Asian and African art greatly influenced modern art. Thoroughly explain how and why this happened

In an essay of approximately 1000 words (with a typical font and spacing, this will be approximately 4 pages), respond to the following question.
Asian and African art greatly influenced modern art. Thoroughly explain how and why this happened, and provide detailed examples of this influence.
Do this using ONLY the examples that Soltes discusses and explains in his lectures. Do not use Internet sources for inspiration nor as help.


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Thomas Edison State College | 35 American Romantic Realism and Its Progress
America and its wide expanses is beginning to take shape as a series of nations, beginning, of course, with the
United States, towards the end of the 18th century at precisely the same time when Europe is in the throes of a
series of revolutions– political, industrial, technological, scientific, intellectual. In this juxtaposition of presences to
either side of the Atlantic, one asks, what is there by way of an artistic relationship that could go from sea to
shining sea? Aspiring American artists like Benjamin West, born back in 1738 and lived until 1820, traveled
somewhat extensively to Europe, perhaps moving to England eventually or to the European mainland at other
times in order to train and be inspired by way of visual art.
And his 1770 Death of General Wolfe put him on the European map. This is a dramatic moment in the war of the
British against the French for domination of North America that we speak of as the French and Indian War, that
the British think of as the war to free North America from the French tyranny, in the midst of which in the year
1759 after a great victory in battle against the French, General Wolfe was wounded, mortally, fatally. And the
moment that the artist has captured is the moment when he is swooning in a secular, sacred, patriotic kind of
moment that is so different in feel, this for the British side of what will become America, from what we got looking
earlier at the work, The Oath of the Horatii , that comes for the French painted by David 14 years after this and
which places the issue of patriotism in the context, visually, of Rome.
This is the contemporary visual context and yet one which relates to art-historical pasts. So we see the general
swooning, swathed in red, the red of sacrifice, bathed in a kind of preternatural light, swooning in the arms of two
of his loyal aides. The central element gives us a kind of trinity. And then two figures to the right increase the
Christ sensibility of the general’s demise in that prayerful gesture that they have with their hands.
And then we have that Indian, that Native American to the left who kind of plays the role of Longinus, the centurion
among the Romans who was converted at the moment of the crucifixion. The English flag rises in the background
behind the central group, like the cross of Christ’s demise, that separates the sky into dark and light sides as a
messenger rushes in from the battlefield with the news of the victory. And so in this tour de force of sacred-secular
imagery, we have a carefully contrived composition.
We have dramatic lighting. We have precise brush work, the sort of thing that not only made his name in Europe
but also made of Benjamin West a very important influence on the a nascent painting world in the United States
that was not yet the United States at this point. At this point, it was still the British colonies being protected from
the evil French. By the time we get to John Singleton Copley, born in 1738 and died in 1815, and when we get to
his Watson and the Shark , painted around 1778, then we have moved to the United States rather than the British
And it was, however, while visiting England at the suggestion of West and of Sir Joshua Reynolds that Copley
painted this work, painted it in England after the United States has become the United States, giving us a kind of
classic, romantic vision of man against nature. In this case, the struggle against nature is the struggle against a
would-be devouring shark, but actually telling the story of an event that took place back in Havana Harbor back in
1749 when shipmates had tried to save a 14-year-old crew member by the name of Brook Watson from the shark
that attacked him in the harbor. And so what Copley has given us against the backdrop of ships at rest and the
architecture thrusting into a very blue and yellow sky against a very dark greenish kind of sea, we see two figures
rising up in vertical, a black man holding the ropes, a white man with his hair blown by the wind, holding the spear
with which he tries to get the shark.
So we have this idealized black and white together as if the issue of slavery doesn’t exist, as if the issue of race
relations in this and that part of the world doesn’t exist. We have the figure of Watson on his back, reaching back,
and that enormous shark, reaching for him, the vicious beast with its jaws agape, closing in on that naked, palefleshed kind of victim, surging, the shark from right to left, the hair of Watson from left to right, to meet each other.
This is the third attack.
