An Artist in America

An Artist in America

Book - 1983
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Controversial, flamboyant, contentious, brilliant--Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) was certainly all of those. Few American artists have stirred so much love and hatred as he did in a career that lasted almost seventy years. Although his painting aroused much controversy, perhaps equally as much was created by his words, for his piercing wit, profane sarcasms, and insightful condemnations were fired off without restraint. In this fiery and provocative autobiography, Benton presents an intriguing records of American art and society during his lifetime.

The first installment of this work was published in 1937, but Benton continued his life story in chapters added to editions published in 1951 and 1968. This new edition includes seventy-six drawings that add much to his narrative, plus a foreword discussing Benton's place in American art and an afterword covering his career after 1968, both written by art historian Matthew Baigell.

Although Benton is most famous as a regionalist painter and muralist, his complex and fascinating career brought him into contact with many of the most important artists and thinkers of the century, including Jackson Pollock, Grant Wood, Julian Huxley, Felix Frankfurter, Eugene Debbs, John Reed, and Harry Truman. While living in New York and on Martha's Vineyard in the 1920s and 1930s, Benton often associated with leading intellectuals and radicals. However, when his evolving principles of art led him away from an interest in Marxism, he was bitterly attacked by many of his former friends, and his account of that time reveals strikingly the fierce critical battles he faced in trying to establish his own artistic vision.

Critics on the Left were not his only opponents, however, and equally revealing are his responses to the moral condemnations heaped on his murals done for the states of Indiana and Missouri and on his realistic nudes of the late 1930s.

Throughout his account, from descriptions of his boyhood in southwest Missouri, his travels, and his career to discussions of specific works of art and other artists, Benton portrays people and events as vividly in words as he does in his paintings.

Publisher: Columbia : University of Missouri Press, 1983.
Edition: 4th rev. ed.
ISBN: 9780826203991
082620399X
9780826203946
0826203949
Characteristics: xx, 395 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.

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mikelindq Nov 06, 2013

Less a broad memoir or autobiography than a collection of well-written descriptions and accounts of his wanderings throughout the U.S., highlighted by anecdotes about some of the characters he meets and some of the adventures he has, but most of all it's his very opinionated and not always complimentary views of the various regions of the U.S.A., circa 1937. One highlight is his detailed, riveting description of a holy rollers camp meeting - one of the best accounts I've ever read. He largely downplays or omits the details of his notorious fights with the left and the art establishment about regionalism/realism vs. modernism, although his opinions of both come across loud and clear. Provides good account of the commissioning and execution of some of his murals, and the reception they received, especially the Indiana State Fair mural and the Missouri State Capitol mural. Contains two afterwords, published roughly 14 and 31 years after the main volume (1937). One of the afterwords contains a reprint of the homophobic letter he released upon his departure from New York explaining his reasons for his return to his home territory of Missouri --- its bigotry is shocking by today's standards.

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