disguised rather than emphasized the sex of the human body. Similarly, the hair—as veiled, uncovered and flowing, or elegantly coiffed—signified the sex and social status of the female figure.

Whereas the societal reality of women as wives, daughters, and courtesans was part of the classical Mediterranean world, it was the early Christian world, especially in the fourth century, that clearly represented the dichotomy of woman as virgin or whore, that is, the good Christian woman following the model of the Virgin Mary or the temptress who was Eve. Church leaders, following the lead of Jerome (347–420), defined appropriate modes of dress even unto hairstyles, cosmetics, and jewelry for the proper Christian woman. The visual distinction here was premised upon the female body as a site of shame or humility that was the locus of wanton sexuality or chaste motherhood.

The transition into the medieval modes of rendering the human body manifested the social and cultural shifts initiated in the fourth century and early Christian art toward a theocentric universe in which God was the origin, locus, and ultimate goal of all creation. The human was merely, as characterized by Augustine (354–430), a player with a clearly defined role in a larger drama of Christian history. Women continued to be interpreted culturally and artistically within the dialectic of the virgin and the whore, and as such, their bodies were artistically rendered as either asexual (almost unto androgyny) or sexually likened to a beast, usually the snake. So, for example, consider the disembodied characteristics of the Madonna as she was carved into cathedral capitols and tympani as opposed to the reptilian characterizations of Eve, as found in the famous image by French sculptor Gislebertus (active 1125–1135) at Autun Cathedral.

As the Middle Ages (476–1350) expanded both in chronological time and geographic regions, a commensurate series of stylistic shifts occurred in the rendering of the human body. As if an accompaniment of the medieval interest in the theology of God's transcendence, cathedral architecture evolved with an emphasis on height—a reaching to the heavens, if you will—and was paralleled in the elongation and thereby slenderizing of the earlier Romanesque figurations of matronly women into the Gothic elegance of shaped postures, which emphasized a more feminine line and softness to the female body. Elongated torsos gently directed the viewer's eye to the swell of the female belly as a sign of fecundity, female sexuality, and male authority. Diminished breasts were bound or hidden by the thick layers of clothing that featured a high waist, tightly fitted sleeves, and voluminous, pleated skirts.

The cultural and social revolution identified as the Renaissance brought new energy and principles of the human body into art. As the transfer into an anthropomorphic, or human-centered, world, the Renaissance has been characterized as being open 360 degrees to all attitudes, ideas, and teachings of the classical world and the more modern sciences, including Aristotelian philosophy, mathematics, and medicine. The commensurate interest in the human led to a retrieval of the classical principles of the body as the site of beauty, balance, and harmony and to the artistic redefining of the body according to the precepts of modern medical knowledge, especially anatomical studies. As a result the female body was refashioned within the purview of the classical nude but with a clear touch of the erotic. Nonetheless, it remained rare to find depictions of women in positions of power and authority, as the fundamental image of woman remained as imperfectly male.

Baroque art, whether created by northern European artists who followed the teachings of the Reformers or southern European artists who stood steadfast with Rome, expanded the dichotomy of the imagery of woman as either alluring temptress or asexual saint. The discovery and refinement of the moveable type printing press allowed for the mass production of prints and engravings, making these modes of artistic imagery easily and financially accessible. The northern European development of the so-called moralizing prints called special attention to the feminine images of vices and virtues. Feminine virtue was characterized by asexual, almost disembodied, presentations of the female figure, with minimal breasts, thickened waists, and other physical attributes almost indistinguishable from what twenty-first-century viewers would categorize as masculine. These women were heavily draped from head to foot and identified by their performance of good deeds or acts of female obedience. Alternatively, feminine vices were orchestrated by either partially or totally naked women whose large, sagging breasts were paralleled by visual emphases on their genitalia as they pursued their often unnatural activities, such as decapitating drunken or sleeping men, riding broomsticks in the sky, or consorting with pigs, horses, or other wild beasts. Southern European artists attempted to expand their iconography of saintly Christian women by reemphasizing the singularity of Mary's virginity and obedience through the visual evolution of new motifs, such as the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of the Virgin.

As the cultural world turned toward the eighteenth-century evolution to the rococo (1700–1760) and later the Enlightenment, depictions of women in the now dominant modes of secular art were highlighted by a softening of the female form and a sentimentalizing of attitudes toward women, especially as mothers and muses. Artists now rendered delicate feminine forms, either in states of frothy dress or partial undress, characterized by rosy skin tones, pale blond hair coiffed with ringlets and gentle curls, and light, airy garments that highlighted the softened curves of the female form from gently peaking breasts to wispy waists. The reintroduction of the stronger, more stable, matronly forms presaged the expanding social and cultural roles of women during the French and American revolutions.

The nineteenth century was a time of multiple artistic and social revolutions, prophesying the pluralism of the modern art styles of the twentieth century. The rapid succession of art styles—from romanticism to impressionism or from realism to symbolism and abstraction—signified both the speed of steam that powered the industrial revolution and the rapid expansion of economic, political, and religious ideas throughout the expanding geographic reach of the Europe and North America. Such a diversity of artistic styles resulted in a commensurate variety of interpretations of the female figure ranging from the idealized beauty of the romantics to the stunners of the pre-Raphaelites, to the sexuality of the symbolists. Thereby, the female form could be interpreted as a conveyor of societal attitudes and mores more than as a presentation of the individuality of women.

Multiple attitudes toward female beauty, thereby to the visualizing of sex and gender, paralleled the stylistic variations. Without doubt, the artistic imaging of women was influenced by the invention and development of photography, especially as it moved from a technical recording of events or individual portraiture to a recognized art form in the early twentieth century. Almost simultaneous with the advent of photography as it moved from portraiture of women vis-à-vis traditional high-art portraits to artistic interpretations of the female form in the hands of such distinguished photographers as Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946) to Robert Mapplethorpe (1946–1989) was a transformation in the understanding of the female body in terms of health and medicine. So the wispy waists and overflowing bosom and hips manifested by the whalebone corset gave way first to the American girl and bloomer girl of the late nineteenth century; then to the slender, waif-like flappers of the 1920s emphasized in the designs of Coco Chanel (1883–1971); then to the stability and strength of Rosie the Riveter during World War II (1939–1945); and later to the voluptuous feminine forms of the 1950s highlighted by both the clothes of Christian Dior (1905–1957) and the celebrity of movie stars such as Jane Russell (b. 1921) and Marilyn Monroe (1926–1962).

Modern art, it is often argued, is about the shock of the new as characterized by art critic Robert Hughes (b. 1938). One of the fundamental elements of that shock of the new has been the multiple configurations and refigurations of the human body in terms of abstraction and postmodernism. Those bodily elements, most often large or engorged breasts and highlighted female genitalia, were abstracted from the realistic portrayals of the female body and came to characterize both the sex and gender of woman in twentieth-century art, from the sculptures of Constantin Brancusi (1876–1957) to the canvases of Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) and Willem De Kooning (1904–1997). The latter half of the twentieth century was characterized by the raised voices of the marginalized, especially feminist scholars, authors, and artists, who called for the recognition of the female presence in the arts as artist, muse, and subject.


Gendered images are more than a mode of sexual identification or socialization into a community; they are a symbolic communication through gestures, postures, dress, attributes, and activities of the common experiences of being human. A comparative or cross-cultural study of sex and gender in art, such as the motif of divine messengers or warriors, reveals the gendered interpretations of being male and female in any given cultural or historical epoch and serves to sharpen perceptions of the historicizing of sex and gender. This is especially significant for European and North American viewers who learn that the scholarly presuppositions in the categorizations and structures of their cultures are not necessarily valid universally or, perhaps, that traditional their concepts of both sex and gender, and the power of images, must be reconsidered.

