We based the format of our presentation around the ideas that D.H. Lawrence brings up in the introduction to “Studies in Classic American Literature,” which is titled “The Spirit of Place.” These ideas question why man desires to find an escape from his “masters” and that this manifests itself in different ways throughout history. Using these ideas as a general foundation for the discussion, we began by reviewing artists motivations and intentions during the pursuit of exploring, civilizing, and claiming of the American West. We concluded that many of these artists use their work as propaganda with either commercial or nationalistic intent. Our first main example was Thomas Moran’s The Chasm of the Colorado. Its seemingly impossible majesty very clearly communicates the biased goals of the painters of the Manifest Destiny era.
Thomas Moran, The Chasm of the Colorado, 1874
Over time, the work created in the American West shifted away from commercial nationalism, and towards a strange contest of pride. Artists desired to be the first to create a historically significant “American Art,” and they figured that the West was so uniquely American, it would be the birthplace of such a form. However, many of these attempts feel forced and are therefore unsuccessful in achieving this goal. Consider Stuart Davis; throughout his stay in the West, he remained an uncommitted outsider from his surroundings and created most of his work in a studio that was removed from his subject. He, like many others, viewed the landscape through the lens of previously established methods. They forced their intentions upon their surroundings as well as what D.H. Lawrence describes as the “sense of place.”
Stuart Davis, New Mexican Landscape, 1923
Georgia O’Keeffe ultimately succeeded with what this group had failed to achieve: creating a clearly “American” style of art. O’Keeffe moved out to the American West simply because she wanted a change of scenery. She moved out to the West without the lofty (and somewhat pretentious) goals of her peers. D.H. Lawrence emphasizes the idea of freedom from your masters. We took this to insinuate that the artists before O’Keeffe still adhered to some semblance of a master, and were attempting to fulfill it’s desires before recognizing their sense of self, as well as their own sense of place.
Georgia O'Keeffe, From the Faraway Nearby, 1937
Dan Martens and Nikki Stacey