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Реферат: U.S. Culture

American arts flourish in many places and receive support from private foundations, large corporations, local governments, federal agencies, museums, galleries, and individuals. What is considered worthy of support often depends on definitions of quality and of what constitutes art. This is a tricky subject when the popular arts are increasingly incorporated into the domain of the fine arts and new forms such as performance art and conceptual art appear. As a result, defining what is art affects what students are taught about past traditions (for example, Native American tent paintings, oral traditions, and slave narratives) and what is produced in the future. While some practitioners, such as studio artists, are more vulnerable to these definitions because they depend on financial support to exercise their talents, others, such as poets and photographers, are less immediately constrained.

Artists operate in a world where those who theorize and critique their work have taken on an increasingly important role. Audiences are influenced by a variety of intermediaries—critics, the schools, foundations that offer grants, the National Endowment for the Arts, gallery owners, publishers, and theater producers. In some areas, such as the performing arts, popular audiences may ultimately define success. In other arts, such as painting and sculpture, success is far more dependent on critics and a few, often wealthy, art collectors. Writers depend on publishers and on the public for their success.

Unlike their predecessors, who relied on formal criteria and appealed to aesthetic judgments, critics at the end of the 20th century leaned more toward popular tastes, taking into account groups previously ignored and valuing the merger of popular and elite forms. These critics often relied less on aesthetic judgments than on social measures and were eager to place artistic productions in the context of the time and social conditions in which they were created. Whereas earlier critics attempted to create an American tradition of high art, later critics used art as a means to give power and approval to nonelite groups who were previously not considered worthy of including in the nation’s artistic heritage.

Not so long ago, culture and the arts were assumed to be an unalterable inheritance—the accumulated wisdom and highest forms of achievement that were established in the past. In the 20th century generally, and certainly since World War II, artists have been boldly destroying older traditions in sculpture, painting, dance, music, and literature. The arts have changed rapidly, with one movement replacing another in quick succession.


Visual Arts

The visual arts have traditionally included forms of expression that appeal to the eyes through painted surfaces, and to the sense of space through carved or molded materials. In the 19th century, photographs were added to the paintings, drawings, and sculpture that make up the visual arts. The visual arts were further augmented in the 20th century by the addition of other materials, such as found objects. These changes were accompanied by a profound alteration in tastes, as earlier emphasis on realistic representation of people, objects, and landscapes made way for a greater range of imaginative forms.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, American art was considered inferior to European art. Despite noted American painters such as Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, Mary Cassatt, and John Marin, American visual arts barely had an international presence.

American art began to flourish during the Great Depression of the 1930s as New Deal government programs provided support to artists along with other sectors of the population. Artists connected with each other and developed a sense of common purpose through programs of the Public Works Administration, such as the Federal Art Project, as well as programs sponsored by the Treasury Department. Most of the art of the period, including painting, photography, and mural work, focused on the plight of the American people during the depression, and most artists painted real people in difficult circumstances. Artists such as Thomas Hart Benton and Ben Shahn expressed the suffering of ordinary people through their representations of struggling farmers and workers. While artists such as Benton and Grant Wood focused on rural life, many painters of the 1930s and 1940s depicted the multicultural life of the American city. Jacob Lawrence, for example, re-created the history and lives of African Americans. Other artists, such as Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper, tried to use human figures to describe emotional states such as loneliness and despair.

Abstract Expressionism

Shortly after World War II, American art began to garner worldwide attention and admiration. This change was due to the innovative fervor of abstract expressionism in the 1950s and to subsequent modern art movements and artists. The abstract expressionists of the mid-20th century broke from the realist and figurative tradition set in the 1930s. They emphasized their connection to international artistic visions rather than the particularities of people and place, and most abstract expressionists did not paint human figures (although artist Willem de Kooning did portrayals of women). Color, shape, and movement dominated the canvases of abstract expressionists. Some artists broke with the Western art tradition by adopting innovative painting styles—during the 1950s Jackson Pollock "painted" by dripping paint on canvases without the use of brushes, while the paintings of Mark Rothko often consisted of large patches of color that seem to vibrate.

Abstract expressionists felt alienated from their surrounding culture and used art to challenge society’s conventions. The work of each artist was quite individual and distinctive, but all the artists identified with the radicalism of artistic creativity. The artists were eager to challenge conventions and limits on expression in order to redefine the nature of art. Their radicalism came from liberating themselves from the confining artistic traditions of the past.