The diversity of characteristics and roles in which men and women are represented in non-European and non-North American art points to the racial, ethnic, and nutritional diversity of both globalization and the marginalized that is otherwise lost to the art of elite monotheistic and patriarchal cultures of Europe and North America. This is not to propose that non-European and non-North American cultures are not patriarchal in religious, cultural, or social structures but, rather, proposes that sex and gender may be imaged and experienced differently. The potential exploration of these differences opens new avenues for investigation and revised formulations for the iconology of sex and gender in art within the expanding parameters of globalization.


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                                 Diane Apostolos-Cappadona


views updated Jun 27 2018


Islamic art is generally reckoned to cover all of the visual arts produced in the lands where Muslims were an important, if not the most important, segment of society. Islamic art differs, therefore, from such other terms as Buddhist or Christian art, for it refers not only to the arts produced by or for the religion of Islam but to the arts of all Islamic cultures. Islamic art was not necessarily created by or for Muslims, for some Islamic art was made by Christian, Jewish, or even Hindu artists working for Muslim patrons, and some Islamic art was created for non-Muslim patrons. The term does not refer to a particular style or period, but covers a broad purview, encompassing the arts produced over one-fifth of the globe in the traditional heartland of Islam (from Spain to India) during the last fourteen hundred years.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century Islam is the world's fastest growing religion. It has spread beyond the traditional heartland of Islam in North Africa, the Near East, and west Asia to southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Muslims comprise nearly one-quarter of the world's population; the largest Muslim populations are in southeast Asia, and there are sizable Muslim communities in Europe and North America. The term Islamic art is therefore becoming increasingly unwieldy, and in current usage concerning modern art, the adjective "Islamic" is often restricted to purely religious expressions such as calligraphy.

The idea of an Islamic art is a distinctly modern notion, developed not by the culture itself but by art historians in Europe and America trying to understand a relatively unfamiliar world and to place the arts created there into the newly developing field of art history. In light of the nationalism that developed during the early twentieth century, some scholars, particularly those in the Islamic lands, questioned the use of the term, opting instead for nationalistic names, speaking of, say, Turkish or Persian art. But these terms are also misleading, for Islam has traditionally been a multiethnic and multicultural society, and it is impossible to distinguish the contribution of, for example, Persian-speaking artists in what is today Turkey. Other scholars, particularly in the late twentieth century, have questioned the term Islamic art as too general, since it refers neither to the art of a specific era nor to that of a particular place or people. Instead, they opt for regional or dynastic categories such as Maghribi (i.e., North African) or Mamluk (i.e., Egyptian and Syrian, thirteenth to sixteenth centuries) art. While these terms can be useful, they overlook the common features that run through much of the art created in the traditional lands of Islam and fragment the picture, particularly for those who are unfamiliar with this area and its rich cultural traditions. Without slighting the differences among the arts created in different regions in different periods, this entry focuses on the common features that run through many of the arts created within the broad rubric of Islamic art: the distinct hierarchy of forms and the themes of decoration.


Apart from architecture, the arts produced in the Islamic lands follow a different formal hierarchy than that of Western art, where painting and sculpture are the two most important forms and are used to make religious images for worship. These forms play a relatively minor role in Islamic art, where instead the major forms of artistic expression are the arts of the book, textiles, ceramics, woodwork, metalwares, and glass. In Western art, these are often called the "minor," "decorative," or "portable" arts, but such labels are pejorative, implying that these forms are secondary, less meaningful and less permanent than the more important, stable, and therefore "noble" arts of painting and sculpture. To use such terms is to view the world of art from the vantage point of the West, and one of the significant features of Islamic art is that it introduces the viewer to different ways of looking at art.

Bookmaking. Of all the arts created in the Islamic lands, the most revered was the art of the book, probably because of the veneration accorded to writing the revealed word of God. Calligraphers were deemed the most important type of artist and paid the most for their work. They penned many fine manuscripts, but the fanciest were exquisite copies of the Qur˒an. Those made for use in a congregational mosque were large, multivolume sets, often divided into either seven or thirty parts so that the entire text could be read over the course of a week or a month. Personal copies of the Qur˒an were generally smaller, but they, too, often had fine penmanship. The great reverence for writing spilled over into the production of other texts, particularly in Iran, India, and Turkey, and it was one of the reasons that printing with movable type only began to be adopted in the Islamic lands in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Most fine manuscripts made in the Islamic lands also had fine decoration. In early times the calligrapher seems to have also been responsible for the illumination, which was usually added after the writing. For example, the famous scribe known as Ibn al-Bawwab (his nickname literally means "son of a doorman") did both the writing and the decoration in a fine but small copy of the Qur˒an made at Baghdad between 1000 and 1001. In early times calligraphers may have prepared all their own materials, but from the fourteenth century onward, the crafts became increasingly specialized, and we know of distinct calligraphers, illuminators, and binders. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, they were joined by a host of other specialists, ranging from draftsmen to gold beaters, gold sprinklers, rubricators (those who drew the lines), and the like. All worked together in a team to produce some of the most sublime books ever created in which all the elements were carefully harmonized in a unified and balanced whole.

Textiles. A second major art form popular in the traditional Islamic lands is textiles. They were the most important economically and have often been likened to the heavy industries of modern times. The four main fibers used were wool, cotton, linen, and silk, but the making of fine textiles lay not only in producing the fibers, but even more in the expense of procuring the dyes, the mordants to fix the colors, the materials for the looms, and the transport of both fibers and finished goods. It is often hard for modern viewers to appreciate these textiles, since few have survived from medieval times intact. Most were literally worn to shreds, and, unlike in other cultures, only a handful were preserved as grave goods since Muslims traditionally wrap the body in a plain white sheet for burial. Nevertheless in their own times, these textiles were immensely valuable not only in the Muslim lands but also across the globe: Medieval Europeans commonly used imported Islamic textiles to wrap the bones of their saints, and hence, paradoxically, most medieval Islamic textiles have been preserved in Christian contexts.

Textiles were also important for the history of art. Until large sheets of paper to make patterns and cartoons became readily available in the fourteenth century, motifs and designs were often disseminated through the medium of textiles. Textiles are readily portable—they can be folded and carried on an animal's back without fear of breaking—and were transported over vast distances between Spain and Central Asia. The mechanical nature of weaving on a loom also encouraged the production of multiples and the use of symmetrical, repeating, and geometric designs that are characteristic of much Islamic art.

Of all textiles, the one most identified with the traditional Islamic lands is the knotted carpet. Indeed the traditional heartland of Islam is often dubbed "the rug belt." Technically the knotted carpet consists of a textile in which additional threads, usually wool or silk, are knotted into a woven substratum to form a furry surface. The origins of the technique are obscure and controversial, with different ethnic groups claiming precedence. Carpet weaving was already practiced for a millennium before the advent of Islam and may well have been developed by nomads to take advantage of the materials at hand, namely the wool produced by the sheep they herded. Nomads typically used portable looms, which could be dismantled and carried on horseback when the camp moved, to weave small carpets with a limited repertory of geometric designs that were generated from the technique of weaving itself.

In the fourteenth century this individual or family craft was transformed into a cottage or village industry. Carpets became larger and were made in multiples, with some groups available for export. They were expensive items used by the rich and powerful as status symbols. Depictions of enthroned rulers ranging from Mongol manuscripts of the Persian national epic to Italian panel paintings of the Madonna and Child prominently display Islamic knotted carpets beneath the throne, testifying to their international status.

