Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • Modern Time: Photography and Temporality

    Author:
    Kris Belden-Adams
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Geoffrey Batchen
    Abstract:

    This dissertation explores the fluid relationship of photography to time. Many theorists have noted that photography has a distinctive manner of representing temporality. Roland Barthes, for example, wrote that the photograph has a peculiar capacity to represent the past in the present, and thus to imply the passing of time in general. As a consequence, Barthes argued, all photographs speak of the inevitability of our own death in the future. Moreover, he linked photography's peculiar temporality to its capacity for a certain kind of realism: "false on the level of perception, true on the level of time." Barthes's analysis poses a challenge to all commentators on photography - what exactly is photography's relationship to time, and by extension, to reality? This dissertation addresses that two-part question by analyzing in detail a sample of understudied vernacular photographic practices. Rather than provide a comprehensive, and necessarily incomplete, study of every possible way in which photography can relate to time, this study instead focuses on a number of in-depth analyses of specific photographic practices. These practices represent time in at least three distinct ways: as narrative time, device-altered time, and composite time. My study examines the motivations for photography's insistent struggle to reorganize time's passage, to freeze or slow it for a moment, or to give form to time's fluctuating conditions. I suggest that this struggle is both symptomatic of modernity as a general phenomenon and a manifestation of the photographic medium's conditional relationship to reality, a relationship which arguably has been complicated by the use of digital technology. This dissertation examines photography's unique capacity to represent the passage of time with a degree of elasticity, simultaneity, and abstraction. The medium's ability to represent many levels of temporal experience and indexical slippage, I argue, illustrates photography's potential to relate to and reflect the complexities of modern consciousness. This dissertation also exemplifies the need for a new kind of history - one that addresses the multiple identities of "the photographic" rather than simply "the photograph." This work is a contribution to that project.

  • Respecting Hair: The Culture and Representation of American Women's Hairstyles, 1865-90

    Author:
    Elizabeth Block
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Kevin Murphy
    Abstract:

    Respecting Hair: The Culture and Representation of American Women's Hairstyles, 1865-90 by Elizabeth L. Block Adviser: Professor Kevin D. Murphy Using a hybrid approach that merges art historical and material culture inquiry, this dissertation recognizes the centrality of hairstyles in figure painting, both portraiture and genre, and photography of the mid- to late nineteenth century in the United States. After establishing the pervasive reach of hair's culture and industry (Chapter One), it argues that artists exploited women's hairstyles as a way to convey commentaries on such topics as conspicuous consumption and monetary wealth (Chapter Two), social class and the development of the modern woman (Chapter Three), the New Woman (Chapter Four), publicly exposed women "à la toilette" and "en déshabillé" (Chapter Five), and overt sexuality (Chapter Six). It considers the specific ways in which artists depicted hair and how that treatment helped achieve their goals. It affirms that hair deserves serious attention with regard to its cultural significance, specifically within the American art historical context of the nineteenth century, which has not been addressed in any publication to date. The study begins in the mid- to late 1860s with the considerable rise in new advertising, products, and services related to hair after the Civil War and how these phenomena were treated by artists. It proceeds to discuss the entrenchment of the Cult of True Womanhood of the 1860s and 1870s, which had a patriarchal and conservative effect on hairstyles and their depiction in art. The emergence of the New Woman, which brought about a radical consideration of hairstyles about 1890, provides an end point. By tracing the development of women's hairstyles, this dissertation contends that the study of hair should take its place with readings of other visual culture in paintings, such as clothing, furniture, and interior decoration that broaden our view into the motivations behind cultural changes. The study highlights the following artists: Aaron Draper Shattuck (1832-1928); Thomas Pritchard Rossiter (1818-1871); Eastman Johnson (1824-1906); Winslow Homer (1836-1910); Alice Austen (1866-1952); Mary Cassatt (1844-1926); and John Singer Sargent (1856-1925).