This painting gives us the moment in all of its ambiguity. Will the shark get to him, or will he get away? Unless one
knows the denouement of the story, which apparently is that he was rescued, one might suppose that he wasn’t.
The moment looks so terrifying.
Sooner or later, the dramatic landscape of America, itself, would draw the eyes of painters and not events taking
place in which the landscape plays second fiddle. So if we look at a work by George Caleb Bingham, who lived
between 1811 and 1879, who immortalized the fur tradesmen who plied the waters of the Mississippi River and its
Missouri River tributary in a worker done about 1845, called, variously, Fur Traders on the Mississippi , Fur
Traders on the Missouri, Fur Traders Descending the Mississippi, Fur Traders Descending the Missouri , take
your pick. You get the same painting.
He has this very delicate and very quiet and very sweet, tranquil kind of scene that he places before us where he’s
done a masterful job of giving us gentle contrasts between the very foggy sky that starts to swallow up or perhaps
starts to reveal the very fuzzy landscape elements in the background and the increasingly sharper sense of the
water, however tranquil it is, as we move towards the foreground. In the center, we have this very still boat with
three figures in it that describe a very subtle diagonal up from the cat in the left to the men bent over with that
nice, bright blue garment to the center to the rigidly erect figure with the reddish garment to the right. So we get
that kind of subtle dynamism within this very tranquil kind of scene.
But the landscape, itself, in its majestic, endless sweeps and rises, was even earlier explored by Thomas Cole,
born in 1801, lived until 1848 in his 1836 painting, The Oxbow , focusing on a moment in the Connecticut River,
not to be confused, The Oxbow , with a place in the far West and an incident in the far West described in a novel
100 years later. This is the Connecticut oxbow in the Connecticut River where the discerning eye recognizes an
interesting contrast that Cole has given us between the wild landscape elements to the left, over which we see this
emerging storm with its dramatic cloud formations, and the quiet and tranquil area to the right, which is the
farmland that has been civilized already, and above it, the bright sky, to which the storm has not yet acceded.
So we have this deliberate contrast, defined by this undulating river and defined by the diagonalizing landscape of
foliage, and completed by the diagonalized tree that helps create a kind of rhythm that moves the eyes across this
whole concept, which gives us a rather interesting conceptual symmetria– there’s that word again, balance made
up of dynamic imbalances– in the following way because we understand that the storm is coming from left to right
that will eventually devour what is to the right. So the dark sky will take over the light. The whole landscape will be
enveloped by it.
But, in fact, civilization as a process is moving from right to left, that the farmland to the right will eventually take
over the uncivilized wild landscape to the left. So we have a kind of dynamism between takeovers from left to right,
the upper part, and right to left, the lower part, of the image. Now by 1872, Thomas Moran had painted the first of
several versions of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Moran was born in 1837, and he would live until 1926. By the time he had painted his first version, the country
was nearly a century old and really beginning to flex its topographic muscles across the continent, where you may
recall from the previous lecture, the Peredvizhniki, the 19th-century Russian wanderer painter exalted in the broad
expanses of the Russian landscape that seemed, the steppes, to go on forever. One of the areas of the American
landscape that drew the eye of painters as we move through the 19th century is not that sweeping steppe, but
rather the soaring peaks of mountains and the plunging rocky canyons with craggy trees and fiery displays of
rushing rivers and waterfalls and the like.
And so Moran’s vision emphasizes the enormity of this dynamic, natural world with it’s very exciting colors and
shapes. The version of that painting to which we look, actually, is one of the later ones. It was done between 1893
and 1901. And this series of paintings of these kinds of landscapes are what inspired the government, ultimately,
to create our system of national parks. If you think about it, Teddy Roosevelt’s administration, so important to that,
is coming on the heels of this work in which we see this dramatic, high horizon, very little sky. So this is almost the
antithesis of the low-horizon, soaring-sky imagery, let’s say of the 17th century Dutch or the 19th century
Peredvizhniki, or even by comparison of the previous series of American images that we have seen.
The emphasis here is not on sky. It’s on land, and that emphasis is so extreme that there’s not a single figure that
is shown here. We are simply looking at the beauty of the landscape, itself. The pride in the American landscape
is what Moran presents to us here.
