What was the Harlem Renaissance? Originating in the writings of W. E. B. Du Bois, the Harlem Renaissance explored the double-consciousness defining African-American identity. Poet Claude McKay, Charles S. Johnson of the National Urban League, and philosopher Alain Locke all saw Harlem as the center of an avant-garde destined to rehabilitate African Americans from a position of spiritual and financial impoverishment for which, in Locke’s words, “the fate and conditions of slavery have so largely been responsible.” To this end, first in the Harlem issue of the sociology journal the Survey Graphic , and then in his anthology The New Negro , both published in 1925, Locke emphasized the spirit of the young writers, artists, and musicians of Harlem. What elements of Harlem culture were they especially interested in capturing in their work? Harlem was, after all, the center of the blues and jazz. The greatest of the blues singers in the 1920s was Bessie Smith. What new kind of phrasing did Smith bring to her work? In jazz, Louis Armstrong’s Dixieland jazz originated out of New Orleans and made its way north to Chicago. What are the characteristics of Dixieland? In 1927, Duke Ellington began a five-year engagement at Harlem’s Cotton Club. What distinguishes his brand of jazz?
Carl Van Vechten. Portrait of Countee Cullen in Central Park . 1941.
Jessie T. Pettway. Bars and String-Pieced Columns . 1950s.
Carl van Vechten. Portrait of Bessie Smith . n.d. 4" × 5".
The Cotton Club, Lenox Avenue and 143rd Street, New York City. Early 1930s.
Aaron Douglas. “The Prodigal Son,” illustration in James Weldon Johnson, God’s Trombones: Seven Sermons in Verse . 1927.
Jacob Lawrence. In the North the Negro had better educational facilities, from The Migration of the Negro (panel 58). 1940-41. 12" × 18”.
What is the International Style in architecture? The 1920s represent a period of unprecedented growth in New York City, as downtown skyscraper after skyscraper rose to ever greater heights, and the promise of the machine became a driving force in culture. What did artists and photographers see in both the skyscraper and the machine? The New York building boom of the 1920s, dominated by the highly ornamented and decorative architecture epitomized by Cass Gilbert’s neo- Gothic Woolworth Building and William van Alen’s Art Deco Chrysler Building, was countered by the International Style. How does the International Style differ from Gilbert’s and van Alen’s work?
Map: New York City Skyscrapers.
William van Alen. Chrysler Building, New York . 1928-30.
Margaret Bourke-White. Chrysler Building: Gargoyle . 1930. 12-15/16" × 9-1/4”.
Alfred Stieglitz. The Steerage . First published in Stieglitz's Camera Work , 1911. 1907. 13-3/16" × 10-3/8”.
Paul Strand. Abstraction, Porch Shadows . 1916. 12-15/16" × 9-5/8”.
Alfred Stieglitz. Looking Northwest from the Shelton, New York . 1932. 9-1/2" × 7-9/16”.
Cass Gilbert. Woolworth Building, New York City , elevation sketch. 1910, December 31.
Frank Lloyd Wright. Robie House, South Woodlawn, Chicago, Illinois. 1909.
Frank Lloyd Wright. Robie House, South Woodlawn, Chicago, Illinois: Plan. 1909.
Frank Lloyd Wright. Fallingwater (Kaufmann House), Bear Run, Pennsylvania. 1935-36.
What is suggested by the adage “make it new”? American novelists of the era responded to the sense of the country’s new and unique identity—embodied perhaps most of all in its “jazz”—by concentrating on the special characteristics of the American scene. How would you distinguish between F. Scott Fitzgerald’s sense of place and Ernest Hemingway’s? What distinguishes William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County? The “new” sound of jazz also embodied the modernist imperative, first expressed by Ezra Pound, to “make it new.” In poetry, this imperative was realized in the work of William Carlos Williams, E. E. Cummings, and Hart Crane. The work of all three celebrates the new machine culture of the era even as it attempts to capture the vernacular voice of everyday Americans. These interests are reflected as well in the painting of Joseph Stella, Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, and Georgia O’Keeffe. How is the idea of a new “machine-inspired classicism” expressed in American verse and painting of the 1920s? Like the poets of the era, the experimental plays of Eugene O’Neill captured, as perhaps never before in the theater, the vernacular voices of the American character even as they stressed the isolation and alienation of modern experience.