The most notable activity took place in New York City, which became one of the world’s most important art centers during the second half of the 20th century. The radical fervor and inventiveness of the abstract expressionists, their frequent association with each other in New York City’s Greenwich Village, and the support of a group of gallery owners and dealers turned them into an artistic movement. Also known as the New York School, the participants included Barnett Newman, Robert Motherwell, Franz Kline, and Arshile Gorky, in addition to Rothko and Pollock.

The members of the New York School came from diverse backgrounds such as the American Midwest and Northwest, Armenia, and Russia, bringing an international flavor to the group and its artistic visions. They hoped to appeal to art audiences everywhere, regardless of culture, and they felt connected to the radical innovations introduced earlier in the 20th century by European artists such as Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp. Some of the artists—Hans Hofmann, Gorky, Rothko, and de Kooning—were not born in the United States, but all the artists saw themselves as part of an international creative movement and an aesthetic rebellion.

As artists felt released from the boundaries and conventions of the past and free to emphasize expressiveness and innovation, the abstract expressionists gave way to other innovative styles in American art. Beginning in the 1930s Joseph Cornell created hundreds of boxed assemblages, usually from found objects, with each based on a single theme to create a mood of contemplation and sometimes of reverence. Cornell's boxes exemplify the modern fascination with individual vision, art that breaks down boundaries between forms such as painting and sculpture, and the use of everyday objects toward a new end. Other artists, such as Robert Rauschenberg, combined disparate objects to create large, collage-like sculptures known as combines in the 1950s. Jasper Johns, a painter, sculptor, and printmaker, recreated countless familiar objects, most memorably the American flag.

The most prominent American artistic style to follow abstract expressionism was the pop art movement that began in the 1950s. Pop art attempted to connect traditional art and popular culture by using images from mass culture. To shake viewers out of their preconceived notions about art, sculptor Claes Oldenburg used everyday objects such as pillows and beds to create witty, soft sculptures. Roy Lichtenstein took this a step further by elevating the techniques of commercial art, notably cartooning, into fine art worthy of galleries and museums. Lichtenstein's large, blown-up cartoons fill the surface of his canvases with grainy black dots and question the existence of a distinct realm of high art. These artists tried to make their audiences see ordinary objects in a refreshing new way, thereby breaking down the conventions that formerly defined what was worthy of artistic representation.

Probably the best-known pop artist, and a leader in the movement, was Andy Warhol, whose images of a Campbell’s soup can and of the actress Marilyn Monroe explicitly eroded the boundaries between the art world and mass culture. Warhol also cultivated his status as a celebrity. He worked in film as a director and producer to break down the boundaries between traditional and popular art. Unlike the abstract expressionists, whose conceptual works were often difficult to understand, Andy Warhol's pictures, and his own face, were instantly recognizable.

Conceptual art, as it came to be known in the 1960s, like its predecessors, sought to break free of traditional artistic associations. In conceptual art, as practiced by Sol LeWitt and Joseph Kosuth, concept takes precedent over actual object, by stimulating thought rather than following an art tradition based on conventional standards of beauty and artisanship.

Modern artists changed the meaning of traditional visual arts and brought a new imaginative dimension to ordinary experience. Art was no longer viewed as separate and distinct, housed in museums as part of a historical inheritance, but as a continuous creative process. This emphasis on constant change, as well as on the ordinary and mundane, reflected a distinctly American democratizing perspective. Viewing art in this way removed the emphasis from technique and polished performance, and many modern artworks and experiences became more about expressing ideas than about perfecting finished products.


Photography is probably the most democratic modern art form because it can be, and is, practiced by most Americans. Since 1888, when George Eastman developed the Kodak camera that allowed anyone to take pictures, photography has struggled to be recognized as a fine art form. In the early part of the 20th century, photographer, editor, and artistic impresario Alfred Stieglitz established 291, a gallery in New York City, with fellow photographer Edward Steichen, to showcase the works of photographers and painters. They also published a magazine called Camera Work to increase awareness about photographic art. In the United States, photographic art had to compete with the widely available commercial photography in news and fashion magazines. By the 1950s the tradition of photojournalism, which presented news stories primarily with photographs, had produced many outstanding works. In 1955 Steichen, who was director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, called attention to this work in an exhibition called The Family of Man.

Throughout the 20th century, most professional photographers earned their living as portraitists or photojournalists, not as artists. One of the most important exceptions was Ansel Adams, who took majestic photographs of the Western American landscape. Adams used his art to stimulate social awareness and to support the conservation cause of the Sierra Club. He helped found the photography department at the Museum of Modern Art in 1940, and six years later helped establish the photography department at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco (now the San Francisco Art Institute). He also held annual photography workshops at Yosemite National Park from 1955 to 1981 and wrote a series of influential books on photographic technique.