  • Complicity and Criticism: "Neo-Geo" Art of the 1980's

    Author:
    Amy Brandt
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Anna Chave
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines the deconstructive underpinnings of the so-called Neo-Geo group of the 1980's and explores links between Neo-Geo and the Pictures or Appropriation artists of the late 1970's. Neo-Geo emerged in the early 1980's as one aspect of New York's nascent East Village arts scene. The movement--also dubbed Simulationism, Neo-Pop, Neo-Minimalism or Post-Abstraction--primarily encompassed eight independent-minded artists, including painters Ashley Bickerton (b. 1959), Peter Halley (b. 1953), Sherrie Levine (b. 1947), Allan McCollum (b. 1944), Philip Taaffe (b. 1953) and Meyer Vaisman (b.1960). These artists were attributed the Neo-Geo moniker in 1986 based on their use of geometric forms and their appropriation of art historical motifs and styles from well-established artists. Sculptors Jeff Koons (b. 1955) and Haim Steinbach (b. 1944) were initially labeled as Neo-Geo, then also as Commodity Artists beginning in 1986. The varied epithets for this group represent critics' attempts to understand and classify the broad range of mediums and appropriative methodologies employed by these artists. It has all along been a questionable act to characterize this group under one cohesive name, as if they constituted a singular movement. Many of these artists had been a part of the East Village scene since 1980 or earlier, but they were only discussed and labeled by the art press at a time when their work gained significant popularity among prominent collectors and dealers. While the Neo-Geo artists differ substantially, their work nonetheless explored some common themes and pursued some strategies in common. Neo-Geo artists created paintings and sculptures that functioned, in a sense, in a textual manner. This diverse group collectively shared an interest in examining the terms, limits and structures of art history and various aspects of the society-at-large, including commodity capitalism and digital culture, in a deconstructive manner. Rooted within an amalgamation of art historical sources, Neo-Geo built upon the strategies of Pop, Minimalist, Conceptualist and Pictures artists in the creation of a diverse body of work. As I demonstrate, Neo-Geo used pastiche and strategies of parodying certain art historical paradigms to create new dialogues within contemporary art.

  • PARADIGMS FOR FREEDOM: HALE WOODRUFF, THE NEW NEGRO AGENDA AND LANDSCAPE

    Author:
    LeRonn Brooks
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Katherine Manthorne
    Abstract:

    During the 1920s and 1930s, the painter Hale Woodruff practiced New Negro portraiture and landscape painter. Would he be a "race man" or an individualist that followed his interest in modern landscape, and not a racial art? This dissertation follows Woodruff's career (from 1900 to 1940) as he negotiated the influence of his early mentors (Alain Locke and W.E.B. Du Bois) in his search for an authentic identity.

  • Unfamiliar Streets: The Photographs of Richard Avedon, Charles Moore, Martha Rosler, and Philip-Lorca diCorcia

    Author:
    Katherine Bussard
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Geoffrey Batchen
    Abstract:

    This dissertation begins from the premise that the streets of street photography matter. Streets are considered here as both sites and subjects for this genre of photography. Such an analysis demonstrates that streets are specific cultural, political, economic, and social environments, and that street photography often anticipates the affective quality of their reception by viewers. A key aim of this dissertation is to articulate a much-needed alternative to the dominant discourse on street photography as codified by Henri Cartier-Bresson, canonized by Garry Winogrand, and uncontested in most existing scholarship on the genre. Without spontaneity, speed, instantaneity, stealth, and mobility guiding the discussion, it becomes possible to redirect the terms of that discourse and to acknowledge that the construction and production of many street photographs corresponds--or fails to correspond--to the ways in which the street both frames and determines urban experience. Case-study chapters on the photographs of Richard Avedon, Charles Moore, Martha Rosler, and Philip-Lorca diCorcia address the historical dynamics that animated and complicated the specific city streets that serve as their sites and subjects. Published during the heyday of postwar consumerism, Avedon's late 1940s photographs for Harper's Bazaar utilize Parisian streets as deliberate locations of material desire and trade on a nostalgic image of that city. Moore's photo essay for Life magazine on the civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham in 1963 capitalizes on widespread awareness of the street as a site of political protest at the outset of a decade that would make the two synonymous. Rosler's removal of human subjects from street photography in her seminal work, The Bowery in Two Inadequate Descriptive Systems (1974-75), prompts the viewer's negotiation and reevaluation of urban poverty and homelessness. And diCorcia's projects in Times Square have yielded street photographs that unite the social and architectural space of urban change in America's most iconic public square. Taken together, the work by these four photographers provides not only a generational span across postwar American street photography; it offers a survey of types of street photography that diversify, expand, and complicate the existing discourse, thereby necessarily changing the practice of the genre's history.

