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From the simple assertion that words matter in the study of visual art, this comprehensive but eminently readable volume gathers an extraordinary selection of words--painters and sculptors writing in their diaries, critics responding to a sensational exhibition, groups of artists issuing stylistic manifestos, and poets reflecting on particular works of art. Along with a broad array of canonical texts, Sarah Burns and John Davis have assembled an astonishing variety of unknown, little known, or undervalued documents to convey the story of American art through the many voices of its contemporary practitioners, consumers, and commentators. American Art to 1900 highlights such critically important themes as women artists, African American representation and expression, regional and itinerant artists, Native Americans and the frontier, popular culture and vernacular imagery, institutional history, and more. With its hundreds of explanatory headnotes providing essential context and guidance to readers, this book reveals the documentary riches of American art and its many intersecting histories in unprecedented breadth, depth, and detail.
From the front Cover
This book is a breathtaking accomplishment. The rich and comprehensive collection of writings gathered by the editors reflects the expansive definition of American art history in the twenty-first century. Texts by canonical artists and critics are here, giving access to the texture of the aesthetic discussions of their historical moments. So are reflections by writers on the margins of the mainstream art world, including slaves, women and commercial artists, showing that they were equally interested in art and its relationship to society.--Elizabeth Hutchinson, author of The Indian Craze: Primitivism, Modernism , and Transculturation in American Art, 1890-1915 This eagerly anticipated compilation of historical subjects and sources will resonate for a diversity of scholars in the academy and the museum. Refreshingly inclusive, these judiciously selected documents prove the editors' assertion that words count by investing objects with layers of meaning and relevance. An indispensable volume for all interpreters of American art and culture.--Sylvia Yount, Louise B. and J. Harwood Cochrane Curator of American Art, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts What a splendid compilation Sarah Burns and John Davis have given us. Documents of all sorts--culled from private diaries and popular periodicals, sermons and lectures, criticism and bureaucratic records--give voice to those involved in the world of American art from the 17th through the 19th century. The editors' selections are canny, as are their terse introductions. Students and scholars alike will find here material to prompt new insights on the complex interaction of art, its verbal context, and the writing of history.--Marc Simpson, Associate Director, Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art American Art to 1900: A Documentary History offers a very welcome addition to the primary source literature in United States art history. The broad chronological scope, which draws much-needed attention to the colonial and early national periods, and the range of artistic media covered makes this volume suitable for advanced scholarship as well as classroom use.--Wendy Bellion, University of Delaware