There are other American artists, at the same time, who take a completely different kind of direction, a direction
that is filled with human beings, and where the landscape is the backdrop for human dramas. Winslow Homer,
born in 1836, lived until 1910, tended to focus more on people in action within a landscape than on landscape, per
se. In his Old Mill or Morning Bell , done in 1871 or possibly 1872, he centers this shimmering image of grass and
trees around an old, dilapidated structure, an old dilapidated mill, toward which a young lady in bright red moves.
And she brings our eye to her both by the red that she wears and by being essentially in the center of the image.
As she moves up this rickety bridge, presumably to go to work in this early morning which is revealed by its
beautiful, soft light, ahead of her, the first to get toward the mill, the hunched over dog, casually getting there. And
there have been those who have taken this, and I think mistaken this, not as a mill to which these ladies are
heading to work but a school to which they are going to attend. I think not.
I think the rickety bridge leading far away to the left is more likely that leading to a mill, not leading to a school.
And the underlying social context of this painting also, it seems to me, suggests mill. And here is the context. A
few years after the Civil War, as America is beginning its transformation from being an agronomist to a more
industrial society, it was often the case that people came out of the cities during the summertime, particularly
school teachers who were not well paid– some things, you see, have never changed– who were not well paid in
the summer went out of the city into the countryside to find employment in the New England mills.
And this is the area where he is painting. He, himself, Homer, was a city guy. He was from New York, but he
seems again and again to be drawn preferentially to the countryside for his images. He did spend a year in
France. He had seen the impressionists and was drawn by their interest in color to emulate that.
He was, himself, not overly well recognized as an artist in the course of his lifetime. And as the 1870s moved on,
he was increasingly a loner, not altogether unlike the lady we see here in the center of this image, this lonely girl in
red who contrasts so strongly with the three other young workers we see to the right who are clearly indigenous to
the area, who are dressed in the darker brown, gray, black colors that tie them to the countryside, where she
stands out from it as she stands separate from them. And the question then becomes, will she ever make friends
with them, or is she doomed to have a very lonely summer at the mill that will be followed by a return to school
and all those yelling kids with whom she’ll have to deal?
Well, a kind of brighter vision of kids, anyway, yelling and screaming, but in fun, a brighter atmosphere is found in
Homer’s painting, Snap the Whip, of 1872-73, its subject the antithesis of the previous one. Since if the previous
one is women at work, this is, of course, boys at play. And here we see the late summer sun that is blasting the
whole image with afternoon light.
The grass is alive with flowers and insects. That simple red structure in the background picks up the reds that we
see in the foreground grass, the rusty leaves on an otherwise green and very bluish-green hillside, and the
reddish shadows on the bare feet of the children, they are about to fling each other around. That’s what the game
of snap the whip is.
But one wonders whether in his European travels the artist saw Bruegel’s The Blind Leading the Blind that we saw
in an earlier lecture for Snap the Whip seems in some respects to echo this work. Although Homer has radically
transformed the one to the other. It’s not just that the bluish tints in the figures of Bruegel have become the
reddish tents in the image by Homer. But Homer has also multiplied the number of figures, even though he’s kept
the front figure falling and separated somewhat from the others.
He’s flipped the figures around altogether. He’s shrunk the figures in comparison to the size of the landscape
relative to Bruegel’s larger figures in comparison to the size of the landscape. What is a church in the background
of Bruegel’s image is simply a building, perhaps a one-room schoolhouse– who knows– in Homer’s image. And in
any case, he has turned what is a moral lesson, a lesson on human foolishness, into a simple exercise in boyhood
The issue of the American relationship to Europe in the last third of the 19th century, it is the other side of the coin
of that question with respect to Russia and the Peredvizhniki. This question of America and its relationship to
Europe as it is expanding toward the west and thinking of itself as going to the western edge of the continent and
thinking back to its European roots is one which has different layers to it. The Americans, as consumers, as I
noted in passing a few lectures back, appreciated impressionism before the French, themselves, did.
