Exhibitions: American Identities: A New Look

Making Art

Gallery view of Making Art, American Identities

Gallery view of “Making Art,” American Identities

This gallery holds a wide variety of art objects created by untrained artists in what can be described as plain style, another way of referring to works considered to be folk or naive art. Among them are appealing utilitarian objects, including ceramic kitchenware and painted furniture, as well as carved animals, devotional paintings and sculptures, and portraits. While the unschooled artists and makers of these objects sometimes employed the stylistic conventions and techniques of formally trained art-makers, they often misunderstood or modified rules according to their own abilities or visions. Although their works may be lacking in technical sophistication, it has long been recognized that such simplicity has a power and appeal of its own. From the second quarter of the twentieth century, collectors and critics have associated these plain-style objects with the ideals of sincerity and independence, and they have linked their clarity and boldness to the pared-down forms of modernism.

The Academic Figure

Gallery view of Making Art, American Identities

Gallery view of “Making Art,” American Identities

All of the artists represented in this area attended art academies—either in the United States or Europe—where they were taught to draw and paint according to a set of "academic” rules that guaranteed acceptance among an influential audience. Academic teaching placed the art of the ancient Greeks, and especially the Greek ideal of the perfectly proportioned human form, as the standard to which artists should aspire. In their depictions of the figure, some of the artists represented here adhered to academic teaching, whereas others struck out on more independent stylistic paths over the course of their careers. Innovation in the representation of the human form increased beginning in the late nineteenth century, when American artists first encountered Impressionism and subsequent European early modernist developments, and new approaches to the figure continue to emerge.

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