Arthur Wesley Dow

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Crater Lake, oil on canvas, 1919
Arthur Wesley Dow: View of Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada, 1919

Arthur Wesley Dow (April 6, 1857 – December 13, 1922) was an American painter, printmaker, photographer, and influential arts educator.


Dow taught at three major American arts training institutions over the course of his career beginning with the Pratt Institute from 1896-1903 and the New York Art Students League from 1898-1903;[1] then, in 1900, he founded and served as the director of the Ipswich Summer School of Art in Ipswich, Massachusetts, and from 1904 to 1922, he was a professor of fine arts at Columbia University Teachers College.[2]

Ideas on teaching art[edit]

His ideas were quite revolutionary for the period; he taught that rather than copying nature, art should be created by elements of the composition, like line, mass and color. His ideas were published in the 1899 book Composition: A Series of Exercises in Art Structure for the Use of Students and Teachers. The following extracts are from the prefatory chapter "Beginnings" to the second edition of this book (1912):

Composition ... expresses the idea upon which the method here presented is founded - the "putting together" of lines, masses and colors to make a harmony. ... Composition, building up of harmony, is the fundamental process in all the fine arts. ... A natural method is of exercises in progressive order, first building up very simple harmonies ... Such a method of study includes all kinds of drawing, design and painting. It offers a means of training for the creative artist, the teacher or one who studies art for the sake of culture.



In "Beginnings", he acknowledges his debt to Ernest Fenollosa:

The history of this structural system of art teaching may be stated in a few words; and here I am given the opportunity to express my indebtedness to [Fenollosa].

An experience of five years in the French schools left me thoroughly dissatisfied with academic theory. In a search for something more vital I began a comparative study of the art of all nations and epochs. While pursuing an investigation of Oriental painting and design at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts I met the late Professor Ernest F. Fenollosa.

After detailing some of Fenollosa's attributes and history, he continues:

He at once gave me cordial support in my quest, for he also felt the inadequacy of modern art teaching. He vigorously advocated a radically different idea, based as in music, upon synthetic principles. He believed music to be, in a sense, the key to the other fine arts, since its essence is pure beauty; that space art may be called "visual music", and may be studied and criticised from this point of view.

He continues:

Convinced that this new conception was a more reasonable approach to art, I gave much time to preparing with Professor Fenollosa a progressive series of synthetic exercises. My first experiment in applying these in teaching was made in 1889 in my Boston classes, with Professor Fenollosa as lecturer on the philosophy and history of art.

Influence on others[edit]

He taught many of America's leading artists and craftspeople, including Georgia O'Keeffe, Charles Sheeler, Charles J. Martin[citation needed], two of the Overbeck Sisters and the Byrdcliffe Colony.


  1. ^ Columbia University Teachers College Announcements, 1906-07:13;
  2. ^ Ibid.

External links[edit]