Art & Anarchy

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No human being with soul or a desire for knowledge can deny an interest in the arts, even if it is slight. Art is one of the most powerful vehicles for communication. It expresses visions that are beyond the capacity of words, thus attaching pieces of its creator to each creation. The evolution of art parallels the evolution of the human being. Economy and rationality rule temporarily, but art is forever. Because art is the expression of societal life, it is important to survey the art of today. Modernism (late 1800s-mid 1950s) has reflected, like no other, the development of our modern day society. It is not mere coincidence that the first art movement of the 21st century to deny the academic standard occurred in the same time period as the outing of anarchist theory by Emma Goldman. Despite its revolutionary spirit, there has not been much comprehensive research on American Art during WWI. However, if we were to accept Goldman's statement of anarchism being a theory in which “individual desires, tastes and inclinations” could thrive, then its understandable that this free-wheeling thought process would spread to all creative corners of the earth. If one accepts Goldman's statement of anarchism, one should wish to know why anarchism became the driving force in the development of modernist art, specifically Dadaism.

It is in 1865, with the birth of Robert Henry Cozad, soon to become Robert Earl Henri, that an anarchist spirit was ingrained into art. In 1886, Henri moved to Paris to study art where he submitted works to the Champs de Mars salons of 1896 and 1897 (Antliff 15). He returned to Philadelphia in 1899 after the Parisian Government purchased four of his paintings. The art world in America, upon his return, was strictly ruled by academics, who adhered to the most rigid form of artistic discipline. Lines were to be straight, the human figure was to be true to life, and creativity was taught through regime, not by inspiration. In 1906, Henri submitted some of his most personal works to the salon. The salon, however, gave it a rating of “'second grade'. When the works of his contemporaries were also snubbed, Henri created an exhibition of his own. This exhibition was the gathering of the individualists and thus became known as “The Eight Independent Painters”. Upon creating this troupe, “Henri assessed its ramifications for art production in America, linking the The Eight's exhibit to the cause of artistic individualism and freedom of expression” (Antliff 14). The National Academy of Art in the U.S. was under attack by the press who now praised artistic freedom, new wave newly launched art schools and the 'independents'. Those who praised the Academy, tried to insult the individualists by called their work 'anarchy' and 'lawless', but the individualists used these exact words in context of their newly formed art community. This community touted anarchism as the “only freedom [that] could bring out the best in the individual” (Antliff 17). Henri used Leo Tolstoy's novel What is Art? (1898) as defense. Tolstoy wrote that “worthwhile art was an act of emotive communication between the artist, his subject and ultimately the public” (Antiliff 17). This stood in plain contrast to the “counterfeit” art of European academies (Antliff 17). The Eight Independent Painters and their ideologies was only a small flourish in the anti-art world. World War I was just under way.

In a biographical standpoint of anarchism's artistic rise, one must remember WWI large impact on the art world. Bessie Marsh, a contemporary of Henri, once said “Mr. Henri is perfectly right […] Life is grand and virile, and the only way to get is it to go after it […] Those are not art [“pretty girls with picture hats”]” (Antliff 15). Marsh was alluding to the war. Life was no longer simple, as it once was in the Victorian Era. The world began to see mechanical revolutions, steel inventions and a disregard for the life of others. World War...
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