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what is western art?

by Jean Lipman

This is, perhaps a question that needs a new answer, based on a larger overview of the painters, sculptors, printmakers, photographers and filmmakers who have been and are now inspired by the land and life of the western half of the United States. The prevailing popular idea of western art is strongly based on the subject of old-time pioneers, of cowboys and Indians. This is a perfectly valid segment of a broad cultural panorama that also includes the great landscape paintings of artists, such as Bierstadt and Moran - who are not, however; generally thought of as western artists. At present, the surge of commercially successful "cowboy art" and quickie Indian artifacts have tended to dominate every other kind of western art. The cowboy capers and Indian corn are immensely popular; they are overpowering the art public's interest in any less easily understood art of this area. 


There is, however, an impressive number of talented artists who are native to the west, or who have come to the west; they are creating exciting works that are inspired by the light and color and landscape of this land. They are interpreting their impres­sions and ideas, not as "regional" painters, but as vital members of the national and international art world. 


Dorothy Fratt is one of these advanced western artists. She is important as an abstract painter of the western landscape, its architecture, its atmosphere, its space. She is painting about the light and color and air and shapes that distinguish this special part of our country. She has also been important as a teacher; not so much of formal techniques and styles as of a sensitive way of seeing and feeling and interpreting the wonder and excitement of a particular place. She impressively represents western art today, and it is gratifying that her paintings are now shown and published by the Scottsdale Center for the Arts. 

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