An analysis of the expression of American Creed and how it is portrayed in classical American art and how young artist can use their talents to show their creed in a similar manner.

Self expression is something all individuals long for. To be able to illustrate an idea to others about who you are as a person, about how you think, and about how you perceive the world. Self expression manifests itself in numerous ways be it a fashion choice, artistic style, musical preference, or any number of other options. This diversity of expression gives power to each individual that allows them to express themselves in a way that is meaningful to them. Therefore, one’s American creed can also be expressed through this more abstract manner. This gives each American citizen numerous ways to express their creed and portray those ideas to others. Some of the best examples of this are in classic American art where the artists can portray to the observer what their american ideals are even when the subject matter does not specifically revolve around that central idea. And although direct action such as volunteering in your community is a good way to show your American creed, painting is an expressive alternative that grants even more creative freedom in the expression of your own American creed.

To begin with an example of an artist’s expression through art we can observe Albert Bierstadt’s Gates of the Yosemite. Painted in 1882 , it depicts the majestic peaks of Yosemite and the natural beauty of the American land. During the time of the painting’s creation, many Americans were still moving west and were awestruck by the majesty of the landscapes to the point where they sought to preserve them.

Bierstadt, Albert. Gates of the Yosemite. 1882

This pride in the land was, in part, a drive for the establishment of national parks. Just 8 years after the painting’s completion Yosemite National Park was established in 1890 and Americans, to this day, uphold this land as pristine. This can even be seen within the painting itself as Bierstadt’s painting depicts the landscape as grand and lush with a plethora of vegetation and a slow, blue river winding down into the valley ahead. This specific depiction has the intention to show observers the beauty of the American country and gives people a great feeling for pride in, not only that land, but the whole of American land. As well, the valley ahead is inviting in a sense that there is more to be discovered there and the mountain peaks surrounding it do not express oppressing weight. If we were to walk into the valley we would not be thrust into a dark and oppressive region and be swallowed up in the mountains’ shadows but instead brought into another region of beauty and prosperity of life. This is the artist’s American creed. That to continue to explore American soil, and to continue forward as a country will bring us further into the fertile grounds of a flowering nation.

The next painting, while different in subject matter than the first, still illustrates a personalized idea of American Creed as it is felt by the artist George C. Bingham. In his painting the The Jolly Flatboatmen it is easy to perceive the mood of a carefree, joyous life.

Bingham, George Caleb. The Jolly Flatboatmen. 1846.

This attitude was due to the American social and economic structure of the mid-1800s; the time of the painting’s creation. During this time better infrastructure improved the economy, feeding back into the infrastructure and so on and so forth (this is why the men are portrayed on a flatboat as canals at the time were becoming more and more common). This economic boom improved the lives of many and created a very strong sense of patriotism as American was growing as a prosperous nation in wealth and size. This is seen in the artist’s work as the artist illustrates the men as lively and energetic just like the country at the time. This is how Brigham portrays his American creed and patriotism for the flowering country. He gave people a snapshot back into what times were like during that period in the U.S.’s history and how people felt about their country and how they expressed their creed. And although we cannot hear the tune of the unknown fiddler painted upon the canvas, we can still feel the upbeat rhythm of his tune as the flatboat men dance, carefree and prospering in a thriving nation.

The last painting is fairly well known one done by the American artist Norman Rockwell named Rosie the Riveter. Painted in 1943 it was released as a magazine cover for The Saturday Evening Post right at the height of World War Two, just two years after America joined the fight.

Rockwell, Norman. Rosie the Riveter. 1943.

During the war all hands were needed on deck, even those of women, to complete all sorts of jobs from sewing uniforms to building ships and aircraft. Rosie, as seen in the painting, completed the latter of the two as she sports a large and intimidating rivet gun used to drive steel rivets into the sides of aircraft and ships; a tough and physically demanding job. This show of patriotism, that even the women of the country were willing to get their hands dirty for a common cause, is part of Rockwell’s creed as he illustrates the drive of American citizens when united to achieve a goal. As well, in the bottom of the painting, there is what appears to be a thick book that Rosie has her foot placed triumphantly upon. That book, while cut out of several versions due to the sensitivity of its subject matter, wears a Nazi symbol upon its cover. This slight symbol holds a larger meaning as it shows the American drive to overcome the injustices of Nazi Germany at the time of the war. This was a blatant show of creed as Rockwell illustrates Rosie in a pose of defiance over the book, placing her foot down on it as if it were nothing but a stool. Rockwell used his patriotism and creed to inspire and spark action within the U.S. to crush her opponents and bring the war to a close.

Art is not just limited to those who can be considered “good” at art from the eyes of others. Painting, drawing, and other similar mediums are open to every person who finds the determination or want to create something meaningful. Art does not conform to a strict pattern with all artists harboring different styles and different themes within their art and no two pieces are ever the same. This is also true for the messages artists send through their art. Themes range from simplistic to complex to the point of philosophical and social commentary and each brushstroke is meaningful in one way or another. Creating art is an action. It is deliberate and purposeful in its creation. And even young and beginner artists have the potential to create a meaningful work.

However, critics may argue that creating an artistic piece to show one's American creed is to indirect of an action to be meaningful and show clear drive and support for this country. More direct actions can have more immediate effects and responses to them. Actions such as helping in a local community to better the welfare of all its citizens are often praised as the acts of a good samaritan. This is an immediate cause and effect scenario; action and a quick reward. However, do not begin to think that this is a bad thing. Bettering a local community is indeed a good way to show American creed to others through action. It is a wonderful show of good spirit and charitability towards others that idolizes the American ideals of kindness and brotherhood amongst communities. But you can only get so specific in your action’s interpretations. It is difficult to spread a more complex and thought provoking message through communal action other than that of “be better, work harder, help your community and those in need”. This is where artistic expression steps in. It is a way to send a more personalized message to people; an idea that can be elaborated upon further, expanded, and interpreted in numerous ways making it not only personal for the artist but the observer as well. This is why art should be more widely accepted as a true action towards a goal, that it is meaningful and shows a drive to illustrate a creed or provoke actions from others from its creation. Art is there to inspire others, to share ideas, and build a sense of respect for our country. It is not less worthy than physical action, nor is it more, it is equal. Both present their own benefits and advantages as well as their own limitations.

Everyone holds artistic potential. There is no such thing as a bad artist, only a lazy artist. Everyone has the potential to build upon their skills and to show people around them their American creed. No two pieces are alike and no two forms of expression are either. We as individuals long for a way to illustrate to others how we think and feel and different art mediums are an output for that frustration. There is meaning to artistic express and actions that is conveyed through it.




This is a 10th grade PreAP Honors English 10 class co-taught with AP U.S. history.

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