Here is Eakins’ Agnew Clinic.  Similar to his picture above, this honors a retiring surgeon also emphasizing his service as an educator.  The roiling factor here though is more subversive.

Agnew Clinic

  Eakins thought that there was nothing more beautiful than the human body and went to great lengths to provide his students with the benefits of his talents.  Including once disrobing for a young coed to show a real male body in motion.

  On several occasions he allowed mixed gender life drawing classes.  Such disregard for the mores of the time brought trouble upon him and he was released from his position.  His choice of subject matter in the Agnew Clinic – a partially nude woman undergoing a mastectomy – was his retort.

  Eakins was born in Philadelphia in 1844 and thus lived his early years hearing whispers of war, was sixteen when the Civil War broke out, and twenty-one when it ended.   The mood in the birthplace of our nation must have been especially dark and turbulent through those developmentally crucial years.  The ramifications upon his fertile cortex must have been like that of acid rain on a forest.

  Jump forward a hundred years.  World War II had been won, factories were busy, and our democratic engine of capitalism had a full head of steam.  Everything was great – as long as one was white, straight, male, and in conformity.  Unbeknownst to the “Fathers Who Knew Best” there grew an undercurrent of disquiet and seething.

  The wake left on the leading edge of American consciousness shaped the art of the 1950s.  Its profile is just as impossible to capture in one work or one artist as during the 1850s, but a glimpse of an inflection might be had just as with Eakins.

  Robert Rauschenberg has been called a Neo-Dadaist which as defined by Oxford is “a movement characterized by anarchic revolt against traditional values”.  Here’s one of his pieces.  I’m not going to say that it foreshadows the incredible tumult of the sixties, but it sure does raise a few questions.  It’s called Monogram and was completed in 1959


  The 1960s did come and saw foment and ferment of historic proportions.  Cuban Missile Crisis.  The Vietnam War brought response in all sorts of protest art.  Pop Art mocked the rise of our Consumer Society.  In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest  (1962), the sane and savvy, if sketchy, McMurphy was lobotomized for trying to help.


  “One flew east and one flew west and one flew over the cuckoo’s nest”.

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