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Critical Shift: Rereading Jarves, Cook, Stillman, and the Narratives of Nineteenth-Century American Art

Karen L. Georgi
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 152
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  • Book Info
    Critical Shift
    Book Description:

    American Civil-War era art critics James Jackson Jarves, Clarence Cook, and William J. Stillman classified styles and defined art in terms that have become fundamental to our modern periodization of the art of the nineteenth century. In Critical Shift, Karen Georgi re-reads many of their well-known texts, finding certain key discrepancies between their words and our historiography, pointing to unrecognized narrative desires. The book also studies ruptures and revolutionary breaks between “old” and “new” art, as well as the issue of the morality of “true” art. Georgi asserts that these concepts and their sometimes-loaded expression were part of larger rhetorical structures that gainsay the uses to which the key terms have been put in modern historiography. It has been more than fifty years since a book has been devoted to analyzing the careers of these three critics; and never before has their role in the historiography and periodization of American art been analyzed. The conclusions drawn from this close re-reading of well-known texts are significant for more than just our understanding of nineteenth century criticism. They challenge the fundamental nature of “historical context” in American art history.

    eISBN: 978-0-271-06247-1
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. 1-20)

    This book is an interpretation of the art writing of James Jackson Jarves (1818–1888), Clarence Chatham Cook (1828–1900), and William James Stillman (1828–1901). As significant critics from the mid-nineteenth-century art world, they have much to say about art’s definition and aesthetic requirements in a moment of supposed transition—the era of the Civil War, whose upheavals left no aspect of American society untouched. These three writers are the central figures of this study not because they are the only important critics from the era; they are not. Rather, they figure here because they are, each in his...

    (pp. 21-42)

    It could be argued that James Jackson Jarves entered modern art history in the 1930s, or perhaps it was at that moment when he assumed the dignified and conspicuous place he now occupies in the historiography of American art and art criticism. In 1933, Theodore Sizer, then director of the Yale University Art Gallery, reintroduced this “forgotten New Englander” with a paper read at various venues, including the annual meeting of the College Art Association. It was published in the New England Quarterly, and an entry for Jarves appeared in the Dictionary of American Biography.¹ A few articles by other...

  7. 2 CLARENCE COOK AND JARVES: Fact, Feeling, and the Discourse of Truthfulness in Art
    (pp. 43-57)

    The previous chapter concluded that the current historiographic role of writer and collector James Jackson Jarves might be reassessed on the basis of his texts. Looking closely at the patterns of his rhetorical structures and putative methodological principles in his work as a whole, we saw that his apparently modern rejection of verisimilitude in art—the literal, external, and material, in Jarves’s words—formed part of a system that sought to rationalize and historicize his aesthetic priorities. Rather than a critique of art’s antebellum role as the embodiment of truth, Jarves’s castigation of “repellent realism” set up the negative side...

    (pp. 58-75)

    The study of Clarence Cook in the preceding chapter was limited to his early writing. The New-York Daily Tribune reviews discussed there represented his thinking from roughly 1863 to 1865. They expressed his opinions to the broad readership of that paper. His philosophy and his tone were also integral to his other main publication at this time: Cook, as noted, was the principal spokesman for the so-called American Pre-Raphaelites—that is, the Society for the Advancement of Truth in Art—and editor of their journal, the New Path.¹ Though Cook’s career was not limited to this period, his texts from...

  9. 4 WILLIAM J. STILLMAN’S RUSKINIAN CRITICISM: Metaphor and Essential Meaning
    (pp. 76-91)

    This chapter studies the critical writing of the book’s last central figure, William J. Stillman. Stillman’s writing was well known in the antebellum American art world, though today his name is less familiar than Jarves’s or Cook’s. In addition to his antebellum work, Stillman authored archeological studies and political reports in the latter half of the century that appeared regularly in the era’s most respected journals and daily newspapers.¹ From his earliest days as a new graduate of Union College in 1848, Stillman was in the midst of the American art world. He was apparently an avid and persuasive debater,...

  10. 5 ART DISCOURSE AFTER RUSKIN: Time and History in Art
    (pp. 92-110)

    William Stillman’s career from 1855 to 1868 shows that we have good reason to perceive that Ruskinian aesthetics and moralism went out of fashion. Stillman’s change of heart from his Crayon essays in 1855–56 to his numerous critiques of Ruskin beginning in 1868 might stand as proof of such. As argued, however, it was less the moralism that was troublesome to Stillman than the overtly metaphorical understanding of art that the Ruskinian definition demanded—the application of morals to the meaning of art. What did Stillman want in its place? Was he calling for a new definition of art...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 111-122)
    (pp. 123-130)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 131-136)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 137-137)