Keepers of Culture: Art-thought of Kenyon Cox, Royal Cortissoz and Frank Jewett Mather Jr.
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The conflict between modern and traditional art is one of the best known episodes in American cultural history. The modernists won the war in the sense that their styles and attitudes of mind dominated the discussion and production of new art. But the traditionalists remained strong in the arenas of public opinion and taste. It is a testament to the importance of the ideas involved that the basic issues are not yet settled in the larger cultural world. Kenyon Cox, a painter as well as critic, revealed a devotion to the ideals of a high art tradition, derived in his later years chiefly from admiration for the Italian Renaissance. He knew western art history, surveyed the current art scene in many reviews and analytical essays, and wrote with careful attention to the canons of scholarship. Royal Cortissoz, the art editor of the ""New York Tribune"" for over 50 years, was an appreciator and connoiseur. His belief in ""beauty"" in a well-done and recognizable form left him open to more innovation than was the case with Cox. He was well suited to speak to and for the growing middle class in the Progressive era. The fact that he remained a significant figure in art circles long after his tastes ceased to be dominant, testified to the nature of the audience for whom and to whom he spoke. Frank Jewett Mather, Jr., was the most realistic of these critics in estimating how art appealed in society. He was concerned to see that the arts remained integrated in public esteem and thought. Mather took comfort from history of art, which revealed to him that great works and their creators could survive time and criticism. This sense of historical process let Mather escape the bitterness that so affected Cox, and to a lesser extent Cortissoz, as tastes changed.
H. Wayne Morgan is professor emeritus of history at the University of Oklahoma and is author of several books on Kenyon Cox
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