His Work

Arthur Dove: Always Connect, 2016
By Rachael Z. De Lue

Barns, 1935

Often heralded as the first American artist to try his hand at abstraction, Dove is perhaps best known for his nature-based abstract paintings, most of which stop short of total non-objectivity. He was one of several American artists actively championed by Stieglitz. Chiefly in the 1920s and 1930s, a group that included John Marin, Marsden Hartley, Charles Demuth, Paul Strand and Georgia O’Keeffe.

The tales of Dove thus told can be divided into three categories, each representing a typical approach to his art: (1) biographical, where Dove’s very interesting life takes precedence over his paintings, the idea being that Dove’s pictures require only abbreviated explanation because they exemplify Stieglitz’s well-defined and vigorously studies ideas about art; (2) genealogical, where Dove is claimed as the first American abstract painter and thus the progenitor, in combination with the European avant-garde, of American abstraction to coe, his career primarily a matter of ingesting and expressing a variety of external sources and influences while setting the stage for Abstract Expressionism in the postwar period; and (3) romantic, where Dove is imagined as an urban-shy anti-modern who retreated to the countryside in order to commune with nature and render his subjective response to the natural world, this individual, emotive, of-the-soil painting being the sort advocated by Stieglitz.

Throughout his career, Dove drew inspiration from the stuff of the observable, material world. And then he distorted, even disfigured this stuff, pushing the majority of his pictures to the cusp of non-objectivity, distorting and inventing without altogether abandoning reference to the real.

Dove’s favoring of the word “sequence,” which by definition entails intentional and particular connections between parts, over “arrangement,” which connotes and an organized group or array but not necessarily the establishing of an essential relationship among components, conveys a concern for the idea of an image as a system, a whole made up of interrelated entities. “Just at present,” he wrote, “I have come to the conclusion that one must have a flexible form or formation that is governed by some definite rhythmic [sic] sense beyond mere geometrical repetition, to express and put in space an idea so that those with sensitive instruments can pick it up, and further that means of expression has to have grown long enough to establish itself as an automatic force.”

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