America has always been expanding and pursuing some sort of idealistic dream, but over the last half century or so, has seemed to reach the pinnacle of its aspirations. The inherent desperation in promises of free and fertile lands over the horizon has marked the entire path of American history, becoming aimless and listless in a culture that has moved so far it west it found itself in the east again. Tom Robbins said it best in a novel of American expatriates, living in Vietnam, that “we consecrate ourselves as a nation devoted to the pursuit of happiness. That in itself is an admission of habitual discontent; one needn’t pursue what one already possesses.” In the art, literature, and history of America that inherent desperation in the constant search for happiness and the painful, disillusioning battle westward that went with it is essential to the evolution and cultivation of the canon of American art.
Now, we are at the strange crossroads of reconciling a restless and expansive temperament within a land that cannot be explored or conquered any further. From sea to shining sea the landscape has been explored, mapped, cleared of native peoples, and given over to faster modes of transit, more modernized civilizations. The vast distances between oceans now covered in mere hours, manifest destiny seems a historical footnote at best. The America we live in right now sits upon a gorgeous crossroads, with one hell of a view of the past, but across the intersection there is little certainty. This is a scary notion in a country where we have stepped confidently and forcefully forward into each new territory and evolution of civilization.
The American city and the American landscape are full of the stuff that has produced such a distinctive canon of American storytelling and art. To quote Adams once more “No society has ever much encouraged the crazy notion that the way light falls on a vacant lot is important. Artists are dreamers.” We all need a little bit of the intensely beautiful and a little bit of the intensely painful to bring out the dreamer inside us. For the two of us a fascination with American art through literature and photography has become so much richer through experience of the landscape.