A rambling, unfocused portrayal of the California art and literary scene, 19251975. In his impressive introduction, Smith (History/Univ. of Michigan) raises such significant questions as ``how and why the concerns of the arts communities came to enter into the general culture'' and ``why at this time in American history did the arts in general become an increasingly potent social force?'' He then sets out to examine these issues by studying prominent artistic and literary Californians and the major political events that shaped their work. The California art scene, from its beginnings in the 1920s, is exemplified by the postsurrealist work of Helen Lundeberg and Lorser Feitelson. Smith next examines Kenneth Rexroth and his theory of disengagement, then the GI Bill and its impact on the education of artists in the postwar period in general and the evolution of the California School of Fine Arts in particular. From Abstract Expressionism he proceeds to the Beat Generation and the work of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Particularly insightful are the subsequent chapters devoted to the issues of obscenity and public censorship in relation to the work of artists Wallace Berman and Edward Kienholz, and others. Smith concludes the book with the Vietnam War era and the differing countercultural agendas of poets Gary Snyder, Robert Duncan, and Denise Levertov. He theorizes that the personal, private realm of artistic expression, with its emphasis on inner, subjective experience, provided a new way of reacting to a society viewed by many artists as increasingly repressive and rigid. But this study, which primarily considers the artists' point of view, loosely defines a very generic public and fails to specifically address the ways in which this public responded to their work and absorbed it into the general culture. Constant digressions and excess attention to minutiae also mar this study. An enormous subject remains unwieldy in Smith's hands.
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