  • María Izquierdo: Religion, Gender, Mexicanidad, and Modern Art, 1940-1948

    Author:
    Celeste Donovan
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Katherine Manthorne
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines the religious imagery in the art of the Mexican painter María Izquierdo (1902-1955). Among the first women in Mexico to earn her living as a professional painter, Izquierdo was an internationally renowned artist in her lifetime and remains one of the most notable artists in twentieth-century Mexican art history. Hers is a legacy that was not easily attained; working within a profession and nationalist discourse that was intensely masculine, she was persistent in her efforts to carve out a legitimate and respected space for women and for herself. Between 1940 and 1948 Izquierdo produced many paintings that incorporated popular and traditional Catholic artifacts and iconography that likewise touched upon feminine cultural experience, such as still-lifes of domestic shrines to the Virgin Mary and portraiture that evoked Madonna and Child motherhood imagery. My study revises the critical commonplace that Izquierdo's religious imagery reflects one facet of a collective Mexican cultural identity. Rather, I argue that these paintings expose an intricate web of social constructions involving ethnicity, gender, nationalism, and modernity. Examining public statements by the artist and the unique historical, economic, and sociocultural context of the decade of the 1940s, Izquierdo's domestic altars, Madonna imagery, self-portraiture, and related paintings constitute a strategic response to women's issues, the Catholic experience, the particular rhetoric of mexicanidad of that decade, and her concerted efforts to advance her professional career and notoriety. By joining her carefully crafted public persona to a strategic use of religious iconography that tapped into values intimately connected to a wide audience, Izquierdo accomplished what no woman before her had done. She reframed the role of women in the cultural narrative of the nation and successfully positioned herself as a great artist synonymous with Mexican culture itself.

  • European Symbolism Transformed: The Case of Poland

    Author:
    Lillian Orenduff-Bartos
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Emily Braun
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines the intersection of concepts of nationalism and identity in Polish Symbolist painting in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It argues that characteristics of the Symbolist mode in painting, such as formal distortion and ambiguity, mysticism and pessimism, were ideally suited for the expression of complex ideas about nationhood and identity in Polish territory. These ideas related to the status of the Polish nation as a politically subjugate entity, as well as the newly contested status of the individual artist as spokesperson for the nation. The dissertation argues that Symbolist painters forged a compromise in their work between the demands of tradition and modernity by investing well-worn themes and motifs with new, more nuanced meanings. In so doing, they perfectly articulated the state of cultural and political suspension particular to the Polish situation. The dissertation makes comparisons between examples of Symbolist painting in Poland and that of selected Western European cities. An examination of similar themes and motifs across cultural borders demonstrates the impact of their transpositions to the Polish context. The dissertation also examines the influence of Symbolism on the Sztuka group, the preeminent modernist artists' organization of the period. It argues that Symbolism represented a crucial component of Sztuka's understanding of itself and its profile in a local and international context. Finally, the dissertation examines in detail the work of two Symbolist painters, Jacek Malczewski and Jan Stanisławski, against the backdrop of traditional scholarly categorizations of Symbolist painting into synthetism and thought-painting. It asserts that the mix of characteristics and strategies in these artists' work problematizes this categorization and encourages a reshaping of the scholarly discourse on Symbolism.

  • Photography as Process: A Study of the Japanese Photography Journal Provoke

    Author:
    Yuko Fujii
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Geoffrey Batchen
    Abstract:

    This dissertation evaluates the significance of a series of four critical Japanese photography publications, referred to here as Provoke. First published in 1968, Provoke consisted of a run of three quarterly journal issues, each bearing the same title as the series: Provoke. The series ceased publication in 1970 with the fourth Provoke publication, entitled Mazu tashika rashisa no sekai o sutero: Shashin to gengo no shisô [First, abandon the world of pseudo-certainty: Thought on photography and language]. Actively drawing on Western theory and literature, Provoke members--photographers Nakahira Takuma, Takanashi Yutaka, and Moriyama Daidô; critic-photographer, Taki Kôji; and poet Okada Takahiko--aimed to create visual images that would reveal a world indescribable by conventional language. The term are-bure-boke, which means grainy, blurred, and out of focus, was coined to describe their radical photographs, many of which look as though they were taken by accident and appear to be of nothing in particular. I argue that Provoke members not only challenged the aesthetics of existing photography genres, but also illuminated the very notion of photography itself. Their deconstructivist attitudes gave rise to photographs that were taken in the midst of unrehearsed settings, as well as developed and edited in rather random operations. Their process-oriented photography went hand in hand with the periodical style of the series, revealing the evolution of members' photography and ideas as each of the four publications was published. Rather than consider photography an end product of photographers' visualization, Provoke members demonstrated photography's intricate intertwining with the production process, beginning with taking photographs, extending through to developing prints, and ending with publishing the publications. I explore the material aspects of Provoke and First, Abandon the World of Pseudo-certainty as well as examine the publications' photographs. By doing so, I also argue that the publications are more than journals and a book: they belong to a multi-faceted medium including photobooks and artists' book. The publications' strong graphic take on photography and the photographers' engagement in the relationship between photography and language made the photographic publications unique among other commercial photography magazines and photobooks.

