Ashcan School


The Ashcan School was a movement which was integral and in a way 1 inevitable with the infancy of the twentieth century. This movement in art was brought about by a handful of artists who converged on New York City around the turn of the century.2 The major Ashcan artists who will be discussed later are Robert Henry ( 1865- 1929), George Luks (1866- 1933), Everett Shinn (1876- 1953), George Bellows (1882- 1925), John Sloan (1871- 1951), and William Glackens ( 1870- 1938).3 These were the major members of the Ashcan School. This is a group of artists who are credited with documenting the ordinary life on a human level in New York City during this incredible time of transformation. Because of these artists we have a picture of New York not based on the monuments or buildings but based on the interaction and the coexistence of the people who shaped the society which was emerging.
The island of Manhattan was consolidated into the greater New York City in 1898. Because of this the city was transformed from a nineteenth century seaport with cobblestone streets into a twentieth century metropolis of skyscrapers and subways. The artists of the Ashcan movement saw this changing society in human terms. They saw this in a light which depicted the interaction of so many different cultures which were being thrust together. They documented these changes on a level which the ordinary person could understand. Because of the Ashcan School we have a picture of society which one really cannot understand amidst the overpowering spectacle of overpowering buildings and increasing technology.4
To understand the Ashcan movement it is necessary to look more closely at some of the major artists who were involved. George Bellows moved to New York in 1904 after he dropped out of Ohio State University following his junior year. Once in New York he enrolled in classes at The New York School of Art. He quickly became Robert Henri\'s star pupil and valued friend. Bellows was fascinated by New York City. He attempted to capture in his art the social change which he noticed in the city. By the time he was twenty four his art had the attention of the cities leading critics, and his work was shown regularly at exhibitions at the national academy of design. Bellows became the youngest artist ever to elected an associate of the National Academy of Design in 1909.
Robert Henri got his art training from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and from the Ecole des Beaux which is in Paris.5 He said that in his own work he tried to portray " this thing that I call dignity in a human being". This was whether he was painting the elegant, wealthy New York socialites or the Irish children or the Spanish Gypsies which he painted abroad. Henri believed that art should embody the spirit of its own time. He attempted to convince his pupils to go into the streets and capture the spontaneity and character of the people that he saw.
George Luks was an editorial cartoonist. He also created " The Yellow Kid" which was a widely read comic strip published in the New York World.6 It was around 1900 when he decided to leave newspaper work in order to paint full time. He decided to focus on New York\'s Lower East Side which consisted primarily of Jewish and Italian neighborhoods. He made a complete turnaround in his approach to art, leaving behind the wit and satire of the cartoon in order to focus on portraying the streets and people of this densely populated neighborhood with compassion and with understanding.
Compared with his Ashcan contemporaries, John Sloan was a latecomer to the movement of urban realism. Until 1903 he had made the art nuveau styled posters and puzzle designs which were popular in the Philadelphia press.7 It was in that year that the paper switched to photography which put most of the staff artists out of work. William Glackens asked him to illustrate the novels of Paul de Koch. It was at this point that Sloan changed to a style which gave full range to his abilities and his insights on society. His change to urban realism was complete by 1904. At