Excerpt 1

So long as “Nature” could move his imagination, Billings considered artistic isolation advantageous. “Nature” was a metaphor for the wellspring of creativity. It evoked the beauty of primal wilderness, the presumed freshness and innocence of New World life, and the grace of a benign God. William Billings would not be the last American artist to claim that “Nature” inspired his work, but no other artist touted the idea without troubling himself to learn anything about the Old World art he spurned.

Excerpt 2

Perhaps the most extraordinary artistic feature [of the Declaration of Independence] is its musicality, a quality even the tone deaf can hear when it is read aloud, as it often was in 1776. The writing is rhythmic and cadenced, the word sounds sonorous and modulated, sometimes graphic, occasionally spirited, often dark and grave. The magisterial music of the first part contrasts sharply with the dramatic procession of accusations in the second, set to a steady drumbeat of the repetitive “He has…” “He has…” “He has…” that punctuates the list of royal crimes.

Excerpt 3

After the war had secured American independence, other artists—the painters John Trumbull and Gilbert Stuart and later the architects Thomas Jefferson, Charles Bulfinch, and Benjamin Latrobe—intended their arts to herald the country’s achievement in creating a new chapter in world history. Everyone understood that heroic leadership, especially the first president’s, made their country’s destiny manifest.