The Art of the Americans

The taproots of American productions in both continents go deep into the Indian culture. In South America and in North America south of the Rio Grande, the native Indian population is ethnically the largest group. Into this great underlying stratum of indigenous American culture flowed first, in Central and South America, a Spanish strain. Before 1800, to the more sparsely populated North America came French, English, Dutch, and German groups. These were followed by German revolutionaries, the Irish, the Italians, and from 1910 on, by great Slavic migrations, bringing their colorful folk arts from the Balkans and Western Asia. All through these years the Africans brought into our literature and music their rich underlying rhythms and soft harmonious speech.

Although the majority population in the United States is of Celto-Germanic origin, it has assimilated elements from Indian, African, and Mediterranean cultures, so that the fundamentally Gothic art which it would naturally have created has been transformed into a new form, more nearly universal in style and international in its message. This poetic ideology, expressed in the four quotations heading this chapter, has not yet found its expression in a satisfactory graphic and plastic form necessary for complete definition of the American idea of beauty. One cannot fully visualize the American art of the future until he has examined the folk legends and mythology of the various groups represented. Considering these legends and the primitive rhythms of the dances accompanying them, one gains a new conception of the meaning of American art. It is broader than that presented by Paul Claudel, who derived all from the dynamo.

The inventive American, although capable of creating the dynamo, enjoys a feeling of power transcending the monotony of the assembly line. His construction of the machine, undertaken partly for the joy of creating new sources of power, also predestines him for the creation of a spatial art, energetic as the early Celto-Germanic interweave. Throughout American mythology one also finds a Promethean spirit, at times rough and humorous, at times melancholy and musical, which seeks expression in the temporal arts.

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