Adams's elegant landscape photography was only one small stream in a growing current of interest in photography as an art form. Early in the 20th century, teacher-turned-photographer Lewis Hine established a documentary tradition in photography by capturing actual people, places, and events. Hine photographed urban conditions and workers, including child laborers. Along with their artistic value, the photographs often implicitly called for social reform. In the 1930s and 1940s, photographers joined with other depression-era artists supported by the federal government to create a photographic record of rural America. Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and Arthur Rothstein, among others, produced memorable and widely reproduced portraits of rural poverty and American distress during the Great Depression and during the dust storms of the period.

In 1959, after touring the United States for two years, Swiss-born photographer Robert Frank published The Americans, one of the landmarks of documentary photography. His photographs of everyday life in America introduced viewers to a depressing, and often depressed, America that existed in the midst of prosperity and world power.

Photographers continued to search for new photographic viewpoints. This search was perhaps most disturbingly embodied in the work of Diane Arbus. Her photos of mental patients and her surreal depictions of Americans altered the viewer’s relationship to the photograph. Arbus emphasized artistic alienation and forced viewers to stare at images that often made them uncomfortable, thus changing the meaning of the ordinary reality that photographs are meant to capture.

American photography continues to flourish. The many variants of art photography and socially conscious documentary photography are widely available in galleries, books, and magazines.

A host of other visual arts thrive, although they are far less connected to traditional fine arts than photography. Decorative arts include, but are not limited to, art glass, furniture, jewelry, pottery, metalwork, and quilts. Often exhibited in craft galleries and studios, these decorative arts rely on ideals of beauty in shape and color as well as an appreciation of well-executed crafts. Some of these forms are also developed commercially. The decorative arts provide a wide range of opportunity for creative expression and have become a means for Americans to actively participate in art and to purchase art for their homes that is more affordable than works produced by many contemporary fine artists.


American literature since World War II is much more diverse in its voices than ever before. It has also expanded its view of the past as people rediscovered important sources from non-European traditions, such as Native American folktales and slave narratives. Rediscovering these traditions expanded the range of American literary history.

American Jewish writing from the 1940s to the 1960s was the first serious outpouring of an American literature that contained many voices. Some Jewish writers had begun to be heard as literary critics and novelists before World War II, part of a general broadening of American literature during the first half of the 20th century. After the war, talented Jewish writers appeared in such numbers and became so influential that they stood out as a special phenomenon. They represented at once a subgroup within literature and the new voice of American literature.

Several Jewish American novelists, including Herman Wouk and Norman Mailer, wrote important books about the war without any special ethnic resonance. But writers such as novelists Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, and Philip Roth, and storytellers Grace Paley and Cynthia Ozick wrote most memorably from within the Jewish tradition. Using their Jewish identity and history as background, these authors asked how moral behavior was possible in modern America and how the individual could survive in the contemporary world. Saul Bellow most conspicuously posed these questions, framing them even before the war was over in his earliest novel, Dangling Man (1944). He continued to ask them in various ways through a series of novels paralleling the life cycle, including The Adventures of Augie March (1953), Herzog (1964), and Mr. Sammler’s Planet (1970). One novel in the series earned a Pulitzer Prize (Humboldt's Gift, 1975). Bellow was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1976. Like Bellow, Philip Roth and Bernard Malamud struggled with identity and selfhood as well as with morality and fate. However, Roth often resisted being categorized as a Jewish writer. Playwright Arthur Miller rarely invoked his Jewish heritage, but his plays contained similar existential themes.

Isaac Bashevis Singer was also part of this postwar group of American Jewish writers. His novels conjure up his lost roots and life in prewar Poland and the ghostly, religiously inspired fantasies of Jewish existence in Eastern Europe before World War II. Written in Yiddish and much less overtly American, Singer’s writings were always about his own specific past and that of his people. Singer's re-creation of an earlier world as well as his stories of adjusting to the United States won him a Nobel Prize in literature in 1978.

Since at least the time of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, American writers of African descent, such as Richard Wright, sought to express the separate experiences of their people while demanding to be recognized as fully American. The difficulty of that pursuit was most completely and brilliantly realized in the haunting novel Invisible Man (1952) by Ralph Ellison. African American writers since then have contended with the same challenge of giving voice to their experiences as a marginalized and often despised part of America.

