Thursday Day 2: The Met: American Art and its relation to Literature

Today we had a wonderful guide Lauren Ebin (one-time Archeologist) who took us on a personalized tour of some of the best of American art that interfaced with the poetry, fiction and autobiography that we are studying. She began in the 18thC with those wondrous, massive paintings of Washington which depicted him as a democrat, capable of looking into the eyes of the viewers (unlike similar portraits of King George III who averted his eyes from the people he ruled):


This was a powerful way of presenting the experience of democracy which the USA of course prided itself on. Breaking away from the hierarchies of british government and society, the US of A was a country where everyone was going to be treated equally. We do of course know, in the context of contemporary politics and the contemporary scene- especially in New York- that this ideal has not completely come to pass!

We then went and hand a lengthy discussion on the massive popular painting of Washington crossing the Delaware- taking in at the same time this massive painting by Church:


Here is a recording of Lauren’s interaction with our students on these paintings, that provided a back-bone understanding of the nature of American society:

We then walked through the later 19th Century looking especially at Sargent’s paintings of women which nicely supported the proto feminist views of Henry James and even (as Adrianne pointed out) the feminism of Scott Fitzgerald:


Here is Lauren speaking on this theme:

Finally we moved on to American modernism, around the time of the Jazz Age – with particular relevance to F.Scott Fitzgerald. The key work here was Thomas Benton’s amazing America Today which was an extraordinary celebration and critique of where contemporary America was heading- in its life-style and its obsessions. There is a strong sense here that money is the driving force here underpinning the American Dream, which is actually looking rather fragile in the context of the Great Depression:


The worker in the red shirt was modelled by a young Jackson Pollock whose work we will be exploring in the MOMA next week. So this shows a wonderful continuity between this modernist impulse (which links strongly with The Great Gatsby) and the proto post-modern New York School of artists and poets (Click)Kerouac, O’Hara, Pollock, de Kooning, Mark Rothko. Here is Lauren again in her summary of the significance of Thomas Benton:

Lauren finished her wonderful introduction by inviting us further to take advantage of the three special exhibitions that were on at the MET gallery (Click) this year: the centenary of Rodin’s connection to the gallery, David Hockney and the drawings of Michael Angelo: what a feast.

Tonight it is off to see The Waitress on Broadway! (Click)

Group MET

It was cold this morning before entry: -6 F!!!!!!


  1 comment for “Thursday Day 2: The Met: American Art and its relation to Literature

  1. January 22, 2018 at 10:07 am

    G’day from warm Sydney Prof Griffith. I am thoroughly savouring the class’ adventure North of the continent. What a marvelous art tour you had at a location that remains a mystery to my nous. I would much like to get reading Shakespeare, and Marlowe (I hope).
    I have purchased the Norton anthology that goes with Renaissance Literature and Shakespearean Literature. This is just me giving you a gentle prod to soon release our reading lists.
    I look forward to Strathfield campus Christian Meditation group in the semester One of twenty eighteen.
    Stay warm ppl in NYC.

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