This project is devoted to understanding works of art that, in a paraphrase of James Baldwin's words, look down the line and wonder. I outlined the significance of art history's mobilization of what I called the discourse of inheritance. I argued that this discourse secures art history's disciplinary boundaries, and, by way of art historical practice, reinforces normative conceptualizations of beauty, race, gender, sexuality, and national identity. I provided an analysis of inheritance as a theme in works of art, objects of material culture, art criticism, and art history, but I also sought, by way of rigorous formal analysis of a wide range of artworks, to understand the discourse of inheritance that permeates art historical writing and thinking. My research necessarily violated the proper domains art history has drawn, e.g., the division between the fields of American art and contemporary art, in order to gain an understanding of the mechanisms of inheritance and in order better to understand the work of artists, such as Kara Walker, who make use of inherited imagery. I saw my writing engaging in a kind of art historical miscegenation (improper or illegitimate mixing of fields), and for this reason much of this project focused on the iconography of miscegenation that appears in the silhouette work of Walker. It follows that the ultimate significance of the project may pivot on the development of an initial understanding of the relationships between art history's mobilization of the discourse of inheritance, historical and contemporary violations of African-Americans' civil rights, and historical and contemporary race-based violence.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. February 2009. Major: Art History. Advisor: Dr. Jane Blocker. 1 computer file (PDF); x, 295 pages. Ill. (some col.)
Johnson Bidler, Tiffany Ann.
Delineations: American art history and the discourse of inheritance..
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