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American Expressionism: Art and Social Change, 1920-1950 Hardcover – May 1, 2003


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harry N. Abrams; First Edition edition (May 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0810942313
  • ISBN-13: 978-0810942318
  • Product Dimensions: 12.4 x 10.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #80,492 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

When Abstract Expressionism burst on the American scene in the 1940s, it elbowed another kind of American expressionism off the stage. Vivid evocations of the poor and disenfranchised in paintings by Jack Levine, Bernece Berkman and many others were now seen as stodgy and unsophisticated. In American Expressionism: Art and Social Change 1920-1950, cultural historian Bram Dijkstra argues that a generation of important left-wing artists, many of them Jewish, were the victims of intellectual, political and corporate interests bent on promoting a brighter, shinier United States. Unfortunately, Dijkstra undercuts his thesis with a haranguing tone, unconvincing analyses of individual works, and a dated view of abstraction as inherently "anti-humanist." His sweeping denunciation of "Nordic" (i.e., white, Protestant) artists leads him to view even an heroically scaled painting of a black soldier by John Steuart Curry—a "Nordic" artist collected by the NAACP—as a racist cartoon. At the heart of this contentious volume are 233 illustrations by dozens of little-known artists united by a passion for social justice. These works can be seen in a traveling exhibition at the Columbus (Ohio) Museum of Art from May 16 to August 24, 2003.—Cathy Curtis

From Publishers Weekly

The conventional story of American visual art generally pegs postwar Abstract Expressionism, in the hands of Jackson Pollack, Willem de Kooning, etc., as the first truly mature manifestation of a national aesthetic, followed by Pop Art and minimalism as its glamorous and cerebral heirs. This polemical picture book seeks to overturn that history, finding in paintings of the pre-AbEx era a rich and undervalued tradition, and an antidote to a 20th-century art history that the author characterizes as fundamentally effete. Collecting images from provincial museums across the country, Dijkstra mixes well-known artists such as Jacob Lawrence and Georgia O'Keefe with consistently under-appreciated talents such as Albert Pinkham Ryder and Charles Burchfield, along with a canon of fascinating unknowns. Together, they flesh out an alternative history of much more humanistic dimensions than the hermetic and apolitical legacy of the postwar decades, with art that is decidedly more earthy and populist and socially engaged. Although Dijkstra pads the case with some sentimental choices-noble sharecroppers and grungy smelting factories and the like-his case stands as a convincing rebuff to the exhausted narratives of contemporary advanced art. Moreover, it resonates interestingly with the sources and practices of emerging artists in the post-conceptual era. This is a provocative, important book.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Barbara Seranella on August 15, 2003
Format: Hardcover
AMERICAN EXPRESSIONISM is a beautiful book and one could have no better guide that cultural historian Bram Dijkstra. He is passionate, articulate, intelligent and knowledgeable about his subject. I am richer and have a deeper appreciation for the world of expressionism for having experienced this fine book.
Bravo.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Nico on October 23, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The art contained within earns a night sky full of stars but I realisticaly dropped the rating to 4 stars because the writer/critic is insufferable. Its not that he writes overtly wordy, it is that Bram's opinions would float on water; they have no substance. I think some of his theories were formulated just to incense. (This book did get Bram more noticed in the art world) This movement of art is important because it questioned our societies norms and not the public's taste in esthetics. The space provided for insightful text became wasted space. Of course this my opinion. American Expresionism is becoming an increasingly forgotten form of social protest. Try finding a monograph on Rico LeBrun. My point proven. This movement deserves better analysis. It was shuffled like dirt under America's carpet so Abstract Expressionism could get the red carpet treatment. Try finding a monograph by Jackson Pollock, oh yeah, a hundred or so different books popped up. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the Abstracts and the Regionalists as well; I just don't want it to be at the expense of the Expressionists. Read this book and keep American Expressionism from disappearing from history.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Alex Gandhara on January 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover
An excellent compilation of a mid-century American art style. Despite the promised controversy, Dijkstra's commentaries are brilliant and quite convincing. This is certainly not a pretty or unemotional art. But what a rewarding experience.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Frederick S. Holton on November 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The main weakness of American Expressionism is the extreme and unrelenting bias of the author. Dijkstra is quick to establish a divide between the evil, racist, self-aggrandizing, "Nordic" (i.e., Northern European) ruling class, and the sincere and socially engaged Eastern European, Southern European, and Asian immigrant class. For Dijkstra, the main criterion for art is social commitment. He consequently dismisses American regionalists like Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood out of hand and goes on to say that "we must ... confront the troubling connections that did, and continue to, exist between regionalism and the conventions of Nazi and Soviet propaganda art" (53). After World War II, American art was robbed of content when corporate art collectors fundamentally changed the market, all to fulfill the "frivolous ambitions of vastly overpaid CEOs" (118). Dijkstra clearly believes what he's saying, but that does not keep him from being at times disingenuous. Particularly pathetic is his pointing out the corporate and "Nordic" bias implicit in the fact that none of the "alien" names he is writing about are included in the spell-checker dictionary on Microsoft Word (16)!
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful By madame mim on December 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Many, most paintings were new to me. I like that. Many, many paintings. The writing is very interesting, from a different point of view than I've seen anywhere. He is anti-Abstract art, it's dominance and origin at this time. He has good arguments.
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