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Most Progressive American Artists

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The artists are not ranked according to influence or fame, they are simply listed chronologically, which I feel is the best way to exhibit the trends that they created. At first, I had intended to explain how each artist influenced the American culture, but upon beginning my research I found that sometimes it is the artist who influences the country, and sometimes it is the country that influences the artist, making it difficult to take a solid position, or develop effective criteria. I also found that there is so much overlap of influence from one artist to another that it would be extremely difficult to say one had any less or more influence than the other.

Often in my reading, the descriptions of the artists included the term "abstract-expressionism" . I tried to ignore it, but as I progressed the word was becoming nearly ubiquitous. (good word huh?) This is a brief background on "abstract-expressionism"-

During and after world war II many European artists fled Europe and headed to America for safety, their presence heralded one of the most progressive artistic movements in history. Its difficult to gauge how much they actually did influence American art, but its clear that in the 40's and 50s American artists became internationally important (as never before) with their new visions and artistic vocabulary. This was given the title of abstract-expressionism. However, not all of the works by the artists that are categorized under the title were abstract, nor were they all expressive. What the artists and their works held in common was their morally loaded themes, heavy and tragic, often on grandiose scales. They felt uncomfortable with traditional and conventional subjects and styles. The abstract-expressionistic movement lead directly to the formation of the pop art movement, which essentially glorified commercial art, through advertising, comic strips, cartoons, and the growing obsession with celebrity.

Albert Bierstadt 1830-1902 - Born in Solingen Germany he came to America as an infant with his parents. Over the course of his life he became famous for his huge panoramic landscapes of the American west, which were wildly popular following the years after the civil war. Bierstadt's vision of the unspoiled west helped to shape the nations ideas about the region, and encouraged settlement. He created paintings so large that they couldn't hang in ordinary homes, they brought the highest prices ever paid to an American painter at that time.

James Whistler 1834-1903 - Whistler was an important painter of American landscapes and portraits. His style led the way for the emergence of completely abstract painting in the next several generations. He was born in Lowell Massachusetts, but moved to Russia for several years where he attended the Fine Arts Academy of Saint Petersburg. He was a strong believer in art for arts sake, he did not believe in the popular European notion that art should be morally uplifting, but rather that the pursuit of the beautiful was more important than anything else, this helped to inspire something known as the aesthetic movement. The older he got the more abstract his work became, and the more it was disliked by critics.

Winslow Homer 1836-1910 - Largely self taught, he developed his own naturalistic style that ranged in subject from civil war scenes to children playing to seascapes. Born in Boston he began his career as an apprentice to a lithographer. He did mainly commercial artwork - which he hated- including covers for sheet music, playing cards, posters, and portraits of the Massachusetts state senate. After his apprenticeship he set up a studio and began freelancing- doing work for Harpers Weekly and Ballou's Pictorial. He received a commission to travel to Washington and draw scenes of Lincolns inauguration., and to cover pictorially the civil war in Virginia. He did drawings of battles at Yorktown and Chicahominy, as well as camp scenes and army life.

Mary Cassatt 1844-1926- Cassatt was one of the only women, and the only American, male or female, invited to exhibit with the impressionists in France. She became famous for her paintings of women and children. Born in Pennsylvania, she became inspired to learn art when her family moved to Paris at the age of six. however she didn't begin instruction until returning home. For four years she drew from life and copied pictures in Philadelphia's academy collection. This was exactly the same kind of classical training that Claude Monet, Edgar degas and other artist were undertaking in France. She was one of the few American artists of her day that admired the impressionists, who were then considered radical and outrageous. As she became friends with the impressionists her style changed to adapt. She adopted their techniques, but not their obsession with landscape and outdoor light.

Edward Hopper 1882-1967- Edward hopper a leading American figurative painter, is well known for his solitary figures in urban settings and spare interiors. He brought to attention the everyday melancholy life of the modern world and the encroachments upon individuals by modern industrialization. Born in Nyack, New York, he began painting very early. He was influenced largely by the realism of John Sloan and Robert Henri's paintings. He strived to portray the details of the raw and ordinary modern-day world, Such as: the railroads creeping into the beautiful landscapes, the neon lighting of shops and cafes, the empty streets of the city, the growth of tourism, of motels, gas stations, and highways. He kept himself removed from the European movements always concentrating on life in America.

Thomas Benton 1889-1975 - Largely noted for his paintings that portrayed everyday life in the united states. He began his career by drawing cartoons for 14 dollars a week, and eventually went to study at the Chicago Art Institute. He traveled to Paris at age 19 and dabbled in the various modern movements, but returned home Influenced mostly by traditional artists such as el Greco and other painters of the Italian renaissance.



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