Western Art or Western American art, is a genre of visual art defined by its subject matter rather than any specific style or approach; the subjects are related to the culturally rich and expansive American West. This varied region of the United States between the Mississippi River and Pacific Ocean includes the Great Plains, Southwest, Rocky Mountains, and Pacific Northwest. The deep-rooted history, diverse cultures and plentiful wildlife provide endless inspiration for artists.
Indigenous peoples have been creating art in the American West for thousands of years, with surviving works ranging from petroglyphs to ceramics. What many people typically think of as Western art today came about with the European settlement of America and the subsequent westward expansion in the 19th century into ancestral homelands of Native Americans. Inspired by their travels west, early artists such as George Catlin, Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran, and Frederic Remington became well known for Western subjects. Their depictions, which were widely published back East, created curiosity, and encouraged westward settlement.
Over the past 200 years, artists from a variety of backgrounds have captured elements of the West in many ways. In addition to traditional paintings and sculpture, Western art can take the form of jewelry, quilts, baskets, pottery, photography, film, and so much more. Artistic styles are generally representational but can include elements of influence by Modernism, Impressionism, Cubism, Pop art, and many other movements.
This iconic form of American art is part documentation and part interpretation, shaped by the artists’ own experiences, imagination, and contexts. It can be factual, and it can be based in romantic myth. Western art from generations ago helped shape our earliest perceptions of cowboys, Native Americans, and the land itself. Some of these perceptions still echo today. More recent artists of Western America have added perspectives that shed light on little-known histories, sometimes challenging long-held assumptions. There is also more experimentation in style and media. Above all, Western art is storytelling. It is an important part of American culture and American art.
Logan Maxwell Hagege, Light on the Round Clouds, 2013, oil on canvas
Header Image Credit
Earl Biss, Winter Sunrise Circle of the Big Sky People, 1985, oil on canvas