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Deborah F. Pokinski

(b Columbus, GA, Sept 22, 1891; d Washington, DC, Feb 24, 1978).

African American painter and art educator. Thomas was the first graduate of the fine arts program at Howard University in Washington, DC. After retiring from teaching art in Washington public schools at age of 69, she set up a studio in her kitchen, devoted herself full-time to painting and became a prominent color field abstractionist. In 1972, she was the first African American woman to have a solo exhibition at a major American museum (the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York).

During the years she taught, Thomas kept up with the latest developments in art by attending classes, visiting exhibitions in New York, and being actively involved in the Washington arts community. In 1943, she helped found the Barnett-Aden Gallery, the first modern art gallery in Washington and the first to break the color line. Between 1950 and 1960, Thomas studied at American University where her work began to move toward abstraction....

Article

Marita Sturken

Culture of images and visuality that creates meaning in our world today. This includes media forms such as photography, film, television, and digital media; art media such as painting, drawing, prints, and installations; architecture and design; comic books and graphic novels; fashion design, and other visual forms including the look of urban life itself. It also encompasses such social realms as art, news, popular culture, advertising and consumerism, politics, law, religion, and science and medicine. The term visual culture also refers to the interdisciplinary academic field of study that aims to study and understand the role that images and visuality play in our society; how images, gazes, and looks make meaning socially, culturally, and politically; how images are integrated with other media; and how visuality shapes power, meaning, and identity in contemporary global culture.

The emergence of the concept of visual culture as a means to think about the role of images in culture and as an academic field of study is a relatively recent phenomenon, emerging in the late 1980s and becoming established by the late 1990s. There were numerous factors that contributed to the idea that images should be understood and analysed across social arenas rather than as separate categories, including the impact of digital media on the circulation of images across social realms, the modern use of images from other social arenas (such as news and advertising) in art, and the cross-referencing of cultural forms displayed in popular culture and art. It was also influenced by the increasingly visible role played by images in political conflict and a general trend toward interdisciplinarity in academia....

Article

Adrienne L. Childs

(b Atlanta, GA, Nov 2, 1902; d Washington, DC, Jan 20, 1993).

American printmaker, painter and educator. Wells’s 70-year career had a major impact on the development of African American art in the 20th century. He studied at the National Academy of Design, Columbia University Teachers College and the Atelier 17 printmaking workshop, both in New York. In 1929 he began teaching at Howard University, Washington, DC, where he remained an influential professor of art until his retirement in 1968.

One of the first black artists to embrace modernism, Wells’s early linocuts such as African Phantasy (1928) and Sisters (1929) embody the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance as African American artists looked toward African ancestral arts for inspiration. His graphic works were included in journals such as The Crisis, Opportunity and New Masses and became central to the visual culture of the New Negro Movement. Wells’s graphic style was influenced by European Expressionism, African and Egyptian art as well as popular Art Deco motifs. His extensive repertoire as a printmaker incorporated lithography, linoleum cut and wood engraving; his subjects included Bible stories, the urban worker, mythology, Africa and the nude. Also known for his expressionistic painting style, the Harmon Foundation awarded Wells a gold medal in ...

Article

Louise Sandhaus

( Yvonne Elizabeth Stella )

(b Ontario, May 31, 1953).

American graphic designer, art historian and art educator of Canadian birth. She studied at Michigan State University, East Lansing, transferring in 1973 to the design programme run by Katherine McCoy at Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI, receiving her BFA in 1975. She then worked for Vignelli Associates in New York from 1977 to 1978, while researching the history of American graphic design post World War II on weekends. Her personal research led to further study at Yale University (1982). While at Yale she designed Perspecta 19, Yale’s architectural journal, followed by the Chamber Works and Theatrum Mundi portfolios for the architect Daniel Libeskind (b 1946), and architect John Hejduk’s book Mask of Medusa in 1985. These projects launched her reputation for thoughtful and distinctively designed books on architecture, art and design.

