Office Hours: W 2-4 and by appt.
Through the study of form, content, and context of selected works of painting, architecture and sculpture made in colonial North America and the United States from the seventeenth to the twentieth century, this course will probe changing American social and cultural values embodied in art. We will study individual artists as well as themes, with particular attention to the production and reception of art in a developing nation, the transformation of European architectural styles into a new environment, the construction of race in ante- and post-bellum America, and the identification of an abstract style of art with the political ascendancy of the United States after World War II.
Books to buy
Two required books of readings are for sale at Amherst Books: Marianne Doezema and Elizabeth Milroy, eds., Reading American Art (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998) and Patricia Johnston, ed., Seeing High & Low: Representing Social Conflict in American Visual Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006).
Study Images, further looking, and references
Regular (daily!) study of images is essential to your work in this course. I will provide study sheets of key works and powerpoints of my lectures. You will find other works by artists and architects we study at http://www.artstor.org/ .
The Mead Art Museum https://www.amherst.edu/museums/mead has a fine collection of American art, particularly from the 18th through the early 20th centuries. The museum is open LATE four nights a week and offers coffee in the lobby. It’s a great place to look at art and to study.
For information on individual artists and bibliographies for further study, begin with the Grove Dictionary of Art, which is online (http://www.groveart.com) and in hard copy in the reference section of Frost library (N6490.G7243 2000).
I have indicated at corresponding points in the syllabus writings by historians and critics of American art (collected in Reading American Art [Am Art], in Seeing High & Low [High Low], or linked to our course homepage [link]), selected because they address a topic from a particular point of view and/or cover a body of work especially well. We will have a chance to discuss this scholarship in class, and you are expected to have completed the reading before the lectures each week.
Don't hesitate to extend your study, guided by bibliographies and footnotes in the readings, browsing in Frost, and discussion with me. There are several good survey books of American art in print: a short one is Michael J. Lewis, American Art and Architecture (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2006); a long one is Angela L. Miller et al., American Encounters: Art, History, and Cultural Identity (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2007).
Written assignments and examinations
You will write two visual response papers of three pages each (due February 18 and May 4), a one-page response to a Mead conversation (due March 5) and one research paper of 8 pages (due April 8).
The midterm examination is on March 11, and the final examination will be scheduled during exam period, May 10-14. Examinations require you to be prepared to fully identify and discuss all works on the study sheets and to have command of the assigned readings. You will have the opportunity to test your skill at identifying works of art that we have not studied in class by proposing an artist, architect, or a building location for a dozen “unknown” works on the midterm and on the final examination.
Jan 25 A colonial world: architecture
Dell Upton, “White and Black Landscapes in Eighteenth-Century Virginia” (link)
Feb 1 A colonial world: painting
Wayne Craven, “The Seventeenth-Century New England Mercantile
Image: Social Content and Style in the Freake Portraits” (Am Art)
Paul Staiti, “Character and Class: The Portraits of John Singleton Copley” (Am Art)
Feb 8 Independence
David Steinberg, “Educating for Distinction?: Art, Hierarchy, and Charles Willson Peale’s Staircase Group” (High & Low)
Roger B. Stein, “Charles Willson Peale’s Expressive Design: The Artist in His Museum” (Am Art)
*No class Thurs. Feb 11 (College Art Association Meetings in Chicago)*
Feb 15 Mid nineteenth century: narrative painting and sculpture
Patricia Johnston, “Samuel F. B. Morse’s Gallery of the Louvre: Social Tensions in an Ideal World” (High & Low)
William T. Oedel and Todd S. Gernes, “The Painter’s Triumph: William Sidney Mount and the Formation of a Middle-Class Art” (Am Art)
Joy S. Kasson, “Narratives of the Female Body: The Greek Slave” (Am Art)
*Feb 18 visual response paper due*
Feb 22 Mid nineteenth century: landscape painting
Alan Wallach, “Thomas Cole and the Aristocracy” (Am Art)
Janis Simon, “Reenvisioning ‘This Well-Wooded Land’” (High & Low)
March 1 Post Civil War: home
Sarah Burns, “Cartoons in Color: David Gilmour Blythe’s Very Uncivil War” (High & Low)
Nancy K. Anderson, “’The Kiss of Enterprise’: The Western Landscape as Symbol and Resource” (Am Art)
Elizabeth Johns, “The Gross Clinic; orPortrait of Professor Gross (Am Art)
Jules D. Prown, “Winslow Homer in His Art” (Am Art)
*Thurs. March 4 at 4:30 Stirn Auditorium—required attendance! Randall Griffey, Curator of American Art at the Mead Art Museum, and William H. Gerdts, Professor Emeritus, CUNY Graduate Center and an Amherst alumnus, will talk about key works of American art in the Mead’s collection. One-page response due Fri. March 5.
