Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 449

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From the 1960’s onward, Tom Wolfe has been one of the most insightful and irreverent social critics in the United States. His analysis of modern art in The Painted Word and of modern architecture in From Bauhaus to Our House fits well with his other works, such as The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968), The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (1965), Mauve Gloves and Madmen, Clutter and Vine (1976), The Pump House Gang (1968), Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers (1970), and The Right Stuff (1979). Through these volumes Wolfe has effectively described the subcultures and varying life-styles of the 1960’s and 1970’s. It is social fragmentation that he has documented, with the accuracy of an insider and the objectivity of an observer. He has brought to his work the wit and good humor of the outsider’s perspective.

Each of Wolfe’s volumes has represented a unique slice of life. For example, in The Right Stuff, Wolfe turned his trained eye to the world of test pilots and astronauts; in The Painted Word, to the art world; and in From Bauhaus to Our House, to the architectural world. As an analyst and critic, he invariably reveals, interprets and joyfully attacks pretension. Thus, From Bauhaus to Our House pounces on architectural pretension, on the clients who acquiesced to the architects, on the arrogance of architects and compounds, on the corruption of American architectural taste, on the rejection of the nation’s native architects, on the sheer dullness of the International Style, on theory dictating practice, and on the curious psychological phenomenon of a country capitulating to foreign architects and to a view of architecture foreign to the United States. Wolfe provides keen observations and perspectives on these and other topics, and his work helps to elucidate the history of architecture. As part of that history, Wolfe’s book provides a useful interpretation that enriches the body of literature in the field. Since most of what has been written comes from writers sympathetic to the International Style, Wolfe’s book is an important contrast and fills a genuine need.

Finally, From Bauhaus to Our House places architecture in a social and psychological context. It shows something of the psychological processes of the artist compound (how ideas were formed and developed, how they became dominant, how toleration was rejected); something of the interaction among compounds; something of the intellectual climate of post-World War I Europe, something of American society, which became so receptive to the International Style; something of the psychology of American patrons and workers; and something of how professional authority can be exerted over nonprofessionals. The books says much about American life and society; it is a gem whose radiance may be savored with delight.