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5.4: Conclusion

  • Page ID
    • Angela L Miller, Janet Catherine Berlo, Bryan J Wolf, and Jennifer L Roberts
    • Washington University in St. Louis, University of Rochester, Stanford University and Harvard University
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    We normally think of the American Revolution as a political event. For artists in the years surrounding the Revolution, however, political issues were dogged by another issue. What role should artists play in shaping the new nation? In this chapter, we have watched artists attempt to answer that question. Although individual artists would respond in different ways, they tended collectively to arrive at a similar conclusion. They cast themselves as bearers of the values of their emerging nation. Most of them viewed art as a form of civic uplift, educating the general public in good citizenship. Seizing on the enthusiasm for classical culture that gripped the transatlantic world at the close of th~ eighteenth century, they turned to styles borrowed from Ancient Greece and Rome in order to imagine the United States as a modern revival of the ancient world. Whether we are looking at a coffee urn by Paul Revere or at needlework by fifteen-year old Maria Crowninshield, we encounter, again and again, classical motifs employed in the noble service of civic idealism and patriotic forms of expression.

    All that will change, however, as the nineteenth century progresses. The end of the early national era coincided with new forms of personal expression and increasing concern for the inner life. The slow industrialization of the countryside (where water power provided energy for mills and factories) and the rapid growth of cities led to profound shifts in everyday life. Men increasingly worked outside the home, where they were associated with the rough-and-tumble world of commerce. Women, in turnespecially middle-class women-found themselves identified by their domestic duties, presiding with growing authority over family and household. Still barred from most political life, women became instead custodians of culture, preserving and transmitting the nation's ideals. The result was a new emphasis on romantic values: feeling, intuition, and empathy. What begins with artists of Allston's generation as a rebellion against the forces of commercialization will develop into a full-fledged culture of "sentimentalism," a world where public action is measured by private emotion, and where who one is depends on what one feels.

    This page titled 5.4: Conclusion is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Angela L Miller, Janet Catherine Berlo, Bryan J Wolf, and Jennifer L Roberts.