March 8 Post Civil War: abroad
Griselda Pollock, “Mary Cassatt: Painter of Women and Children”
*March 11 midterm examination*
March 22 Post Civil War: sculpture and still life
Melissa Dabakis, “’Ain’t I a Woman?’ Anne Whitney, Edmonia Lewis, and the Iconography of Emancipation” (High & Low)
Kirsten P. Buick, “The Ideal Works of Edmonia Lewis: Invoking and Inverting Autobiography” (Am Art)
Kirk Savage, “Uncommon Soldiers: Race, Art, and the Shaw Memorial” (link)
March 29 Late nineteenth-century: architecture
James F. O’Gorman, “Urbanism” (link)
April 5 Early twentieth century: urban and suburban subjects
Joanne Lukitsh, “Alone on the Sidewalks of New York: Alfred Stieglitz’s Photography, 1892-1913” (High & Low)
Patricia Hills, “John Sloan’s Images of Working-Class Women: A Case Study of the Roles and Interrelationships of Politics, Personality, and Patrons in the Development of Sloan’s Art, 1905-16” (Am Art)
*April 8 research paper due*
April 12 Realism and abstraction: contests of meaning
Anna C. Chave, “O’Keeffe and the Masculine Gaze” (Am Art)
Anthony W. Lee, “Workers and Painters: Social Realism and Race in Diego Rivera’s Detroit Murals” (link)
Carol Troyen, “The Open Window and the Empty Chair: Charles Sheeler’s View of New York (Am Art)
Wanda Corn, “The Birth of a National Icon: Grant Wood’s American Gothic” (Am Art)
April 19 Modernist architecture and painting
Michael Leja, “Jackson Pollock: Representing the Unconscious” (Am Art)
William H. Jordy, “The Laconic Splendor of the Metal Frame: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s 860 Lake Shore Drive and his Seagram Building” (link)
April 26 The Sixties
Leo Steinberg, "Jasper Johns: the First Seven Years of his Art" (link)
Thomas Crow, “Saturday Disasters: Trace and Reference in Early Warhol” (link)
May 3 What is postmodern in art and architecture?
Henry M. Sayre, “Open Space: Landscape and the Postmodern Sublime” (link)
*May 4 visual response paper due*
*Week of May 10 final examination—scheduled by registrar’s office*
List of linked readings:
Dell Upton, “White and Black Landscapes in Eighteenth-Century Virginia,” Places 2:2 (1985), 59-72.
Kirk Savage, “Uncommon Soldiers: Race, Art, and the Shaw Memorial,” Hope & Glory: Essays on the Legacy of the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Regiment, ed. Martin H. Blatt et al. (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001), 156-167.
James F. O’Gorman, H. H. Richardson: Architectural Forms for an American Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 71-89.
Anthony W. Lee, “Workers and Painters: Social Realism and Race in Diego Rivera’s Detroit Murals,” The Social and the Real: Political Art of the 1930s in the Western Hemisphere, eds. Alejandro Anreus, Diana L. Linden, and Jonathan Weinberg (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), 201-220.
William H. Jordy, The Impact of European Modernism on the Mid-Twentieth Century (American Buildings and Their Architects, vol. 5) (New York: Oxford University Press, 1972), 221-277.
Leo Steinberg, “Jasper Johns: the First Seven Years of his Art,” Metro 4/5 (1962), reprinted with revisions in Other Criteria: Confrontations with Twentieth-Century Art (London: Oxford University Press, 1972), 17-54.
Thomas Crow, Modern Art in the Common Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), 49-65.
Henry M. Sayre, The Object of Performance: The American Avant-Garde Since 1970 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 211-245.