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Ashcan School Collage

Ashcan School

Started: 1900

Ended: 1915

Ashcan School Timeline

Quotes

"Painting is drawing, with the additional means of color. Painting without drawing is just 'coloriness,' color excitement. To think of color for color's sake is like thinking of sound for sound's sake. Color is like music. The palette is an instrument that can be orchestrated to build form."
John Sloan
"Art my slats! Guts! Guts! Life! Life! I can paint with a shoestring dipped in pitch and lard."
George Luks
"Paint the flying spirit of the bird rather than its feathers."
Robert Henri
"Part of this is finding things and documenting them. A lot of things are not going to be here 5 to 10 years from now."
George Bellows
"The object isn't to make art, it's to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable."
Robert Henri
"The ideal artist is he who knows everything, feels everything, experiences everything, and retains his experience in a spirit of wonder and feeds upon it with creative lust..."
George Bellows

KEY ARTISTS

Robert HenriRobert Henri
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William GlackensWilliam Glackens
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George LuksGeorge Luks
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George BellowsGeorge Bellows
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Everett ShinnEverett Shinn
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John SloanJohn Sloan
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"Do whatever you do intensely. The artist is the man who leaves the crowd and goes pioneering. With him there is an idea which is his life."

Robert Henri Signature

Synopsis

Known for its gritty urban subject matter, dark palette, and gestural brushwork, the Ashcan School was a loosely knit group of artists based in New York City who were inspired by the painter Robert Henri. The group believed in the worthiness of immigrant and working-class life as artistic subject matter and in an art that depicted the real rather than an elitist ideal. While their subject matter was revolutionary, their manner of painting finds precedents in the Realism of 17th-century Spanish and Dutch art, and also with 19th-century French painting. In the United States, prior to the arrival of the Ashcan School, American Impressionism, with its pleasing and luscious displays of the feminine and peaceful idylls, held sway. After the Ashcan School, more artists focused on modernity and their own expressive reactions to what they encountered. Their main achievement was to reverse the formula of previous New York painters by focusing on the dynamic energy of the people. Yet, with the arrival of European modernism to New York via the Armory Show (1913), the Ashcan School was retrograde in comparison.

Key Ideas

Henri and the other painters pursued authenticity in art, a quality associated with direct experience, immediacy of execution, and a new emphasis on the truth and validity of one's first impression. This resulted in canvases which portray a sense of haste and liveliness, of the working people of New York, and of a release from the artist's need to create beauty from the extraordinary.
Modernism brought with it a new sense of the visual. Ashcan School artists were interested in new modes of seeing and being seen in modern New York City: people walking in parks, prostitutes on the street, artificial lights in boxing arenas and vaudeville reviews, a film projecting in a movie theater that illuminates the working-class audience, and the great proliferation of images due to advances in publishing and mass media.
The Ashcan School artists rejected skillful, finished drawing and the ability to render the outward appearance of people and things and instead celebrated personal vision.
The works' sketchy quality, vigorous paint application, and sense of reportage came from the artists' training as newspaper illustrators who captured the spectacle of the expanding modern metropolis. The artists sought new forms of Realism to describe the rapid and great changes in urban life, commercial culture, and codes of social contact.

Beginnings

Ashcan School Image

At the turn of the last century, a group of young artists appeared who were set on challenging the refinement, polish, and idealistic American Impressionists who then dominated the art scene. Philadelphia's Robert Henri was the leader of the group which was made up of John Sloan, Everett Shinn, George Luks, and William Glackens. Each one varied in style and subject matter; yet, all were urban realists who adhered to Henri's motto "art for life's sake," rather than "art for art's sake." Despite their common economic and ethnic backgrounds, each approached the urban scene in a unique manner. Henri had studied at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Art, as well as at Paris's Academie Julian. He began to mentor the four artists, all of whom were newspaper illustrators, circa 1892; we consider this grouping to be the first generation of Ashcan School painters. The second generation commenced with Henri's move to Manhattan and the inclusion of his New York student George Bellows.

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Ashcan School Overview Continues

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Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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