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American History

American Art History: Week 6 Discussion Question

It seems as though American art in the 20th century was evolving to reflect an approach that would become, at least for a time, uniquely American: commentary.  This is meant in a way far more expansive than direct social or political statement; what occurred was a process of questioning or investigation prompted only by the exposure of the subject.  Traditionally, originality was considered the mark of the artist, and in any medium (online lectures).  The new movements were unconcerned with originating expression, however; rather, they sought to challenge whatever ideas were associated with any number of images.

Pop Art, for example, was the logical extension of this investigative process.  More exactly, as America increasingly established a consumer culture, artists were enabled to focus on specific iconography then firmly embedded within the American ideology and culture. This inevitably created a field of jarring commentary, as so much of American culture was based on a consumerist, and typically dogmatic, point of view.  It is important, in fact, that “Pop Art” was born as a term referring to British artists seizing upon American consumerism as their “inspiration”  (Pohl  499).  The culture had grown to an identity so established, other cultures could employ it as an artistic source.  More significantly, Pop Art embodied the role art was taking within American culture, and this goes to how the art was impacting on government support.  In simple terms, art in the 20th century was marked by a symbiosis: as the art explored new approaches to cultural perceptions, those elements of the culture were emphasized, which in turn commanded interest from those forces responding to popular feeling.  Tracing the influence of American artists on the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is thus inherently complex, if only because any manifestation of a society – such as government support for the arts – is inextricably linked to the ongoing shifts within that society.  At the same time, patterns of influence may be identified.  It is interesting, for example, that the first endowment went to the American Ballet Theatre (nea.gov); bluntly, it is difficult to conceive of a “safer” object for artistic funding, as the Ballet essentially was an American extension of a vast Western tradition.