Carpet-weaving was transformed again in the sixteenth century into a national industry. Rulers of the Safavid and Ottoman dynasties set up state workshops with room-sized looms that required teams of weavers to produce carpets measuring over twenty feet across. Unlike the carpet-weaving of nomads, which could be put down or picked up at will, these large-scale enterprises required vast amounts of materials prepared and purchased before work began to insure a uniform product. Designers prepared paper patterns with elaborate floral designs that could only be executed successfully with hundreds of knots per square inch. Some designs even emulated the design of traditional Persian gardens, with depictions of water channels filled with fish, ducks, and geese crossing and dividing rectangular parterres planted with cypresses, fruit trees, and flowers. When the carpet was spread on the floor, the person sitting on it would have been surrounded by a verdant refreshing garden.

Metals, Ceramics, and Glasswares. Other common artforms created in the Muslim lands comprise metalwares, ceramics, and glasswares. These techniques have been dubbed the "arts of fire" as they are based on the use of fire to transform minerals extracted from the earth into works of art. The discovery of fire to transform humble materials into utensils was one of the hallmarks of the rise of civilization in West Asia, and the manufacture of shimmering metalwares, ceramics, and glass continued to be characteristic of the Islamic lands until modern times. Iron and copper alloys were crafted into weapons, tools, and utensils, while silver and gold were made into jewelry and coins. Ceramics were used for storage, cooking, and serving food, and glass was used for lighting, keeping and serving foods, and storing perfumes and medicines. Unlike the Christian lands, where vessels of silver and gold were used in church liturgy, Islam required no such luxury objects in the mosque, and the finest bowls, plates, and pitchers are merely expensive versions of objects used in daily life.

Base metal, ceramic, and glass shapes were also made in such rare and costly materials as gold and silver, rock crystal, jade, and ivory. The pious disapproved of using gold vessels, and many items of precious metal were melted down for coin in times of need. A rare silver box made for the Spanish Umayyad heir-apparent Abu Walid Hisham in 976 is the same shape and dimensions as an ivory example made for the Spanish Umayyad chamberlain ˓Abd al-Malik in Spain between 1004 and 1005. The metal box even copies the details of the ivory box, including the strap over the top, which is hammered from the same sheet of silver as the rest of the lid. The strap is useless on the silver box, but imitates the metal strap that would have held the lid in place on a wooden or ivory box.

Another case of similar vessels in different media is the series of small jugs made for the Timurid rulers of Central Asia in the fifteenth century. Some gold ones are illustrated in contemporary manuscripts, and examples survive in several materials, including jade, metal, and ceramic. The jugs, which measure about 6 inches (15 centimeters) high, have a globular body and short cylindrical neck with a handle shaped like a dragon. The shape derives from Chinese porcelains. The inscriptions on the Timurid examples make it clear that they were wine jugs, and the various materials correspond to the rank of the patron. Jade, technically a type of white nephrite, became available after the Timurids seized the jade mines in Khotan in Chinese Turkestan. The use of jade was reserved for rulers, as it was not only rare and expensive but also thought to counteract poison. Timurid rulers and their courtiers also commissioned similar jugs made of brass, sometimes inlaid with gold and silver, but some anonymous examples were probably made for sale on the open market as were the cheaper ceramic ones.

Themes of Decoration

Unlike other artistic traditions, particularly the Chinese, where form alone can be considered sufficient to turn an object into a work of art, much Islamic art is highly decorated. Surfaces were elaborately adorned using a wide variety of techniques and motifs. While different styles of decoration were popular at different times and places, several themes of decoration occur everywhere. These include figural decoration, flowers, geometry, color, and writing.

Figural Imagery. Many people believe that images of people are forbidden in Islam, but this assumption is wrong. The Qur˒an forbids idolatry, but it has little to say on the subject of figural representation, which was apparently not a subject of great importance in Arabia during the late sixth and early seventh centuries. Furthermore, Muslims have little need to depict images in their religious art. For Muslims, God is unique, without associate; therefore He cannot be represented, except by His word, the Qur˒an. Muslims worship God directly without intercessors, so they have no need for images of saints, as Christians do. The prophet Muhammad was human, not divine, so Muslims do not worship him as Christians worship Jesus. Furthermore, the Qur˒an is not a continuous narrative. Thus, Muslims do not need religious images to proselytize in the way that Christians use depictions of Christ or stories from the Bible to teach their faith.

Over time this lack of images hardened into law, and the absence of figures, technically known as aniconism, became a characteristic feature of Islamic religious art. Thus, mosques, mosque furnishings such as minbars (pulpits) and mihrabs (recesses in the wall facing Mecca), and other types of religious buildings such as madrasas do not usually contain pictures of people. But there is no reason that Muslims cannot depict people in other places and settings. Thus palaces could, and indeed often did, have images of people, particularly servants, guards, and other members of a ruler's retinue. Similarly, bathhouses were often decorated with bathers, sometimes nude, and other scenes of relaxation and pleasure. These types of secular building were often more architecturally inventive than religious structures, which tended to follow traditional lines. But secular structures have not survived as well as mosques and religious structures, which were continuously venerated and maintained, and so the historical record is spotty, and many of the best-known secular buildings to survive in the Islamic lands are those that have long been abandoned. Archaeological excavation and restoration of such sites as the bathhouse at Qusayr Amra, built in the Jordanian desert by the Umayyads in the early eighth century, and Samarra in Iraq, the sprawling capital built by the Abbasids upstream from Baghdad in the mid-ninth century, show that already in early Islamic times bathhouses and palaces were decorated with pictures of people engaging in activities inappropriate in religious situations.

Similarly, copies of the Qur˒an do not have pictures of people, but many nonreligious books made in the Islamic lands do. These range from scientific treatises to histories, chronicles, and literary works, both prose and poetry. Sometimes, illustrations were needed to explain the text, as in copies of al-Sufi's treatise on the fixed stars, al-Kawakib althabita. They show that the classical tradition of depicting the constellations as humans and animals was continued in Islamic times. Sometimes, however, illustrations were added even when the text did not demand them. One of the most frequently illustrated texts to survive from medieval Islamic times is al-Hariri's Maqamat (Seances or Sessions). Eleven illustrated copies produced before 1350 have survived, and the number suggests that there were once many more. This work recounts the picaresque adventures of the cunning merchant Abu Zayd as he travels throughout the Muslim world, hoodwinking his rivals. The success of the text, which became very popular among the educated bourgeoisie of the Arab lands, depended on its verbal pyrotechnics, with triple puns, subtle allusions, and complex rhymes. The illustrations emphasize a different aspect of the text—the protagonist's adventures in faraway lands—and provide rare glimpses of daily life in medieval times, including scenes of villages, markets, and libraries.

The tradition of figural imagery was particularly strong in the Persian world, which had a long history of figural representation stretching back to pre-Islamic times, and the illustrated books made there and in the nearby Persian-speaking lands such as India from the fourteenth century onward have some of the most stunning illustrations ever painted. Virtually all of them include people and animals, both real and imaginary. A few even include images of the prophet Muhammad, but these are not meant as religious icons but to illustrate historical or literary texts. The mi˓raj, the Prophet's mystical journey from Jerusalem to heaven and back mentioned in the Qur˒an (17:1), was elaborated, particularly by Sufis or mystics, and scenes illustrating it commonly show the Prophet on his mystical steed Buraq. In some cases the Prophet's face is visible, but by Ottoman times a conservative reaction had set in and artists often covered his face and even his body with a veil.

