The West of the Imagination, by William H. Goetzmann and William N. Goetzmann. New York: Norton. 475 pp. $34.95. This is a history of the American West told through the work and lives of its visual artists, photographers, painters, and filmmakers. William H. Goetzmann is a professor in American Studies and History at the University of Texas; William N. Goetzmann, the former director of the Museum of Western Art in Denver. Together they have created an engaging prose style that enables the reader to understand the impact of the West on its early painters, the lure of native American culture, the gradual settling of the Western lands as seen through lens and brush.
The artists included are such as Albert Bierstadt, whose paintings and sketches on huge, epic canvases made him the most successful artist of his day in shaping American attitudes toward the West; Frederic Remington, whose paintings of soldiers and Indians in heroic posture captured a frontier with bloodshed and death; and the photographers who depicted the stark realism of battle after the smoke had cleared and soldiers' bodies littered the plains.
The paintings show a glory and the photographs, a life that was tragic for men, red and white. These images accompany the readable text, and although the book is based on the PBS television series, it can be evaluated as an independent entity, providing insight into the art of the American West and the Eastern artists who went west.
``The West of The Imagination'' is an entertaining book about the myths and images of the West and the artists who shaped them.