Several African American novelists in recent decades have struggled to represent the wounded manner in which African Americans have participated in American life. In the 1950s and 1960s, James Baldwin discovered how much he was part of the United States after a period of self-imposed exile in Paris, and he wrote about his dark and hurt world in vigorous and accusatory prose. The subject has also been at the heart of an extraordinary rediscovery of the African American past in the plays of Lorraine Hansberry and the fiction of Alice Walker, Charles Johnson, and Toni Morrison. Probably more than any American writer before her, Morrison has grappled with the legacy that slavery inflicted upon African Americans and with what it means to live with a separate consciousness within American culture. In 1993 Morrison became the first African American writer to be awarded a Nobel Prize in literature.

Writers from other groups, including Mexican Americans, Native Americans, Chinese Americans, Korean Americans, and Filipino Americans, also grappled with their separate experiences within American culture. Among them, N. Scott Momaday, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Louise Erdrich have dealt with issues of poverty, life on reservations, and mixed ancestry among Native Americans. Rudolfo Anaya and Sandra Cisneros have dealt with the experiences of Mexican Americans, and Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston have explored Chinese American family life.

Even before World War II, writers from the American South reflected on what it meant to have a separate identity within American culture. The legacy of slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction left the South with a sense of a lost civilization, embodied in popular literature such as Gone With the Wind (1936) by Margaret Mitchell, and with questions about how a Southern experience could frame a literary legacy. Southern literature in the 20th century draws deeply on distinct speech rhythms, undercurrents of sin, and painful reflections on evil as part of a distinctly Southern tradition. William Faulkner most fully expressed these issues in a series of brilliant and difficult novels set in a fictional Mississippi county. These novels, most of them published in the 1930s, include The Sound and the Fury (1929), Light in August (1932), and Absalom, Absalom (1936). For his contribution, Faulkner received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1949. More recent Southern writers, such as Carson McCullers, Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, James Dickey, and playwright Tennessee Williams, have continued this tradition of Southern literature.

In addition to expressing the minority consciousness of Southern regionalism, Faulkner's novels also reflected the artistic modernism of 20th-century literature, in which reality gave way to frequent interruptions of fantasy and the writing is characterized by streams of consciousness rather than by precise sequences in time. Other American writers, such as Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and E. L. Doctorow also experimented with different novel forms and tried to make their writing styles reflect the peculiarities of consciousness in the chaos of the modern world. Doctorow, for example, in his novel Ragtime juxtaposed real historical events and people with those he made up. Pynchon questioned the very existence of reality in The Crying of Lot 49 (1966) and Gravity’s Rainbow (1973).

Aside from Faulkner, perhaps the greatest modernist novelist writing in the United States was йmigrй Vladimir Nabokov. Nabokov first wrote in his native Russian, and then in French, before settling in the United States and writing in English. Nabokov saw no limits to the possibilities of artistic imagination, and he believed the artist's ability to manipulate language could be expressed through any subject. In a series of novels written in the United States, Nabokov demonstrated that he could develop any situation, even the most alien and forbidden, to that end. This was demonstrated in Lolita (1955), a novel about sexual obsession that caused a sensation and was first banned as obscene.

Despite its obvious achievements, modernism in the United States had its most profound effect on other forms of literature, especially in poetry and in a new kind of personal journalism that gradually erased the sharp distinctions between news reporting, personal reminiscence, and fiction writing.

20th-Century Poetry

Modern themes and styles of poetry have been part of the American repertoire since the early part of the 20th century, especially in the work of T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. Their works were difficult, emotionally restrained, full of non-American allusions, and often inaccessible. After World War II, new poetic voices developed that were more exuberant and much more American in inspiration and language. The poets who wrote after the war often drew upon the work of William Carlos Williams and returned to the legacy of Walt Whitman, which was democratic in identification and free-form in style. These poets provided postwar poetry with a uniquely American voice.

The Beatnik, or Beat, poets of the 1950s notoriously followed in Whitman’s tradition. They adopted a radical ethic that included drugs, sex, art, and the freedom of the road. Jack Kerouac captured this vision in On the Road (1957), a quintessential book about Kerouac’s adventures wandering across the United States. The most significant poet in the group was Allen Ginsberg, whose sexually explicit poem Howl (1956) became the subject of a court battle after it was initially banned as obscene. The Beat poets spanned the country, but adopted San Francisco as their special outpost. The city continued to serve as an important arena for poetry and unconventional ideas, especially at the City Lights Bookstore co-owned by writer and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Other modernist poets included Gwendolyn Brooks, who retreated from the conventional forms of her early poetry to write about anger and protest among African Americans, and Adrienne Rich, who wrote poetry focused on women's rights, needs, and desires.

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