Since figural imagery was unnecessary in Islamic religious art, other themes of decoration became more important. Many of them had been subsidiary elements in the arts of pre-Islamic times. In Byzantine art, for example, depictions of people had been set off, framed, or linked by vegetal designs (that is, stylized fruits, flowers, and trees) and geometric elements (shapes and patterns). In Islamic times, these subsidiary elements were transformed into major artistic themes. At first artists used recognizable elements, such as trees or plants, as in the mosaics used in the Great Mosque of Damascus erected by the Umayyad caliph al-Walid in the early eighth century. With the growing reluctance to depict figures, such specific and realistic representations were replaced by more stylized, abstracted, and geometricized motifs.

Geometry. Such an abstract style was already popular by the ninth century and is found on carved plaster and woodwork made from North Africa to Central Asia. The extraordinary range of this style suggests a common origin in the Abbasid capitals of Iraq, and German excavations at the site of Samarra in the early twentieth century uncovered many examples in molded and carved stucco. The most distinct type uses a slanted, or beveled, cut, which allowed the plaster slab to be released quickly from the mold. In the beveled style, motifs are abstracted and geometricized and the distinction between foreground and background is blurred.

This type of design based on natural forms such as stems, tendrils, and leaves rearranged to form infinite geometric patterns became a hallmark of Islamic art produced between the tenth century and the fifteenth. To describe it, Europeans coined the word "arabesque," literally meaning "in the Arab style," in the fifteenth or sixteenth century when Renaissance artists incorporated Islamic designs in book ornament and decorative bookbindings. Over the centuries the word has been applied to a wide variety of winding, twining vegetal decoration in art and meandering themes in music.

The nineteenth-century Viennese art historian Alois Riegl laid out the principal features of the arabesque in Islamic art. In it, the tendrils of the vegetation do not branch off from a single continuous stem, as they do in nature, but rather grow unnaturally from one another to form a geometric pattern. He pointed out that the arabesque also has infinite correspondence, meaning that the design can be extended indefinitely in any direction. The structure of the arabesque gives the viewer sufficient information to extend the design in his or her imagination.

The popularity of the arabesque was due no doubt to its adaptability, for it was appropriate to virtually all situations and media, from paper to woodwork and ivory. It was used on the illuminated pages that were added to decorate the beginning and end of fine manuscripts, particularly copies of the Qur˒an. These decorated pages became increasingly elaborate and are often called carpet pages. The largest and finest were produced in Egypt and Syria during the period of rule by the Mamluks (r. 1250–1517). The frontispieces in these grand manuscripts of the Qur˒an (some measure a whopping 30 inches, or 75 cm, high) are decorated with elaborate geometric designs of polygons radiating from central star shapes.

From the fourteenth century the arabesque was gradually displaced by more naturalistic designs of chrysanthemum, peony, and lotus flowers, motifs adopted from Chinese art during the period of Mongol rule in Iran. This floral style was disseminated westward to the Ottomans, rulers of the eastern Mediterranean region after 1453 from their capital at Istanbul. Artists working at the court of the longest-reigning and most powerful of the Ottoman sultans, Suleyman (r. 1620–1666), developed a distinct floral style with composite flowers and slender, tapering leaves with serrated edges. Designers working in the court studio drew up patterns in this style, which craftsmen then executed in various media, ranging from ceramics to textiles.

The pervasiveness of geometric designs throughout Islamic art has been traced to the importance of textiles, and Golombek coined the phrase "the draped universe of Islam." The production of fibers and dyes formed the mainstay of the medieval Islamic economy. In addition to clothing, textiles were the main furnishings of dwellings and even, in the form of tents, the dwellings themselves. The central role of textiles is underscored by the Ka˓aba in Mecca, which Muslims believe is the house that Ibrahim (Abraham) erected for God and which is the central shrine of Islam, a cubic stone building that has been veiled in cloth coverings since the dawn of the faith. The structure of weaving favors angular designs based on the intertwining of warp and weft, and interlaced designs, found even in writing, may be another example of the textile mentality that permeated Islamic society.

Color. Another theme that runs through much Islamic art is the exuberant use of color. Bright and vivid colors are found not only in illustrated manuscripts, but also in media where they might not be expected. For example, metalworkers in the Islamic lands developed the technique of inlay, in which a vessel made of one metal (typically bronze or brass) is inlaid with another (typically, silver, copper, or gold). Designs were further set off in a bituminous black that absorbs light, in contrast to the surrounding metallic surfaces that reflect it. In this way, metal workers could decorate their wares with elaborate scenes that resembled paintings or work out enormous inscriptions that seem to glow from the object and set off the patron's name or Qur˒anic text in lights, as it were.

Woodworkers achieved similar effects by combining ivory or bone with ebony, teak, and other precious woods. The most expensive pieces of woodwork were mosque furnishings such as maqsuras (screens to enclose an area in front of the mihrab), minbars (pulpits), and Qur˒an stands. The designs on these pieces were usually geometric, with elaborate interlacing and strapwork patterns. Perhaps the most stunning is the stupendous minbar made in 1137 at Cordoba for the Almoravid mosque in Marrakesh, which has thousands of individual panels meticulously carved in a variety of rare and exotic woods with arabesque designs. These panels were fitted flawlessly into a complex geometric scheme, so that the decoration can be equally appreciated from near and far away.

Islamic ceramics are also notable for their wonderful colors. Potters constantly invented new and different techniques of over- and underglaze painting. Their finest effort was the development of the luster technique, in which vessels and tiles were painted with metallic oxides and then fired in a reducing atmosphere so that the oxygen burned away, leaving the shimmering metal on the surface. The technique may have been invented by glassmakers in Egypt and Syria in the eighth century, but soon passed to potters, who developed its full potential, first in ninth-century Iraq, then in Fatimid (969–1171), Egypt, and finally in Iran. Luster potters working there in the city of Kashan in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries also developed the overglaze-painted technique known as minai or enameling, in which several colors and gold are painted on top of already-glazed wares, which are then fired a second time at a relatively low temperature. Luster and minai ceramics represent the most expensive kind of pottery made in medieval times, for they required costly materials, special kilns, and extra fuel for a second firing. The techniques may well have been kept secret, and, to judge from signed works and treatises, the craft tradition passed down through certain families.

The decorative combination of blue and white, so often identified with Chinese porcelains, derived from the Islamic lands where potters invented the technique of painting in cobalt under a transparent glaze. The technique, developed by the same Kashan potters working in Iran in the early thirteenth century, was then exported to China where it appears on blue-and-white porcelains made in the fourteenth century. Indeed, potters in the Islamic lands were constantly in competition with their colleagues in China, and ideas bounced back and forth from culture to culture. Thus, Kashan potters probably adopted an artificial or stone-paste body to imitate the hard body of porcelain, made by the Chinese with kaolin, an element not available in Iran and other Muslim lands.

Various explanations have been proposed for this lavish use of color throughout much of Islamic art. Some scholars trace it to the drab and dusty landscape that pervades the heartland of Islam. (The word khaki, for example, derives from the Persian word meaning dusty or dust-colored.) This explanation is insufficient, however, as people from other desert or steppe regions do not necessarily value color as highly as Muslims do. Other scholars see the extensive use of color as evoking Paradise, described in the Qur˒an as a rich and verdant place where men recline on silken pillows. Muslims, particularly mystics, often elaborated the symbolic values of color, but these values were often contradictory and meaningful only in specific geographical or chronological contexts. Black, for example, was adopted by the Abbasids as their standard, and their rivals, the Fatimids, adopted white. The auspicious or heavenly associations may have been outweighed by practical considerations, since copper oxide, a ubiquitous coloring agent, produces a green color in a lead glaze and a turquoise blue color in an alkaline one.

