Thomas Hart Benton: Counterpoint to Modernism

Thomas Hart Benton, Cut The Line, 1944, oil on board, Navy Art Collection, Naval
Thomas Hart Benton, Cut The Line, 1944, oil on board, Navy Art Collection, Naval Historical Center

James Panero reviews the biography Thomas Hart Benton: A Life by Justin Wolff "a keen critical recuperation, if not a defibrillation, of this unique American artist."

Panero notes that "Wolff is at his best exploring the philosophy behind the rise of Benton's new signature style, which he locates in the pragmatism of John Dewey. Benton did more than merely react to the avant-garde. He developed a compelling counterpoint to modernism that he believed was far more populist and progressive than the art theories coming out of Europe. He came to see, writes Wolff, that art “should be instrumental (a favorite term of Dewey’s) and work to clarify ordinary experiences rather than interrogate the mysteries of the world.' "