Day One: Experiencing Mass Images. Thursdays at Four, April 16, 2015.
Day One: Experiencing Mass Images
Thursday, April 16, 2015 at 4:00pm
Northrop — Best Buy Theater
Day one of the conference on Experiencing Mass Images. The talks and Q&A may be viewed upon UMN login.
The Beginnings of Mass Visual Culture in the United States
Michael Leja, Art History, U Penn
Between 1835 and 1850 a cluster of watershed productions marked the beginnings of a mass visual culture in the United States. One of the most important of these was the Harper’s Illuminated and New Pictorial Bible published in New York in 1843-46. Its innovations in print technology were extensive enough to warrant description as revolutionizing typographic art in the United States. More importantly, it remade the bible for a mass audience, and it ushered in an era of “illustration mania” in American book publishing.Of the 1600 pictures in this 1228-page volume, over 150 are set in large and elaborate decorative borders, while about 1400 thumbnail images without any framing at all are dispersed throughout the text. The format and style of these illustrations were developed over the preceding decade in a series of collaborations among wood engraver Joseph Adams, artist John Gadsby Chapman, and the Harper Brothers publishing house. Leja’s presentation aims to reconstruct the story of this important but unstudied bible and explore the development and success of its illustrations.
Michael Leja (Ph.D., Harvard) studies the visual arts in various media (painting, sculpture, film, photography, prints, illustrations) in the 19th and 20th centuries, primarily in the United States. His work is interdisciplinary and strives to understand visual artifacts in relation to contemporary cultural, social, political, and intellectual developments. He is especially interested in examining the interactions between works of art and particular audiences. His book Looking Askance: Skepticism and American Art from Eakins to Duchamp (2004) traces the interactions between the visual arts and the skeptical forms of seeing engendered in modern life in northeastern American cities between 1869 and 1917. It won the Modernist Studies Association Book Prize in 2005.
He is currently at work on a book exploring changes in pictorial forms and in social relations associated with the industrialization of picture production and the development of a mass market for images in the mid-nineteenth century.
“Black spots and queer blotches”:
Magazine Pictures and the Biodynamic Blur
Jennifer Greenhill, Art History, UIUC
Cover designed by Coles Phillips for Good Housekeeping, November 1917
In 1915, Max Eastman, the editor of the American socialist journal, The Masses, attempted to demonstrate what was “the matter with magazine art” by arguing that it was made, above all, to move. All of the visual variety of individual page layouts responded to the inherent biodynamism of magazine consumption, comprised of page flips and eye flits. The goal was to produce “kaleidoscopic motion-pictures” as the consumer thumbed through pages, Eastman wrote: “Black spots and queer blotches are seen dashing from one part of the page to another, and the effect is quite stimulating to the curiosity.” This revealing account defamiliarizes the mass-market magazine, typically seen to be so conventional in its operations, to render it into a kinetic object prioritizing abstraction. The critic ultimately sees this material transformation as a specious marketing ploy; this was but one of the ways that magazine imagery flattered a spectacle seeking mass public in the context of modernity. Greenhill’s talk explores the stakes of this perspective by turning it somewhat on its head, by showing how Eastman’s theory taps into the deep structure of the magazine medium as a product situated at the nexus of stilled visual form and kinetic mobility, and emphasizing the centrality of touch to the consumer’s engagement.
Jennifer A. Greenhill is Associate Professor of Art History with an appointment in the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She specializes in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century American art and visual culture, with an emphasis on intermedial and intercultural objects, race and the politics of visuality, and intersections between elite and popular forms of expression. Greenhill recently published Playing It Straight: Art and Humor in the Gilded Age (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), which investigates the strategies artists devised to simultaneously conform to and humorously undermine “serious” culture during the late nineteenth century, when calls for a new cultural sophistication ran headlong into a growing public appetite for humor.
Greenhill’s next book-length study investigates mass-market illustration in the early twentieth century, extending her ongoing interest in how “art” can register in diverse sites, such as the pages of a magazine, where it shapes both public experience and individual subjectivities.
Day two of the conference features a talk by Jennifer Roberts, Art History, Harvard, on Currency as Metaprinting: The Case of Benjamin Franklin.
This presentation is cosponsored by the Department of Art History.