PRINT March 1979

Anti-Realism and the Ashcan School

ROBERY HENRI, THE FOUNDER OF the so-called Ashcan School, once offered the following advice to his students: “Low art is just telling things, as, there is the night. High art gives the feel of night. The latter is nearer reality although the former is a copy. . . . Reality does not exist in material things. Rather paint the flying spirit of the bird than its feathers.”1 Such an antipositivist statement from his book The Art Spirit suggests that we should reconsider the “realistic” reputation of Henri and the artists of his circle.

At the turn of the century, the group, which also included John Sloan, William Glackens, George Luks and Everett Shinn, began to champion straightforward portrayal of the lower class, urban environment. John Sloan’s Carmine Theater of 1912—one of the few paintings by a member of Henri’s circle actually to incorporate a trash can—typifies an unidealized treatment

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