Ambition and Love in Modern American Art


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Jonathan Weinberg

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Freud wrote that the artist “desires to win honor, power, wealth, fame, and the love of women.” In this engrossing book, Jonathan Weinberg investigates how an artist’s ambition interacts with his or her art, how wealth and celebrity play a role in the artistic process. He shows that anxiety about the relationship of an artwork to identity and the corrupting influence of fame plague modern artists of all genders and sexual orientations.

Weinberg begins by discussing Whistler’s famous portrait of his mother in terms of maternal metaphors for painting. He then looks at the familial relationships forged by artists like Jackson Pollock and Sally Mann with their imagined tradition. He next focuses on the role of love in photographs by Alfred Stieglitz as well as Georgia O’Keeffe’s attempts to find autonomy from her partner Stieglitz. Weinberg also reveals that artistic fame is usually a matter of competition, and he examines the impulse of artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol to work together. The book concludes with a rumination on the NAMES Project Quilt and the problem of what becomes of those who die in obscurity.

Jonathan Weinberg is an art historian and painter with artworks in private and public collections, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art. He is the author of Speaking for Vice: Homosexuality in the Art of Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, and the First American Avant-Garde, published by Yale University Press.

One of the best books on American art of any period that I have ever read. . .An exemplary text.

“Taking Harold Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence beyond the realm of the Romantic poets, Ambition and Love in Modern American Art provides an insightful survey of nearly 10 major artists, including Pollock, Georgia O’Keeffe, Walker Evans, David Hockney and Jean-Michel Basquiat, who were driven, and sometimes driven crazy, by their need for public renown. . . . In each case, Ambition and Love in Modern American Art lends retrospective clarity to the murky workings of artistic development.”—Jonathon Keats, Art and Auction


“Jonathan Weinberg’s engagingly written book grapples with how the psychic forces of ambition, wealth, and celebrity influence the creative process. . . . But what is compelling about this volume are the questions Weinberg raises about success (unsatisfying, according to the author), power, and even Weinberg’s own career as a little-known painter. No matter whether the reader agrees or disagrees with his answers, they are guaranteed to provoke.”—Robert Atkins, Art News

“One of the best books on American art of any period that I have ever read. . . . An exemplary text. It is rare that such a perfect fit between style and substance occurs in the writing of an art historian. . . . The originality of the book lies in both its choice of artists--mainstream and marginal are treated with the same sensitive and probing attention--and its emphasis on what the title promises: the role of love and ambition in modern American art.”—Linda Nochlin, Art in America

“Jonathan Weinberg has written a book of insightful essays on a range of topics unified by the idea of artistic ambition. Reading these fluidly written, pleasantly chatty essays is like touring an art museum with a particularly learned, witty friend. . . . The book he has produced is a rich and multifaceted amalgam of close looking, imaginative hypotheses and thoughtful research—and for all that, a real pleasure to read.”—Jonathan Katz, Queer Caucus for Art

“Reading this book is like having a compelling and memorable conversation with an articulate friend who understands artists and their motivations.”—Camerawork

“Essential reading for anyone concerned with the history of twentieth-century American art. Lucid, accessible, and studded with insights, Weinberg’s essays add up to a powerful take on the meaning of artistic ambition and artistic success.”—Alan Wallach, College of William and Mary
ISBN: 9780300081879
Publication Date: May 11, 2001
328 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
175 b/w illus.
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