On the Road with Richard Prince: Beat Movement themes in the Art of Richard Prince

Hannah Soltys


Richard Prince was born in 1949 and grew up during the 1950s amidst the Beat Movement. The Beat Movement arose in wake of the Second World War and was a social and literary movement that promoted spiritual and sexual liberation, freedom of the printed word from censorship, and rebellion against the capitalism and materialism that had evaded previous generations.

Likewise, the literature written during the Beat Movement was bolder than anything that had come before it and had a high emphasis on spontaneity; the term “first thought, best thought” became associated with beat prose. Kerouac famously wrote his quintessential beat novel, On the Road on one unedited scroll.

In addition to his upbringing during the Beat Movement, Prince is known to have an extensive collection of Beat literature. Thought to be, “possibly the greatest private collection of Beats books and papers in existence”, it includes over 700 works, many of which are first editions or manuscripts that include personal authorial notes. I believe his collection of Beat works, specifically his copies of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, the quintessential Beat novel, is noteworthy. As a person and through his art, Prince personifies many of the Beat movement ideals of spontaneity, mystery, and unique style of artistry. Prince also questions modern society through his art in much the same way that the Beats did. I believe that Prince’s admiration for the Beats can be seen in his personal collection of books and in his attempt to fight and push the limits of orthodox culture through his works of art. His works of art, specifically his photographs and car hoods, best capture the ideas of the Beat movement and Jack Kerouac’s expression of the Beats in On the Road.


Richard Prince; Beat Movement; Photography

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