William Carlos Williams. Williams's "The Great Figure". 1921.
Charles Demuth. Demuth's The Figure 5 in Gold . 1928. 35-1/2" × 30”.
Joseph Stella. The Voice of the City of New York Interpreted: The Brooklyn Bridge (The Bridge) . 1920-22. 88-1/2" × 54”.
Charles Demuth. Incense of a New Church . 1921. 26-1/4" × 20”.
Charles Sheeler. Classic Landscape . 1931. 25" × 32-1/4”.
Marsden Hartley. New Mexico Landscape . 1920-22. 30" × 36”.
Georgia O’Keeffe. Red Hills and Bones . 1941. 29-3/4" × 40”.
What characterizes the “golden age” of silent film? During the early 1900s, large numbers of immigrants, particularly second-generation American Jews, migrated out of New York, where many had worked in the garment industry, to California, where they founded the motion picture industry in and around Hollywood. The studio system they developed dominated filmmaking worldwide. What are the features of the studio system? By the end of the 1920s, there were five major American studios—Fox, MGM, Paramount, RKO, and Warner—and three smaller ones—Universal, Columbia, and United Artists. They focused their promotional efforts on the appeal of their stars, including Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, and Douglas Fairbanks. They also depended on their audience’s attraction to certain genres. What are some of the chief genres that they developed? Experimental film flourished in Europe—in German Expressionist cinema and Surrealist film—but the American studios dominated the industry, producing between 75 percent and 90 percent of all films in the 1920s.
The "Hollywoodland" sign. Rebuilt and shortened to "Hollywood" in 1978. 1923.
William Cameron Menzies. Sets for The Thief of Bagdad , starring Douglas Fairbanks. 1924.
Charlie Chaplin. Charlie Chaplin in The Gold Rush . 1925.
Douglas Fairbanks. Douglas Fairbanks in The Thief of Bagdad . 1924.
Tom Mix. Tom Mix in The Great K & A Train Robbery . 1926. 11" × 17”.
Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou. The City, in Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou’s Metropolis . 1926.
Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel. Scene from Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien andalou (An Andalusian Dog) . 1929.
Continuity & Change: The Rise of Fascism: Burning books on the Opernplatz, Berlin, May 10, 1933. 1933.
The Harlem RenaissanceWhat was the Harlem Renaissance?• “The New Negro” — Edited by Alain Leroy Locke, Harlem: Meccaof the New Negro argued that a new era was dawning for blackAmericans and that Harlem was the center of this new arena of creativeexpression.• Langston Hughes and the Poetry of Jazz — According toHughes, “Negro was in vogue.” He came to understand that his culturalidentity rested not in the grammar and philosophy of white culture, butin the vernacular expression of the American black, which he couldhear in its music (the blues and jazz especially) and its speech.• Zora Neale Hurston and the Voices of Folklore — Hurstonundertook anthropological field research to collect folklore in the South.Her writing concerned itself primarily with the question of African-American identity—an identity she located in the vernacular speech ofthe rural South.
• The Quilts of Gee’s Bend — In the isolated community of Gee’sBend, Alabama, an indigenous grassroots approach to textile designflourished. The quilts rivaled in every way the inventiveness andfreedom of modern abstract art.• All That Jazz — By the end of the 1920s, jazz was the Americanmusic. The blues are by definition laments bemoaning loss of love,poverty, or social injustice, and they contributed importantly to thedevelopment of jazz. The greatest of the 1920s blues singers wasBessie Smith. Dixieland jazz originated in New Orleans including LouisArmstrong. Duke Ellington introduced the term swing to jazz culture.• The Visual Arts in Harlem — The leading visual artist in Harlem inthe 1920s was Aaron Douglas who illustrated “The Prodigal Son.”• Discussion Question: What does W.E.B. DuBois mean by “doubleconsciousness”?