And there were Americans who were taken with ideas expressed by Impressionism who went and visited or
stayed in Europe and took their own paths of applying some of the issues and ideas that feed into Impressionism.
There is James McNeil Whistler who, 1834 to 1903, came to Europe at the age of 21 in 1855 and essentially
never left and who embraces elements of Impressionism, well, some of the time, anyway, rather full heartedly. In
arguably the most famous of his works, we see from 1871 An Arrangement in Gray and Black. That’s his
preferred title.
The subtitle is The Artist’s Mother. We know of it as Whistler’s Mother. He thought of it as an arrangement in gray
and black. He thought of it as an exercise in artistic prerogatives with respect to the relationship of form to form
and color to color and texture to texture, the very sort of thing that Monet had talked about in the context of his
[INAUDIBLE] when he said the issue is this dialogue between textures, between colors, between forms. And the
fact that the subject happens to be people, some of whom are clothed, some of whom are not, is irrelevant to the
artist’s concern.
And, of course, Monet would carry that idea in his own direction with his series of works on haystacks and
cathedrals where the issue was the play of light across a surface that is the artist’s subject and not the particular
subject that happens to be the surface across which the light is playing. So we look at Whistler’s painting, and we
see how he has juxtaposed the black fields of the curtains to the left and the dado along the lower part of the wall
and the garment that envelops his mother against the gray wall and the golden floor and the echo of that floor in
the little stool upon which she rests her feet and also contrasts, then, the rectilinear elements of curtain and dado
and the paintings that we see in part on the wall with the curved forms of his mother so that his issue and his
interest is very much one of composition and color and texture, rather than the subject, who incidentally is his
mother, whose face we see in profile as a rather severe one.
Even more emphatically impressionistic in its field is a painting like Whistler’s 1875 Nocturne in Black and Gold,
the Falling Rocket which is a full-fledged exercise in the play of light but not across the sun and shade dappled
field or forest of the French impressionists. It’s rather a night vision, a night impression of exploding sparks of
color spilling across a very vertical, dark backdrop. Tiny figures are there but virtually lost in the image, watching,
as we are, London’s Cremorne Gardens and the display of fireworks there.
But Whistler would say, well, this isn’t really a particularized place. It’s not a particularized moment. It’s just a
general image of the explosion of sparks spraying and cascading from a central source across the picture plane.
As I said a moment back, Whistler came to Europe at the age of 21, London and Paris, and never left again. He
painted side by side, actually, with Courbet. And in a sense, his art then leapfrogs over the particulars of the
Monet, Renoir, Pissarro impressionists to create his own vision, which is to say he’s very American in being rather
unclassifiable as to exactly what style we should associate with him.
Meanwhile, Mary Cassatt, born in 1844, died in 1926, went to France in 1868. She had spent much of her
childhood there, so she spoke fluent French, which meant that she could really communicate with the French
impressionist artists as not all Americans who went to Paris could. And when her works were rejected by the Salon
in 1875 and ’77, she was introduced to the circle of the impressionists by Degas, for whom she posed many times.
And as a painter in her own right, she’s renowned for her many moving images of mothers and children. So
before us, we see an 1889 pastel on paper of Woman and Child before a Washtand and Bowl with a very
delicate palette, characteristic of impressionist painting, but a much tighter kind of brush work than that that we
typically associate certainly with Monet and even with Renoir. In fact, her brush work is most like Degas, not
perhaps accidentally since they had such a close association with each other.
Nor in looking at such a dulcet image can one neglect the long history of images of mother and child, specifically
Madonna and Christ child, in Western art that lead up to what we might view as a kind of culmination, then, of the
whole process of humanizing that sort of image, making them like us. This is simply a mother and child. They are
like us.
We see them in this gentle space. We see the washstand behind them. We even see that little motif of the mirror,
so we can see the back of the head in that mirror to give us a sense of our own space. Cassatt is important not
only as a link between America and Europe because she is a consummate painter in the impressionist mode of
her own particularized style, but because she was well enough off to purchase impressionist works and bring them
back to the United States, whi …
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