The transforming influence of human beings on their environment is captured by artists at different moments in the history of each country. A basic similarity can be seen in the desire to record changes for posterity, while differences occur in the specific interests and needs pursued by each culture. Cultural currents left their mark on landscape painting: the discovery of the ancient pyramids in the 19th century led to the practice of painters accompanying archeological expeditions, and the urban image began to be developed as a symbol of progress. The modernizing trends which saw the subjection of nature to the machine gave rise to a double-sided artistic view: on the one hand, works which extolled the benefits of such modernization; on the other, works which focussed on its destructive aspects.
The transforming influence of human beings on their environment is captured by artists at different moments in the history of each country. A basic similarity can be seen in the desire to record changes for posterity, while differences occur in the specific interests and needs pursued by each culture. Cultural currents left their mark on landscape painting: the discovery of the ancient pyramids in the 19th century led to the practice of painters accompanying archeological expeditions, and the urban image began to be developed as a symbol of progress. The modernizing trends which saw the subjection of nature to the machine gave rise to a double-sided artistic view: on the one hand, works which extolled the benefits of such modernization; on the other, works which focussed on its destructive aspects.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

Smoky Hill Bombing Range Target, Tires

Smoky Hill Bombing Range Target, Tires

Terry Evans (1944 - )
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the artist
1990
UNITED STATES
gelatin silver print
37.80 X 37.50 cm
© Smithsonian American Art Museum


When asked about her photography in relation to the land that she documents, Terry Evans writes: "How did our good intentions and values based on productivity lead us to exhaust the land we thought we loved? Part of the answer lies in the beauty of the destruction; the machine-made patterns I photograph are well-ordered visual harmony. But seeing is not observing. Where is the balance for humanity between the heedlessness of the ordered domesticity and the wisdom of chaotic wilderness?
When asked about her photography in relation to the land that she documents, Terry Evans writes: "How did our good intentions and values based on productivity lead us to exhaust the land we thought we loved? Part of the answer lies in the beauty of the destruction; the machine-made patterns I photograph are well-ordered visual harmony. But seeing is not observing. Where is the balance for humanity between the heedlessness of the ordered domesticity and the wisdom of chaotic wilderness?

© 2001, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Construction of the Dam (study for mural, the Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.)

Construction of the Dam (study for mural, the Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.)

William Gropper (1897 - 1977)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of William T. Evans
1938
UNITED STATES
oil on canvas
© Smithsonian American Art Museum


This painting is a small version of a twenty-nine-foot mural William Gropper painted for the U.S. Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. It celebrates the activities of the department's Bureau of Reclamation, which in the mid-1930s supervised construction of Boulder, Grand Coulee, and other major dams in the western United States. Gropper's heroic, muscular workers harness nature with their strength, while the huge concrete structures celebrate the genius and audacity of U.S. engineering.
This painting is a small version of a twenty-nine-foot mural William Gropper painted for the U.S. Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. It celebrates the activities of the department's Bureau of Reclamation, which in the mid-1930s supervised construction of Boulder, Grand Coulee, and other major dams in the western United States. Gropper's heroic, muscular workers harness nature with their strength, while the huge concrete structures celebrate the genius and audacity of U.S. engineering.

© 2001, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Columbus Circle, Winter

Columbus Circle, Winter

Guy Wiggins (1883 - 1962)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of William T. Evans
1911
UNITED STATES
oil on canvas
© Smithsonian American Art Museum


Born in Brooklyn, Guy Wiggins looked to New York City as the subject for much of his art. He loved to paint the snow-covered urban landscape, often borrowing friends' offices or apartments as temporary studios. Columbus Circle, located near an entrance to Central Park, was at the heart of Broadway's growing theater and artistic district at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Born in Brooklyn, Guy Wiggins looked to New York City as the subject for much of his art. He loved to paint the snow-covered urban landscape, often borrowing friends' offices or apartments as temporary studios. Columbus Circle, located near an entrance to Central Park, was at the heart of Broadway's growing theater and artistic district at the beginning of the twentieth century.

© 2001, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Brooklyn Bridge, Water and Dock Streets, Brooklyn, from the series "Changing New York"

Brooklyn Bridge, Water and Dock Streets, Brooklyn, from the series "Changing New York"

Berenice Abbott (1898 - 1991)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from General Services Administration through Evander Childs High School
1936
UNITED STATES
gelatin silver print mounted on paperboard
45.70 X 36.60 cm
© Smithsonian American Art Museum


In 1921, Berenice Abbott left New York to study sculpture in Paris. There she worked as an assistant to Surrealist photographer Man Ray, and eventually opened her own photography studio. Upon returning to New York in 1929, Abbott was fascinated by how the city had changed. Subsequently, she began documenting the industrial innovations that altered the city skyline. In 1935, the U.S. government's Works Progress Administration sponsored Abbott to continue her photo project, titled Changing New York. A book of these photographs, by the same name, was published in 1939 and was a milestone in the history of photography.
In 1921, Berenice Abbott left New York to study sculpture in Paris. There she worked as an assistant to Surrealist photographer Man Ray, and eventually opened her own photography studio. Upon returning to New York in 1929, Abbott was fascinated by how the city had changed. Subsequently, she began documenting the industrial innovations that altered the city skyline. In 1935, the U.S. government's Works Progress Administration sponsored Abbott to continue her photo project, titled Changing New York. A book of these photographs, by the same name, was published in 1939 and was a milestone in the history of photography.

© 2001, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

Ray Strong (1905 - )
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service
1934
UNITED STATES
oil on canvas
© Smithsonian American Art Museum


The prospect of bridging San Francisco and Marin County, California--a distance of less than two miles across the San Francisco Bay--had long been considered impossible due to high winds and strong currents. In showing pylons built to anchor steel cables, Ray Strong emphasized the technical challenges engineers faced in building, at that time, the world's largest suspension bridge. President and Mrs. Franklin Roosevelt were so impressed with this painting that they selected it for display in the White House.
The prospect of bridging San Francisco and Marin County, California--a distance of less than two miles across the San Francisco Bay--had long been considered impossible due to high winds and strong currents. In showing pylons built to anchor steel cables, Ray Strong emphasized the technical challenges engineers faced in building, at that time, the world's largest suspension bridge. President and Mrs. Franklin Roosevelt were so impressed with this painting that they selected it for display in the White House.

© 2001, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Learning Objectives

The learner will:

  • Be conscious of the emotional impact that is caused and shaped by a work of art
  • Recognize that a work of art is influenced by the artist’s choice of medium, the time, and the culture
  • Recognize that art can inform us about the history of a culture and its land
  • Be aware of the commonality of themes in landscape art among the three North American countries

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