Wyeth, Pubic Sale, 1943

In the first half of the 1900’s, Americans saw dramatic advances in science and technology coupled with the Great Depression and two World Wars. The tumultuous times gave birth to a diverse variety of painting styles. While some American artists like Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper responded to the realities of contemporary life in representational paintings, others like Joseph Stella and Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky created their own realities. Kandinsky said the authentic artist creates new art out of  “internal necessity.”

Edward Hopper, Gas, 1940

A century later, the world continues to face great challenges and Americans are adjusting to  change. We are asking questions, reevaluating earlier practices, rebalancing priorities on many issues.

American artists are adjusting too.  A plein air movement is afoot in the land. “Plein air” is from the French en plein air, “in the open air.”  Thousands of charged up painters are spreading out in droves across America, adoringly painting contemporary life, an amazing phenomenon in this age of digital quickies.  Daily life described via senses and souls of a slew of artists driven by internal necessity. Imagine the enormous amount and variety of paintings depicting contemporary America in this unprecedented effort.

Not only are painters seeking sunshine, young artists are exploring traditional forms of representational figure painting. Like a child who leaves home to set the world afire and soon comes to value the wisdom of her parents, young painters are beginning to appreciate the artistic genius of earlier masters. Representational paintings can still express valid ideas.

Stella, Tree of Life, 1919

What body of art will this herd of American painters create? What paintings will articulate our time? Will the art we leave behind emulate the ideas and virtues we collectively admire and respect? Or, will innumerable bytes produced by mass media tell our story for us?

In the past, before replicated images blanketed the world, societies left behind the distinctive art of their culture as proof the heights humans can obtain. High or low, inspiring or ignoble, their art speaks volumes about them.

As artists, will we strive for excellence, exalt high ideals, will we inspire love or ignite hate, or muddle in ambivalent mediocrity? Every time we stand before a blank canvas we are given the rare privilege to paint the essence of everything we are as humans into our work. The masters of the past have set the standards for us; imagine the lofty heights we can aspire too!

Contemporary artists have a unique opportunity to carry on the creative torch lit by our twentieth century painting predecessors. Let’s swing impassioned brushes celebrating the diverse beauty of America and her people. American painters can be art ambassadors, spreading ideas of hope, tolerance and respect for all things worthy of praise. Show the world what we truly value. Through the eyes of our own souls, we painters can communicate the essence of America’s soul.

We are given a gift, the time to show that art arisen out of internal necessity expresses eternal truths.


Edgar Payne, plein air painting, early 1900's


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