  • Sunappu: A Genre of Japanese Photography, 1930-1980

    Author:
    Yoshiaki Kai
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Geoffrey Batchen
    Abstract:

    This dissertation discusses the development of sunappu photography from the 1930s to the end of the 1970s, demonstrating its importance to the history of Japanese photography and art. Sunappu is a Japanese photographic term that began to be used in the mid-1930s, derived from the English word "snapshot." In the broader meaning of the term, it signifies instantaneous photography taken with a hand-held camera. Sunappu, however, often took on narrower connotations, referring specifically to candid photographs of people unaware of the presence of the camera. First and foremost, sunappu describes a photographic technique. However, it also constitutes a genre of Japanese photography with historical roots stretching back to the mid-1930s. Although the term sunappu has been commonly used in the Japanese photo world, there has been little attention paid to the concept of sunappu itself. That is, the significance of sunappu as an idiosyncratic genre of Japanese photography has been neglected. This dissertation argues the following points: firstly, sunappu is an indigenous tradition within Japanese photography that is epistemically different from the Anglophone snapshot. Many Japanese photographers, including established figures such as Ihei Kimura, Ken Domon, Shômei Tômatsu, Daido Moriyama, Shigeo Gochô, and Nobuyoshi Araki, worked in this tradition, inheriting and transforming it simultaneously. Secondly, sunappu is at once a technique, a genre, and a discourse. As such, it has a unique status within photographic history. Thirdly, sunappu photography addressed the issues which were shared by contemporaneous art and literature more significantly than usually believed. This aspect of sunappu made it a cultural phenomenon whose relevance goes beyond the relatively insular world of Japanese photography. More specifically, photographers utilized the technique of sunappu, i.e., candid photography, to grapple with central issues affecting art and literature at that time, such as the controversy over Riarizumu in the early 1950s (Domon), the Americanization of Japanese culture in the 1960s (Tômatsu and Moriyama), and the representation of everydayness in the early 1970s (Gochô and Araki).

  • The Church and Convento of Santo Domingo Yanhuitlan, Oaxaca: Art, Politics, and Religion in a Mixtec Village, Sixteenth through Eighteenth Centuries

    Author:
    Alessia Frassani
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Eloise Quiñones Keber
    Abstract:

    The mission-building campaign undertaken in the Americas in the years following the Spanish conquest (1521-1546) is the largest and most ambitious evangelical and artistic enterprise in the history of the Catholic Church. In the span of just a few decades, Spanish mendicant friars, at the head of the missionary efforts, established hundreds of conventos (missions) in both colonial cities and provinces. These institutions did not merely accommodate friars. Planned to carry out doctrinal, educational, and liturgical activities, they soon became booming economic and cultural centers. This dissertation focuses on the convento in the Mixtec town of Yanhuitlan in Oaxaca, southwestern Mexico, and is the first to provide a comprehensive study of a mission and its historical development. Previous art historical scholarship has usually granted separate attention to the architecture, painting, and sculpture of the Mexican missions, overrating formal qualities and neglecting the fact that all aspects of the convento were part of the same larger artistic and religious program. The sixteenth-century missionary complex consists of the main church, adjoining cloister, and residential and working areas; it houses several colonial altarpieces and a collection of wooden polychrome sculptures. It was the most important artistic enterprise undertaken in Yanhuitlan in the early decades after the conquest and has remained since then the main focus of artistic and religious activities. First, the alliance of Mixtec leaders with Dominican friars and Spanish authorities made possible the erection of the mission, which became a powerful statement of the new hegemonic status of Yanhuitlan in the region. In the following centuries, activities of the confraternities became the most important impulse of art patronage. Spanish in origin, these institutions became gradually independent from the local parish and colonial authorities, filling the vacuum left by a waning traditional leadership. My dissertation integrates on-site investigation and archival and ethnographic research to address the various strategies of appropriation, manipulation, and display of Spanish, Mixtec, and hybrid art forms in the context of political colonization and religious evangelization.