A landmark study of California's visual arts and poetry, 1925 to 1975, Utopia and Dissent demonstrates the profound influence this regional culture had on American art and thought. Combining intellectual and cultural history, it traces the spread of ideas developed in California's pre-World War II bohemian enclaves to mainstream America, where they became a major current of 1950s and 1960s counterculturism.
The provincial nature of California's prewar arts institutions, Richard Cándida Smith shows, fostered an aesthetics stressing personal expression and the exploration of life's mysteries through creativity. These ideas found expression in the beat generation's soul-searching and informed a decade-long debate about conformity. When America exploded with sociopolitical protest in the 1960s, California quickly became a countercultural focal point for a nation redefining itself. People unfamiliar with the California avant-garde's actual works readily absorbed their ideas as they crossed the line into popular culture.
Cándida Smith introduces the major figures in California's visual arts and poetry movements: postsurrealists Helen Lundeberg and Lorser Feitelson; writers Kenneth Rexroth, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Wallace Berman; Vietnam War-era poets Gary Snyder and Denise Levertov. Unequalled in scope or depth of scholarship, this book will inform discussions of twentieth-century American arts, literature, and history for many years.