Writing. Of all the themes that run through Islamic art, the most important is writing. Islam, perhaps more than any other religion, values writing, and inscriptions permeate Islamic art more than any other artistic tradition. The value of the word is due to the sanctity of the revelation, and from earliest Islamic times virtually all types of Islamic art were decorated with writing, even when the medium makes it difficult to add an inscription. Sometimes writing supplements an image, but often writing is the sole type of decoration.

The texts inscribed on works of Islamic art range in subject matter. Some contain verses from the Qur˒an, Traditions of the Prophet (called hadith in Arabic), and other religious texts. Others are short pious phrases recalling God's power and omnipotence (the most common is al-mulk lillah, dominion belongs to God) or invoking the name of the Prophet, his family, and other significant religious figures such as the Four Orthodox caliphs who succeeded Muhammad as leaders of the Muslim community in the early seventh century. Probably the most common type of text inscribed on works of Islamic art comprises benedictions and good wishes, which can range from a single word (the most common is baraka, blessing) to long phrases with rhyming pairs of nouns and adjectives.

These inscriptions, particularly on expensive pieces, sometimes contain historical information, including the name of the patron, the date, the place the object was made, and even the name of the artist. Art historians always look for this type of information since it helps to localize a work of art, but it is important for other reasons as well. Historical information also implies that the work of art was a specific commission, made for a particular individual at a specific moment or to commemorate a specific event. The historical information also tells us in which direction to view a work of art, since this information is usually included at the end of the text. Signatures allow us to establish the biographies of artists, a type of person not generally recorded in histories and chronicles, and thereby fill out the artistic record.

Many different styles of script were used to decorate works of Islamic art. Historical information was often written in a more legible rounded hand, because the patron or artist wanted his name to be clear. In contrast, aphorisms and pious phrases were often written in a more stylized angular script. Some might have been intended as puzzles designed to amuse or even tease the user. For example, a group of slip-covered earthenware vessels made in northeastern Iran and Central Asia in the ninth and tenth centuries (when the area was under the domination of the Samanid dynasty) is inscribed with aphorisms in Arabic such as "Knowledge is bitter to the taste at first, but sweeter than honey in the end" or "He who is content with his own opinion runs into danger." These aphorisms are written in brown or black against the cream slip in an extremely complex script in which the letters are stretched out or distorted and the strokes braided and intertwined. The texts are very difficult to read, and somewhat like a modern cryptic puzzle; decipherment was part of the enjoyment they engendered.

In other cases the difficulty in deciphering the inscriptions on a work of Islamic art may have been due to the artist's illiteracy. The person who drew up the inscription was not necessarily the same person who executed it on the work of art, and some artists may not have been literate, particularly those of lower status who worked with cheaper materials in repetitive forms. A group of overglaze-painted earthenware vessels made in the Abbasid lands in the ninth century is often decorated in the center with a few lines of text containing blessings and the name of the potter. The texts are formulaic and often unreadable, with words cut off, and the inscriptions show that the pieces were not a specific commission but made for sale on the open market. Nevertheless, they are eloquent testimony for a world in which writing and written sentiments were appreciated at all levels of society.

See alsoArchitecture ; Calligraphy ; Mihrab .


Baer, Eva. Metalwork in Medieval Islamic Art. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983.

Baer, Eva. Islamic Ornament. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998.

Blair, Sheila S. Islamic Inscriptions. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998.

Blair, Sheila S., and Bloom, Jonathan M. The Art and Architecture of Islam: 1250–1800. New Haven, Conn. and London: Yale University Press, 1994.

Bloom, Jonathan M., and Blair, Sheila S. Islamic Arts. London: Phaidon, 1997.

Brend, Barbara. Islamic Art. London and Cambridge, Mass.: British Museum Press/Harvard University Press, 1991.

Ettinghausen, Richard, Grabar, Oleg, and Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn. Islamic Art and Architecture: 650–1250. New Haven, Conn. and London: Yale University Press, 2001.

Ferrier, R. W., ed. The Arts of Persia. New Haven, Conn. and London: Yale University Press, 1989.

Golombek, Lisa. "The Draped Universe of Islam." In Content and Context of Visual Arts in the Islamic World. Edited by P. P. Soucek. University Park, Pa., and London: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1988.

Grabar, Oleg. The Formation of Islamic Art. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1973.

Grabar, Oleg. The Mediation of Ornament. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992.

Hattstein, Markus, and Delius, Peter, eds. Islam: Art andArchitecture. Cologne: Könemann, 2000.

Hillenbrand, Robert. Islamic Art and Architecture. London: Thames and Hudson, 1999.

Irwin, Robert. Islamic Art in Context: Art, Architecture, and theLiterary World. New York: Abrams, 1997.

Pope, Arthur Upham, and Ackerman, Phyllis, eds. A Survey ofPersian Art from Prehistoric Times to the Present. London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1938–1939.

Raby, Julian, ed. Catalogue of the Nasser D. Khalili Collection ofIslamic Art. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Sheila S. BlairJonathan M. Bloom


views updated May 17 2018

23. Art

See also 20. ARCHITECTURE ; 128. DRAWING ; 141. ENGRAVING ; 218. IMAGES ; 305. ORNAMENTATION ; 369. SKILL and CRAFT .

