Synopses & Reviews
In this exhilarating study, David Rosand shows how America was transformed from a provincial follower of the established traditions of European painting to become one of the forerunners of artistic innovation. Pushing beyond the parochial question of "what is American about American art?" "The Invention of Painting in America" identifies not only the status of the artist and his or her relationship to the work of art but the larger dialogue between the artist and society as well.
"Within the modest confines of this trim and attractive volume (based on a series of lectures), Columbia art historian Rosand (The Meaning of the Mark) tells the big story of how American painting grew and struggled from colonial obscurity to its stunning mid 20th-century coming-of-age. Rosand is refreshingly unapologetic about the triumph of postwar American art, which saw abstract expressionism vanquish all before it and New York replace Paris permanently, it appears as the world center of art. But if he chooses not to see this dominance as a State Department plot, he is adept at delineating those historical and cultural forces (from the WPA and FDR to the Mexican muralists) that helped to bring it into being. Rosand is an able practitioner of what he calls 'studio history': art history not as gossip or ' 'tangible evidence' for something else,' but as a practice centered on the professional lives and productions of working artists. But while the often Herculean efforts of American painters, from George Singleton Copley to Arshile Gorky, to educate themselves, make a living, find worthy subjects and deal with both European influences and a hostile or indifferent public are recounted in incisive detail, Rosand does so in a way that never strays very far from an analysis of the paintings themselves, which are generously and numerously reproduced among the 96 b&w and four-color illustrations." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Struggling to create an identity distinct from the European tradition but lacking an established system of support, early painting in America received little cultural acceptance in its own country or abroad. Yet despite the initial indifference with which it was first met, American art flourished against the odds and founded the aesthetic consciousness that we equate with American art today.
In this exhilarating study David Rosand shows how early American painters transformed themselves from provincial followers of the established traditions of Europe into some of the most innovative and influential artists in the world. Moving beyond simple descriptions of what distinguishes American art from other movements and forms, The Invention of Painting in America explores not only the status of artists and their personal relationship to their work but also the larger dialogue between the artist and society. Rosand looks to the intensely studied portraits of America's early painters -- especially Copley and Eakins and the landscapes of Homer and Inness, among others -- each of whom grappled with conflicting cultural attitudes and different expressive styles in order to reinvent the art of painting. He discusses the work of Davis, Gorky, de Kooning, Pollock, Rothko, and Motherwell and the subjects and themes that engaged them. While our current understanding of America's place in art is largely based on the astonishing success of a handful of mid-twentieth-century painters, Rosand unearths the historical and artistic conditions that both shaped and inspired the phenomenon of Abstract Expressionism.