Wednesday, July 22, 2009

American Exports

Although my mentioning of Les Secrets de Marrakech has nothing to do with my post, I thought it would be a good segue. So let me explain it first. This is the French translation, hardcover edition of my book Secrets of Morocco (published by Chaosium).

Also, for those interested, the back story to the "tablets of Ur-Nansha," which is referenced in Morocco, can be found in the soon to be released anthology Blood and Devotion anthology (edited by William H. Horner).

Now onward! The topic of what is American art has been endlessly debated, so I thought I'd add to that debate. Well, at least I'll bring it up again. Is there any original American art? (read "American" as United Station, and "art" being literature, sculpture, painting, music, etc.). And, assuming there is, what has been exported outside of the United States and how has it influenced what is a long established tradition in Western or even Eastern art(s)?

Or, is there no such thing as "original" American art?

If you haven't been following this debate since 1776, then you'll need to know that most of what exists in the U.S. has been transplanted here - like its original residents. Many folks speculate that American art is not original; rather, it is based upon and a variation of European or Western traditions in art. This has lead the U.S., particularly after the mid-1800s, to produce art that is truly American made. Yet, there are many who still say it hasn't been accomplished.

On the other hand, quite a few people believe that American culture is its greatest export - which seemingly includes "art," although it isn't clearly defined. At the same time, there are many countries attempting to prevent the infiltration of American culture (and language). In turn, this fear of culture has been the foundation for a few arguments that there is original American art and the fear of the transmission of culture is proof (as art is often viewed as "dangerous").

I confess, I've conflated quite a bit in the above paragraphs. But honestly, it isn't possible to thoroughly explain the topic in a few words. But hopefully there is enough to provide some food for thought.


Anonymous said...

This is a topic that I don't feel qualified to comment upon. But, I will post a few sentences.

With some quick Wikipedia research, I see that when Baudelaire became acquainted with the work of Poe, he "found tales and poems that had, he claimed, long existed in his own brain but never taken shape...Baudelaire saw in Poe a precursor and tried to be his French contemporary counterpart."

I have heard Gershwin praised as one of America's greatest composers, but again Wikipedia shows me a French connection: "Gershwin was influenced by French composers of the early twentieth century. In turn Maurice Ravel was impressed with Gershwin's abilities."

So there does seem to be a give-and-take aspect in my two examples of literature and music.

Charles Gramlich said...

If art is combining influences in novel ways, then I think there is definitely an American art. American artists seem to draw from far more influences than many artists from elsewhere. Given that there's little new under the sun, then reinterpretation is indeed art.

Anonymous said...

American art? Yes, especially as Charles says by the unique fusion of influences. Let me throw this on the table: the space opera/space western/frontier novel may have its roots in Haggard's Africa but has it reached the level of being a distinctly American genre?


Rick said...

I'm tempted to mention the Whitman's, the Whistlers, etc., but instead I'll throw in comic books. Comic books first appeared and took off in the US, and spread outward through the world. They've added some marvelous, inventive superheroes and villains, fantastic tales, and a form of art that is, in its own way, a worthy precursor to anime.

Native American art is might not be allowed conceptually as part of the US in a politically correct sense.

So how about if I throw in graffiti as well? Another California contribution.

Steve Buchheit said...

Jazz - and the discussion of "no American Art" comes to an end, nearly 100 years too late.

However, I can relate Jazz to African and Spanish musical influences. Then again, I can also tie Impressionists to the Japanese (and pretty much any visual art movement to other precursor, such as the Japanese influence that helped the impressionists from Indian and Chinese forms of wood-carved print making), and even cave/rock paintings (France, China, Australia, S. Africa, SW US, etc, etc) can be tied together by their function and desire of expression in first origins because we are all human.

Then there's Gutenberg's invention of "movable type" (not the printing press as most people say, which is an older invention) is based on Chinese "movable type" presses which are related to both column presses (China, India) and clothing presses (Korea, Japan, Italy) which are related to monument construction's high-bias relief carving (SE Asia and pretty much everywhere) and silk weaving (China, India) which then relates to textile production (India, Middle Eastern)...