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Title: Precisionism in the Long 1920s
Authors: Lazevnick, Ashley
Advisors: DeLue, Rachael Z
Contributors: Art and Archaeology Department
Keywords: American art
Art movements
Modernist poetry
Popular science
Subjects: Art history
Issue Date: 2018
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation reconsiders American Precisionism, an early-twentieth century movement recognized today for meticulous paintings of skyscrapers and empty factories, although its artists just as frequently pictured country barns, domestic interiors, and still lifes, in media as various as drawing, lithography, watercolor, pastel, and photography. Its participants include Charles Sheeler, Charles Demuth, Georgia O’Keeffe, Elsie Driggs, Louis Lozowick, Stefan Hirsch, George Ault, and Niles Spencer. The central thesis of this dissertation is that Precisionism should be recognized as a movement, not because these figures declared themselves a group or because their works shared a singular style, technique, or subject matter. Rather, what they had in common was exactly their non-compatibility—a preservation of solitude and restraint that I reveal to be central to the definition of “precision.” Excavating the latent meanings of precision in poetry, philosophy, and popular science puts Precisionist art in tension with the Machine Age discourses with which it is usually associated. This reassessment begins in chapter one, where I trace the etymology of precision and examine its usage in 1920s popular culture, parsing the separate genealogies of “scientific” and “aesthetic” precision. Chapter two considers the ways in which language and visual art struggled to find new modes of communication by defining a “Precisionist address” in the artworks and writings of Morton Schamberg, Charles Sheeler, Ezra Pound, and Leo Stein. Chapter three focuses on Georgia O’Keeffe and the poet Marianne Moore, looking at the pervasive metaphors of “surgery” used to describe the effects of realism in their art. Following these studies of individual artists, the final chapters return attention to Precisionism’s group-formation. Chapter four analyzes the inaugural Biennial of Contemporary Painting at the Whitney Museum in 1932, where, I argue, the Precisionists were physically exhibited together for the first time. A fifth chapter concludes the dissertation by characterizing Precisionist painting as a still life genre. Under that category, three qualities of the movement are reassessed: objectivity, temporality, and privacy. The serial structure of still-life painting provides a final key to understanding how a Precisionist idiom persisted through the “Long 1920s.”
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Art and Archaeology

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