The Journey Into American Art Begins

Thanks for joining me!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

Hello and Welcome to Art 474/674:  History of American Art.  I use blogs to extend classroom discussion beyond the four walls of a lecture room.  I also like blogs because, in this global age of electronic communication, these platforms are available 24/7.

For the first blog post this 2018 Spring Semester, I offer this thought by John Singleton Copley, arguably the finest painter and creative force in the visual arts in Colonial America, that was expressed in a letter to Henry Pelham at the end of the 18th century:  “It is a pleasing reflection that I shall stand amongst the first of the artists that shall have led the country (America) to the knowledge and cultivation of the fine arts, happy in the pleasing reflection that they will one day shine with a lustre not inferior to what they have done in Greece or Rome in my native country.”

What do you interpret the underlying meaning to be in this letter to Henry Pelham by Copley?  What do you believe he was trying to convey to Pelham as Copley reflected on his native country?

Published by: roberttracyphd

Academic professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. I teach theory courses in Art and Architecture History. In addition, I also curate exhibitions on campus as well as in other venues nationally and internationally.

12 Comments

12 thoughts on “The Journey Into American Art Begins”

  1. Copley was well known for his realistic portraits in colonial Boston and continued with his practice even though it had been undermined by the hierarchy of subjects created by the academies in Europe. Copley could paint not just portraits, but also genre paintings of scenes in everyday life. In his letter to his stepbrother, Henry, he refers to those artists who also participate in this “low form” of painting and hopes that this new style of portraiture will be one day up to par with the illustrious religious/mythological paintings of European tradition.

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  2. The way I would interpret this quote by John Singleton Copley is that he is very passionate about the arts and desires to be one of the first established fine artists, academically, in America. He compares himself to Greek and Roman artists that are traditionally accepted as fine or high art. When looking at many of his works it is quite obvious he has seen and has been inspired by european painters that have specialized in portraiture. It is actually very interesting to me to read this quote because as Copley was making art he was aware that he would be remembered as one of the first. He seemed to be very confident that American artists, like himself, would be revered among past masters from Europe. Although as America grew and different styles are art emerged, American artists are considered, like Copley said, “not inferior”, in fact some of the most famous artists of the twentieth century are from America.

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  3. I think Copley was trying to convey a sense of pride and responsibility in his letter to Henry Pelham. It seems as though he had the foresight to see that the art that would be created in America would be incredible, standing the test of time, and with a beauty that rivaled the artwork of Greece and Rome. His faith in the creativity of the soon coming artists is interesting, as is his sense of responsibility in leading these artists in cultivating fine arts.

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  4. I think Copley was trying to convey a sense of pride and responsibility in his letter to Henry Pelham. It seems as though he had the foresight to see that the art that would be created in America would be incredible, standing the test of time, and with a beauty that rivaled the artwork of Greece and Rome. His faith in the creativity of the soon coming artists is interesting, as is his sense of responsibility in leading these artists in cultivating fine arts.

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  5. John Singleton Copley wanted to express his love for the arts and his duty to spread that love across America. He wants to see American art become as interesting, captivating, and awe inspiring as the works and arts that have come out of the Mediterranean (Italy, Greece, and Europe). Copely wanted American fine art to shine with ‘lustere’ as famed artists such as Michelangelo and the Statue of David.

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  6. Here, Copley is highlighting that streak of independence and difference that America will excel at, in comparison to the ingrained European artistic traditions. European artistic traditions have strict hierarchies of which mediums and even subjects are considered the highest, best forms. Copley is expressing his desire to lead American in its own artistic tradition, one which he believes will not only stand the test of time, but beat out those in established in Europe.

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  7. Copley is plainly saying that American art WILL be great, and WILL be known. Just like the great works of art that the Romans and Greeks made, that are widely talked about even today, thousands of years later. Copley is saying that he is the pioneer, his works of art will be known thousands of years from know as something equaling the greatness of a Roman statues and architecture.

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  8. I believe that Copley knew that he would become a huge innovator for America. After all, art reveals and shapes the culture that it is made in. Because of his skill, he knew that more people would be asking for portraits and commissioned work and therefore he would become a major name when people would discuss the history of American art. His way of interpreting the physical would influence generations to come. Copley was also hoping that his work, and others’, could one day compete with the grandeur of ancient Greek and Roman art (which are commonly seen as the highest points in art history). Copley was trying to convey that he was at a pivotal moment: he could be one of the leading figures to help define America and American art. He could launch an explosion of beautiful and inspirational culture or he could give everything American a bad name.

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  9. Copley is acknowledging that he was a part of the rise and progression of Colonial America fine art. Even though he was primarily commissioned for portraits, he was able to capture the passion, interest, and heart of the American people he painted. He saw that independent and unique nature of Colonial paintings and knew they would be just as influential as art made in Greece or Rome; he knew art from American would leave a mark on the world.

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  10. Copley knew that America would be something big, he understood that those who succeed are those who can see beyond and have vision to what it could be. I think Copley’s words are timeless, specially here in Vegas where art ins’t something huge, but it is starting to take up and gain momentum. I’ve met various people who have moved or stayed in Vegas not because of what it now is, but because like Copley have had vision and faith of what it can be. I think Copley was trying to convey this idea of vision and getting on board of something great early on, its more about the overall story that the single life– Copley probably understood and knew that art in America wasn’t going to reach its peak on his own lifetime, but he knew still that being part of it then would be being part of something bigger than he could imagine and that would exceed his lifetime.

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  11. I believe that in this quote, Copley is expressing his belief that America would one day rival the greatness of places like Greece and Rome, and that he was proud that he was a part of the beginning of that push towards greatness. I think he knew that the country was going to change everything and that he was excited to be at the forefront, at least artistically, of this new land. In a way, Copley is expressing his version of the American dream, in that the artists of America would one day be as well known as the classics.

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  12. I feel that Copley was conveying a overall feeling of pride and importance within his letter towards Henry Palham. When thinking about it, it seems that he had a prudence of insight to view art could be created in America and would be a tremendous opportunity. All of the creativity and belief he had for upcoming artists was very fascinating as his stance at the time had shaped young minds to become artists that wrap around the fine arts.

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