The Nature of Surfaces in Early America
Access StatusFull text of the requested work is not available in DASH at this time ("dark deposit"). For more information on dark deposits, see our FAQ.
Chuong, Jennifer Yeesue
MetadataShow full item record
CitationChuong, Jennifer Yeesue. 2020. The Nature of Surfaces in Early America. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractAnglo-American art in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was characterized by a fascination with surfaces. Scholars have primarily understood this fascination in spatial terms: in studies of period portraiture, for example, surfaces have been analyzed as dissimulative boundaries between subjective interiority and exteriority. Yet in this period surfaces were also valued for their temporal dynamism: portrait painters consigned their immortal fame to the evanescent burred surface of the mezzotint plate; Benjamin Franklin paradoxically proposed using paper marbling's inconstant surface patterns to establish a steadfast, unassailable currency; Federalist cabinetmakers arranged wood veneers in designs that emphasize the development of grain-patterns in time; and painters sought to capitalize on oil paint's extended capacity for layering and blending to create works that would match history's prolonged unfolding. Across four areas of art and material culture—printmaking, the book arts, the decorative arts, and painting—this dissertation recovers the temporal significance of surfaces in the British transatlantic world, and especially in early America.
By addressing domains beyond the realm of painting, this dissertation sheds new light on an American aesthetic interest in nature's physical processes, not merely its visual appearances. Attending to the temporal valence of surfaces also connects new scholarship on the messy, fraught process of eighteenth-century nation-building (and colony-unbuilding) with a longstanding art-historical attention to nineteenth-century America as "nature's nation." As Enlightenment natural philosophy revealed surfaces to be active interfaces between objects and their environments, artists and artisans experimented with techniques that exploit the surface's predilection for physical change and differentiation. In the North American context, such experiments offered ways of conceiving artistic and cultural development outside of, and against, imperial models of cultural replication. They further transformed period understandings of social difference, economy, and history. In analyzing and theorizing the temporality of the surface in this period, this dissertation expands our understanding of American art and its generative purchase in the larger cultural sphere.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37365908
- FAS Theses and Dissertations