Abstract Expressionism
a spontaneous, intuitive painting technique producing nonformal work characterized by sinuous lines. Also called Action Painting .
the creation of abstract art. abstractionist, n., adj.
a nonrepresentational style in painting or sculpture.
etching in relief; the opposite of engraving.
Action Painting
Abstract Expressionism.
1. the doctrine that aesthetic standards are autonomous and not subject to political, moral, or religious criteria.
2. used pejoratively to describe those who believe only in art for arts sake, to the exclusion of all other human activities.
an art form, as a story, painting, or sculpture, in which the components have a symbolic, figurative meaning. allegorist, allegorizer, n. allegorical, adj.
1. the art of carving works in low relief.
2. a low-relief sculpture. Also spelled anaglyph . anaglyphic, anaglyptic, adj.
the technique of making drawings and etchings that appear to be carved in low relief. anaglyptographic, adj.
a distorted image of an object, as in anamorphic art. Also spelled anamorphosis, anamorphosy . anamorphic, adj.
a cylindrical mirror for correcting the distorted image created by anamorphism.
Obsolete, anamorphism.
an artist who paints in water colors. Also called water-colorist .
a taste for and imitation of earlier styles, a recurrent phenomenon since ancient times based on the premise that earlier works were somehow purer and simpler. Cf. primitivism .
structural design, especially of a work of art, as a painting or piece of music. See also 312. PHILOSOPHY .
artistic achievement, quality, or workmanship.
a nonutilitarian theory of art holding that a work of art is an end in itself. autotelic, adj.
a highly decorated form of art or ornamentation. baroque, adj.
an artist who specializes in charcoal drawings or sketches.
anything typically Chinese or made in a Chinese manner.
the revival in arts and letters in the sixteenth century in Italy. cinquecentist, n., adj.
1. formerly, an imitation of Greek and Roman art.
2. currently, a dedication to the principles of that art: clarity of execution, balance, adherence to recognized standards of form, and conscious craftsmanship. classicist, n. classicistic, adj.
an artist who uses color or who is distinguished by the way in which he uses color.
a movement in 20th-century painting in which several planes of an object in the form of cubes or other solids are presented in an arbitrary arrangement using a narrow range of colors or monochrome. Cubist, n. Cubistic, adj.
a person who is well acquainted with culture, as literature, the arts, etc., and who advocates their worth to society.
a revolt by certain 20th-century painters and writers in France, Germany, and Switzerland against smugness in traditional art and Western society; their works, illustrating absurdity through paintings of purposeless machines and collages of discarded materials, expressed their cynicism about conventional ideas of form and their rejection of traditional concepts of beauty. Dadaist, n.
daubery, daubry
a painting or other work executed in a messy or unskilled way. dauber, daubster, n.
a work of art composed of two attached panels.
the use of small juxtaposed dots of color on a canvas. Cf. Pointillism . divisionist, n., adj.
the art and literature of thirteenth-century Italy. duecentist, n., adj.
a style that intermixes features borrowed from other artists or differing schools; applied especially when the result is unsuccessful. eclecticist, n.
the study of the origin, development, and nature of the fine arts.
the condition of being foreign, striking, or unusual in color and design. exoticist, n. exotic, exotical, adj.
a movement in the 20th century that attempted to express feeling and emotion directly by distorting forms, choosing violent subject matter and harsh colors, and keeping the overall design out of balance. Expressionist, n. Expressionistic, adj.
the literary or artistic use of fantasy. fantastic, adj. fantasticality, fantasticalness, n.
an early movement in 20th-century painting characterized by an emphasis on the use of unmixed bright colors for emotional and decorative effect. Fauvist, n. Fauve, n., adj.
a movement of the 20th century attempting to capture in painting the movement, force, and speed of modern industrial life by the simultaneous representation of successive aspects of forms in motion. Futurist, n. Futuristic, adj.
a room, building, or other place specifically used for the preservation of works of sculpture.
the principles of the paintings, sculptures, stained glass, mosaics, and book illustrations of the period 1200-1450, embracing several disparate styles and emphases. Gothicist, n.
the forms and ideals of ancient Greek art. See also 18. ANTIQUITY .
the description, history, and analysis of symbolic art or artistic symbolism, especially that of the late medieval and Renaissance periods. Also called iconography . iconologist, n. iconological, adj.
a movement in the late 19th century in French painting, characterized by the goal of reproducing an impression of a subject by use of reflected light and color and the blurring of outlines. Impressionist, n., adj. Impressionistic, adj.
Japonism, Japonisme
a style of art, idiom, custom, mannerism, etc., typical of the Japanese.
a painter of landscapes.
a movement in painting concerned with precision in representing light and shade. luminarist, n.
1. a movement in painting concerned with effects of light, especially the use of broken color in its full intensity with a minimum of shadow effects, applied especially to many Impressionist and Pointillist artists.
2. a technique of painting employing minute modulations of tone, developed in America (1825-65) by John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, William Merritt Chase, and others. luminist, n.
1. an overemphasis on any distinctive technique of expression, occurring when the manner of expression obscures the feeling or idea expressed in the work of art; considered by many art critics to be a sign of decadence. mannerist, n. manneristic, adj.
2. (usu. cap.) a style, developed between c.1530 and c.1590, marked by deliberate violations of earlier standards of painting in depicting the artists idea rather than nature by means of asymmetrical and crowded compositions, elongated and twisted figures, and emphasis upon devices like foreshortening. The style also afïected both architecture and sculpture. Mannerist, n.
1. Obsolete, an artist whose task it was to draw in red certain words or letters in manuscripts.
2. a painter of miniature pictures or portraits, as on china or ivory, characterized by fineness of detail.
a mode of expression or practice characteristic of modern times. modernist, n. modernistic, adj.
one who paints or draws in shades or tints of a single color.
a sculpture or monument made from a single large block of stone, as an Egyptian obelisk. monolithic, adj.
decoration or ornamentation in the Moorish style, distinguished by intricate tracery and bright colors. Moresque, adj.
the goal of artists who attempt to represent a subject without stylization or interpretation, and to create a mirror for natural beauty. Cf. Verism. Also called Realism . Naturalist, n. Naturalistic, adj.
a European movement of the late 18th century differing from earlier classical revivals in that it deliberately and consciously imitated antique models such as those found between 1738-56 in Herculaneum, Paestum, and Pompeii. Neo-Classicist, n. Neo-Classic, Neo-Classical, adj.
the practice of reviving Hellenism in modern art or life. Neo-Hellenist, n. Neo-Hellenistic, adj.
the art principle of de Still which represented form as horizontal and vertical lines and which excluded all colors except the primaries, black, and white.
New Realism
a term used to describe a trend away from abstract expressionism toward a subjective expressionism focusing on true-to-life forms, the factual, and easily evident forms.
a painting of a night scene, a genre particularly favored by Whistler. See also 284. MUSIC .
a person who advocates the study of the nude body or figure.
the Japanese art of paper folding. origamist, n.
1. a use of ornament for decorative purposes, especially its overuse.
2. the employment of several traditional architectural and decorative features into the design of interiors, buildings, furniture, etc., influenced by Art Deco and Art Nouveau.
ornamentist, ornamentalist
1. an artist who specializes in ornamentation.
2. a person whose work is considered to be ornament rather than art.
a short-lived development of Cubism c.1912 that attempted to enliven the original approach by subordinating the geometrical forms and using unmixed bright colors. Orphist, n.
pastelist, pastellist
an artist who specializes in the use of pastels.
a painter of landscapes.
the art of carving or sculpting in cork.
a picture gallery or place where paintings are kept.
the theory or creation of plastic art.
the practice of painting in the open air to obtain effects of light and atmosphere not possible in a studio, plein-air, adj.
a style of the late 19th century based upon some Impressionist techniques and the application of scientific theories of the process of vision; begun by Seurat, who gave it the name Divisionism, it consists of using dots of unmixed color side by side so that the viewers eye may mix them into the appropriate intermediate color. Also called Neo-Impressionism. Pointillist, n. Pointillistic, adj.
the art of using many or various colors in painting, architecture, etc. polychromie, polychromatic, adj. polychromatist, n.
a work of art, as a painting, composed of several panels.
Pop Art
British and American art movement of the 1960s which explored antitraditional and often antiesthetic means to present everyday objects and events.
an artist who paints portraits.
1. the process or art of painting portraits.
2. the portrait itself.
3. portraits collectively.
a late 19th-century reaction to Impressionism, emphasizing on one hand the emotional aspect of painting and on the other a return to formal structure; the first led to Expressionism; the second, to Cubism. Post-Impressionist, n.
the principles of the 19th-century artists and writers who sought to restore the principles and practices thought to be characteristic of Italian art before Raphael. Pre-Raphaelite, n., adj.
a deliberate affection or triviality of expression in art or literature.
1. the self-conscious return, for inspiration, to the archaic forms produced by non-Western cultures.
2. the practice of painting in a way alien to academic or traditional techniques, often displaying a highly individual naiveté in interpretation and treatment of subjects. Cf. archaism. primitivist, n. primitivistic, adj.
the imitative use of classicism in art and literature, especially shown during the 18th century. pseudo-classic, adj. pseudo-classical, adj.
strict adherence to particular concepts, rules, or ideals of form, style, etc., either as formulated by the artist or as dictated by a school with which the artist is allied. See also 104. CRITICISM ; 236. LANGUAGE . purist, n., adj.
the art or process of burning designs on wood or leather, using heated tools. Also called pyrogravure. pyrographer, n. pyrographic, adj.
the art of fifteenth-century Italy. quattrocentist, n., adj.
1. Naturalism.
2. a movement in the late 19th century stressing common rather than individual characteristics as the basis of reality. Cf. Verism. Realist, n .
the practice of creating recognizable figures, objects, and natural forms in art. Cf. Abstractism.
rhypography, rhyparography
still-life or genre painting, especially of trivial or sordid and unsuitable subjects.
Often Derogatory. an artistic and literary style, developed from the baroque, characterized by complex and elaborate ornamentation. rococo, adj.
the reflection, in art, of a late 18th-century literary and philosophical movement in reaction against the intellectuality and rationality of Neo-Classicism. It produced no single artistic style or characteristic but strongly influenced the ideals of imagination, emotion, and the freedom of expression in other media. Romanticist, n.
something characteristic of or influenced by Russia, its people, customs, language, etc.
the act of shocking or intent to shock, especially through the media; the practice of using startling but superficial effects, in art, literature, etc., to gain attention. See also 249. LITERATURE ; 265. MEDIA . sensationalist, n.
the procedure of making prints through the silk-screen process. serigrapher, n.
socialist realism
a Marxist-inspired artistic and literary theory or doctrine that calls on art and literature to promote the socialist cause and sees the artist, writer, etc. as a servant of the state or, in the words of Stalin, the engineer of human souls.
1. statues collectively or a group of statues.
2. the art of making statues. statuary, adj.
the process of making stereochromes, pictures produced with water glass as a vehicle or preservative coating. Also called waterglass painting. stereochromic, stereochromatic adj.
the study of particular styles, as in art, literature, etc.
Surrealism, Superrealism
a controversial movement in art and literature between the two World Wars in which the artist attempted to portray, express, or interpret the workings of the subconscious mind; in painting it found expression in two techniques, the naturalistic (Dali) and the abstract (Miró). Surrealist, n. Surrealistic, adj.
an American movement, founded in 1913, based upon Abstractism in unmixed color, usually involving disklike forms. synchronist, n. synchronistic, adj.
Tachism, Tachisme
a movement of the early 1950s which claimed to be in revolt against both Abstractism and naturalism, taking its name from patches of color (Fr. taches ) placed on canvas spontaneously and by chance, the result being considered an emotional projection rather than an expression or a symbol. Cf. Abstract Expressionism. Tachist, Tachiste, n.
a painter who pays special attention to qualities of tone or tint in his work. See also 284. MUSIC .
Rare. the study of the art of toreutics.
the art of ivory- and metalworking, especially relief work, embossing, and chasing. toreutic, adj.
the condition of being beyond the norm of modern. ultra-modernist, n. ultramodernistic, adj.
a naturalistic approach, especially in portraiture, in which every wrinkle and flaw of the subject is faithfully reproduced; extreme realism. Cf. Naturalism, Realism. Verist, n. Veristic, adj.
an art movement in England in 1914-15 stimulated by Futurism and by the idea that all artistic creation must begin in a state of strong emotion; its products, intended to establish a form characteristic of the industrial age, tend to use angular, machinelike shapes. Vorticist, n.

