Ash Can Realism

David E. Shi

in Facing Facts

Published in print July 1996 | ISBN: 9780195106534
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199854097 | DOI:
Ash Can Realism

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In The Genius, Theodore Dreiser told the story of a lustful young painter named Eugene Witla who, like himself, migrated from a small midwestern village to Chicago and then to New York City. Dreiser modeled Witla in part after himself and in part after Everett Shinn, a precociously brilliant graphic artist who had worked with Dreiser on the staff of Ainslee's Magazine. Shinn was one of a handful of iconoclastic young painters in New York who belonged to what critics called the “Ash Can School” because of their fascination with squalid scenes along inner-city streets. More sympathetic observers labeled them the “New York Realists.” In addition to Shinn, these kindred spirits included Robert Henri, William Glackens, George Luks, John Sloan, and George Bellows. They displayed an earnest commitment to unvarnished “truth” rather than decorative “beauty,” a rebellious disdain for the genteel tradition, and a masculine preference for “life” over “art.” By refusing to “finish” their paintings according to “academic” standards, Sloan and his friends presented the “illusion of realism” rather “than a photographic interest in detail.”

Keywords: The Genius; Ash Can School; Robert Henri; William Glackens; John Sloan; George Bellows; realism; art; paintings; life

Chapter.  9021 words.  Illustrated.

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