Didactic Art

The principal criterion of art in this neoclassical era lay not in the genius of the artist or in the novelty of the work but rather in the effect of the art on the audience or spectator. Consequently, someone like Joel Barlow could believe that his epic of America, Vision of Columbus (later the Columbiad), precisely because of its high moral and republican message, could exceed in grandeur even Homer’s Iliad.

Wood, Gordon S. (2009). Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 (Oxford History of the United States) (Kindle Locations 10085-10088).


I can think of few things more tiresome than this sort of attitude.  I believe it illustrates just how uncomfortable many elements of the early republic were with the population around them.  In fact, they apparently feared truly democratic art in the same way that cultural conservatives have always feared it up to this day.

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