Visual Arts

views updated Jun 27 2018

Visual Arts









Art comes from the Latin word ars, meaning skill, thus the term visual arts describes those skills that are visible to the human eye, including drawing, painting, sculpture, architecture, graphic art, decoration, and later photography and film. The visual arts are the expression of human creativity, a visualization of the way we see life and the world around us. Standing midway between what is perceived and what is believed, they stem from a need to make sense of human existence and explain it, both internally and externally.

One of the earliest forms of communication, the visual arts form a language through which humans speak about the world. This language is tempered by the society from which it springs, conditioned by its beliefs, its rituals, and its social codes. Pablo Picassos painting Guernica (1937), for example, can be fully understood only when related to the environment of the Spanish civil war (1936-1939). Likewise, every work of art has to be rooted in its own context, which is what gives it shape, function, and relevanceonly then is it truly alive. During World War II (1939-1945) a Nazi officer showed Picasso a reproduction and asked, Is it you who did that? Picasso is said to have replied, No, it is you.


It is believed that the history of the visual arts begins with sculpture, the creation of a three-dimensional form. One of the earliest examples was the Lion-Human of Hohlenstein-Stadel, Germany (c. 30,000 BCE), a fantastic form carved from mammoth ivory. Half human and half beast, it marks the meeting of external reality with internal reality, and it is at this juncture that visual art occurs.

The decorative arts have always served both an ornamental and a functional purpose. Originating with the daubing of the body, it was an impulse that led to the fashioning of jewelry, pottery, glassware, textiles, and furniture. By 7000 BCE ceramic ware was already in use, and as decoration became more skilled and sophisticated different types of materials were adopted to create all kinds of objects. One of the most skilled and intricate early pieces was the Great Lyre from Mesopotamia (c. 2550-2400 BCE), which was created in the form of a bulls head. Combining gold, silver, lapis, shell, and wood, it was both functional and beautiful.

Some of the most important elements of the visual arts are drawing, the creation of an image, and painting, the application of color to a surface. At Chauvet, in southwestern France, there are caves full of early drawings and paintings of animals (dating from 25,000 to 17,000 BCE). A visual expression of the world in which early humans lived, these pictures depict the beasts that were hunted and worshipped, and whose bones provided tools and weapons. Located far away from the living area, in the darkest part of the caves, these paintings evidently had a ritual and symbolic purpose. It is clear that both images and pictures were once things of power and that art itself played an important role in the everyday struggle of living; only today has it been relegated to a purely aesthetic role.

Beginning with the cave, architecturethe enclosure of spacesalso dates back to prehistoric times. As skills developed and resources increased, architecture became a statement about religion, power, and spectacle. The giant pyramids of Giza (c. 2601-2515 BCE) were the forerunners of todays skyscrapers. Soaring toward the heavens, they proclaimed the divine status of the pharaohs and glorified the wealth, prestige, and stability of Egypts rulers. At 792 feet high, the Woolworth Building in New York (1911-1913) is almost twice the height of the tallest pyramid, yet the message it sends out is much the same. Built not from brick, but from steel, glass, and concrete, like the pyramid, it dominates the skyline. Imposing a sense of order and control, it proclaimed the supremacy of the United States as the richest, most powerful, and most technologically advanced society on Earth.

Despite its importance, advanced or sophisticated technology was not an essential requirement for artistic achievement. Fewer resources did not mean lesser skill. Although they did not use iron or steel, the Moche people of ancient Peru (200 BCE600 CE) were exceptional potters and metalworkers. The Moche potters were renowned for making vessels in the form of human heads. Many of these heads are strikingly true to nature, and they show a mastery of the human face.

This highlights the fact that the development of the visual arts is not primarily a story of technical progress but a story of changing ideas. Each culture had its own idea of the world. This was embodied in images and structures that were far more potent than words could ever be.

For a long time art reflected the domination of knowledge over vision. Based not on what artists could see at any given time, it was conditioned by what they knew was there. It was the Greeks who first began to use their eyes, as their sculptors, artists, and craftsmen began to rely more and more on what they could see, feeling free to represent nature and the human body the way they saw it. This transition from knowledge to the visual marked the beginning of innovation.

In Europe, it was during the Italian Renaissance (fourteenth through seventeenth centuries) that the visual arts really began to mirror a fragment of the real world. The adoption of scientific perspective, the knowledge of anatomy, and the rediscovery of the inheritance of Greece and Rome added to the armory of artists, helping them master the portrayal of nature and enabling them to represent the world around them. Led by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), artists began to explore the visible world, experimenting and searching nature as a means of deepening their understanding.


