Marsh, An Opinion
By Erik Weems,
The guy who designed this web site
MARSH was one of the principal American artists of the "New American School" of the 1930s and 40s. This group of artists, which included others like Isabel Bishop, Paul Cadmus, etc, were the generation that followed - stylistically and literally - the "ashcan" school of George Bellows, John Sloan and Robert Henri. These, and others of the "Immortal Eight," so-called for their in dependant stand against the European-influenced regime of the American academic style, were the place where the "new" American art began.
The "Art for Art's Sake" belief had been inculcating into America since the impressionists of France had begin winning their converts, a phenomenon still working long after Monet sketched his last oil of his garden, and Gaugain his last adolescent island girl. While not the same in direct style, the old academic priority of painting "pretty pictures" was mirrored in the concerns of the impressionists - light effects, painterly effects, and affectations having less to do with subject than to do with the technique being used. The artists of the New American School found themselves in opposition against this idea. It divorced pictorial presentation from the primacy of the realities of human life, however humbly presented, or in the case of Bishop, Cadmus and Marsh, however slovenly or venal.
As American art is now bridged over into the 21st century, the ideas that now hold sway - in both the high academic and public schools - are the sameness of value and quality in art, and the inherent inability to draw concrete distinctions. What is good or bad is no longer a concern, or even a possibility of judging. In many cases, the wrong is in even trying to draw distinctions. Per se, it all says something, and that being said is of equal valuation across the board. Against this were these American artists, "the Eight" and those who followed, who had taken up figurative work using strong draftsmanship and anatomical skills, and emphasizing realist observation. As a distillation of their ideals, Marsh once said he wanted to paint living and breathing human beings, not the superficial curiosity of a color pattern or effect.
In trying to research Marsh it becomes increasingly difficult to gather new material. His work is written of less and less. The other artists of his time and genre - the WPA government works artists of the 1930s especially - are being relegated into a mere background noise in trying to show the whole music of American art of the 20th century. Expressionism, abstract, and neo-impressionism are the perennial favorites of the academics, and that is what is driven into the schools.
Marsh, Cadmus and Bishop traced their purpose back to the Renaissance, and even further. They looked to Michelangelo, Raphael and Rubens, among others, for instruction. They studied under living artists - - specifically artists who had come from the 'Ashcan' school of Henri and Sloan - - and they emphasized observation as the key toward their work.
Marsh traveled everywhere with at least a pocket sketchbook along, always sketching, watching, noting. The stories about him include being thrown out of burlesque theatres in New York City because of his constant sketching, and so he would go back in, a hole through his pocket, to draw "blind" on a hidden pad in his coat.
Though certainly idiosyncratic in his style and the concerns in his artwork, Marsh was steadfast in his belief about art. Though the "reality" of his pictures have been debated, he sought to show was was true by painting what was real. It was what he saw that began the process of putting onto paper and canvas the mirror of what is human living.
"The Art Museums of our country... The Connoisseurs: who hate pictures that contain Things, Men, Women, Sex, Cows, Skies, Trees, Ships, Shoes, and Subways, are pleased with their point of view and say that at last there is no ART - - High & Pure & Sterile - - no Sex, no Drinks, no Muscles!"
From "Backstage with Esquire," Esquire, 34, September 1950. Quoted in Marilyn Cohen's Reginald Marsh's New York, Published by Dover Books, 1983.
Copyright 1999-2006 Erik Weems, all rights and lefts reserved.
New Book on Marsh Coming - Oct 2012
Hardcover: 176 pages
Publisher: D Giles Ltd
Coming in October 2012.
Swing Time: Reginald Marsh and Thirties New York
By Barbara Haskell (Editor), Erika Doss, Barbara Haskell, Jackson Lears, Lance Mayer and Gay Myers, and Sasha Nicholas Morris Dickstein (Editor)
Original Page 2003 | Last Update Sept 2012