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Craven, Thomas

    Full Name: Craven, Thomas

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1888

    Date Died: 1969

    Place Born: Salina, Saline, KS, USA

    Place Died: Boston, Suffolk, MA, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): anti-modernism and Modern (style or period)

    Career(s): art critics


    Anti-modernist art critic and art historian. Craven was born to Richard Price and Virginia Bates (Craven). Craven graduated from Kansas Wesleyan University in 1908, moving to Paris for a time to study art. In France, Craven attempted to be as French as possible, according to himself, in order to be an artist. However, Craven returned to the United States settled in Greenwich Village and became acquainted with the American realist artists working there. He roomed with the American painter Thomas Hart Benton and was friends with objectivist painters John Stuart Curry, George Grosz, Reginald Marsh and Grant Wood. During World War I he served in the U.S. Navy in 1918 and afterward married the writer Aileen St. John-Brenon in 1923 (divorced 1947). During the late 1920’s, Craven fell under the influence of H. L. Mencken, publishing in Mencken’s magazine The Mercury a 1927 article, “Have Painters Minds?” Craven’s animadversion of all painting–from murals to portrait painting to still lives–caused a public fury. In 1931 Craven published his first and most influential book, Men of Art. An art-historical survey of painting in the Western world, it was a combination of social history, biography and description and criticism. It and his later works were selected as Book-of-the-Month-Club offerings, catapulting his anti-modernist taste to an even larger audience. Craven wrote numerous articles, essays, criticisms, and reviews for Scribner’s, Harpers, The Dial, The Nation, The New Republic and The Forum. He was art critic for the Hearst Paper in New York, New York American. Craven also authored two other books, Modern Art, A Treasury of Art Masterpieces, and Greek Art. His papers are housed in the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Craven was characterized the “the principal ideologue of the American Scene” movement by the art historian Matthew Eli Baigell. His often caustic reviews and criticisms of the modernistic movement made him a partisan of the conservative art movement. Somewhat visionary, however, he championed as authentic art the works of cartoon artists and Walt Disney.

    Selected Bibliography

    Men of Art. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1931; Modern Art: the Men, the Movements, the Meaning: New York: Simon and Schuster, 1934; A Treasury of American Prints: a Selection of One hundred Etchings and Lithographs by the Foremost Living American Artists. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1939; A Treasury of Art Masterpieces: from the Renaissance to the Present Day. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1939; Famous Artists and their Models. New York: Pocket Books, 1949.


    [obituary:] “Thomas Craven, Author, Dead: Caustic Art Critic and Lecturer.” New York Times. March 1, 1969, p. 31.


    Contributors: Emily Crockett and Lee Sorensen


    Emily Crockett and Lee Sorensen. "Craven, Thomas." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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