In the course of the nineteenth century, Classicism, Romanticism, Realism, and Impressionism followed each other rapidly and weakened the idea of an ideal model or style. The Academy did recognize that art creates many different forms, so tastes were not necessarily disputed up to this time providing that artists observed certain minimal rules. Yet, what the Academy considered a universal language of colors and forms was unintelligible when conventions changed. An artistic line emerged between the Academy and the modern artists with stark colors of black and white and the style right or wrong. The new art, considered a negation of the basic values of academic art, challenged the whole education method.

For centuries, the artist’s training had been in the study of the nude figure, in drawing and painting from careful observation of the model, and in the copying of works of the old masters. In the minds of the Academy, what good was long practice in representation when the aim of the painter or sculptor was to create works in which the human figure scarcely existed or was deformed at liberty (Schapiro 164)? Understandably, these opponents of modern art felt that they defended a threatened heritage, and in the name of all past and sacred values, they opposed a new possibility of freedom in art. In the face of such opposition, American artists, confident of the necessity that art relate to contemporary life, appealed to freedom and modernity.

By 1911, in response to the conventional restrictions authorized by the National Academy of Design, a frustrated group of inspired modern artists formed the American Association of Painters and Sculptors (AAPS). They abandoned any obligation to realistic depiction, and as their realist predecessors had done, they cast aside allegiance to an academic ideal in favor of a newfound freedom. In their “modern” world, vision was not restricted to ideal forms, noble subject-matter, harmony, decorum, and nature, but instead relied on an insightful, unfettered, soulful perception.

These spirited outsiders did not belong to any particular school of art, and several had shown at the National Academy itself, yet whether out of defiance or necessity, they believed that the time had come to acquaint the general public with the vital new movements of modern art. Their first exhibition was to be a great show of modern American painting and sculpture at the 69th Regiment Armory in New York but expanded into the international show known as the “Armory Show.” Opening on February 17, 1913, the Armory Show marked the end of an era, and the critics of the time described the exhibition as a crisis in American art. However, the Armory Show was not a crisis for the American modernists, but a triumphal entryway beckoning future artistic liberty. If the exhibition had been merely of bizarre, insincere work, or incompetent painting (as the critics described), the impact would have been slight and one quickly forgotten. Thankfully, these bold “lunatics” did not fail their vision since the process and fate of American art was in their hands alone. (continue)

Ashcan School | George Bellows | Ernest Lawson | Everett Shinn | George Luks | William Glackens | Robert Henri | John Sloan | Maurice Prendergast | Georgia O'Keefe | Charles Sheeler

Armory Show Web Site
Linda M. Larson.  All rights reserved.
Revised: 29 Nov 2000 14:30:28 -0500 .