Skyscraper and the Machine:Architecture in New YorkWhat is the International Style in Architecture?• The Machine Aesthetic — The Chrysler Building is a monument tothe technology and the spirit of the new that technology inspired. Thephotographer Alfred Stieglitz championed photographers and painterswho were all dedicated to revealing the geometries of the world.Stieglitz believed that in the skyscraper he had discovered theunderlying geometry of modernity itself.• The International Style — The International Style wascharacterized by an austere, clean modernism that revealed its plaingeometries. The label was coined by Alfred H. Barr, Jr. and PhilipJohnson who were the curators of a show called the InternationalExhibition of Modern Architecture.• Discussion Question: What is the cult of the machine?
Architectural Panorama: Kaufmann House(Fallingwater, ground floor) Architectural Panorama: Kaufmann House(Fallingwater, second floor) Video: FallingwaterMyArtsLabChapter 36 – New York, Skyscraper Culture, and the Jazz Age
Making It New: The Art of PlaceWhat is suggested by the adage “make it new”?• The New American Novel and Its Tragic Sense of Place — F.Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is set in New York City and LongIsland and illuminates the quintessential American dream representedby crass materialism. Earnest Hemingway wrote about Americanexpatriates but preferred the wilder settings and untamed nature,particularly the lakes and rivers of upper Michigan. William Faulknercreated the Southern Novel in his imaginary Mississippi county ofYoknapatawpha.• The New American Poetry and the Machine Aesthetic —Ezra Pound, in his translation of Chinese text, invoked centuries ofChinese tradition in order to underscore the necessity of continualcultural renewal. William Carlos Williams concentrated on the starkpresentation of commonplace objects to the exclusion of inner realities.E.E. Cummings celebrates the machine culture and depends on thevisual characteristics of capitalization, punctuation, and line endings to
• The New American Poetry and the Machine Aesthetic(Continued) — surprise the reader. Hart Crane believed that themodern poet must “absorb the machine.” For him, the symbol of themachine aesthetic was the Brooklyn Bridge.• The New American Painting: “That Madam…is paint.” —The new American landscape can be seen in Demuth’s Incense of aNew Church which is a deeply ironic commentary on the Americanworship of machine and manufacture. Marsden Hartley was mostinfluenced by Paul Cezanne. The mountains of New Mexico became amotif for Hartley. Georgia O’Keeffe would become the most famous ofthe American artists who came into their own in the 1920s and 1930s.Her work was most often described solely in terms of its “female”imagery.• The American Stage: Eugene O’Neill — It was on stage thatboth the visual texture of American life and the language of modernAmerica were best experienced. Eugene O’Neill’s plays stress theisolation and alienation of modern life.• Discussion Question: What do you take to be the meaning ofHemingway’s “Big Two Hearted River”?
The Golden Age of Silent FilmWhat characterizes the “golden age” of silent film?• The Americanization of a Medium — Hollywood came to be thecenter of the movie industry in part because of weather, the city’sremoteness from the East, and cheap available property.• The Studios and the Star System — The studio system was anorganizational structure of production, distribution, and exhibition withinthe same company. The most important early stars were MaryPickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Charlie Chaplin.
• Audience and Expectation: Hollywood’s Genres — Thegenres that characterized Hollywood production through the 1950swere comedy; fantasy; adventure; the crime or gangster film; thecoming-of-age film; the so-called woman’s film; romantic drama; thehorror film; war films; and the western.• Cinema in Europe — Europeans tended to regard cinema as highart. After the war, some German filmmakers, influenced byExpressionist painters, began to search for ways to similarly expressthemselves in film. The surrealist film used skillful editing of startlingimages and effects as a new tool for exploring the unconscious.Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel were the Spanish Surrealists.• Discussion Question: How did the studio system in Hollywood develop?