Don't worry everyone, I'm still alive. Sorry that I haven't been able to write in the last couple of days; it has been fairly busy here at Ben HQ, and that will likely continue.
There are a couple updates in my life I would like to tell you all of first. Number one: I thank the one person who has viewed the site, and hope that there will be many more. Number two: I will be (hopefully) passing my drivers test on Wednesday (I will certainly be taking it). Number three: I am also on Wednesday receiving my first dose of the vaccine. That is all, thank you.
I started reading an interesting book about the life and works of Thomas Cole, a relatively unknown American landscape painter. In his time, the early 19th century, he was as famous as they can be, but as the Romantic movement came to a close and new, distinctly European styles--Dadaism, Impressionism, Surrealism--arrived in America, he grew into obscurity. He and his movement featured a moment of rebirth after the end of the second world war, when American nationalism was on the rise, but I believe still that he has not, in education, fully occupied the essential spot in history that he plays.
What makes America America? Put simply, I would say that it is tied to the notion of it being the 'New World'. The United States was a new idea (even if today it is in dire need of a new coat of paint), and was seen as the counterpart to the age which characterized Europe, Asia, and Africa. And why was one 'New' and the other 'Old?' Why, it is because the arrivals in the Americas saw only untamed wilderness. Though we can agree that the notions of what is 'civilized' is inherently racist, we can too agree that the lands of the Americas were far less urban (or even rural, for there was much less farming) than that of the old world. So then, what characterizes America is simple: nature.
After the Mexican-American War and the Civil War, there was an American crisis of identity: the 'West' was disappearing. That thing, the untamed wilderness, was so integral to the soul of America that as it started to end, Americans sought new wilderness, new places for their manifest destiny to indeed manifest.
And that is tied into Thomas Cole. I'll leave it for tomorrow to explain the man more, but if you must know, I would recommend looking at his Wikipedia. It has a concise rendering of his life and works. In short, he was influential because his landscape paintings created a distinctly 'American' style of painting, and thus forever tied the United States to the West and the wilds.