Her 1982 MFA thesis, entitled Trends in American Graphic Design: 1930–1955, was quickly recognized as an important contribution to design scholarship and subsequently led to many commissions for essays. While teaching in the University of Houston’s architecture school during the early 1980s, Wild wrote the influential essay ‘More Than A Few Questions about Graphic Design Education’ (...

Article

Roy R. Behrens

[ née Friedlaender ]

(b Lyon, Oct 11, 1896; d Pond Farm, near Guerneville, CA, Feb 24, 1985).

American ceramic artist, writer and teacher of French birth, active also in Germany . Born in France to a German–English family of silk merchants, her family moved to Germany when she was in her teens. After secondary school she studied sculpture in Berlin and then worked as a porcelain decorator. In her autobiography, The Invisible Core, she recalled the moment in 1919 when she saw the first announcement of the Bauhaus: ‘I stood in front of that proclamation, moved to the quick, read, and re-read it. “That’s it’, I said. “I must go to the Bauhaus and learn my craft there”. It was that simple.’ She studied there from 1919 to 1926, during which her major teachers were sculptor Gerhard Marcks and potter Max Krehan. Having been designated a master potter in 1926, she became the head of ceramics at the Burg Giebichenstein in Halle. There she began to make prototypes for mass-produced dinnerware for the Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur (KPM). When the National Socialists came to power in ...

Article

The Federal Art Project (FAP) was the visual arts branch of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a government agency created in 1935 to find employment for people on public projects in response to the Great Depression. In December 1933 the ambitious Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) was set up to create regional offices to employ artists, with Edward Bruce of the Treasury Department as national director. The successful program employed some 3749 artists across the country, but it was phased out by the summer of 1934. (Bruce later headed other programs under the Treasury Department that employed artists.)

With the relief needs of artists, writers, musicians and theater people unresolved and with the experimental climate of the New Deal still energizing legislation, Harry Hopkins of the WPA set up Federal Project No. 1 in August 1935, which had the most far-reaching cultural impact on the country. There were four cultural projects: Art, Music, Theatre and Writers. For the art project, ...

Article

Robert Winter

Guides to every state in the Union (and some of the major cities) that were written under the auspices of the Federal Writers Project created by the Works Progress Administration/Federal Art Project during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The idea was part of Roosevelt’s attempt to find work for the thousands of Americans who had been left jobless by the Great Depression of the 1930s. Published between 1937 and 1942, each one began with short chapters on subjects such as political history, the arts, architecture, labor movements, economics and education. These were followed by sections on major cities and their resources. About half of each guide was devoted to a series of tours that might be taken along country roads as well as major highways. They included details of small towns that are still valuable to scholars.

The Federal Writers Project hired some important authors, but few of them wrote for the guides. They were composed by people of lesser note such as unknown college professors, amateur naturalists and architecture buffs. The great majority of the researchers were people who had no training in gathering facts but who nevertheless pursued them with care. One also suspects that the high quality of the finished products was the result of the work of capable editors....

Article

Michelle Yun

[ Huei-Zu ]

(b Taipei, Taiwan, 1961; d New York, NY, Feb 8, 1997).

Taiwanese curator and art historian. Yang immigrated to the United States at age 15. She received a BA in Art History from Yale University in 1984 that included a six-month sabbatical to Jinan University in Guangzhou to study Chinese in 1982. Yang was exposed to art from a young age through her mother, Suhwa Chou Yang, who ran the Hunglin Art Gallery in Taipei in the 1970s. Upon graduation Yang held internships at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art , both in New York, before accepting a position as Assistant Curator at the New Museum, New York, in 1988. Notable exhibitions she curated during her time at the New Museum include 1+1+1: Works by Alfredo Jaar (1992); Skin Deep (1993); and The Final Frontier (1993). She left the New Museum in 1993 to work as an independent curator and critic while studying to earn a PhD from the Institute of Fine Arts of New York University. In early ...