In China principles of theory and aesthetics were formulated as early as 500 CE by the scholar Xie He (500c. 536). The emperor himself practiced painting, and schools were developed where art was taught as a subject. The first academy was established at the Song court in the early thirteenth century. The visual arts were thus placed on the same footing as the literary arts, and painters finally achieved a status equal to that of court officials.

The idea of art for arts sake was also well established in China, and a distinction was made between amateurs and professionals, between those who worked for money and those for whom personal expression mattered most. This philosophy was first articulated by Ni Zan (1301-1374), one of the most famous painters of the Yuan dynasty, who was the first to assert the independence of the artist: What I call painting does not exceed the joy of careless sketching with a brush. I do not seek formal likeness but do it simply for my own amusement (Bush and Shih 1985, p. 266).


Artists had always worked for patrons and institutions who specified what they wanted and rewarded the artist accordingly. In eighteenth-century Europe the initiation of regular exhibitions where artists sold their work completely changed the traditional pattern. Instead of working for patrons, artists now relied on exhibitions to sell their work, appealing to critics, connoisseurs, and the general public. Artists could now go their own way and make their own choices.

In Mayan society (350 BCE900 CE) artists had enjoyed high status because of their ability to record, and for most of its history the visual arts had played an essential role in supporting the status quo. Around 1840 the discovery of photography transformed the artists position. Photography, the process of making pictures through the action of light, liberated the arts from the propagandist role that they had to play. There was now no need for painting to perform a task that a mechanical device could do far more effectively, and the camera took over as the principle means of recording, leaving artists free to criticize, comment, and give voice to their conscience and their creativity.

As a rule patrons and patronage systems did not encourage criticism of the existing social order. In societies such as Soviet Russia (1917-1991), where the state was supreme, the arts were run by government organizations, and artistic freedom was curtailed in order to promote the new social order. Patronage and the status quo also played a critical role in freer, more democratic societies. In 1932 the Mexican artist Diego Rivera (1886-1957) was commissioned to paint a fresco for the Rockefeller Center in New York, one of the most ambitious urban designs of the century. Rivera, however, included a portrait of Vladimir Lenin, leading John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937) to cancel the commission and have the unfinished mural destroyed.


The advent of the Industrial Revolution had a profound impact on the decorative arts. The workshop gave way to the factory, while craftspersons and their individual skills succumbed to the machine and mass production. During the twentieth century, movements such as the Bauhaus (1919-1933) in Germany did their best to combat the effects of this trend. Combining the schools of art and craft, Bauhaus revived the creation of unique handmade objects. In an age driven by technology, the effect of these developments has been to place a premium on cost and time. This has made the possession of a handmade object even more desirable and even more exclusive than ever before.

As the expression of a living society, the nature of art was very closely tied to its material context. Economics often defined what artists could do, what they aspired to do, and the way in which their work was received. Centralization, urbanization, political stability, and control of resources were all key factors in this equation.

In Japan the growth of peace and prosperity during the Edo period (1603-1867 CE) fostered a vibrant cultural atmosphere. Literacy was widespread and the demand for art was so extensive that it could no longer be confined to a single group of patrons. This demand found its outlet in the affordable new medium of woodblock prints, which become the most popular art form of the day. Known as ukiyo-e (pictures of the floating world), they were filled with everyday subjects, reflecting the lives of the people who bought them. The two most famous series, Utagawa Hiroshiges Fifty-three stages of the Tokaido (1833) and Katsushika Hokusais Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (c. 1826-1833), became the most popular sets of graphic art ever printed.


A striking characteristic of the visual arts is the way it often accompanies momentous changes in politics, economics, and science. The upheaval of the twentieth century led to revolutionary developments in art and culture. Photography had compelled artists to explore areas where the camera could not go, encouraging them to discard convention and experiment. Like the scientists who discovered penicillin and atomic power, and the inventors who created the telephone, the car, the airplane, and the computer, artists too committed themselves to a process of experimentation and discovery. As they did so, they questioned the nature of art itself.

Led by Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) and Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), and then Picasso (1881-1973) and Georges Braque (1882-1963), artists deliberately abandoned the previous attitudes toward accurate representation. It was no longer important to represent what people see; humankind had gained such mastery over the appearance of reality that the only way forward lay in abstraction and nonrepresentation, the reality behind realism.

Visual art now aspired to create something more relevant, more meaningful, and more lasting than a copy of an object or a depiction of nature. In this cause new techniques and materials were adopted that resulted in the breakdown of the distinctions between art and everyday life. This search led to a new feeling for the arts of Africa, Australasia, and America, where art was charged with an almost magical power and had a living function in society.


In Nigeria, the Yoruba people still believe that a parents love can reach a dead child through the medium of art. Nigeria has one of the highest rates of twin births in the world; when a Yoruba twin dies, a wooden image, ere ibeji, is carved and kept in the house by the parents. A symbol of hope for the future, the image is bathed and fed in the hope that the dead twin will bring the parents good luck. Described as folk practice, many of these art forms were the product of a community with a shared view of the world and a shared way of life. Rooted in tradition and less open to change, this art did not question but merely reflected the values of its society.

Folk art or practice was distinct from what was called high culture, a term that implies a more rarified culture with a greater level of luxury and sophistication and perhaps a different kind of patronage. Fostered by the state and the ruling elite for its own enjoyment, it also served to display power and glory. Unlike folk culture, high culture was not static or tied to tradition. Based on knowledge, experience, and understanding, it was, like art during the Italian Renaissance, in a constant state of evolution. This capacity to grow made it capable of change, and it was able to explore new issues and to question and break barriers. As the product of a community, many forms of folk art did not have a single author. High culture in contrast was often the product of individual discovery and endeavor. However this apparent difference may have been more the result of poor records and historiographic bias. What we do know is that the high art of Renaissance Italy was the result of individual genius, the work of such men as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo (1475-1564), and Raphael (1483-1520), and as such its many forms were different and distinctive. The ceilings of the Sistine Chapel (1508-1512) in Rome, for example, would not have been painted in the same fashion by any artist other than Michelangelo.


The social impact of the visual arts is best summed up through the metaphor of film, the art of the motion picture. The youngest of the arts, the motion picture represents the logical development of everything that has come before. It was produced by recording a series of images with cameras and then showing them in rapid succession, thus giving an illusion of motion. Since the first commercial motion picture was made in 1898, the addition of sound and then color have made film arguably the most potent and popular art form of all. More so than other visual arts, it has an almost universal power of communication, possessing an ability to entertain, educate, enlighten, and inspire across countries and cultures.

Through film, culture has become truly global. Today the Coca-Cola logo is recognizable the world over in numerous languages. The visual arts are no longer indigenousthe product of one particular culture or experience. A universal language has become or is in the process of becoming a universal experience.

SEE ALSO Aesthetics; Cultural Relativism; Culture; Culture, Low and High; Distinctions, Social and Cultural; Film Industry


Bush, Susan, and Hsio-yen Shih, eds. 1985. Early Chinese Texts on Painting. Cambridge, MA: Published for the Harvard-Yenching Institute by Harvard University Press.

Gombrich, E. H. 1984. The Sense of Order: A Study in the Psychology of Decorative Art. Oxford: Phaidon Press.

Gombrich, E. H. 1995. The Story of Art. 16th ed. London: Phaidon Press.

Honour, Hugh, and John Fleming. 2006. The Visual Arts: A History. 7th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Hughes, Robert. 1991. The Shock of the New: Art and the Century of Change. Rev. ed. London: Thames and Hudson.

Stokstad, Marilyn. 2005. Art History. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda