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Grove Art: Subject Guide

American Art and Architecture

Introduction

Lee Krasner: Gothic Landscape, oil on canvas, 1.77×2.38 m, 1961 (London, Tate); © 2007 Pollock–Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo credit: Tate, London/Art Resource, NYBroadly defined, the term American can refer to all of North, Central and South America. For the purpose of this subject guide, however, American art and architecture refers roughly to the geographical area of the contiguous United States of America. The artistic output of this area, from Native North American art to the complex web of contemporary visual expression, is rich and varied. The art of this region begins with the first inhabitants of North America who most likely migrated around 15,000 BC from Asia across the Bering Strait. They developed many distinct cultural and linguistic traditions out of which grew a wealth of artistic vocabularies. Much of this artistic heritage was ignored or wiped out as the European colonialists’ presence increased after the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. As time passed, exploration, settlement and immigration by peoples from Spain, Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, Africa, Asia as well as Latin America spawned the fertile artistic culture on which American art thrives.

While strongly influenced by European traditions from Colonial times onward, during the 19th century, several homegrown artistic styles arose. These include movements such as Wild West and Frontier art and the Hudson River School of painting to which Thomas Cole, Albert Bierstadt and Frederic Edwin Church belonged. Despite expansive growth and increased prosperity in 19th century America, however, in the early 20th century, the region was still considered an artistic backwater with many American artists choosing to study abroad. This changed dramatically with the exile to the United States of many European intellectuals and artists during World War II. During the 1940s the United States, and specifically New York, became the new hegemonic center of the visual arts. Influential movements such as Abstract Expressionism, Pop art, Minimalism and Conceptual art flourished in post-war New York. New York, California and other American regions continue to be an important place for artists worldwide to work, learn and create. Famous American artists today include the iconic figures of Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Georgia O’Keeffe and Frank Lloyd Wright.

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