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MAIN Arrow to Art Art & Culture Arrow to Art HistoryArt History Arrow to Art of the Americas North America

american primitive art from the Museum of Folk ArtMuch like the art of Latin America, the expression of art in North America is first seen in cave paintings, pottery, basketry and jewelry that encompassed American Indian art, followed by American folk art and primitive art of the colonial era.

As also happened in much of Latin America, the more cultured art scenes in faraway foreign capitals lent a heavy European flavor to the artwork that was emerging from the Americas.

It was only at the turn of the 20th century when distinct art movements emerged to set North America on its own path to artistic expression. Most notably, these included the Ashcan School that primarily depicted realistic scenes of daily life in urban America found in the works of such artists as Edward Hopper, George Bellows, and John French Sloan. (Meanwhile, further north in Canada the Group of Seven emerged to uniquely describe the Canadian wilderness in all its natural glory.)

In the stylized work of American photographer Alfred Stieglitz, early 20th century photography was also becoming accepted as a legitimate art form. In New York City, a flowering of Black American art and culture was being realized during the Harlem Renaissance that put the spotlight on such painters as Aaron Douglas, Palmer Hayden, and Lois Mailou Jones.

Ancestral Hopi clay bowl, Arizona ca. 1300s
Ancestral Hopi clay bowl,
Arizona, ca. 1300s.
Holy Trinity, by Colombian painter Gregorio Vázquez de Arce y Ceballos, 17th century.
Mrs. Mayer and Daughter,
1835–40, by Ammi Phillips.
Mount Washington, by John Frederick Kensett, 1869
Mount Washington, by John Frederick Kensett, 1869.
Early Sunday Morning, Edward Hopper
Early Sunday Morning
by Edward Hopper, 1930
Alexander Calder, Peacock, 1941.
by Alexander Calder, 1941
Mountains and Sea, by Helen Frankenthaler, 1952
Mountains and Sea,
by Helen Frankenthaler, 1952.

Other important American artists and art movements followed in succession, spurred on by an American revolution against traditional approaches to art. These included the works of sculptor Alexander Calder, best known as the originator of the mobile; the 'drip' style paintings of Jackson Pollock (who, incidently, was heavily influenced by Navaho sand painting); as well as the starkly beautiful depictions of Southwestern flora and fauna painted by American female artist Georgia O'Keefe.

Finally, American art could only be said to come of age following World War II. with the rise of the uniquely American art form of Abstract expressionism which burst on the scene to eventually fuel the American art boom (that brought about styles such as Pop Art ) and put New York City firmly on the map as the center of the Western art world.

Elsewhere around the Web, travel the world for an up-close view of American and Native American art in museum holdings ranging from the expected - at the Smithsonian - to a surprisingly great collection at local and regional museums nationwide ...

More about North American art history around the Web:


Smithsonian American Art Museum - Part of "America's attic" and offering over a dozen online tours of their U.S. collection ranging from colonial to contemporary.

American Art History - Academic Info - Links to major holdings ranging from The Library of Congress to the Andy Warhol Museum.

Index of Native American Resources on the Internet - A huge portal to news, book reviews, art, artists, galleries, activists sites, and everything else of interest to the student of American Indian culture.

de Young Collections - Highlights from the collection covering both North and South American works from the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco.

Yale University Art Gallery - Online exhibits from their collection of American art, sculpture, furniture, silver, and more.


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