THE LIVELY AUDIENCE: A Social History of the Visual and Performing Arts in America, 1890-1950 by Russell Lynes

THE LIVELY AUDIENCE: A Social History of the Visual and Performing Arts in America, 1890-1950

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Lynes manages to compress 60 years of America's visual and performing arts into 440 fact-crammed pages, sometimes disorienting the reader with this tidal wave of information. The book begins sedately enough with an analysis of American social and economic conditions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that led to ""an explosion"" of interest in the arts. By 1890 art museums were already established in a number of large cities; the Chautaugua movement had introduced countless Americans to music, literature and ideas through concerts and lectures in tent cities scattered over the land. Andrew Carnegie's free libraries were later to do much the same thing through books and magazines. In 1876, the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition had already spawned an ""artistic craze"" and a greater interest in architecture, as did Chicago's Columbian Exposition of 1893. This leads Lynes into a discussion of architecture as a ""visual art"" from the development of that truly American innovation, the skyscraper, through the public and private structures of Wright and other contemporary American originals who put a distinct ""New World"" stamp on the nation's human geography. Then, in rapid, succession, Lynes whirls through chapters on painting, jazz (one of his best), musical comedy, the legitimate theater, photography and, finally, the movies. He demonstrates how Americans broke away from European influences on painting and theater and how we employed the new technology of film to create a ""mass culture"" uniquely our own. The final chapters give the reader a chance to catch a breath. One provides a leisurely (almost overly detailed) history of New York's three great museums: the Metropolitan, the Modern and the Cooper-Hewitt, along with a discussion of how these helped mold American taste and ultimately enable New York to supplant Paris as the world's art capitol. Lynes concludes with an analysis of the uneasy relationship between government and the arts in the US and a brief mention of the impact of private and corporate collections on the ""culture industry."" In sum, then, a busy tome that occasionally overreaches itself. Useful nevertheless.

Pub Date: Sept. 30th, 1985
Publisher: Harper & Row