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July 13 , 2009

Art in America: A Critical and Historial Sketch


THE art of a nation is the result of centuries of growth; its crowning excellence does not come except when maturity and repose offer the occasion for its development. But while, therefore, it is yet too soon to look for a great school of art in America, the time has perhaps arrived to note some of the preliminary phases of the art which, we have reason to hope, is to dawn upon the country before long. As the heirs of all the ages, we had a right to expect that our intellectual activity would demand art expression; while the first efforts would naturally be imitative rather than original. The individuality which finds vent in the utterance of truth under new conditions is not fully reached until youth gives place to the vigorous self-assertion of a manhood conscious of its resources and power. Such we find to have been the case in the rise of the fine arts in this country, which up to this time have been rather an echo of the art of the lands from which our ancestors came, than distinctively original. Our art has been the result of affectionate remembrance of foreign achievement more than of independent observation of nature; and while the number of artists has been sufficiently large, very few of them stand forth as representatives or types of novel methods and ideas; and those few, coming before their time, have met with little response in the community, and their influence has been generally local and moderate, leading to the founding of nothing like a school except in one or two isolated cases. But many of them, especially in the first period of our art, have shared the strong, active character of their time; and, like the heroes of the Revolution, presented sturdy traits of character. And thus, while the society in which they moved was not sufficiently advanced to appreciate the quality of their art, they were yet able to stamp their names indelibly upon the pages of our history.
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